Effective Learning. Where do Students of Knowledge go wrong?

What is the secret to effective learning? Where do students go wrong in the acquisition of knowledge?

‘And say, My Lord increase me in knowledge’ (20:114)

Many Muslims know that seeking knowledge is encouraged in Islam, but few know what is necessary as far as intention, deeds, manners and etiquettes when seeking knowledge.

The more you know the more you feel closer to Allah. The true experience of seeking knowledge can be transformational and joyous. If your seeking is coupled with clear and pure intention, love and determination, the process itself cannot be described in words. For some it can be the ultimate experience of living paradise here on earth. Ibrahim Ibn Adham (d.100-165) said:

‘If the kings and the king’s children knew what pleasure was in our hearts, they would fight with us over it with their swords.’

Imam Taymiyyah (d.661-728) said:

‘Sometimes the heart is in such a state that I say: “If the people of Paradise experience this than they indeed have a wonderful life.”’

Imam Taymiyyah on another occasion whilst facing tribulation was quoted to have said:

‘My Paradise is in my chest and wherever I go, I take it with me. So what can my enemies do to me?’

Many students of knowledge read various writings – sometimes on the subjects of Hadith and sometimes on the subjects of Tafseer and Fiqh. They listen to and attend the gatherings of the people of knowledge. Some of them spend a long time, maybe a year or two seeking knowledge but they do not achieve the level that others have achieved during that same amount of time.

However, when they (those who have attended lectures here and there) go back and examine themselves, they find that they have not fully understood any particular subject matter presented to them proficiently. Or perhaps they find that they have not acquired a lot of knowledge from this. Their attendance of lectures and lessons has not provided them with a well-founded basis of knowledge. Some after years of studying grow weary and tired and eventually give it up.

The reason behind their setback is due to their lack of etiquettes and their lack of adherence to the correct methodology with regard to seeking knowledge.

From the onset, one may assume that seeking knowledge is simply a matter of reading, memorizing or just acquiring knowledge. However, the mere acquisition of knowledge is insufficient to build a sound and balanced Islamic personality.

This knowledge was revealed from the Lord of the Heavens, through the channels of the blessed Angel Jibreel, to the chest of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). This knowledge is from a sacred source, verily, none but the purified can touch it. For us to benefit from it we must receive it in a manner that befits it. Hence, seek the knowledge and seek it in a good manner; knowledge will not come about except through manners. One of the scholars who attended the gathering of Imam Ahmed said:

‘In the gatherings of Imam Ahmed, around 5,000 people or more would gather, less than 500 would write narration and the rest would learn good manners and correction from him.’

Several centuries ago Maklhad bin Al Husain (d.191) said:

‘We are more in need of acquiring adab than learning hadith.’

If this statement was true then, how much truer is it today? Sadly we live in times where adab is lacking at all levels of society.  We live in a adab-less society where the parents are disrespected, teachers are not treated with due honour, elders are not given their due rights and the manners of interaction are not observed.

Those who often claim to be the students of knowledge do not behave as true knowledge seekers should. When people attend a knowledge circle, we can see the level of respect they show towards the sacred knowledge they are about to receive. They display a lack of respect in the presence of their teachers, their fellow students and their books coupled with the mentality that knowledge itself should be gained for knowledge’s sake is destroying the fruits and benefits of the knowledge they are seeking.

It is important to have adab along with knowledge, Imam Zakariyya al-Ansari (823-926) once said:

‘Knowledge without adab is like fire without wood and adab without knowledge is like a spirit without a body.’

Knowledge tells a person what to do and when to do it. Without knowledge, a person will not know how to act in every single situation.  Adab is the proper manner which the beautifies the implementation of knowledge

Without knowledge, adab is not that powerful. But when a person combines knowledge and adab, then this is the pinnacle of Iman. And that is why, when the Prophet combined both of these to their perfection he was the most knowledgeable of Allah and he had the best of manners. When one exists without the other, then this is a sign of imperfection, a sign of deficiency.

Imam Malik’s mother Ali’ah, sent him to his first Shaykh Rabi’ah to learn, and she said:

‘Go to your Shaykh Rabi’ah and learn from his adab, before you learn from his knowledge.’

His student, Abdullaah Ibn Maslamah said:

‘We used to sit with Imam Malik and take from his manners and conduct, just as we would take from his knowledge.’

Having good manners is an integral part of the development of a sound Islamic personality. It is one of the keystones in seeking knowledge. It will be unfair to say one should have good manners naturally, Ibn Seerin (33-110AH) said:

‘We used to learn manners as you would learn knowledge.’

Manners are something that one is brought up with, sees around him and thus acquires it. Therefore, it is not always the students’ fault as many are simply unaware of how they should conduct themselves in a knowledge circle and what the correct method for acquiring knowledge.

The student of knowledge must learn how to go about the task of seeking knowledge with the correct etiquettes and manners. When seeking knowledge he must follow a clear and defined methodology. He should adhere to the method of education that those people of knowledge before him adhered to, and due to which they became scholars after having treaded upon this way. He should be prepared to sacrifice all of his time in seeking knowledge. And he must persevere with it regardless of what the situation is.



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.

Suggested Books:

Ibn Jama’ah – Etitquettes of Seeking Knowledge

Abd Al Barr – Jami’ Bayan Al Ilm

Al Khateeb Al Baghdadi – Al Jami’ li Akhlaq Al Rawi


Abu Shama has a background in engineering, IT and management consultancy, and reinvented himself as a life coach, writer and secondary school teacher. In addition to his special interest in spirituality, he shares his son’s love of dinosaurs and Lamborghinis. He has published two uniquely beautiful books, The Blue Moon and Yunus and the Whale and has many others in the pipline mashallah.