Allah’s gifts to the knowledge seekers
Sacred knowledge brings us closer to Allah.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said, ‘Allah makes the way to Jannah easy for him who treads the path in search of knowledge.’ (Muslim)
‘Verily, the angels lower their wings for the seeker of knowledge out of pleasure of what he is doing. Verily all in the heavens and earth seek forgiveness for the knowledgeable, even the fish in the water. The excellence of the knowledgeable over the servant is like the excellence of the moon on the night of the full moon over all the planets.’ (Abu Dawud)
These hadith remind us of the virtues and the importance of seeking knowledge as we need reminding why to do it.
The importance of knowledge is so huge in the Quran and Sunnah and this is why scholars say:
Whoever wants the dunya has to have knowledge and whoever seeks the akhirah has to have knowledge.
You can’t master the dunya without knowledge, and you can’t get to the akhirah without knowledge. The third statement is:
Whoever wants both dunya and akhirah has to seek knowledge.
Having knowledge is a win win situation.
Have purpose and sincerity
These stories show us how the scholars overcome obstacles. If you want to master anything, it is not an easy ride. You need patience, perseverance and above all a purpose. Why are you doing it?
If you seeking knowledge to gain Allah’s pleasure, you will gain it inshallah. If you want forgiveness, you will get it inshallah. If you want protection from hellfire, you will get it inshallah. You need to have ikhlas (sincerity).
No matter how many difficulties you face, you can overcome when you have purpose. We don’t worship knowledge, this knowledge is our path to Allah. This is why in Surah Taha Allah commanded us to say Rabbi zidni ilman:
My Lord, increase me in knowledge (20:114)
We ask Allah to Increase us in closeness to Him and in understanding. And this is the reason:
If Allah intends goodness for someone, he gives him understanding of the religion. (Bukhari and Muslim)
This understanding is not parachuted on us. We need to make an effort and understand that it is important to understand the deen.
Lack of knowledge and understanding
If we do not understand the deen, we make people shun away from Islam and we delivered the message in the wrong way, so people instead of embracing Islam will curse Islam. This is what happening in the scenarios of Bin Laden, Al Qaeeda and ISIS – they got it wrong. This is why we need the right people seeking knowledge, with the right intention.
Understanding without the right intention
Some people have the right knowledge but are riding the waves of popularity, using their knowledge not as a bridge for the akhirah, but as a means of getting status in the dunya. They are the Mufti of the government or the consultant of the Emir or the adviser to the Prime Minister. If this is the aim they will get it, but if the aim is to gain Allah’s pleasure and to deliver Allah’s message to the people then it is a different story.
Our aim should be to learn and disseminate the prophetic message with the prophetic approach. So no matter how many obstacles we face on our journey, as long as we have ikhlas the obstacles are removed.
Shaykh Fattah Abu Ghuddah called his book Safahat Min Sabr al-‘Ulama, because patience is the common factor between all these knowledge seekers who had to overcome many obstacles, like anything in life. One of the stories he mentioned was of the four top scholars[i].
The story of four top scholars
The four top scholars in the 3rd century Hijri were all called Muhammad; each one was an authority in his own right. These were Imam Muhammad bin Jarir At Tabari – the great imam and mufassir (scholar of tafseer), the second one was Muhammad bin Ishaq bin Khuzayma, who was a great muhaddith. The third was Imam Muhammad Nasr al-Marwazi, the great faqhi (scholar of fiqh) and the fourth was Muhammad bin Haroon al-Ruyani, the great Shafi’ scholar. They were called al Muhammadoon (the plural of Muhammad).
Some orientalists call Muslims Muhammadans, the followers of Muhammad. However, although we follow the Prophet (peace be on him), we are not Muhammadoon, we are Muslimoon (Muslims).
These four scholars all happened to gather together in house in Egypt in 256AH. (Shaykh Fattah deduced this date after some considerable effort, which he summarised in the footnotes of his book.) These scholars were so poor they were suffering from hunger but had no means of acquiring any food, as they had nothing to buy or sell. So they cast lots (qura), which is like spinning a bottle to see who would be chosen to find them all food. The lots cast the name of Ibn Khuzayma who now had the awkward mission of procuring food for them all by begging or knocking on someone’s door.
Ibn Khuzayma feeling burdened by this, went first to pray two rakahs before he left. He didn’t know what to do and he really did not want to have indignity of having to beg, so he prayed istikhara (the dua for guidance) with two rakahs which he prolonged and made a lengthy dua. The treasures and the fountain of rizq (provision) are in Allah’s hand and while he was praying, the scholars heard some noise outside of horses and servants and guards stopping outside. This was strange in their quiet surroundings, where no one visited.
