Before seeking ‘ilm – Islamic Knowledge – it is essential that you are familiar with the etiquette and qualities that you must possess before starting this journey. The one who rushes into seeking ‘ilm without these prerequisites will see the damage that it can cause; in this life and the next.
Before doing anything in life, you should ask yourself – why are you doing this? When it comes to any form of Islamic Studies – the answer must be that you are seeking knowledge for the sake of Allah, to get closer to Him. In fact, this is a non-negotiable part element of ‘ilm.
“And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, [being] sincere to Him in religion, inclining to truth, and to establish prayer and to give zakāh. And that is the correct religion.” [98:5]
Work especially hard – before and during seeking knowledge – to revisit and renew your intention. Indeed, our intentions are unfortunately the easiest thing to forget.
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah(ﷺ) said, “He who does not acquire knowledge with the sole intention of seeking the Pleasure of Allah but for worldly gain, will not smell the fragrance of Jannah on the Day of Resurrection.” [Abu Dawud – Riyad as-Saliheen, 1391].
‘Umar bin Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him), reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention…” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
A practical sign that you are sincere when seeking knowledge is that regardless of whether you’re praised or insulted, there is no change within yourself. This is because the opinions of people do not concern you, rather – you only seek the satisfaction of your Lord. As a side-note – refrain from praising people to their face, as you could be the reason for their destruction.
Ensure that you are aware of the fact that Allah is always watching you – both in private and in public. Everything – from what you do, what you say and how you conduct yourself – should be done in order to please Allah.
Obedience to Allah is not merely doing what Allah told you to do, it also involves abstaining from what He told us not to do as well. By perfecting this Taqwa, Allah will make you successful in this path of seeking ‘ilm.
“O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful.” [3:200]
“And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him of his matter ease.” [65:4]
Respect this knowledge, especially your teachers.
You must train yourself to come into this journey as a beggar, and to do this; you have to come before your teacher with absolute humility and respect.
Al-Qadi ‘Iyad reported: Malik, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “My mother would dress me up and say to me: Go to Shaykh Rabi’ah and learn from his manners before his knowledge.” [Tartīb al-Madārik, 1/130.]
From the way you sit, to the way you talk to your teacher, all the way down to how you hold your Mushaf – everything to do with this knowledge must be treated with the upmost respect.
Ibn al-Jazari reported: Ibn al-Mubarak, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “I sought manners for thirty years and I sought sacred knowledge for twenty years. The righteous predecessors would seek manners first, then seek knowledge.” [Ghāyat al-Nihāyah, 1/446.]
By showing that you care about this knowledge, Allah will grant you more; as it means that you understand the virtue of ‘ilm and will be grateful for the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon you.
“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.'” [14:7]
Act upon what you learn.
There is no point in seeking knowledge if you are not going to act upon it – ‘Woe one time, to he who does not know and acts! If Allah wants, He will teach him. And Woe seven times to he who knows and does not act upon his knowledge!’
‘Ilm calls to action, if a person is to learn the pillars of Salah – they must act upon it, as it will only serve as evidence against you on Yawm al-Qiyammah.
“Who listen to speech and follow the best of it. Those are the ones Allah has guided, and those are people of understanding.” [39:18]
It is reported that Mālik ibn Dīnār (rahimahullāh) said, ‘If a man seeks knowledge to act upon it, his knowledge will make him happy. And if he seeks knowledge, for other than acting upon it, his knowledge increases him in haughtiness.’ [Rawdatul ‘Uqalā – Dār al-Mirāth, 78.]
Look at the example of the Companions – who would not move onto the next 10 verses of the Qur’an until they had memorized, understood and practiced the preceding verses. Consequently, there is little room for us to escape acting upon what we learn if we wish to benefit from it.
It is reported that Sufyān Al-Thawrī – Allāh have mercy on him – said: ‘Knowledge is only learned to [apply it and] put into practice the Taqwā of Allāh the mighty and sublime.’ [Abū Bakr Al-Daynūrī, Al-Mujālasah wa Jawāhir Al-ʿIlm article, 943.]
During the journey of seeking knowledge, from the cradle to the grave, there will be many obstacles and hiccups along the way. The first force that works against us is, ourselves. Our laziness, excuses, lack of determination and more. Then it is Shaytaan – who operates through different ways to distract us and push us away from the path of seeking knowledge. It is no surprise that one of these means is bad company, who will lead us far, far astray.
