The above statement was made by the youngest of the first generation of Muslims Ali RA, who converted to Islam at the tender age of eight. His wise words are still relevant to us and carry advice to the generations of Muslims to come. We have all come across various ayahs/hadiths about the significance of learning and seeking knowledge been told of its importance through our parents or maybe a teacher at the masjid. Yet when we reflect upon our lives, how high up our priority ladder does this glory lie? After studying academically, going to work, paying the bills and having a bit of "me" time, the day has already finished. Life is busy there is no denying that. Sometimes we have so many responsibilities and concerns that we are trying to keep on top of, it seems like there is literally no time to take out to fulfil this glory of mankind. Then again, sometimes we just make too many excuses.
Do we really believe that life in the 21st century has more stresses than in the past? The sahabas also had to work not just any work though. Much of it was manual labour, working outside under the boiling Arabian sun. So not the best conditions, like our air-conditioned workplaces. Their hours weren't too convenient either because many were shephards and pastoral farmers. Unfortunately if the sheep need to be fed after 5pm they were still on duty it's hard to fake a sick note to your animals!
Umar ibn Khattab (ra), lived in the suburbs of Madinah and worked on the land for his living. He had an Ansari partner and one day made an agreement with him that would enable them to both fulfill their worldy duty of earning a living and study under the guidance of the best teacher our Nabi (saw). They agreed that one day his partner would work for the whole day whilst Umar ra studied under Muhammad (saw). Then in the evening Umar would report what he had learnt to his partner and the next day would be vice versa with Umar working on the land and his partner studying. This meant that Umar and his partner ended up doing DOUBLE the amount of work working twice as hard on the land to do his and his partners work and also teaching each other in the evenings.
They were able to work both for this dunyah and the akhirah because they understood and appreciated the importance of gaining islamic knowledge. Without knowledge how can we make informed decisions as to what is haram and halal? We wouldn't be able to tell the difference between right and wrong without some sort of islamic knowledge indeed Allah swt says:
"Verily guess is no substitute for the truth." [TMQ 53:28].
Muhammad (saw) tells us that seeking this truth, this knowledge "an obligation upon every Muslim" [Sunan Ibn Mâjah]. From this we can appreciate that we need to gain knowledge but we also need to keep ourselves in check. Sometimes having more knowledge than others can cause us to develop pride and we can unknowingly distort our intentions in order to raise our status in the eyes of others when infact our intentions should solely be focussed on attaining the pleasure of Allah swt . Actions go hand in hand with our intentions and so mere action without a sincere intention is not only pointless, but condemned Muhammad (saw) said:
"Don't seek knowledge to argue with the ignorant people and to boast infront of the layman and so that people will point their fingers at you. Whoever does that, let him beware of the fire of hell."
Seeking knowledge for these reasons are for the sake of dunyah so why fool ourselves thinking that we are on the right path? Muhammad (saw) also tells us that the man who learns knowledge for the sake of dunyah will not even smell the scent of Jannah a scent that can be smelt from 500 years away!
Most of the time our intentions start off pure but we always need to reflect upon the sincerity of it as it can change in a split second. Sufyan al Thawri was known as the amir al mu'mineen al hadith he was the Bukhari of his time, two generations before Imam Bukhari. This man, at the level of the sheikhs of the sheikhs of Bukhari stated:
"I have never tried to cure anything that is more difficult to cure than my niyah because it continually changes on me".
Whilst seeking this knowledge it is perhaps important to keep in mind that wisdom of our deen doesn't refer to regurgitating information or going to a halaqah once a week and forgetting its application. Rather it is the knowledge of knowing Allah of understanding His laws so that we can apply them out of love for him. Knowledge refers to the light that Allah puts into the heart of the believer and the blessings of seeking this light should never be underestimated. Muhammad (saw) said:
"There is not a single person that goes out of his house seeking knowledge except that the angels lower their wings above him out of pleasure for what he does".
These angels stack up from the earth until the sky over the students of knowledge and Allah orders them and the rest of creation to send their peace and blessings upon these people.
But does it stop there? After going to a class or a lecture, is that all we need to do or does our newfound knowledge carry bring with it a responsibility? The duty of a student of knowledge is to spread this knowledge that he learns and apply it in his own actions. If one doesn't change his character or actions through this knowledge then he's like a candle which gives light to others but burns itself out. Muhammad (saw) said:
"The person most severely punished on the day of Judgement is the learned one who did not follow Allah's guidance and did not benefit from his knowledge"
When we think of beacons of light we don't imagine it confined inside a room so that no one can see it beacons spread their light to others, they are seen and known from far and wide. If we truly want to be successful dawah carriers and beacons, our knowledge should be shown through our actions and adhab our mannerism should convey what we have learnt. Ibn Sireen said"we used to learn manners and etiquettes just like we used to learn knowledge". Surely our manners are what warm people to the call of Islam? Wasn't it the compassion that Muhammad (saw) showed the old lady who's load he carried that opened her heart to Islam, even though she condemned Muhammad (saw) before realising he was the same kind person standing next to her?
We don't need to make the learning and spreading of knowledge an impossible task it won't happen overnight but Allah loves the constant action even if it is small. Reading just one ayah of the quran after fajr or one hadith before going to bed is simple and not taxing. We shouldn't impose impossible targets on ourselves, but at the same time should strive to fulfill our potential perhaps after a while, one ayah can turn into a short surah a day. Another practical step we could take is listening to lectures many people have iPods or MP3 players with them whilst they travel to school or work during that short journey, 15 minutes of a lecture can be listened to or even some Quran recitation. Books are also an excellent way to learn no one needs to start off with classical books relating rules of usul ul fiqh! Many Islamic bookshops (for example www.kitaabun.com) have easy reads that are written in a contemporary style and so its not hard to read a chapter a week. Sometimes people find it hard to remember what they have read and doing sketchy spider diagrams or little notes on the side of the page can jog their memory. Seeking knowledge doesn't have to be sitting in the catacombs of a dusty old library we should be creative!
Allah has made it so easy for us to implement our knowledge in that "actions are but by intentions" (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim). This means that we can even meet some sisters or brothers for coffee with the intention of spending time with them for Allah's sake and that gathering can be blessed. Incorporating Islam into your general chat can result in discussion where you all learn from each other. Muhammad (saw) said "Convey from me even if it is one ayah." [Bukhari] so even if you have only learnt one islamic concept or ruling that week sharing it will not only benefit you but your friends as well.
Whether we are young or old, male or female, the duty of acquiring our own treasure chest of knowledge is upon us all. We shouldn't judge ourselves against those who know less than us nor feel inferior to those who seem to know more. Everyone has their own reality, responsibilities, consequent time restraints and even mental ability. Some people can soak up the books they read, whereas for others it takes a while to understand certain concepts or ideas. However, there is one thing that should remain equal and constant within all our hearts, regardless of our different realities and varying abilities. That is of course, the one source of all our motivation - our yearning to attain the pleasure of our Creator Allah (swt) and to spend the eternal Aakhirah in His Jannah. Upon taking the advice from the wise words from the Sahabah Ali (ra),we should constantly aspire that one day we can fulfill this "Glory of Mankind" and become the shining beacons of light guiding towards Al-Jannah.