In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation—may He extol the Messenger in the highest company of Angels and send His peace and blessings upon him—likewise upon his family, Companions, and true followers.
Dear brothers and sisters! Know that, being a person of knowledge is a great position which everyone aspires to, and the evidence for this is that no one accepts the title of Ignorant (Jahil), even if the individual at hand fits this description. It is naturally engrained within us that knowledge is a lofty position. Prophet Adam’s (AS) superiority over the angels was due to nothing but his knowledge, as Allah Almighty said:
“And Allah taught Adam the names of all things.” [Qur’an, 2:31]
In fact, Allah gives virtue to the trained animal over the untrained as, speaking about what food is lawful for Muslims, Allah the Most High says:
“And the foods that were caught by animals that you have trained to hunt, which you train as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you.” [Qur’an, 5:4]
Thus if the hunting animal is trained then the food it catches is halal whilst the food caught by the untrained animal is not and is considered as dead meat. Despite being inexplicit evidences for the station and position of knowledge, consider just how powerful they are. As for the innumerable explicit evidences, Allah informs us that believers are not of the same level, saying:
“Allah will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, in high degrees.” [Qur’an, 58:11]
And Allah the Almighty said:
“Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” [Qur’an, 39:9]
They are not equal in their lives, in their actions, in their intentions, in their dying, in their graves, in their resurrection, in their reckoning, in their ability to cross the bridge and in their level in Jannah (Paradise). They are not equal; they are different in every way possible.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever pursues a path to gain knowledge, Allah will ease for him a path to Paradise.” [Muslim]
Respected brothers and sisters! The purpose of this sermon (Khutbah) is not to establish the greatness of knowledge but something else altogether. I wish to discover several signs to reassure us that our knowledge does in fact take us in the direction of Jannah (Paradise). I say this as this destination will not be the initial home for many scholars and students of knowledge as the angels of Allah escort them to a place that they did not expect in the least. Though they studied, they failed to make proper use of that knowledge. They drifted, having lost focus on the goal, and conned themselves into thinking that everything was fine. It is for this reason that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) would say every morning towards the end of his Fajr (Subh) prayer:
“O Allah, I ask You for knowledge that is beneficial, provisions that are good and deeds that are accepted.” [Ibn Majah]
And he (Peace be upon him) would say:
“Ask Allah for beneficial knowledge and seek protection in Allah from knowledge that is of no benefit.” [Ibn Majah]
Now what are the signs that our knowledge is actually taking us towards Jannah (Paradise)?
1. Beneficial knowledge actively nurtures the fear of Allah within you.
This is arguably the chief of all such signs, for in an explicitly clear Qur’anic verse Allah the Almighty said:
“It is only those who have knowledge among His servants that fear Allah.” [Qur’an, 25:38]
Ibn Mas’ud (RA) said:
“Knowledge is not about knowing many narrations. Knowledge is the fear of Allah.” [Hilyatul Auliyah]
Ibn Mas’ud (RA) also said:
“Sufficient is the fear of Allah as a product of knowledge, and sufficient is self-deception as the product of ignorance.” [Ad-Dur Al-Manthur]
If your knowledge has not held you back from delaying Salah (Prayer), being violent towards your spouse, answering back a parent, or responding to a desire that offers itself to you online or offline, then your knowledge is not of the type that will rescue you from the punishment of Allah Almighty.
Dear servants of Allah! Beneficial knowledge is that which speaks to you, advises you and actively corrects your behaviour and thoughts. It is a voice that never quietens. What a loyal advisor, blessed mentor and an honest friend it is, as it governs a person’s actions, manages reactions, rearranges priorities and knocks sense into him when he strays. In the face of fear, his knowledge reassures him, in the face of doubt his knowledge stabilises him, in the face of weakness his knowledge strengthens him and in the face of traps, his knowledge screams at him.
During every second of the day, his knowledge reminds Him of Allah’s Majesty, Divine names and perfect attributes, taking him by the hand towards all that Allah loves and away from that which Allah hates with respect to both outward and inward actions. Thus every time he even considers moving his hands towards a prohibition (haram) or giving it a second glance using his eyes or investing in it using his money, his knowledge screams at him to fear Allah, to have shyness of Allah and to stop in his tracks at once.
