The journeys of knowledge seekers
Travelling is part of seeking knowledge
The importance of travelling to seek knowledge is highlighted in the book of Patience by Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah who has described some of the arduous journeys undertaken by great scholars of the past.
The virtues of seeking knowledge
There are many verses which talk about the importance of seeking knowledge. For instance:
أَمَّنْ هُوَ قَانِتٌ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ سَاجِدًا وَقَائِمًا يَحْذَرُ الْآخِرَةَ وَيَرْجُو رَحْمَةَ رَبِّهِ ۗ قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
Is he who worships devoutly during the watches of the night, prostrating himself and standing up, mindful of the Hereafter, and placing his hope in the mercy of his Lord? Say, ‘Are those who know and those who do not know equal?’ Only those possessed of reason will remember. (39:9)
This shows that those with knowledge and those without are not equal.
In Surah Mujadilah, Allah Almighty said he elevates those with knowledge above those who have imaan, and those imaan are higher than those who have none:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمْ تَفَسَّحُوا فِي الْمَجَالِسِ فَافْسَحُوا يَفْسَحِ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۖ وَإِذَا قِيلَ انشُزُوا فَانشُزُوا يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
O you who believe! When you are told to make room in your gatherings, make room; God will make room for you. And when you are told to disperse, disperse. God elevates those among you who believe, and those given knowledge, in ranks. God is Aware of what you do. (58:11)
These verses are showing the importance, rank and responsibility of scholars. In a hadith Qudsi, Allah Almighty mentions that one of the first people thrown into hellfire will be scholars whose intention for learning was insincere. May Allah protect us from that.
Abud-Darda (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
‘He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, Allah will make the path of Jannah easy to him. The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the oceans seek forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness). The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who bequeath neither dinar nor dirham but only that of knowledge; and he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.’ (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
عن أبي الدرداء رضي الله عنه قال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: ‘من سلك طريقًا يبتغي فيه علمًا سهل الله له طريقًا إلى الجنة، وإن الملائكة لتضع أجنحتها لطالب العلم رضا بما صنع، وإن العالم ليستغفر له من في السماوات والأرض حتى الحيتان في الماء، وفضل العالم على العابد كفضل القمر على سائر الكواكب، وإن العلماء ورثة الأنبياء وإن الأنبياء لم يورثوا دينارًا ولا درهما وإنما ورثوا العلم. فمن أخذه أخذ بحظ وافر’ (رواه أبو داود والترمذي).
The responsibility of having knowledge
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) say: The first of people against whom judgement will be pronounced on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who died a martyr. He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favours and he will recognise them. [The Almighty] will say: And what did you do about them? He will say: I fought for you until I died a martyr. He will say: You have lied – you did but fight that it might be said [of you]: He is courageous. And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire. [Another] will be a man who has studied [religious] knowledge and has taught it and who used to recite the Quran. He will be brought and Allah will make known to him His favours and he will recognise them. [The Almighty] will say: And what did you do about them? He will say: I studied [religious] knowledge and I taught it and I recited the Quran for Your sake. He will say: You have lied – you did but study [religious] knowledge that it might be said [of you]: He is learned. And you recited the Quran that it might be said [of you]: He is a reciter. And so it was said. Then he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire. (Tirmidhi and Nasai’)
Asking for more knowledge
In Surah Taha, Allah Almighty teaches us the dua for acquiring more knowledge:
Exalted is God, the True King. Do not be hasty with the Quran before its inspiration to you is concluded, and say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’ (20:114)
This word zidni (increase me) is not found anywhere else in the Quran. Allah Almighty did not use it for wealth or status, or children, but knowledge. We do not worship knowledge. We worship Allah, but knowledge makes us closer to Him. The more we know, the more we should be close to Allah.
The purpose of knowledge
The ayah says we should ask Allah to increase our knowledge not for its own sake, to boast about it, but because it reflects in our action and our relationship with Allah and our character and how we deal with others. If yes, alhamdulilah, if no, then there is something wrong.
Allah Almighty said in the Quran:
Those who truly fear Allah are the scholars. (35:28)
The more we know the more we should fear Allah and be aware of His attributes. When we see the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be on him) there are many hadith about the importance of knowledge and to this end, scholars have written volumes and volumes on the virtues of seeking knowledge.
