Last week I finished the last of my nine written exams to enter Al-Azhar. I had been preparing for these exams for months, but as the time drew near I realized that I hadn’t put as much time into preparing for them as I should have, and felt a serious race against the clock was underway. My wife, an Egyptian who majored in Arabic in college, helped me tremendously with the four tests related to Arabic: Sarf (Morphology), Nahwa (Grammar), Balaagha (Eloquence), and Adab wa Nosoos (Literature). With her help I was able to cover the most important items for these exams before ‘exam week’, and reviewed each subject the night before taking its exam.
One night, as we were reviewing for Sarf and Nahwa, my wife was reading quickly through a portion of the book that we had covered before but had completely escaped my mind. As she was reading through it, sounding more like Chinese than Arabic to my mind as I struggled to recall the material, I felt increasingly frustrated and overwhelmed. I became short-tempered, and angrily told her, “Slow down! You’re not helping me by reading it like that!”
Of course she was upset by my words, as she was only trying to help. As we continued reviewing, a strong feeling of regret came over me, and I started crying uncontrollably to the point I couldn’t even speak for five or ten minutes. My wife, confused and worried, kept asking what was wrong.
What was wrong? This knowledge that we work hard to understand is supposed to bring us closer to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) and make us better people, both in our relationship to Him and with His creation. As the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said :
“أكمل المؤمنين إيماناً أحسنهم خلقاً وخياركم خياركم لنسائهم”
“The most complete believer regarding his faith is the one who has the best khuluq (character, manners, behavior), and the best amongst you are those who are the best to their wives.”1
After working so hard over the past weeks preparing for exams, focusing so much on getting good results, I realized that I had forgotten my main goal. The purpose of seeking knowledge is to try and understand my faith, to get closer to Allah (swt), and to apply this sacred knowledge so that it will benefit me in this life and the next, as well as my community. True knowledge improves one’s character and dealing with others, as this small incident with my wife helped me to remember and take a lesson from.
“وَاسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ وَإِنَّهَا لَكَبِيرَةٌ إِلَّا عَلَى الْخَاشِعِينَ”
“اللهم علمنا بما ينفعنا و ينفعنا بما علمتنا و زدنا علما و عملا متقبلا و اهدنا و اهد بنا و اجعلنا سببا لمن اهتدى”
O Allah, teach us that which benefits us, and benefit us with that which you have taught us, and give us an increase in knowledge and deeds that are accepted by You. Guide us, and guide others by us, and make us a cause for those who will be guided!
- On the authority of Abu Hurayrah, Reported by Imam At-Tirmidhi (#1162) who said its sanad (chain) is Hasan Sahih, as well as Imam Ahmed in his Musnad (2/ 450, 472 with a good chain according the Shaykh Shu’ayb Al-Arna’oot). It is also hadith (record) #628 in Riyaadh As-Saaliheen. [↩]
- The translation of this verse is taken from Muhammad Asad’s translation, May Allah have Mercy upon him. I have changed the word “and” to the word “yet” which may or may not bring it closer to the intended meaning, Allah knows best. [↩]