This is the core purpose of knowledge. If this purpose is not achieved the student or the scholar has fallen victim to four elements the Prophet (Peace be upon him) sought protection from. He would say:
“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from knowledge which is not beneficial, and from a heart which does not humble itself to You, and from desire which is not satisfied, and from prayer which is not answered.” [Muslim]
As such a person’s knowledge has not benefitted him, his heart has hardened, his desires are never fulfilled and his Du’a (supplication) is hardly ever answered. How true were the words of Abdul A’ala At-Tamimi who said:
“Whoever gains knowledge that does not cause him to cry then such a person has not gained beneficial knowledge. This is because Allah said in description of the scholars, “Those who were given knowledge before it – when it is recited to them, they fall upon their faces in prostration, And they say: “Glory be to our Lord! Truly, the Promise of our Lord must be fulfilled.” And they fall upon their faces weeping, and the Qur’an increases them in humble submission.” [Musnad Ad-Darimi]
It may be true that your knowledge is growing, but is it making you grow?
2. Beneficial knowledge gives rise to immediate action. Imam Ahmad (Rahimahullah) said:
“There is not a Hadith that I have written down except that I applied its teaching.”
Unlike us, Imam Ahmad and those like him memorised hundreds of thousands of Hadiths and made an effort to implement each and every one of them. He knew that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) had cupping therapy and gave the therapist one Dinar so Imam Ahmad also had cupping therapy and gave the therapist one Dinar. He knew that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) hid in a cave for three days during his escape from Makkah and so Imam Ahmad spent three days in a cave as well. [See Siyaru A’alamin Nubala, by Imam Az-Zahabi]
A student of knowledge once spent the night at Imam Ahmad’s house. Imam Ahmad placed a container of water in his room so that he could make ablution for his night prayer. When Imam Ahmad came to him at Fajr time, he noticed that the water had not been moved from its place, so he said:
“Subhanallah, a student of knowledge who does not pray at night?” [Siyaru A’alamin Nubala]
Imam Al-Hasan Al-Basri (Rahimahullah) said:
“In the past, when a person would start his journey of knowledge, the effects of his learning would begin appearing in his glances, words, hands, prayer, humility and minimalism.” [Az-Zuhd, by Ibn Mubarak]
Abu Qilabah said to his student Ayyub As-Sikhtiani:
“If Allah gives you a new bit of knowledge, then give it a new bit of worship, and do not make your main intention the teaching of this knowledge.” [Jami’u Bayanil Ilm Wa Fadlihi, by Ibn Abdulbarr]
Sufyan Ibn Uyainah said:
“If I am spending my hours during the day foolishly and my nights ignorantly then what is the point of the knowledge that I am writing?” [Akhlaqul Ulama, by Imam Al-Ajurry]
It is unfortunate that we have all likely met those who have an apparent interest in knowledge but we are then taken aback by their sub-par behaviour. They have little value for time, are addicted to consoles, endlessly socialise, and are willing to spend hours on end arguing with you on a matter that does not require such attention or has no practical benefit. What matters to them is that their opinion is given precedence.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Every group which ends up going astray after their guidance is made argumentative.” [At-Tirmizi]
Imam Ma’aruf Al-Karkhi said:
“If Allah wants goodness for a person, He opens for him the doorway to actions and closes for him the doors of argumentation, and if Allah wants evil for a person, He closes for him the doors of actions and opens for him the doors of argumentation.” [Hilyatul Auliyah, by Abu Nu’aim]
And he would say:
“Argumentation takes away the light of knowledge.”
Such a people found worship, study and Da’awah burdensome and so occupied themselves with endless argumentation; this is a fixed law of Allah. Whenever a people put aside something valuable, Allah will occupy them with lowly matters.
3. Beneficial knowledge ignites within its bearer true humility.
Beneficial knowledge always guides a person towards the safer option of the two options and warns them from gambling with their hereafter. Not only will this knowledge cause them to stay well away from the prohibitions of Islam, but you will see them keeping well away from the grey areas as well. Similarly, because of their humility, they do not hesitate for one moment to say, “I do not know.”
