Can anyone gain a deep understanding of the deen?
Mu’awiya (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:
‘Whoever Allah wishes good for, He gives him understanding of the religion.’Bukhari and Imam Muslim
This very hadith is a very well-known hadith, which has been memorized by many and is often found quoted at the beginning of many books etc. It’s an important hadith, which is actually part of a longer hadith. Imam Ibn Hajar placed it under the topic of good character.
To have a deep understanding of the deen is something everyone should be seeking.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) is teaching us that understanding is the key especially when it comes to the matter of religion. In the well-known hadith in which Jibril (peace be upon him) came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the shape of a man and started asking him, ‘Ya, Muhammad, tell me about Islam, iman, ihsan’. [i]
Towards the end of this very hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked his companions if they knew who the questioner was. Even the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not realise until he left and Allah inspired him, that it had been Jibril. They replied that they did not know, and he knew best, and so he informed them ‘It is Jibril who came to you to teach you your religion.’
The link between the Hadith Jibril and the hadith that Allah gives a deep understanding of the faith to those whom He loves, are connected by the word ‘ad-deen’ (the religion). In the question and answer between Jibril and the Prophet (peace be on him) we are taught that Islam (submission) entailsthe shahadah (declaring there is only one God and His prophet is Muhammad), praying, fasting, payingzakah (charity) and performing Hajj. Meanwhile imaan (faith) is believing in the articles of faith (in Allah, His angels, his Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and destiny); and ihsan (excellence). Thus the full package of our religion is Islam, imaan, and ihsan. Whoever has been given the deep understanding of this package is loved by Allah and this is a sign that Allah wants good for him/her.
Open to everyone
At the beginning of the hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘Whomsoever’ (mun)’ which means it can be anyone – male or female and any age. This gives hope because it includes everyone – not just a particular race, ethnicity, age or gender. It is inclusive.
If Allah wants good for you, you will get it, but how do you know that Allah wants good for you or not? This is the same as saying how do you know that you will get the job? The answer is you prepare yourself, you study, you read up about it, you practice for the interview, and you turn up for it – in other words you do everything you can to give it your best shot. This is what you have to do to gain understanding.
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) said ‘whomsoever Allah wishes good for’ the good is not limited. It is unlimited good. The unlimited good is unlocked by understanding. Understanding what? There are many different layers of understanding. The highest level is understanding your religion – the revelation, the commands of Allah and His Messenger. Why is it a priority? Again, because it’s related to the afterlife.
Afterlife relies on understanding
The single most important thing in life is to have an understanding of faith. Having an understanding of faith is important because our final destination heavily relies on it. Therefore whoever has a deep understanding of faith, knows exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it and how to do it. Otherwise they are risking their afterlife.
When you know your priorities, you know what is most important and you organise your life accordingly. You do not put the twentieth thing in your list first or vice versa. No matter how long we live for – 50, 60, 80, or 100 years – they are nothing in comparison to infinity. We cannot sacrifice infinity for a short time span. That would be insane.
This is why the more understanding you have, the closer you become to Allah Almighty. If you have been given a good understanding of the religion, generally speaking, then use this spreading goodness, doing what is useful and beneficial for humanity, your community, and for people around you, as well as what is beneficial for yourself in the first place.
Meaning of fiqh
Abu Hanifah (may Allah be pleased with him) said in his book, Fiqh al-Akbar, ‘The Greatest Fiqh’ that knowing fiqh is the greatest priority. His book is about aqeedah (theology). During the time of the Companions’ fiqh meant linguistic understanding. This is what it means, the deep understanding. Later, in the 2nd century, the terminology of fiqh began to develop into a collection of rulings, particularly practical rulings related to the five pillars and worship. However before it was inclusive everything related to Islam, iman and ihsan.
Channelling understanding to what is beneficial
If you want to have gain understanding, then you should be channelling your studies in the right direction. Put your efforts towards understanding the Quran and Sunnah, and understanding what is a priority for you in this world and in the Hereafter.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) wanted to encourage the community to go and sharpen their skills, to compete in goodness from gaining an understanding of the religion. As Allah Almighty beautifully stated in surah Tawbah:
‘It is not advisable for the believers to march out all together of every division that marches out. Let a group remain behind to gain understanding in religion and to notify the people when they return to them so they may be aware’.(9:22)
Not everybody can dedicate their time, efforts, and life to this task. People have many different professions. Even within the religion itself, scholars specialise in different branches such as hadith, or tafseer, and other sciences etc. Meanwhile others specialise in medicine, physics, mathematics etc.
