Monday, 6 December 2010

Book review: The excellence of knowledge

The excellence of knowledge: The virtue of Salaf over the Khalaf
Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali
Daar us-Sunnah Publishers
Alhamdulillah I have loved reading this book. It is very important for us to know what sort of knowledge is beneficial for us as our life is too short to waste in gaining knowledge that is not going to benefit us in any way. What scares me more is the possibility that I may end up reading something which will affect my faith (creating doubts, confusion) and ruin my chance to gain closeness to Allah (SWT). There is a beautiful supplication at the start of the book which I hope can help us in gaining beneficial knowledge, insha-Allah.

The prophet (SAW) said, “Allah! Benefit me by what You have taught me, teach me what will be of benefit to me and increase me in knowledge.” [Tirmidhi # 3393 and Ibn Majah # 3833]

I just tried to quote from the book a bit so that you can have an idea about the book. It is a must have book for any library, mashallah. It’s not really a thick one so you may be able to finish reading it in one or two days, insha-Allah.

In the Qur’an, Allah (SWT) sometimes mentions knowledge in a praiseworthy way referring to beneficial knowledge and at other times in a blameworthy way referring to knowledge that is not beneficial at all. He (SWT) taught us a beautiful dua in the Qur’an. “And say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (Surah TA Ha 20:114) It is also mentioned in the Qur’an that only learned amongst His servants do truly fear Allah (SWT).

According to Imam Ahmed (May Allah have mercy upon him), the foundation of knowledge is the fear of Allah (SWT). Therefore, the foundation of knowledge is that knowledge which leads to fearing Him, loving Him, drawing close to Him, taking comfort with Him and ardently desiring Him. Then this is followed by knowledge of the rulings of Allah (SWT), all that He loves and is pleased with. Whosoever realises these two types of knowledge, he has found beneficial knowledge, he has attained beneficial knowledge, a fearful heart, a content soul and supplications that are responded to.

Our beloved messenger Muhammad (SAW) has taught us a beautiful dua in this regard: “Allah! I take refuge with You from knowledge that does not benefit, from a heart that has no fear, from a soul that is never content and from an invocation that is not responded to.” (Muslim#2722)

The author argues that the beneficial knowledge is to strictly follow the text of the Book (the Qur’an) and the Sunnah, to understand their meaning and in order to do so, confine oneself to what has been reported from the companions, the successors and their successors in matters to do with the Qur’an, hadith, the lawful and the prohibited, asceticism, softening of the heart, gnosis and other things.

“Awza’i said, ‘Knowledge is that which the companions of Muhammad (SAW) conveyed, anything else is not to be considered knowledge’.” This is also stated by Imam Ahmed.

Our salafs used to be very careful with their dealing with people. They refrained from excessive argumentation and debating, they did not do so because of ignorance and inability, rather because of knowledge and the fear of Allah (SWT). Those who came after them, who did speak much and went to great lengths in widening issues, did not do so because they had knowledge that the salaf did not, rather due to love of speech and lack of scrupulousness (wara’).

Some of the Salaf said, “When Allah SWT desires good for His servant, He opens for him the door of action. When Allah SWT desires evil for His servant, He locks the door of action and opens instead the door of disputation.”
Ibn Mas’ud (RAW) said, “Sufficient knowledge is it that one fears Allah SWT and sufficient ignorance is it to be deceived of Allah SWT.” Others said, “Whoever fear Allah SWT is the scholar and whoever disobeys Allah Him is the ignoramus.”

Our beloved prophet (SAW) advised Ibn Abbas (RAW), “Be mindful of Allah SWT, He will be mindful of you. Be mindful of Allah SWT and you will find Him in front of you. Know Allah SWT in times of ease and He will know you in times of hardship.” (Tirmidhi)

The sign of knowledge that is not beneficial is pride, arrogance and conceit. Such a person seeks high position and ranking in this world and competes for it. He loves debating to show off his knowledge! It is reported from the prophet (SAW) that whoever seeks knowledge for this purpose, ‘for him is the Fire, the Fire!’(Ibn Majah)
In summary, the author concludes, in these corrupt times, it is very important for us to stick to the Salafs. Regardless of whether it be in the foundation of the faith or its subsidiary issues, the tafsir (Exegesis) of the Quran, the explanations of the hadith, asceticism, matters which softens the heart, points of benefit and wisdom, exhortations – whatever the Salaf spoke. And we should try to avoid excessive debating and argumentation.
I hope the review helps and it’s not too long!

You can also read the book online at http://www.kalamullah.com/excellence-of-knowledge.html