Islamic Studies Personal Development Ummah

Discourse On The Path Of Knowledge

Commentary on Selections from Maulana Thanwi’s Hayatul Muslimeen


Maulana Ashraf Thanwi, (r) in Hayatul Muslimeen, outlined a practical description of the essentials of an Islamic lifestyle. These principles serve as the pillars for the proper cultivation (tarbiyah) of the student of knowledge. In Hayatul Muslimeen, there are a number of overarching themes that allow us to succinctly map the path of spiritual and behavioral cultivation:


  1. Knowledge
  2. Da’wah
  3. Reformation

Knowledge serves as a starting point to reformation of the self, family and community. Knowledge was the starting point of the Prophetic encounter with the Divine and it was the imperative given in the Cave of Hira. It is the foundation of revival and resuscitation of that which has fallen into neglect: the Islamic way of life. Learning – and teaching too – should subsequently lead to concern for the well-being of humanity.

Hence, learning is connected to da’wah, for da’wah:

  1. Is a venue for encouraging humanity to fulfill its potential
  2. Serves as a means to affirm the conscience of a community

Upon these two virtues, reformation of the self and the Ummah rests. Reformation (islah) is the prerequisite of true revival (tajdid). Without it, individuals will not accept the hardship that is part and parcel of life and practice (taklif).

Reform and Revival

The teachings of Maulana Thanwi (r) indicate to us that reform and revival take a practical path, and establish two arch-pillars in the daily life of the Muslim:

  1. Personal development (cultivating understanding and practicing tazkiyah)
  2. Concern and effort for the establishment of the basics of Deen:
  • In personal life
  • In family life
  • In one’s locality
  • In the greater Muslim community

Personal Development

By definition, what ‘personal development’ demands is action–action that is aimed at none other than intellectual and spiritual reform for the sake of Allah. However, it cannot be carried out unless the person works for self-reformation. In short, personal development is intellectual and spiritual reform on a personal level. What is to be achieved is the transformation of thought, feeling, instinct and practice so that the spiritual faculties of the person become sensitive, through Islam, to the way of Iman and Ihsan, thereby becoming qualified to fulfill the role of vicegerent (khalifa).

1.) Intellectual Reform

Intellectual reform takes place when understanding is guided by the principles and values of Islam. The Muslim is charged by the Shar’iah with working to understand Islam. Practice, in order for it to be deemed sound, must be informed. The maxim to be followed here is that “knowledge precedes practice.” The covenant the Muslim holds with Allah is one which must be understood; the very dictates of that covenant entail understanding. This is verified by way of the initial Qur’anic imperative: “Iqra!” Reform of humanity began with this. Learning Islam and propagating its knowledge is essential; there is no reform without knowledge and propagation of knowledge (learning and teaching).

2.) Spiritual Reform

Understanding (knowledge and practice) is not an end in itself but the means by which we come to realize practically in the dunya the purpose of life (`ibadah) and come to taste the sweetness of Iman. In principle, “Action feeds Iman and Iman feeds action.” It is the dynamic between Iman and action which breeds certainty (yaqin) in Allah (swt) and exposes the heart to those habits which bring us closer to becoming a complete human being. We are required to act as a condition of Iman but what is needed in the Ummah today is the urge to act and, further, to seek the pleasure of Allah (swt).

Maulana Inamul Hasan (r) taught that “the urge to act is the test of true comprehension and the very aim of becoming acquainted with the fada’il of action.” Knowledge of the fada’il is not sufficient for action, for its aim is to instigate an urge to consistent action. Developing the urge to act is part of the spiritual reform but is incomplete without an intellectual reform. Tazkiyah (purification of the self) is not for the end of ecstatic experiences as thought by those who are deficient in understanding of the Deen. Ecstatic experiences that do not create the urge for action based on the dictates of the Shari’ah have their source in shaytanic origins and do nothing other than mislead the self. Our task is to fulfill the demands of vicegerency while preparing for the Hereafter, our sole interest being the pleasure of Allah (swt).

Perfection of intention and refinement of action must follow a program of intellectual reform and is the test of knowledge itself. The Muslim is charged with understanding that growth. The path to content begins with knowledge and knowledge serves a greater end, which is action. A proper understanding of knowledge entails that we become acquainted with the functions of knowledge-not just its spiritual value. It is the priority of scholars and others alike to establish the basics of Islam, given the weighty nature that the pillars of Islam carry. That is, in the absence of the pillars of Islam we are confronted with the absence of Islam itself from the human sphere. Islam is present in the human sphere on the condition that its pillars are embodied in human action.

Defining Knowledge

The test of knowledge is its effect in the realm of practice. According to the scholars of Islam (r), knowledge devoid of action is, by definition, ignorance. When we understand the practical functions of knowledge, then we are more apt to understand how to measure it in action.