When Allah Almighty stated that a group of people should specialise in understanding the religion, that can be anyone who joins others in this pursuit, but it requires studying the Message, understand it and then disseminating it.
If you want Allah to love you, look where He has put you. Is your field beneficial? Is it benefiting you, your hereafter, and the people around you? If the answer is yes, then alhamdullilah that is a good sign. If not, you need to see how to turn this around.
Everybody is longing for goodness in their life, so lets’ be part of it; let’s try to do whatever we can to be in that group who gain an understanding of the religion and teach others.
It may not be 100%, but could be 10% or 20%; as you do with investments. You might buy some shares, not necessarily the whole company. So buy shares in the group – that is a good sign that Allah wishes good for you.
How does one get deep understanding? That is another story. First you need to have the intention. Then you have to be persistent, patient and consistent. Knowledge requires all four ingredients.
Story of Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him)
In a very famous story, which Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated himself, he spoke about how he was once in the home of the Prophet (peace be upon him). As his aunty, Maymuna, was the wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him), he used to spend that night there sometimes. One night, he brought water for the Prophet (peace be upon him) at sahar time to use for his wudu. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was touched by this gesture and asked who had fetched it for him. Mamymuna said it is Abdullah bin Abbas. At that moment, the Prophet (peace be upon him) with heartfelt appreciation for his thoughtfulness, made the dua ‘O Allah give him the deep understanding of the deen and teach him the interpretation of the Quran’.
In another narration it says, he embraced Ibn Abbas the Prophet (peace be upon him), who was a young teenager as he made the dua for him.
Ibn Abbas, even though he received this very dua from the Prophet (peace be upon him) didn’t sit back and think that with this dua his knowledge would descend upon him without any effort. Rather it motivated him to do more.
He would later ask 30 of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to get clarity on a topic. This is how Allah gave him deep understanding. It was not just the dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him), but the accompanying pursuit by Ibn Abbas to write down, memorise, discuss, ask questions and travel long distances to obtain his knowledge and which propelled him to become one of the great mufassirs.
Different levels of knowledge
Knowledge goes not come free of charge. As one poet said,
‘Don’t think that acquiring fiqh is a date you eat. You will not get fiqh until you taste its bitterness’.
This means that learning will have difficulties along the way, as anything in life, but the beauty of this is that it’s enriches your akhirah, and you are rewarded for every single exertion.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) told us that seeking knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim, male and female. This means it is an obligation for every believer to seek at least basic knowledge of how to pray, how to fast, how to be pure, and how to do their financial transactions – their earning and spending.
Beyond this basic level, which everybody should have, are multiple levels, which are reached by knowledge seekers, scholars and the leading professors in each speciality. It is the mission of the flag bearers and heirs of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to further knowledge of Islam.[i]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) called scholars ‘the heirs of the prophets’. It’s a very honourable position and a huge responsibility to carry this flag and you need to work hard to get there. The heirs of the prophets are the scholars, of Islam. Not the scholars in physics or maths. Being a religious scholar is not just about memorising, asking questions, making notes and attending classes (although all of these are required) but the core of gaining knowledge is having sincerity (ikhlas). You have to seek knowledge with sincerity. You don’t seek knowledge for the sake of looking down at others or to abusing the knowledge by using it to rubber stamp the edicts of corrupt and oppressive politicians and rulers. This is absolutely wrong. You have to seek knowledge for the sake of Allah, with the right intention and with purity of intention for Allah’s sake.
Two types of knowledge
There are two types of knowledge. One is kasbi knowledge (knowledge which you acquire through effort), and wahbi knowledge, which is divinely gifted knowledge. This is not in your hands. You can’t get it from a circle; it comes to you depending on your level of sincerity and effort.
Therefore if you were to achieve level one of kasbi knowledge with the right intention, then you are more likely to achieve level 2, which is wahbi knowledge – the deeper understanding of the deen. Then you will notice a difference. You will have read many books and attended many circles but now Allah will start giving you openings and inspiration, which you have not read in any book or heard in a circle. This is a sign of goodness, which Allah has given to you and this is the pinnacle. In order to get there, you require the prerequisites.
Prerequisites to knowledge
What are the prerequisites? Learn the basics, attend circles, be consistent, go back and review your knowledge, verify it, research more, ask questions; have discussions and dialogues with colleagues and friends and other students – all these will make your knowledge blossom and grow.