To their surprise, they found that the ruler of Egypt, Ibn Tulun, the ruler of Egypt had sent his servants with guards and they knocked on their door, and began calling them by their names. One by one they called each Muhammad and handed him a bag full of money. They could hardly contain their amazement. How had this happened when they never asked for anything? Then the guard informed them that Emir bin Tulun, (who has a big mosque named after him) had had a dream while he was taking his kaylula (siesta). In it he was told that ‘the four Muhammads are sleeping hungry’ so when he woke he told his men immediately to take this money to the four scholars and said ‘By Allah, whenever it runs out tell them and I will give them more.’
Gifts from Allah to the knowledge seekers
When you connect your heart to Allah He provides for you. Ibn Khuzayma did not want to ask anyone for food, but he turned to Allah Almighty and He provided him even before his salah had finished.
Why did the knowledge seekers struggle and suffer
It is evident that the scholars suffered poverty and hunger and faced many difficulties, but because of their ikhlas, Allah Almighty provided for them, because of the sincerity of their purpose.
Did they go through hardship to make them realise their state of utter dependence on Allah?
Allah, by making them experience hardship, was freeing their heart from any connection to dunya. The aim of difficulties is to detach you from dunya. It makes you discover yourself more than you do in times of ease. It shows you the gaps in your character and what you need to improve in yourself. Otherwise you would not feel bothered to change anything.
The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
The scholars are the heirs of the prophets. (Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi)
The heirs of the prophets have to be tested
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be on him) (peace be on him) said:
Whenever Allah wills good for a person, He subjects him to adversity (Bukhari)
The most in their suffering among the people are the prophets, then the best, then the (next) best. One is afflicted in accordance with his deen (faith). If his deen is firm his affliction is hard, and if his deen is weak, his affliction is light. Indeed, one would be so much subjected to adversity until he walks among the people without any sins. (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
Therefore anyone who has a high rank has to be tested, as they have to be qualified to carry this sacred message. Otherwise they are not worthy to carry it.
We saw similarly in the story of Abu Talha who sensed weakness in the voice of the Prophet (peace be on him) and realised that it was from hunger, so he sent him food, even though he would never have asked. Carrying the message is a heavy mission.
Indeed, We will cast upon you a heavy word. (73:5)
The heavy weight is the message. How to take the words of the Quran, practice them and disseminate them. This is the test from Allah. These stories are just a drop in the ocean of what the messengers faced. Their tests could be financial or related to their health. Or anything.
Tests are a good sign
Sometimes these tests are an indication that you are on the right path. If you have no test and you have smooth ride, then you should be more afraid than when you have a difficult test. It is serious. Do not ask for tests, but if you are going through tests it means you are on the right path, because Allah Almighty loves those whom He loves, to elevate them, delete their sins, give them more experience and wisdom and increase their reward, bringing them closer to Him. Often we don’t get close to Allah, unless we experience difficulty even though it is bitter. If it brings you closer to Him it is good. If you see through it, it gives you more closeness to Allah.
These tests improve us and give us insight and strength.
The lock and key
With every lock there is key. The test is like the lock and the solution is the key. Allah provides the keys, you need to find it. This requires supplications and to review the scenario – why are you in this test? Is it because you did something wrong or did Allah Almighty want to show you something. Trust that the test is useful for you. Ask Him to enable you to see through the test and not to fail the test. Each test is a stepping stone to the next level.
Ibrahim al Harbi (may Allah be pleased with him)
Khatib al Baghdadi in his book Tareekh e Baghdad wrote that Ahmed bin Salman an-Najad, the great muhaddith (scholar of hadith) from the Hanbali school and also a great faqhi, was in dire straits, he had to support his family but had no money, so he went to Ibrahim al Harbi (198-285AH) in Baghdad.
It was a venting session to say he was having these difficulties but Ibrahim al Harbi told him not to have a heavy chest, and that Allah’s support would come to him in no time. And he then told him his own story, how he was in an even worse situation and his wife asked him to sell his books so at least his children would not go hungry. He refused, as his books were his legacy. She asked him to borrow from his friends or neighbours and they would pay it back later. They had a storage room in their house, like a tunnel called deleez, which opened onto the street. Someone knocked on the door, and Ibrahim asked who it was. The man replied that he was one of his neighbours, but added that he wouldn’t come in, unless al Harbi turned off the light. So al Harbi turned off his light and the neighbour entered and left an enormous parcel of food wrapped up. When his wife came and opened it, they found 50 different dishes, sweet and savoury as well as 1000 dinar.