Functions of Knowledge

Maulana Thanwi (r) teaches us that knowledge serves three functions and these three functions, when realized, secure for us a proper understanding of knowledge and obtain for us the benefits of knowledge.  Knowledge:

  1. Prevents one from going astray
  2. Induces action by the leave of Allah (swt)
  3. Qualifies one to teach and instruct others

By understanding the functions of knowledge, we are put in a position in which knowledge is understood as a means to action and action is principles translated into a concrete reality.

Knowledge is a Safeguard

Knowledge will safeguard us on the condition that there is sound understanding. For this reason the `Ulama’ (highest ranking Muslim scholars) propagate the principle that knowledge comes before action and then action is identified by means of definitions and conditions. By definitions and conditions, we come to understand a standard for action and that standard is part and parcel of an over-arching system  (Shar’iah)  that safeguards our practice and being. What Shar’iah aims at is charting for us the practical and theoretical implications of tawhid for life. It is in understanding the Shar’iah that we are safeguarded from going astray, because it is our guidance. Put differently, by understanding the Shar’iah we understand what tawhid is in creed and its effect and implication is on action.

Knowledge Encourages Practice

In the understanding of Shar’iah, knowledge in its nature demands action by virtue of the principles of consistency and integrity–which are part of the structure of knowledge in the Islamic understanding. In order to be consistent with what we know, we must practice what we hold dear. Consistency between theory and practice is what cultivate integrity, integrity is the state in which a person is said to be knowledgeable.

Practical Methodology – Excerpts from Hayatul Muslimeen

Means of Da’wah:

1.) Study Circles (duroos)

  • Priority should be given to the basics.
  • Students who want to go beyond the basics should not be refused.

2.) Jumu`ah Khutba and Inspiring Lectures

  • Talks should cover all areas of Shar’iah.
  • Clarity of language and effective delivery should be practiced when communicating.

3.) Writing

Principles of Reformation:

1.) Associate with the pious who are adept on the spiritual life and who are knowledgeable.

2.) Study the biographies of the `Ulama’.

  • Practice what is clear and established from their lives.

3.) Contemplate death and the period after death.

  • Meditate upon Jahannam (Hellfire) and Jannah (Paradise).

4.) Study, memorize and teach the Qur’an.

5.) Study the lives of the Prophet (s) and his Companions (ra).

  • Cultivate a love of the Prophet (s) and his Companions (ra).

6.) Be consistent and constant in du`a’ (supplication) and dhikr (remembrance of Allah).

  • Remember that Allah (swt) hears and sees you.

7.) Be steadfast in Salah (prayer).

  • Establish the obligatory prayer in congregation and then gradually move on to praying the sunnan consistently.
  • Visit the mosque frequently.

8.) Fast during and after Ramadan.

  • Perform i`tikaaf during Ramadan and otherwise.

9.) Intend and prepare for Hajj and encourage others to do the same.

  • Slaughter for Allah (swt) during Hajj and at other times, and encourage the eating of dhabiha meat (meat slaughtered following the Islamic guidelines).

10.) Establish the practice of giving zakah and sadaqah (charity).

11.) Maintain good health and cultivate physical strength through exercise and temperance in all matters.

12.) Establish, maintain and cultivate family life and encourage others to be patient in times of hardship.

13.) Develop a concern for the Hereafter and decrease attachments to the dunya (worldly life).

14.) Abstain from major and minor sins.

  • Perform istighfar (seeking forgiveness) and tawba (repentance) often.

15.) Cultivate the practice of patience and thankfulness.

16.) Develop a social persona patterned on the Sunnah.

17.) Be concerned with the well-being and affairs of the Ummah.

About the author

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While becoming a Catholic priest, Yusuf discovered the path to Islam. He studied Islamic sciences for a period of seven years, studying with scholars in Cleveland, Ohio before receiving a work-study contract with the Islamic American University. At the Islamic American University, he read Arabic and a limited number of Islamic sciences intensively for one year. He then traveled to Cairo, Egypt where he resided for five years. There, he attended a number of intensive courses at Arabic learning centers. After these courses, he joined various scholarly circles, reading Islamic sciences with a host of scholars of diverse expertise and orientations. Yusuf takes particular pride in having studied intimately with a number of scholars from al-Azhar University. Likewise, he has great love and attachment to Egypt and especially al-Azhar Mosque where he studied for the major portion of his residence in Egypt. Yusuf has a Bachelors in Western Philosophy and Sociology and is working on a Masters in Education. He serves as an instructor in Islamic Sciences with Islamic American University and in local mosques in Dearborn, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. His four main research areas in Islamic sciences are in the areas of Usul al-Fiqh, Maqasid ash Shar’ia, Hadith Sciences, and Fiqh.

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