Islamic Character Seeking Knowledge

Reflections of an Aspiring Student of Knowledge

by Alaa Suliman

“One of the ways to acquire proper akhlaq (character) and adab (manners) is to seek knowledge,” our teacher told us. “To seek knowledge with a scholar who has studied with someone.”

Last night, our teacher shared that advice before we started our weekly fiqh (Islamic law) class. He then shared a story with us.

“My first teacher was an ocean of knowledge, may Allah protect him. One time, while I was studying with him in the masjid, he told me to wait for him. I sat there and waited for him from `asr (late afternoon) prayer till maghrib (sunset prayer). He then came back and told me: today you learned a lesson which you can never learn in books. After that, he told me to leave.”

Reflecting on what our teacher said, along with the story he shared, I can’t help but realize how and why we, as students of knowledge wannabes, fall into many debates and useless arguments. Most of our scholars (if not all) have studied under knowledgeable shayukh (spiritual leaders) who disciplined them and taught them manners and adab before they taught them any Islamic science. They understood very well that their sincerity, humbleness, and down-to-earth attitude with fellow Muslims and everyone was far more important than memorizing volumes of books. However, they weren’t served these beautiful manners on a golden plate; rather, they went trough a rigorous process of discipline, challenge and self-evaluation. While they were memorizing the Qur’an and Sahih Bukhari, they trained their hearts and minds and rectified things within. And because Allah (swt) helped them to do that (and much more), they are now able to deal with our communities. They are able to have respectful discussions and debates with those who disagree with them. They are able to handle criticism and slander and use it as a means to become better. Most importantly, they are able to help bring goodness to their community and humanity at large wa alhamdulilah (and all praise is to Allah).

Comparing the process our scholars and shayukh went through to how we should “pursue Islamic education” is quite interesting. Most of us here in the west refer to Wikipedia or “Shaykh Google” for our questions. Some of us exert more effort and sign up for classes at our local mosques or institutes. Some even take it to the next level and committed to study under a shaykh or student of knowledge. Alhamdulilah, we are all working hard and doing our best with the kind of resources we have. But to be quite honest, taking weekend classes or attending weekly halaqas (discussion circles) will never be the same as dedicating 4-5+ years of your life for studying. Learning from books will not always humble you and shock you with the reality that there’s so much knowledge out there that you’re ignorant of. Yet…

How many of us witnessed (or even worse, got involved in) endless debates about this opinion or that fatwa (religious ruling)? How many times have we doubted the credibility of our scholars (who dedicated most of their lives for this da`wah (call to Islam)) simply because we didn’t feel comfortable with their opinion? What about when we debated our teachers and challenged them, lacking proper character? Or we started labeling people and groups and confirmed who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell? The sad reality is that all of these scenarios have happened countless times – and continue to happen.

The Prophet ﷺ said (roughly translated): “May Allah have mercy on he who knows his worth.” As students of knowledge wannabes, we need to first and foremost rectify our intentions and humble ourselves before Allah (swt). We need to remember that any knowledge Allah blessed us with is to be used for His service and humanity but not for debates and long online arguments. We need to make sure that while we take all these classes, we simultaneously work on our own self development and purification insha’Allah (God-willingly).

May Allah (swt) teach us that which benefits us. May He grant us the sincerity and the humbleness to seek knowledge and the wisdom to practice it. May He make us amongst the scholars, or at least bless us with their company so we may learn from their manners and benefit from their training.

May He reward all of our scholars, teachers and mentors, and grant them and their families beautiful patience. May we learn to respect, appreciate, love and make du`a’ (supplication) for them.

Allahuma ameen.

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  • in a world of ‘Shaik google’ and virutal classes where we get our ‘ilm…or those weekend crash courses..what advice would you give t a person who is striving to get tat adab…but doesnt have the opp to actually sit on under a shaikh(a) ad observe him/her.

    • Befriend a scholar and prove to them your serious about studying. The muslim community takes our scholars for granted and they, often times, are not treated with the respect they deserve.

      Dedicate 1-2 hours a few days out of the week (like any college class) to study with the scholar.

      If you can’t travel setup a conference call, and try to get more than one person onboard, three works well. You want to make sure the sessions dont sputter if one person doesn’t make it to the meeting/call.
      With one student- the session would fail with the loss of one student
      With two students the session can work if one person is missing,
      With three students, the session can still have a vibrant discussion with the loss of one student
      I would be warry of many students in the session, or it may turn into a lecture, with little to no discussion, or all discussion and no lecture.

      You can use or any other service..

      Also be sure you buy the book you will study – if its a book..

      This is a system the Shaikh I’m studying with has developed, it’s still fluid, but ah it’s working well.

      Our next steps are to ‘turn up the heat’ and make the sessions more formalized, record audio, try to translate voice to text via a computer program – is this possible? – and setup a simple google group / site for notes and questions from the study sessions to promote indepth research

  • SubhanaAllah, a well-written article.

    I like the fact that it stresses the part where we tend to argue about our opinions and knowledge on certain hukm or hadith..yet the point of seeking knowledge isnt about ARGUING who’s right or wrong, rather its about striving to be a better Muslim with every knowledge that we seek. Best of it all, with each knowledge, comes great responsibility. And we’ll be asked in the Day of Judgement. So, before we start pointing out fingers to other people, lets make ourself the best Muslim that we can at the same time inspire others to do the same. InsyaAllah..with that in mind, we are on our way to attain His Jannah~

    Thank You for the great article and reminder! Barakallahufikum!

  • Assalamu Alaikum. Debate should always be conducted in a respectful, patient manner as this article encourages. But debate itself should always be encouraged and discussions be open. I see it as using the intelligence that Allah (swt) gave us.

    • I get what you’re saying, but I think discussion and dialogue is better than debate in general. The latter seems to imply people head-butting each others opinion, each sticking to his/her own. However, with the right people in the right context, I agree debating inculcates several positive skills. If you’re interested, read: The Argument Culture: Changing the Way We Argue and Debate by Deborah Tannen. (rather old but you find it interesting).


      • Salaam. Yes, I agree. Discussion and dialogue amongst those with respect and openness. Much good can come from the sharing of ideas. Thank you for the recommendation. Insha Allah I’ll pick it up.

  • As my teacher always said, early scholars never divorced ethic from knowledge. MashaAllah! Very well written article.

  • Jazakum Allahu khyran everyone for reading and for your kind words! I pray that this reminder is of benefit to myself and others insha’Allah.

  • Salam. A very good article. Can I copy and paste it to my blog? I’ll put the links and the original author and stuff.

  • MashAllah indeed this is an amazing article!I completely agree with you on this. Our scholars dedicate their life to knowledge unlike us who assume that we know everything just because we can google it.

    May Allah Grant our Scholars with Jaanat Al-Firdous. Ameen

  • Student Of knowledge is the one who bring themself with the guidance of Allah towards the life in akhirah….thanks for this meaningful writing.

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