Deep understanding of knowledge
Mu’awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
‘When Allah wishes good for anyone, He bestows upon him deep understanding of the religion.’ (Bukhari)
This deep understanding of knowledge is about fiqh (legal rulings). Fiqh is about fahm which is deep understanding. It is not parrot education, memorising and reciting, it is understanding. If you want to give you good, focus on understanding the deen, not just learning the deen. This is what we see in this hadith. And we could spend the session on this hadith alone.
The path of knowledge is the path of jannah
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said in one of my favourite hadith:
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)
The path of knowledge is the path of Jannah. How beautiful. And then the hadith says:
‘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)
Scholars are the heirs of the prophets
Abu Darda reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said beautifully:
The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets. The Prophets did not leave behind dinars or dirhams, rather they left behind a heritage of knowledge, and the one who acquires it acquires an abundant portion. (Abi Dawoud)
On another occasion the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
‘Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim.’ (Ibn Majah)
Seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim. Top of the list is sacred knowledge but all beneficial knowledge is good. There are two kinds of sacred knowledge – fard ayn and fard kifaya, fard ayn is what every Muslim should know while fard kifaya is knowledge that at least one or two people in the community need to know.
Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah said:
When you pass by the gardens of Paradise, them feast.’ They said: ‘And what are the gardens of Paradise?’ He said: ‘The circles of remembrance.’ (Tirmidhi)
When the companions asked him what these gardens are, he replied that they are circles of knowledge, where Allah is mentioned. From this we see the importance of knowledge in the Quran and sunnah.
The journeys of knowledge seekers
Shaykh Abdul Fattah talks about the rihla fi talabil ilm the journey to seek knowledge. This rihla (journey) was crucial for anyone seeking knowledge. They had to travel to seek knowledge from different sources and scholars.
Shaykh Abdul Fattah mentioned in the first chapter of his book (Safahat min Sabril Ulama’) that the first person who was told to seek knowledge what Adam. Allah commanded him to greet the angels and see what they would tell him. So he said ‘Salam’ to the angels and see what they would reply, so he learned from them.
Musa and Khidr
Then we have the famous story of Musa and Khidr (peace be on him), which is included in Surat al Kahf. Musa (peace be on him) was asked if there is anyone more knowledgeable than him. And he said ‘No’. But Allah Almighty informed him that there was, and his name was Khidr.
Musa, with all his status as a rasool (messenger) which is even higher than a nabi, he’s been asked to journey and learn from Khidr. There is some discussion about the status of Khidr was he a prophet (nabi) or not? It is disputed and scholars are split 50/50 over it. Ibn Hajar Asqalani, the great muhaddith and Shafi scholar wrote a two volume book on al Khidr. Everyone agrees that he was abdun salih, a righteous man. Musa travelled over land and sea to reach him and learn from him.
Abu Dharr al Ghifari
Shaykh Abdul Fattah mentioned among the companions was Abu Dharr Ghifaree who travelled a long distance to come to Makkah and he was searching for the truth, and that there was someone in Makkah who was proclaiming to be a prophet. He arrived but couldn’t see the Prophet (peace be on him) who was hiding and under lockdown. So Abu Dharr asked people where he was, and they said, ‘Do you mean the sabi’ (the one who has left the religion of his people)? And they pelted him and beat him til he was bloody and fainted. He said he woke up and he was like a red statue. He washed himself with zam zam and he had nothing to eat, but no one was willing to host him, because he wanted to mee the prophet (peace be on him). He stayed 30 days and 30 nights, getting bloated from drinking zam zam. Eventually one night he noticed two people circumambulating the Kaba saying Allah’s name, so he approached them and asked if one of them was Muhammad (peace be on him). He introduced himself to the Prophet (peace be on him) and Abu Bakr, and told them what he had experienced since he arrived in Makkah. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) asked for permission to host him, and took him in.
In summary, Abu Dharr travelled a long distance to seek the truth and learn from the Prophet (peace be on him). He pronounced the shahada in front of the Kaba. He belonged to a tribe which was notorious for being the mafia. They would steal your money and make your life difficult and people feared them, latter on the whole tribe accepted Islam.