AbdurRahman Bin Abi Lailah said:
“I have met in this very Masjid (Mosque) no less than 120 Ansar from the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and every single one of them who narrated Hadith wished that his brother could spare him of this duty and that of issuing rulings.” [I’ilamul Muwaqqi’in, by Ibn Qayyim]
It was said:
“If he was asked about something relating to the halal and haram, his colour would change and would not be the person he was a few moments ago.” [Sifatus Safwah, by Ibn Jawzi]
They also said about Imam Malik (Rahimahullah):
“Whenever Malik would be asked a question, it would be as if he was standing between paradise and hell.” [Majmu’u Rasa’il of Imam Ibn Rajab]
Ata Bin Abi Rabah said:
“I met people who, when asked an Islamic question, respond whilst their bodies shivered with fear.” [I’ilamul Muwaqqi’in, by Ibn Qayyim]
Umair Bin Sa’id said:
“I asked Alqamah a question. He said, Ask Abidah So I went to Abidah who said, Ask Alqamah I said, Alqamah sent me to you.’ He said, ‘So ask Masruq’ So I went to Masruq who said to me, Ask Alqamah I said, ‘I asked Alqamah who sent me to Abidah who sent me to you.’ He said, ‘Ask AbdurRahman Bin Abi Lailah.’ So I went to him and he refused to answer. So I went back to Alqamah who said to me, “It is said, ‘The one who is quickest in answering questions is the least knowledgeable of them.’”
4. Beneficial knowledge causes one to run away from fame.
Such a person is not deluded into believing that his soul is immune to the effects of praise and attention. Such a person despises titles other than his first name, let alone demand that he be addressed by them. He fears the worst and realises that an atom’s worth of self-admiration could mean the collapsing of mountain’s worth of good deeds. Thus Ibn Muhairiz would say:
“O Allah I ask you for a dull reputation.” [Siyaru A’alamin Nubala, by Imam Az-Zahabi]
They begged Allah to keep the lights away from them not wanting to be known by everyone. Once, when Abdullahi Ibn Mas’ud walked out of his home and people crowded around him, he turned to them and said:
“Why are you following me? If you knew what my situation is behind closed doors, not even two of you would follow me.” [At-Tawadu’u wal Khumul, by Ibn Abid Dunyah]
In fact, the uncle of Imam Ahmad once visited him whilst the Imam was in a clear state of grief and misery with his face resting on his hand. He enquired about him and so the Imam raised his head and said:
“O uncle, how blessed is every person whom Allah dulls his reputation.” [Tarikhu Dimashq, by Ibn Asakir]
He would also say:
“I want to live in a remote valley of Makkah where no one will recognise me. I have been afflicted with fame. I desire death every morning and evening.” [Siyaru A’alamin Nubala, by Imam Az-Zahabi]
Ibrahim Bin Adhama said:
“Any person who loves fame has not been true to Allah.” [Siyaru A’alamin Nubala]
Whenever Ayyub As-Sikhtiani would pass by a gathering and greet them with salam, they would respond passionately having recognised him. To this he would say:
“It is as if I am being punished. It is as if I am being punished.”
Dear brothers and sisters! Allah-Fearing scholars did not want VIP tickets, they did not expect honorariums, front row seats, any type of special attention or service just in case their souls dared to suggest they were somehow special. They wished to live like everyone else, to eat basic food and to sit on the floor like a true servant of Allah.
So detestable was fame to them that when Khalid Bin Ma’adan’s study circle (halaqah) would grow in number, he would leave fearing fame. Similarly, whenever Abul Alia’s halaqah (study circle) would grow beyond three, he would get up and leave. Abubakar Bin Ayyash was once asked:
“What was the biggest crowd you saw in Ibrahim An-Nakha’i’s study circle?” He said, “Four or five.”
Will the scholar or students of knowledge accept an invite with an attendance of 20, 10, or 5 people? How would they react should none at all turn up? In the lives of many, success culminates in the number of followers and shares of posts, yet for one person to benefit from what Allah has given you, for his life to be reformed and to convey your influence on him to others is sufficient for the sincere. Thank Allah that your mistakes are not displayed to a wider audience, that your heart is better guarded against insincerity and that your good deeds are better protected from destruction.
My beloved people! These are some of the fruits of beneficial knowledge. It causes a person to grow in the sight of Allah’s but to drop in his own. Beneficial knowledge breaks a person and causes him to cry over his weak self and over the long journey that lies ahead of him. These are some of the key signs to constantly revisit during every step of your quest for knowledge, for not every path of knowledge will lead a person to Jannah (Paradise).
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of: Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah Mosque; and Late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene Mosque, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: [email protected]; or +2348038289761.
This Friday sermon (Jumu’ah Khutbah) was prepared for delivery today Friday, Jumada al-Thani 01, 1445 AH (December 15, 2023).