There are many virtues in the act of seeking knowledge. Perhaps, it is the most encouraged act of worship after the obligatory acts. Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ even said, “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” [Sunan ibn Mājah 224] — In numerous ʾĀyāt & Aḥādīth, Islāmic texts evidently display the beauties & aspects of studying the religion of Allāh, but not just any knowledge, its beneficial knowledge that matters the most.
Now, what is beneficial knowledge exactly? Imām adh-Dhahabī رحمه الله says in his biographical book titled Siyar A’lām an-Nubalā’a: “Do you know what is beneficial knowledge? It is that with which The Qurʼān was revealed, and explained by the Messenger ﷺ in statement and action, and the Messenger ﷺ did not come prohibiting beneficial knowledge. The Messenger ﷺ said ‘Whoever does not desire my Sunnah is not of me.’ It is upon you O my brother to reflect over the Book of Allāh and to be addicted to looking into Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Sunān an-Nasā’ī, Riyāḍ aṣ-Ṣāliḥīn by Imām al-Nawawī, and his book Kitāb al-Adhkar, so you will be prosperous and successful. Be aware of the opinions of the philosophers, the duties of the people of mathematical riddles, the going hungry of monks, and the fickle speech of the leaders of those who isolate themselves. All goodness is in following the merciful correct Dīn, so seek aid and assistance with Allāh. O Allāh, guide us to your straight path.” – 19/430
Allāh speaks about the importance of knowledge in the following ʾĀyāt of al-Qurʼān:
يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمۡ تَفَسَّحُواْ فِي ٱلۡمَجَٰلِسِ فَٱفۡسَحُواْ يَفۡسَحِ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمۡۖ وَإِذَا قِيلَ ٱنشُزُواْ فَٱنشُزُواْ يَرۡفَعِ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ
ءَامَنُواْ مِنكُمۡ وَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡعِلۡمَ دَرَجَٰتٖۚ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُونَ خَبِيرٞ
“O you who have believed, when you are told, “Space yourselves” in assemblies, then make space; Allāh will make space for you. And when you are told, “Arise,” then arise; Allāh will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, by degrees. And Allāh is Acquainted with what you do.“
– Sūrah al-Mujādilah, ʾĀyah 11
وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ وَٱلدَّوَآبِّ وَٱلۡأَنۡعَٰمِ مُخۡتَلِفٌ أَلۡوَٰنُهُۥ كَذَٰلِكَۗ إِنَّمَا يَخۡشَى ٱللَّهَ مِنۡ عِبَادِهِ ٱلۡعُلَمَٰٓؤُاْۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ
“And among people and moving creatures and grazing livestock are various colors similarly. Only those fear Allāh, from among His servants, who have knowledge. Indeed, Allāh is Exalted in Might and Forgiving.“
– Sūrah Fāṭir, ʾĀyah 28
It is important to have knowledge within the religion of Islām so we don’t fall into ignorance towards important circumstances that would benefit our ‘Ibādah & affairs that are displeasing to Allāh & would eventually destroy not only our Dunyā, but also our Ākhirah. Having this knowledge is crucial & the most beneficial because you will be steadfast in enjoining the good & forbidding the evil. For example, we know how to offer Ṣalāh, pay Zakāh, observe Sawm, & many other righteous actions, we know to abstain from indecency, back-biting, stealing, & many other unlawful actions. But how did we find out these things? All through reading the Qurʼān, Aḥādīth, & learning & studying the religion. All of the righteous actions & abstaining from the unlawful measures mentioned beforehand shapes us into better people & makes us more pleasing to Allāh, so it would only make sense if we studied more to not only remove ignorance from within ourselves, but to become better Muslims & to accomplish more righteous deeds that will be pleasing to Allāh.
But be aware, as having knowledge of a particular matter or subject within the religion could testify against you on Yawm al-Qiyāmah if you don’t act upon it. An example of this is the Ḥadīth transmitted in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ said, “The Qurʼān is a proof for you or against you.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 223] — The meaning of this Ḥadīth is you can memorize & read as much Qurʼān as you want, but its acting upon its legislations that matters the most, likewise with learning other righteous actions legislated within The Qurʼān & Aḥādīth.