Jabir bin Abdillah
Jabir bin Abdillah (may Allah be pleased with him) was a famous companion, who travelled one month to get one hadith which had been heard by Abdullah bin Unays. Bukhari mentioned in Adab al Mufrad, that Jabbir said he had bought a camel to travel on it for one month til he reached Abdullah. Abdullah welcomed him and asked how he could help and Jabir said he had come to hear this one hadith because he had not heard the Prophet (peace be on him) say it and he didn’t want to die without hearing it. It was the hadith about how we will be resurrected. Unays was shocked how far he had travelled. Al-Khatib al Baghdadi commented that this is a great narration about the importance of travelling to seek knowledge. They would sell everything for knowledge. They had the high himmah determination.
Ibn Khaldun in his Muqadimah, wrote a chapter on travelling to seek knowledge and commented that some knowledge can be learned by reading but other knowledge needs to be learned by those who have experience, role models, face to face, you need to see, touch and feel it.
Some people think they can learn knowledge by themselves, but you can’t just learn from reading. This is why scholars – male and female are very important, and it is not just male scholars. As Dr Akram Nadawi has written in his book Muhaddithat, which is the introduction to the encyclopaedia of 50 volumes on female scholars of hadith. He summarised their biographies and it should be published soon inshaAllah.
Baqiyy bin Makhlad
This is a very special story and you should read the details of it yourself. He was from Andalusia, Qurtuba in Spain and Imam Dhabi, along with other scholars wrote his biography. He was born in 201 and died in 276 AH. The summary of his fascinating story is that he travelled from Spain to Sham aged 20 and to meet Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (may Allah have mercy on him) in Baghdad. He was poor, so he travelled by foot a great deal. It took him 15 years. If you had to come by foot from central London to my house, you won’t do that you will take public transport. He had no means but he was willing to travel by foot.
There are many ajeeb (strange and unbelievable) things which happened on his way. The moment he reached Baghdad to learn from imam Ahmad to learn hadith from him, he found out that Imam Ahmad was under political lockdown by the caliph at that time. The great fitna of the time for the Muslim ummah was the clash between the Mu’tazilites known as Fitna Khalq al-Quran. Imam Ahmad was the mountain who faced all these raging tempests, and alhamdulillah he eventually won against the odds. He was strong with Allah’s support and after 20 years in prison on and off and 2-3 caliphs, however during that time was under house arrest. In Shaykh Abdul Fattah describes how Baqiyy approached Imam Ahmad’s home and explained that he had traveled from so far away to learn from him. Imam Ahmad told him be careful not to let anyone see him, so every day he came disguised as a beggar and imam Ahmad would narrate 2-3 hadith to him. In this way he wrote down 300 hadith. At last, the caliph changed and sanctions were lifted, so Imam Ahmad was free to deliver circles at the mosque. When this happened, he made space on his right side for Baqiyy to sit beside him. He would say, ‘This person is fit to be called a student of Hadith.’
Imam Baqiyy bin Makhlad would say about himself:
Verily I know a man who, days used to pass by during his student-hood, and he would not have food to eat except cabbage leaves that would be thrown away as garbage…And certainly I know a man who sold his pants many a times to buy pages for writing!
He said he was once very ill and living in cheap accommodation, but he could not walk to his circle, as soon as Imam Ahmad found out, he came to visit him, and everyone flocked to see whom the great Imam Ahmad was coming to see. Baqiyy’s room was very small and Imam Ahmad came with people wanting to write down everything he was saying. If he breathed they would write it down.
Imam Ahmad made dua for him, and left. The moment he left everyone in the hostel rushed to bring him gifts and offered him food and he felt like a prince because of the visit of the righteous imam.
Baqiyy wrote a Musnad, (which is like a dictionary and has its’ own chain of narrators, including the shaykh) known as Musnad Baqiyy bin Makhlad. Scholars always refer to this book as one of the great Musnads and he wrote a Tafseer which there is nothing like it. Unfortunately we have lost this manuscript. And we make dua that we can find the manuscript of his Musnad and his Tafseer. We searched for it in many places and in Germany but we have not found it. It’s very important. Old scholars saw this book and narrated from it, but its manuscript has been lost. Inshallah we will find it.
We see from this that despite all the pain and difficulties it was an incredible and fruitful journey.
These episodes from the lives of past knowledge seekers show how determined they were and their passion and love for knowledge. We need to push ourselves and have more determination and energy to seek more knowledge to make us closer to Allah and appreciate the opportunity Allah has given us and not to waste it. At the moment we have this opportunity to attend circles and learn, but there may come a time when we cannot do this.
Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 28th May 2020 to the Thursday Circle online.
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