Community Seeking Knowledge Spiritual Purification

“Not educated… No expert…” Nabil Ahmed

Part I | Part II

In our last article we reminded ourselves of how little in reality we know—and how an obsessiveness of thinking that we’re “right” is not a characteristic of a humble Believing Mind. In this second article, we explore how we can reach the intellectual humility that we crave.

  1. Always remember that Allah alone is Al-‘Alim—The All Knowing—and we’re not! Allah (swt) asks us, “Did I not tell you that I know the unseen [aspects] of the heavens and the earth? And I know what you reveal and what you have concealed.”  (Qur’an 2:33)
  2. Follow the confident yet humble example of the Greats. For me Malcolm X’s greatest quality was not his world-class debating or even his championing of human rights—it was his ability to change from a wannabe pimp to criminal to a follower of Elijah Mohammed to someone who found true Islam; his greatest quality was to have the humility to change. He said once of himself, “I am not educated nor am I an expert in any particular field. But I am sincere and my sincerity is my credentials.” I was recently reading the Muqaddimah by ibn Khaldun, regarded as one of the greatest books of all of time, which brought forth new science; yet you meet statements such as, “I confess my inability to penetrate so difficult a subject,” and “Admission (of one’s ignorance) is a specific (religious) duty.
  3. Realize that knowledge is a candle in the darkness of the world. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said, “The superiority of the learned man over the worshipper is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets,” (Abu Dawud). If food is sustenance to your physical body, knowledge is the sustenance to your inner body. But the candle needs to remain lit, by constantly seeking knowledge—it is a means to existence, not the ends. Recently when I was learning about Rumi from Shaykh Dr. Akram Nadwi, he turned out to be very different to what the world makes him out to be. What folly it would be to think I knew it all already. I remember how Malcolm X in his jail cell read the whole dictionary. He used to read on the floor in the night from a glimmer of light—“Each time I heard the approaching footsteps, I jumped into bed and feigned sleep.”
  4. Chill with the people of knowledge. If we want knowledge to get closer to our Lord, then it isn’t going to happen through reading Facebook updates or simply watching Youtube videos (though they have their uses). We need to learn and chill with the people of knowledge (and recognize scholarship). Allah elevates them, “And these examples We present to the people, but none will understand them except those of knowledge,” (Qur’an, 29:43).  We gain more than knowledge from them. The mother of a young Imam Malik said to him (before he went to study with his teacher), ‘Learn his adab [manners] before learning his knowledge.’ Search for local classes, travel to gatherings, invite scholars to your town.
  5. We learn how to master games, do we learn about how to learn? Let us learn how to read a book. Shaykh Hamza has two incredible lectures on that here. My teacher says that to learn we don’t need time-management, but self-management—if you can’t control your sinning then you won’t learn. If you want a receptive mind, then discipline your sleep, your food, your idle-time. In ‘The Value of Time’ by Shaykh Abu Ghuddah we learn how people like Dawud al-Ta’i used to eat bread crumbs, and would say: “The difference between eating crumbs and chewing bread is the reading of fifty verses.
  6. If you’re familiar with the following, then you need to be careful. Kathryn Schultz has an awesome TED talk on ‘wrongology’ and talks about the reactions that take place in the mind of a person who is stuck in ‘rightness’, when someone doesn’t agree with them. (1) You assume the person is ignorant and that they do not have the same information as you. (2) If they do have the same information then you think they’re idiots that they do not have the ability to put the information together. (3) If they do have the same information and a right way of putting it together, then they must be evil or have motives that lead to them misrepresenting the truth for their own purposes. If any of this sounds familiar then take a step back and think of the people you have been shunning.
  7. Don’t let envy block your mind from truth (like Satan). Allah (swt) is Al-Mun’im (Giver of Blessing)—but envy is to desire that a person lose what Allah (swt) has chosen for them. Satan thought himself superior to Adam alayhi as-salam (peace be upon him) and envied him, thus disobeying Allah (swt), and didn’t forgive. Enviers develop a mindset that makes it impossible to admit they’re wrong. Pharaoh was envious of Moses (he couldn’t comprehend seeing a prophet chosen among the enslaved people); and disbelievers including Abu Jahl, Umayya ibn Khalaf and al-Walid ibn al-Mughira were envious of the Prophet ﷺ, secretly wishing they received revelation from Heaven (Qur’an 74:52). People in leadership positions must especially be careful of being envious of others’ accomplishments. Spiritual scholars say that envy only damages oneself—to cure it one should love, praise and gift those they envy for their accomplishments. That one person you envy might be the one person that ends up as your saviour—assume good, kill gossip—the Prophet ﷺ said “There are two things that no believer has been given anything better: a good opinion of Allah and a good opinion of the servants of Allah.
  8. Be wary of the clouds of love and hate. Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) said, ‘Do not let your love be a total infatuation. Do not let your anger be destruction.’ He was asked, ‘How is that?’ He replied, ‘When you love, you are infatuated like a child. When you hate, you desire destruction for your companion.'” Delving deeper, the Prophet ﷺ once said to his Companions, “Do you want to see a man of Paradise?” A man then passed by and the Prophet ﷺ said, “That man is one of the people of Paradise.” So a Companion decided to learn what it was about this man that earned him such a commendation from the Messenger ﷺ. He spent time with this man and observed him closely. He noticed that he did not perform the Tahajjud (late night prayer), or anything extraordinary. He appeared to be an average man of Madinah. The Companion finally told the man what the Prophet ﷺ said about him and asked if he did anything special. And the man replied, “The only thing I can think of, other than what everybody else does, is that I make sure I never sleep with any rancor in my heart towards another.” Go figure.
  9. Mirror mirror on the wall… Tell me how amazing I am. If you have friends that constantly tell you how amazing you are—even when you’re wrong—then they’re not being good friends (tell them that). Be wary of anything in your life that fuels your ego, for your ego loves to think it’s right, and it feels good. If you have music which makes you love yourself delete it; remember that there are restrictions on these things.
  10. Believing so strongly in our “rightness” and everybody else’s “wrongness” is breaking up the Islamic community. Allah (swt) created diversity in our brotherhood and sisterhood—He made us ‘into nations and tribes, so that you might come to appreciate one another.’ He Almighty says, ‘Had God so willed, He would have made you one single community.’ Yet today at least in the British Islamic community I notice that everyone believes they are ‘the mainstream’ to the expense of others (insert ‘too liberal’, ‘too conservative’, ‘chillers’, ‘fundos’, ‘deviants’ etc!). Sadly, this means we have a number of fringes (which do not talk), and we are devoid of a colourful centreground. It’s much easier to do it on your own than to sit down with those you disagree with right? I call that insecurity. We must call out those who divide us—and if your Shaykh or teacher is telling you that everyone else is misguided except for you, then you need to correct your teacher.
  11. The Prophet said once, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak a good word or remain silent,(Bukhari, Muslim). And the narration continues. Don’t talk for the wrong reason. Don’t run to be the person who is itching to grab the mic. Prophet ﷺ  said, “Whoever seeks out reputation, Allah will expose him on the Day of Judgment.
  12. Think it over, ask Allah. Though He (swt) is always available, let’s utilize those hours in the last third of the night. We’ll maybe begin to realize how important our rightness is in the context of our relationship with Allah (swt). If you live in a busy concrete-filled city, get out now and again; pray with the trees.