Islam will always remain, until the end of the world. As a result, you do not need to rush seeking ‘ilm. There is no age limit on acquiring knowledge! But what will end, is our lives. So why are we not starting? It is one thing to haphazardly memorize the Qur’an in a year and forget it in less than a month, and another thing to never make the effort in the first place.
Bear in mind that you will not live forever and thus must take the steps to acquire ‘ilm, but observe patience whilst doing so.
The virtue of Sabr cannot be counted – and it is a virtue that Allah has told us is بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ. This means that the reward for Sabr is left to Allah and there is no set number on it that we are given in the Qur’an or Sunnah. In the same manner that the reward of fasting is with Allah. This is yet another reason to excercise this amazing quality during the path of seeking knowledge.
“Say, ‘O My servants who have believed, fear your Lord. For those who do good in this world is good, and the earth of Allah is spacious. Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account [i.e., limit].'” [39:10]
It will be hard at times, but keep making dua that Allah makes it easier for you – as Allah is near to His servants, and will come to us running if we come to Him walking.
The only difference between the successful and those who never succeed when it comes to seeking knowledge is lack of passion and patience. Musa a.s did not give up when Khidr told him that he would not remain patient; rather, he said that if Allah wills – he will be patient. He did not give up, and we should not give up either.
He said, “Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge?” [Moses] said, “You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in [any] order.” [18:67-69]
Do not be shy, and do not be arrogant.
Safiyyah bint Shaybah reported: Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said, “How excellent are the women of the Ansar! They do not allow shyness to prevent them from understanding the religion.” In another narration, Aisha said, “They do not allow shyness to prevent them from asking questions about the religion and seeking to understand it.” [Muslim, 332].
Ask the teacher when you are confused, and seek the help of the knowledgeable.
“And We sent not before you except men to whom We revealed [Our message]. So ask the people of the message [i.e., former scriptures] if you do not know.” [16:43]
There is no shyness when it comes to knowledge of our Deen. At the same time – do not show Kibr [arrogance]. Even when you disagree with your teacher, you should be respectful in how you ask for clarification. Never tell your teachers that they are wrong – you are the only person who will lose out.
Come to knowledge with an empty cup and not a full one – especially when it comes to matters of Fiqh.
Instead, ask them – ‘I have always been aware of this particular ruling and now you have informed me that this is the ruling, could you explain please?’ – not only will you find clarification, but you’ll also be learning the differences of opinions on that matter!
Strike a balance between these two.
As with before, until you come with humility before your teachers and before this knowledge – you will never succeed. The examples of our great Scholars are sufficient to understand the type of humility that Scholars, let alone us – should have when treading this path.
This ‘ilm is a blessing, a provision – the one who does not take on humbleness and humility when seeking it will find this journey extremely difficult.
“So high [above all] is Allah, the Sovereign, the Truth. And, [O Muḥammad], do not hasten with [recitation of] the Qur’ān before its revelation is completed to you, and say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” [20:114]
The Prophet s.a.w – who had immense amounts of knowledge – knew that it was a provision from Allah, and as a result he made dua to the one who grants this knowledge!
Why then, do we think that whatever ‘ilm we have acquired, is simply a result of our efforts?
Arrogance and knowledge will never come together. Remember to make dua for those who have taught you, for their forgiveness and preservation – and make dua that Allah removes any arrogance from your soul.
High goals and aspirations.
You must raise the bar for yourself. Do not have the intention to only memorize 1 Juz, have the intention to memorize the whole Qur’an! You have many resources at your disposal, so make use of them before it is too late.
Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.” [Shu’ab al-Imān, 9767 – Sahih (Al-Albani)].
If you do not set the standard high for yourself at the beginning of this journey, you will find yourself losing track of the real goal – using this knowledge as a means of making the path to Jannah easier.
Before you are completely stripped of these blessings, be proactive now and use your time wisely.
I ask Allah to purify my intentions and save me from Nifaaq, and I ask Allah to benefit you all with what I have written. Ameen. May Allah make me better than what they imagine, and forgive me for what they do not know. Ameen ya Rabb.
This post is a summary of the gems I derived from Dr. Sh. Haifaa Younis’ lecture on Adab al-‘Ilm, and some benefits I wished to add.