Imām ash-Shāfiʿī رحمه الله said:
“Knowledge is that which benefits, not that which is memorized.“Siyar A’lām an-Nubalā’a 10/89
So, what are some of the virtues & benefits in striving for knowledge? Our Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ speaks on the virtues of knowledge in the selected Aḥādīth:
- “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Ṣadaqāh Jariyah, knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1631]
- “The world, with all that it contains, is accursed except for the remembrance of Allāh that which pleases Allāh; and the religious scholars and seekers of knowledge.” [Jamiʽ at-Tirmidhī 2322]
- “He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, Allāh will make the path to Jannah easy for 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. 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.” [Riyāḍ aṣ-Ṣāliḥīn 1388]
- “May Allāh freshen the affairs of a person who hears something from us and communicates it to others exactly as he has heard it (both the meaning and the words). Many a recipient of knowledge understands it better than the one who has heard it.” [Riyāḍ aṣ-Ṣāliḥīn 1389]
- “The best amongst you is he who learns The Qur’ān and teaches it.“ [Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī 5027]
In the above mentioned Aḥādīth, we realize the nobility of not only seeking knowledge but also teaching it, & how high of a status it has within the religion of Islām. Knowledge carries on after death, the angels lower their wings out of respect, fish in the sea make Du’ā, and many more benefits. This also points out how many unseen rewards Allāh may be bestowing upon us that we don’t grasp when we’re committing these righteous actions.
وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَشۡرِي نَفۡسَهُ ٱبۡتِغَآءَ مَرۡضَاتِ ٱللَّهِۚ وَٱللَّهُ رَءُوفُۢ بِٱلۡعِبَادِ
“And of the people is he who sells himself, seeking means to the approval of Allāh. And Allāh is kind to [His] servants.“
– Sūrah ’al-Baqarah, ʾĀyah 207
فَتَعَٰلَى ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡمَلِكُ ٱلۡحَقُّۗ وَلَا تَعۡجَلۡ بِٱلۡقُرۡءَانِ مِن قَبۡلِ أَن يُقۡضَىٰٓ إِلَيۡكَ وَحۡيُهُۥۖ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدۡنِي عِلۡمٗا
“So high [above all] is Allāh, the Sovereign, the Truth. And, [O Muḥammad], do not hasten with [recitation of] the Qurʼān before its revelation is completed to you, and say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.‘”
– Sūrah Ṭā Hā, ʾĀyah 114
Various great scholars & Imāms spoke on the topic of the merits of knowledge & how your attitude should be when attaining it. Here are a few selected statements from just two out of some of those noble scholars:
ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī رحمه الله says in his book titled Faḍl ʻIlm as-Salaf ʻalá ʻIlm al-Khalaf: “So, beneficial knowledge from all these types of Islāmic Sciences, is having precision of the texts of the Book (Qurʼān) and the Sunnah and understanding their meanings. Qualifying that with what is narrated from the Companions, their successors, and those whom succeeded them in their understanding of the meanings of the Qurʼān and the Ḥadīth. That what is mentioned from them statements regarding issues of al-Ḥalāl and Ḥarām, Zūhd, softening the heart, knowing Allāh, and other matters well.“
Shaykh Muḥammad Nāṣir ad-Dīn al-Albanī رحمه الله said: “It is obligatory upon every Muslim to worship Allāh upon beneficial knowledge and righteous actions. Know that beneficial knowledge cannot be beneficial unless if it is evident and extracted from the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ, then what came to us from the Salaf aṣ-Ṣāliḥ.” – al-Ajwība al-Albanīyyah ala asilatul Kuwaitīyyah 1/2
“It is necessary that beneficial knowledge is connected with righteous actions. If one of them becomes disconnected from the other, it becomes harmful.” – Silsilah Huda wa Nūr, Tape 563, 14:10
Making an effort to attain beneficial knowledge must be paired with righteous actions, abstaining completely from all evil acts & sins, & most importantly, doing it for the sake of Allāh, as it is a must to be sincere to Allāh in your quest of studying the religion & in all matters of ‘Ibādah. Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ said, “He who does good deeds so that people hold him in high esteem, Allāh will expose his hidden intentions on the Day of Resurrection.” [Riyāḍ aṣ-Ṣāliḥīn 1619]
Shaykh Muḥammad ibn al-Uthaymīn رحمه الله was asked “How does one achieve sincerity in seeking knowledge?” thereupon he replied:
1. Intend to abide by the command of Allāh (to seek knowledge).Kitāb al-ʿĪlm, Question 84
2. Intend to preserve the legislation of Allāh, by way of learning & memorizing.
3. Intend to defend the religion.
4. Intend to follow the Sharīʿah of the Prophet ﷺ.
5. Intend to remove ignorance from yourself and others.
May Allāh keep our intentions solely for His sake, grant us beneficial knowledge, & allow our knowledge to testify for us on Yawm al-Qiyāmah.
All praise is due to Allāh, may His peace & blessings be upon our final Prophet Muḥammad, his family, his companions, & all those who follow him in guidance.
Ṣafīullāh Labīb ibn Salīm ʿAbd al-Malik
1st of Ṣafar 1443