Advice to Students of Knowledge
Know, my dear son (Allah give you knowledge and enable you to please Him), that religious knowledge depends on two things:
First: earnestness in acquiring it and severing thought about all that is besides it, since ‘ilm (knowledge) will not give you a part of it until you give to it all of yourself. Make the identifier of the goodness of a thing and its despicability your hindrance to ‘ilm, since your hindrance to a part of ‘ilm or your aversion to it, is despicable whatever it may be, and otherwise it is not [despicable]. Allah’s obligations (fards), His necessities (wajibs), and their supplements from the emphasised practices (mu’akkadat) are exceptions. Hereof, you will see they (the ‘ulama) have agreed that studying books, repeating and revising the lessons, are more virtuous for students than supererogatory acts (nawafil) – what then is your opinion of [acts] besides them?
Second: consciousness and fear (taqwa) of God, imitation of the Sunnah of His Messenger and devotion of all works to Allah. You are more needy of this second [quality] than you are of the first, since you will find many of those who do not fear any besides Allah, given drink upon drink (‘alalan wa nahalan) of the oceans of the sciences and religious knowledge, although they have some deficiency in their earnestness and in staying awake at nights. But you will not find any of the iniquitous (fussaq), those fearless of Allah, even if he tires himself, the proper amount of tiring, and exerts himself to complete exertion, succeed at all thereby. If you find any that contradicts what I said, and you hold a good opinion of him, then that is in accordance to what the enchanting poet said:
The (true) horse is not, but like the (true) friend, rare
Even if they are many in the sight of those who do not participate in war
When you see not but beauty in their blemishes
And their appendages, then beauty from you is hidden
You must respect the books and teachers, rather all who are superior in knowledge and intelligence even if they are students, because this has a significant impact in adorning the soul with the ornament of knowledge. We have seen many of those acquiring ['ilm] of whom a good opinion was held at the start of their acquisition [of 'ilm] and it was sworn that they will be from the ‘ulama and the protectors of the din (religion), but when they exhibited bad behaviour with the books and teachers, they were deprived of ‘ilm and its blessings. You are aware that a small quantity with blessing (barakah) is better than a large quantity without it. Do you believe Qarun is better than one who spends all his wealth for the pleasure of Allah? No, of course not.
Burhan al-Islam al-Zarnuji, in the chapter Ri’ayat al-Ustadh of his book Ta’lim al-Muta’allim, said,
Shams al-A’immah al-Halwani left Bukhara and stayed in one of the villages for some days and his students visited him except Qadi Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Zarnajri, so he asked him when he met him, “Why did you not visit me?” He replied, “I was occupied in the service of my mother.” He said, “You will be granted long life but you will not be granted the splendour of lessons.” And it was so, because he (i.e. al-Halwani) would spend most of his time in the villages and did not arrange lessons for him (i.e. al-Zarnajri). Thus, whoever’s teacher is hurt by him, he will be deprived of the blessing of ‘ilm and will not benefit from it but little.
Beware, and again beware, of desiring by means of religious knowledge the dunya (the material world), its prestige and its wealth, because the acrobat who plays above the mountains is better than the ‘ulama who incline towards wealth, since the former consumes the dunya by means of the dunya and the latter consumes the dunya by means of the din. One of the ‘ulama said,
Purchasing a corpse with musical instruments is lighter [in sin] than purchasing it with mushafs.
He (High is His Eminence) said,
Nor sell My ayahs (verses) for a small price; and fear Me, and Me alone. (Qur’an 2:41)
It is incumbent that the goal of your ambitions and the site or your visions is not but to [what is mentioned in] these verses:
Every son of the dunya has a purpose and an aim
And verily my purpose is good health and free time
In order to reach in the science of Shari’ah a degree
By which there is for me in the Gardens a station
So in the like of this, possessors of intelligence should compete
Sufficiency is enough for me in the deceptive dunya
Al-Shafi’i (Allah be pleased with him) sung to al-Rabi’:
My ‘ilm is with me wherever I turn, it benefits me
My heart is its vessel, not the inside of my box (carrying books)
If I am in the house, ‘ilm is in there with me
Or (if) I am in the market, ‘ilm is in the market
Beware of vanity, arrogance and shyness in knowledge because it was said to one of the great ‘ulama,
One of your students served you for years and none strives as much as him in acquiring ‘ilm, yet he did not succeed thereby, and he replied, “Vanity hindered him from ascending to the paths of perfection.”
Hereof, I say that service alone is not sufficient to acquire the objective so long as impediments are not removed. We have seen many of them (students of knowledge) serve the teachers and suffice with that, so they fell into what they brought on themselves, since ‘ilm is loftier than that it should turn to one who does not turn to it. One of the great scholars was asked, “How did you succeed in the sciences?” and he said “I was not embarrassed to ask of that which I did not know, whether the one asked was young or old.” Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad said,
Ignorance (jahl) grazes between shyness and arrogance in ‘ilm.