Allah Almighty had sent them this to overcome their difficulties and support them and enable al Harbi continue the work he was doing, acquiring knowledge, writing, reviewing and editing books and disseminating knowledge.
The two camels
During hajj time, he was sitting in front of his door, and someone passed by and asked if he was x, and said I have brought two camels for you. He had come from a long distance to find him, but he would not reveal who had sent him. There are countless stories like this, and this is the explanation of the hadith that the angels lay down their wings for those who seek knowledge.
From out of the blue
We witnessed this ourselves, as young knowledge seekers. While we were studying in Damascus, we were penniless. Our families were in Beirut, 4-5 hours away due to the dangerous roads and borders of the civil war. We had run out of money, but our rent was due, and we had expenses though we were living very frugally. There were three of us at that time, living in two bare rooms, with just a few mattresses and bedding and that’s it. We were anxious how we were going to pay our bills.
One day, we went to our circle with Shaykh Muhammad Sukkar (may Allah be pleased with him) that we had attended after Fajr for a few years. This day, our Shaykh asked us what we had to do after the circle. We said we would go home to read and revise our lessons. The Shaykh invited us to home, to have breakfast with him. It was a great honour to have breakfast with him. He had an old Arabic house with a beautiful courtyard open to the sky, with a fountain, and rooms around it over two floors – the summer rooms on top and winter rooms below. We sat in the lovely garden, enjoying the spread and chatting, and then we recited our Quran. It was a circle of knowledge, and the kindness and smile of our Shaykh made us feel that the whole world was in our hand. When we finished, the Shaykh surprised us further by giving us each an envelope. We were too polite to ask what was in it, but we thanked him and left. When we opened the envelopes, he had given us 500 each, when our rent was 300, so it would last two months. How did he know we were broken and desperate? It was a gift from Allah Almighty.
Thus when you seek Allah’s pleasure He opens the way for you. He facilitates your direction. It was a gift from Allah. When you have the right direction although you will no doubt have many obstacles, they will not defeat you.
Allah Almighty wants us to experience these obstacles to check our sincerity. Are we seeking a title or fame? He wants us to strive for the right reason, otherwise people will drop everything after they meet their first obstacle. This is why the Quran says repeatedly we will be tested, for instance:
[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving (67:2)
Whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing you will be tested. There is no free pass. We are tested all the time. We need the right intention and direction.
How do we know if we are moving forward
You need to check where you were last year and where you are now. Have you learned something and improved or have you gone back? For instance if you used to attend 4 circles and now you attend only one, or you knew more surahs before and now you remember less, you have gone back, but if you understand more verses of the Quran now, or are applying more hadith in your life, you have gone forward.
Reset your goals
Sometimes you cannot see huge leaps in your knowledge, but when you compare yourself to 5 years ago or 10 years ago you can see the difference. If you can’t see the difference, there is something wrong. Periodically, reset your targets and review your journey.
How do you know if your deeds are accepted?
Acceptance is in Allah Almighty’s hands. We cannot guarantee it. This is why we see this in the dua of Ibrahim (peace be on him) asking Allah for acceptance when he built the Kaba, as he was not sure that Allah Almightyhad accepted it.
Rabbana taqabbal minna inaka Antas Samee’ul Aleem
Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing. (2:172)
This is what we should do all the time.
Follow the footsteps of the Prophet (peace be on him) by doing things in line with his guidance. Inshallah it will be accepted. If you are not acting in line with it, then don’t bother. Keep making dua for Allah to purify your intention and make your deeds purely for His sake. By doing that, inshallah they will be accepted.
We ask Allah to enable us to see through the test. We ask him to enable us to be among those who do what pleases Him.
Delivered to the Thursday Knowledge Circle, part 4 in the series of the Knowledge Seekers, based on the book, Safahat min sabr al-’Ulamaa (The Patience of the Pious Predecessors) by one of my late shuyukh, Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah (rahimahullahu Ta’ala).
[i] This story is also mentioned in Imam Khatib al Baghdadi in his Tareekh e Baghdad and Imam Hafidh al Dhahabi in his Tadhkirat al-Huffaz both mentioned this story in their books. Al-Subki mentioned the story in his Tabaqat Al-Shafi’iyyah in the biography of Al-Imam Muhammad al-Ruyani.
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