Therefore if you see yourself going in that direction it is a sign that Allah wishes good for you. At this juncture it is important not to ruin things by listening to the whispers of the Shaytan, or allowing your ego to expand with arrogance, and other diseases of the heart. Be careful not to ruin it by remaining humble, and asking Allah for purity on your journey.
Experience of Iman Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him)
Shaytan is a very determined adversary, and will never stop trying to destroy our pursuit of goodness. We see this patently in the biography of Imam Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him), who wrote an insightful little book called ‘Deliverance from Delusion’, which delineates the challenges he faced in his journey to Allah, especially the last 2 chapters. As Ghazali was so famous, he fled spotlight and went into seclusion. He left teaching for around 11 years and travelled from Baghdad to Damascus, to Palestine, to Makkah and Madinah and then back to Baghdad, he was afflicted by the constant whispers of the Shaytan. He talks clearly and openly about this to teach us and avoid falling for the ploys and traps that Shaytan sets for us.
Foremost Shaytan wants to ruin your intention and puts temptations in your way throughout your journey and then you have your nafs (internal drives and desires) to battle on top.
Fear Allah and Allah will teach you
Not everybody attains a deep understanding because everybody has been given differing capacities to understand – these are a gift from Allah. Some people grasp what you are saying before you’ve barely uttered a sentence, almost presciently even before you speak. They can analyse the details of that sentence immediately while others need to have the same sentence repeated and explained in detail and still they do not get it.
Understanding is a gift, as well as a provision (rizq). Just as some people have more wealth, some people have greater understanding. These are all parts of rizq.
Can you ask Allah Almighty to increase your understanding?
Yes, definitely. You can say, ‘O Allah give me the deep understanding of the deen’.
Don’t just say, ‘Allah give me deep understanding’ and not even open a book, or attend a circle, or write any notes… knowledge will not parachute down on you.
In the poem, it says:
Knowledge is a treasure, the more you spend from it the more it grows.
In the proverb, it says:
Knowledge is better than money
Because Knowledge guards you, but you guard money
Understanding comes with practice and sincerity. As Allah says in the Quran:
‘Fear Allah and Allah will teach you’ [2:282]
Striving of Ibn Abbas for knowledge
When Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) was asked how he got his knowledge he said:
فعَنْ مُغِيرَةَ قَالَ: قِيلَ لِابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ كَيْفَ أَصَبْتَ هَذَا الْعِلْمَ؟ قَالَ: “بِلِسَانٍ سَؤُولٍ، وَقَلْبٍ عَقُولٍ”. (أخرجه الإمام أحمد في كتاب فضائل الصحابة 2/970).
Ask pious people for their dua
Finally, ask righteous people, your teachers, your parents, and people of piety (taqwa) to make dua for you to have deep understanding and for Allah Almighty to open the way for you.
Ibn Abbas mentioned that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away he told a person from al Ansar, probably a friend his age, that they should go and seek knowledge from the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him)’ and at that time there were many of them. The Ansari friend dismissed the idea. He felt the likes of Abu Bakr and Omar wouldn’t have time to give them. However, Ibn Abbas was not deterred. He was determined and unabashed. He went from Companion to Companion asking them for knowledge, and then verifying it. On some occasions when he arrived at their home, he would be told they were sleeping and rather than wake them, he would wait outside even in the wind with the sand blowing in his face. He would not leave until that companion awoke so he could him his question about a particular hadith.
His friend later observed that Ibn Abbas had been wiser than him and as a result of his zeal collected so much knowledge that he became a reference. He regretted that he had not heeded his suggestion at the time. Be careful, when the opportunity knocks on your door, and you pass it up, it moves on to someone else.
A comprehensive deen
Religion is not limited to rulings of salah, siyam, and transactions etc. Religion is comprehensive. It includes belief, fiqh (rulings) and purification of the heart and oneself (tazkiyah). Earlier scholars studied all these sciences and mastered them. In today’s world this is a very rare thing.
Being in touch with reality
Many scholars had astoundingly sharp and extensive memories. They studied many classical books and commentaries and became like encyclopaedias. Sadly some of them of them gained knowledge but became disconnected from reality, so their understanding of the texts was limited by their lack of understanding of the context in which to apply it.
It is very important to have understanding of both the text and the context to which the knowledge had to be applied. It is a danger if one is disconnected from reality and only have a understanding of classical texts. We need to have more of these scholars who understand the text and know how to relate it to modern life. This is why imported fatwas can be incongruous especially when they relate to issues concerning modern life. Unless you are living in a society, your judgements and ruling may be out of touch and irrelevant.