And I’m sure you know more. Allah knows best.

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  • Can you give the source for ““The only thing I can think of, other than what everybody else does, is that I make sure I never sleep with any rancor in my heart towards another.”?

  • Jazakallah khair for sharing this. I’m wondering – is it possible to take this to the other extreme?
    When someone asks for an opinion on a subject, I tend to shy away from saying anything concrete because I don’t want to lead them to something wrong.

    How does one balance this realization of one’s own limited understanding/limited knowledge, with one’s duty to tell people to do the right thing?

  • As-salaam 3alaykum wa ra7matullahi wa barakatuhu,

    i do agree – if u do not know.. someone has to get knowledge from people who do know. It does not restrict someone what channel is used to gain knowledge. If someone uses facebook or youtube to gain knowledge then it is nothing wrong if he knows about the quality of the one who is talking about islamic issues. In many cases people do not know a lot and could get wrong informations. Then it is recommended to find other means of communication – face to face in a mosque with someone who talks your language. whatever language you do understand 😉

    wa salaam

  • thank you for this informative post. Yes, we human beings tend to think that what we know is right. It’s also human nature where we love to impose our opinions and thoughts to others. We think that what we know and all of the knowledge we have is the right knowledge. Normally, when i meet these kind of people, I will just walk away. It’s just a futile act to argue with those who insist on looking at things only from their dusty spectacles.

  • This mindset is also a turn-off to people who might’ve been receptive to listening. For example, in da’wah.

    I’ve always liked Imam Shafi’e’s way of describing his positions, acknowledging what scientists would call the “error bars” around his conclusion. Today my day job follows on from my academic tendencies. Even so, there were still things that I was more sure of than I should be, and things I did not know if I could do. My area of dogma was not about a particular science or religion, it was about knowing myself – and God has shown me that I in fact did not know myself as well as He, and that I could grow in character where I thought I could change no more.

    Indeed, knowledge is quite fractal. the more you learn, the more you become aware of yet more you would need to learn. Only the ignorant are sure about everything. People are uncomfortable with uncertainty, despite it being the very fabric of everything’s existence. Having to constantly review a whole lot of contextual “grey” and then distil it to a few black/white rules and process for people to follow that would serve them well without them having to have an expert’s grasp of the underlying “grey” – this is what made me appreciate and understand why God had to reveal our religion in the way He has. There are some absolutes that exist, to be sure, but far fewer than we think there are.

    The message of the afterlife is akin to the message of global warming in the reason why people find it difficult to accept. The main difference is that the former definitely will happen, and the latter only very probable with possibility of being averted. In both cases they involve a future danger that nobody can prove will happen until it actually does, but can only present evidence that it will. Yet the severity of the consequences if the message is true warrants action from today, warrants changing behaviour and lifestyles. Waiting for proof (i.e. it has happened) is all and good, but it will be too late. Taking action from now will be wise, but what if the message is untrue and you changed your life “for nothing”?

    This is the psychology of humans, and the decision every human must make when confronted with revelation. It will always require faith, because everyone is different and we can’t personally see the future. There is no one exactly identical to you that you can say, ‘have my exact clone accept Islam first and see what happens, and if it changes his life and saves him I will do so back in the past’. Similarly you can never tell with 100% certainty this person or that person is wrong, you can only act on what you think is probably the case. Simple honesty should prevent you from representing this probable decision as an absolute truth.

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