Having the right attitude towards your teacher
by Abu Shama
Having the right attitude towards your teacher
Trusting the teacher to guide you
Once you have selected a teacher, it is incumbent on you to respect, honour and adhere to your teacher. He must not feel proud or arrogant about the knowledge he acquires. Rather, he must display humility in front of his teacher and grant him full control to direct and supervise him in all matters. He should submit himself willingly in the same way that a sick person, that is ignorant about medicine, submits himself to a concerned and proficient doctor. And if his teacher should be younger than him in age and possess little popularity, then it is only by showing humility and patience can one truly attain the knowledge.
Imam Ghazali said.
‘When you find an authentic teacher you can rely and trust, you should follow his opinion in whatever he directs the student to. This is due to the teacher’s knowledge and wisdom; he may have certain insight into the qualities of the student that the student may not be aware even in himself. ‘
Islam is sincere advice and the rightly guided teacher will not try to mislead his students. Imam Ghazali referred to the story of Musa and Khidr (peace be on them). Musa went to learn from the Khidr, Khidr informed Musa (peace be on them) beforehand to be patient in his decision as he has certain knowledge from Allah. The Prophet (peace be on him) said regarding Musa (peace be on him).
‘May Allah bestow His Mercy on Musa! If he had remained patient, we would have been told further about their case.’
The student needs to have patience and trust in the teacher in what he directs the student to do, and then he will see the fruits of what he said.
Obedience to the teacher
A word of caution, in the story of Khidr and Musa (peace be on them), these were people of Allah Almighty, and Khidr would not direct Musa (peace be on them) nor will he commit an act of intentional disobedience in front of Allah Almighty. But for the common masses, you have to adhere to the teacher in what he commands so long as it is permissible from an Islamic perspective. The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
‘There is no obedience to the created, if it involves disobedience to the creator.’ [Ahmad]
You should respect the knowledge the teacher has and the message he is trying to convey. He is a human being and can be prone to making errors. Therefore, you are responsible to verify what he is doing or saying is in accordance to the Shari’ah. You should avoid defending him for the sake of defending, do not let your love and respect blind you such that you overlook his mistakes in matters where he is not obeying the Shari’ah. Again, you have to have the correct etiquettes in addressing his mistakes. As a rule, the student should use the most eloquent and gentle way to correct him. You should not say, ‘I disagree with you’ even if that is what you feel. As this causes a rift in the knowledge gathering, rather say something of the nature of: ‘I have heard from a source’ or ‘I seem to recall you said before but I may have misheard…’.
The seeker of knowledge should respect his teacher, and feel that his teacher is one of the inheritors of the Prophet (peace be on him) of Allah. If you have this feeling, then you will benefit from him even more. As his message is heavy and connected to the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) and the chain of narration has immense blessings. If you have a different feeling, you will not benefit from him as much or in the worse case; you will doubt his knowledge.
If you find yourself to be in constant disagreement with your teacher, you will not benefit from him. You should not sit in this teacher’s circle as this will increase your withdrawal from him rather it may be best for you to find another teacher who you can trust and take knowledge from. Interrogate yourself first, because it is equally likely that you maybe at fault and not the teacher.
Overlooking the teacher’s shortcomings
You must look towards your teacher with an eye of respect and reverence, for indeed this is the best way of deriving benefit from him. When some of our pious predecessors would go to study with their teacher, they would give something away in charity and make supplication:
‘O Allah, conceal my teacher’s defects from me and do not cause the blessing of his knowledge to be taken away from me.’
These students knew that seeing the shortcomings of their teacher would prevent them from benefiting from him. If you think that the teacher has made a mistake, do not let that mistake make you lose respect for him, because this will deprive you of his knowledge. Who is there who is entirely free from error?
Celebrating the teacher’s shortcomings
There is another way; a positive way of looking at the teacher’s shortcoming. We have all done this one time or another; we like to build up our teacher(s) to a superhuman level, where he knows all sciences and makes no mistakes. And when we find faults in him we are very much taken back. These faults should not lower him in your eyes but instead it should make you recognize how human and fallible your teacher really is.
Recognising his fallacy is one of the most important things you can learn from your teacher. Obviously you must behave with the correct etiquettes of Islam and not disclose his faults to others. Demystifying your teacher plays an important role in boosting your confidence in your own ability to succeed.
In spite of the teacher’s great success and the admiration of friends, families and community, he still makes mistakes just like you. Though the teacher has developed tremendous strengths that have made him successful, he also has many weaknesses. Rather than being disappointed in your teacher, you should rejoice over his human failings because those failings mean that you do not have to be perfect to succeed. In fact anyone can succeed just as he did so long as he works persistently and progressively towards his goal. You begin to believe that you can be successful like him.
This is a series compiled following lectures on ‘The Manners and Etiquette of the Teacher and the Students’. The course was based on a book written by Shaykh al-Islam, Badr al-Din Ibn Jama’ah and conveyed to us by our Shaykh Haytham Tamim.
Qadi al-Qudat, Shaykh al-Islam, Badr al-Din Ibn Jama’ah was born in 639 AH (1241 AD). Originally from Syria and later moved to Egypt. He was educated at Hama, achieved excellence in religious studies and jurisprudence, and became a leading promoter of the Shafi’i Fiqh. Eventually, he attained the high status of Shaykh al-Islam and held the high position of Chief Justice. Imam al-Dhahabi has observed that Qadi Ibn Jama’ah was well versed both in prose and poetry, and had left abundant notes on Fiqh, Hadith, Usul al-Fiqh, and Tarikh(History). He commanded respect and influence, and had a large number of students and followers. He died at Cairo in the year 733 A.H. (1332 A.D.), aged 94, and was buried by the side of the great Imam Shafi’i.
His book on the subject of Adab al-Alim wal-Mutaalim
It was in the year 672 AH (1273 AD) that Ibn Jama’ah completed this book as a guide for both students and teachers to help improve quality of their academic life and work.
Ibn Jama’ah – Etitquettes of Seeking Knowledge
Abd Al Barr – Jami’ Bayan Al Ilm
Al Khateeb Al Baghdadi – Al Jami’ li Akhlaq Al Rawi
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