Worst of all is becoming out of touch with our new generations. If we cannot communicate with them, they will not understand what we are saying and vice versa. We have to sort this out and come up with solutions for this. We need to bridge the gap. We have to find ways to make religion interesting and relevant to them and we need their contribution. It’s a two way street.
[i] Abu Darda reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The scholars are the successors of the prophets. Verily, the prophets do not pass on gold and silver coins, but rather they only impart knowledge.” (Musnad al-Bazzar)
عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْعُلَمَاءُ خُلَفَاءُ الأَنْبِيَاءِ إِنَّ الأَنْبِيَاءَ لَمْ يُوَرِّثُوا دِينَارًا وَلا دِرْهَمًا إِنَّمَا
Shaykh Haytham Tamim Transcribed by Rose Roslan 4th Sept 2022 Sunday Hadith Class
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[i] Umar ibn al-Khattab reported: We were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, one day when a man appeared with very white clothes and very black hair. There were no signs of travel on him and we did not recognize him. He sat down in front of the Prophet and rested his knees by his knees and placed his hands on his thighs. The man said, “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Prophet said, “Islam is to testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish prayer, to give charity, to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to the House if a way is possible.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully.” We were surprised that he asked him and said he was truthful. He said, “Tell me about faith.” The Prophet said, “Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, his Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in providence, its good and its harm.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully. Tell me about excellence.” The Prophet said, “Excellence is to worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He surely sees you.” The man said, “Tell me about the final hour.” The Prophet said, “The one asked does not know more than the one asking.” The man said, “Tell me about its signs.” The Prophet said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress and you will see barefoot, naked, and dependent shepherds compete in the construction of tall buildings.” Then, the man returned and I remained. The Prophet said to me, “O Umar, do you know who he was?” I said, “Allah and his messenger know best.” The Prophet said, “Verily, he was Gabriel who came to teach you your religion.” (Muslim)
عن عُمَر بْن الْخَطَّابِ قَالَ بَيْنَمَا نَحْنُ عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ذَاتَ يَوْمٍ إِذْ طَلَعَ عَلَيْنَا رَجُلٌ شَدِيدُ بَيَاضِ الثِّيَابِ شَدِيدُ سَوَادِ الشَّعَرِ لَا يُرَى عَلَيْهِ أَثَرُ السَّفَرِ وَلَا يَعْرِفُهُ مِنَّا أَحَدٌ حَتَّى جَلَسَ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَأَسْنَدَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ إِلَى رُكْبَتَيْهِ وَوَضَعَ كَفَّيْهِ عَلَى فَخِذَيْهِ وَقَالَ يَا مُحَمَّدُ أَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِسْلَامِ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْإِسْلَامُ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَتُقِيمَ الصَّلَاةَ وَتُؤْتِيَ الزَّكَاةَ وَتَصُومَ رَمَضَانَ وَتَحُجَّ الْبَيْتَ إِنْ اسْتَطَعْتَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا قَالَ صَدَقْتَ قَالَ فَعَجِبْنَا لَهُ يَسْأَلُهُ وَيُصَدِّقُهُ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِيمَانِ قَالَ أَنْ تُؤْمِنَ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَتُؤْمِنَ بِالْقَدَرِ خَيْرِهِ وَشَرِّهِ قَالَ صَدَقْتَ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِحْسَانِ قَالَ أَنْ تَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ كَأَنَّكَ تَرَاهُ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ تَرَاهُ فَإِنَّهُ يَرَاكَ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ السَّاعَةِ قَالَ مَا الْمَسْئُولُ عَنْهَا بِأَعْلَمَ مِنْ السَّائِلِ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ أَمَارَتِهَا قَالَ أَنْ تَلِدَ الْأَمَةُ رَبَّتَهَا وَأَنْ تَرَى الْحُفَاةَ الْعُرَاةَ الْعَالَةَ رِعَاءَ الشَّاءِ يَتَطَاوَلُونَ فِي الْبُنْيَانِ قَالَ ثُمَّ انْطَلَقَ فَلَبِثْتُ مَلِيًّا ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي يَا عُمَرُ أَتَدْرِي مَنْ السَّائِلُ قُلْتُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ قَالَ فَإِنَّهُ جِبْرِيلُ أَتَاكُمْ يُعَلِّمُكُمْ دِينَكُمْ
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