You must be generous and spend of what Allah has given you of the treasures of knowledge, little or much, because generosity and expenditure is praiseworthy in all matters particularly ‘ilm. We do not know of any possession in this world that is not depleted by spending and is not extinguished by overspending and wasting, besides ‘ilm, because it is like the water of the ocean which does not dry up by one or two gulps, rather its expenditure does not yield but its growth, and overspending and wasting do not occur in ‘ilm.
However, Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that he said,
Conveying of knowledge to the non-deserving is like putting necklaces of jewels, pearls and gold around the neck of swine. (Sunan Ibn Majah)
‘Isa ibn Maryam (upon our Prophet and him be blessings and peace) said,
Convey not jewels to swine, for ‘ilm is better than pearls, and one who is not deserving of it is worse than swine.
It was related that a student asked an ‘alim (scholar) about some knowledge and he did not benefit him [with that knowledge], so he was asked “Why did you withhold from him?” He said “Every soil has a seedling and every structure has a foundation.” One of the eloquent ones said,
Every clothing has a wearer and every knowledge has an acquirer.
Abu Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him) was asked, “How did you reach what you reached?” He replied, “I was not stingy in benefiting others and I did not shrink from acquiring benefit from others.”
I did not dot (anqut) the book in my first footnote (ta’liq) in Persian relying on the intelligence of the acquirers [of 'ilm] and the strength of their preparation, and as an exercise for them. Then I found that the matter was difficult for them so I diacritically marked it (a’rabtuhu), but you, Oh piece of my heart and fragrance of my soul, must not rely on what is therein of vowels (harakat) and non-vowelised letters (sakinat) with total reliance, till the nominal subject (mubtada’) is not distinguished from the predicate (khabar) and the verbal subject (fa’il) from the object (maf’ul), and you thus become like those who said,
We found our forefathers worshipping them. (Qur’an 21:53)
Rather, you must rely on what you know from the rules of Nahw and the principles of Sarf because error is possible from many avenues, including the copyist or from the printers, and I do not declare myself innocent either.
Nur al-Idah bi ‘l-Isbah, pp. 5-6
About the author:
Shaykh al-Adab wa ‘l-Fiqh Mawlana Muhammad I’zaz ‘Ali ibn Mizaj ‘Ali al-Amrohi was born in Badayun in the year 1300 AH/1882 CE. He memorised the Qur’an at a young age at Shahajanpur under Hafiz Sharaf al-Din Khan. He then travelled with his father to the rural district of Talhar where he studied Mizan al-Sarf and some Persian books under Mawlana Maqsud ‘Ali Khan al-Shahajanpuri, and was encouraged to continue studying Arabic by his teacher who told him,
The benefit of Allah’s speech will not be complete unless its meaning is understood.
Once he had reached the advanced textbooks on Nahw, he joined Dar al-’Ulum Deoband. Here he studied the first portion of Al-Hidayah under Mawlana Muhammad Ahmad al-Nanotwi (the son of Mawlana Qasim al-Nanotwi), Logic under Mawlana Muhammad Sahul al-Bhagalpuri and other books with other teachers. He then travelled to Meerut to visit some of his relatives and stayed there for four years. There he read the books of hadith besides Sahih al-Bukhari, and studied ‘aqidah, the rational sciences and philosophy under Mawlana ‘Abd al-Mu’min al-Deobandi. At Meerut, he also gained some experience in verifying and printing books. He returned to Deoband and studied Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Sahih al-Bukhari, Sunan Abi Dawud, al-Baydawi, the final portion of Al-Hidayah, Al-Tawdih and Al-Talwih under Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan. His other teachers included Mawlana Ghulam Rasul, Mufti ‘Aziz al-Rahman al-Deobandi and Mawlana Sayyid Mu’zz al-Din.
Upon completing his education, Shaykh al-Hind advised him to teach at Madrasa al-Nu’maniyyah at Bhagalpur where he taught for seven years. Then he taught at a madrasah in Shahajanpur for three years, before moving to teach at Deoband. When he got the opportunity, he benefited from ‘Allamah Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri and Mawlana Habib al-Rahman ‘Uthmani. He taught many luminaries including the first Grand Mufti of Pakistan, Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ ‘Uthmani.
His published works include marginalia and footnotes to Nur al-Idah, Kanz al-Daqa’iq, Mukhtasar al-Quduri, Diwan al-Hamasah and Diwan al-Mutanabbi in Arabic. He also authored Nafhat al-’Arab, a work on Arabic rhetoric and literature. His interest in Arabic literature and his contribution to Fiqh earned him the title Shaykh al-Adab wa l-Fiqh.
He passed away at Deoband in 1374 H/1955 CE, Allah have mercy on him.