These are a number of important tips and guidance for students of knowledge in current times, written by Shaykh Faisal Al Jasem (translation).
Bismi-llāhi r-Raḥmāni r-Raḥīm
Tip Number 1: for the student of knowledge to scrutinize his intention and reassert his sincerity and devotion to Allah.
The validity of acts of worship is dependent on their being done solely for Allah and in agreement with the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Allah says:
“And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good”. (Surah An-Nisaa 4:125).
Intention in knowledge is important. Knowledge is a means to attaining honour which is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) when mentioning what it is permissible to be jealous of others over, mentioned knowledge and wealth. This is because influence over people, honour and repute comes from possessing wealth and knowledge.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned against seeking knowledge for the wrong reasons: “Whoever seeks knowledge in order to compete with the scholars or to prove himself superior to the ignorant or to make the people look up to him, Allaah will cause him to enter Hell”.
Ibn Mas’ood, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “Speech will be of no benefit unless it is coupled with actions. Speech and actions will be of no benefit, unless it is coupled with intention. Speech, actions and intentions will be of no benefit unless it is in agreement with the Sunnah”.
Yusuf bin Asbaat said: “Purifying intentions from that which ruin it is a harder on a person than long hours in ijtihaad”.
An illustration of good intention is the students showing humbleness towards his teacher and other students as well as his benefiting from the knowledge he learns by implementing it and teaching it to others.
Reading books on the virtues of knowledge and the scholars helps the student of knowledge to correct his intention. The book «The Collection of Statements of Knowledge and it’s Virtues» of Ibn Abd al-Barr is one such book. By reading books on the virtue of knowledge the student increases in his love and desire of knowledge. In addition the student should read stories of the pious predecessors while contemplating their habitat and circumstances.
Tip Number 2: for the student of knowledge to be constant in doing good deeds.
Implementing knowledge by doing good deeds is the goal of seeking knowledge. As the student of knowledge increases in knowledge, his good deeds also increase.
Hasan al-Basri (May Allah be pleased with him) said: “When seeking knowledge, it would not be long before a man would see the benefits of knowledge in his viewpoint, his devotion, his manner of speaking, his actions, his prayer and his self-discipline”.
Imam Shafie (May Allah be pleased with him) said: “Knowledge is not what is memorized, but it is what benefits”.
The student of knowledge must always be sure to practice all what he learns from the sunnan and recommended actions as well as the obligations and duties. Some of the pious predecessors, such as Imam Ahmad and others, recommended that the student of knowledge, when he hears of a Sunnah, practices and implements it, even if it is only once so that he will be recorded as being from the people of the Sunnah.
The student of knowledge constantly reaffirms and corrects his intention to assist in doing the above. Sufyan ath-thawri said: “I didn’t find anything harder on myself than correcting my intention, as verily it always changes on me”.
Tip Number 3: for the student of knowledge to adhere to the morals that are essential for people of knowledge.
The student of knowledge must adhere to good morals as it is an indispensable requirement for knowledge and will remain with him so long as his intention is correct. It is clearly demonstrated by Zuhud (asceticism, which is the avoidance of worldly things), wishing for what is with Allah and worship by standing in prayer and fasting.
Ibn Mas’ood said: “The haafith of the Quran should be known by being awake at night when people are asleep, by his day when people are eating, by sadness when people are rejoicing, by tears when people are laughing, by silence and remaining patient when people are confused, by humility when people are haughty. The memorizer of the Quran should be crying, sad, humble, wise and silent”.
Allah describes the righteous with Zuhud, standing in prayer and fasting. It is the most significant characteristics that Allah wants for the believers. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Establish prayer at night, as it was the way of the righteous before you”.
Imam Ahmad hosted a student of knowledge in his house, leaving him water to make ablution during the night. When he came to wake him up for morning prayers, he found that the water was as he left it, unused. So he said: Subhaana Allah, a student of knowledge that does not stand for prayer at night. So the student said : O Imam I am a traveller. He said: Travelling does not stop a person from praying night prayer, the Prophet (peace be upon him) never left praying at night, not while on a journey nor while resident.
Standing in prayer at night is a distinguished trait of the scholars to the degree that it is almost unknown in history for there to be a scholar, except that he spends a portion of the night in prayer, as is evident for whoever reads their biographies. So where are we from these examples?
One of the best ways that help the student of knowledge in attaining the above is to contemplate the verses of the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that mention the virtues of asceticism, standing in prayer and fasting.
Additionally, the student of knowledge should contemplate the biography of the pious predecessors and the books of asceticism. Abu Hanifa said: “Reading the life of the Salaf is more loved to us than voluntary worship, because it is the morals and manners of the people”.
It is imperative for students of knowledge to reflect on the character and morals of the salaf by reading books of Zuhud (asceticism). It is rare to find a book on the Sunnah that does not dedicate a chapter to it, let alone the numerous books that are authored solely on the topic.
Tip Number 4: to adhere to a regular and constant program in seeking knowledge.
Adhering to a set system in seeking knowledge is in several matters;
The first is regular attendance of the circles of knowledge and avoiding disruption and avoiding start stopping.
Knowledge demands patience and for the student of knowledge to spend a long time seeking knowledge. Ashab’ee, (Allah’s mercy be upon him) was asked: “Where did you get all this knowledge?” He said: deny richness, traveling the country, patience like the patience of a donkey, and being early like the earliness of the crow. Beware of rushing and being in a hurry to gain knowledge.
The second is consistency and uniformity in studying.
Hence the student begins with small knowledge before big knowledge. He does not go from one small book he is studying to another one which is higher than it until he has mastered the first book.
The third is sticking to the scholars.
The student does not move between different scholars, where sometimes he is with this one scholar and other times he is with another scholar and no longer studying with the the first one. Instead, he remains committed to studying with reliable scholars who are grounded in knowledge, who it is easy for him and facilitated for him to study with them. He should remain constant with them and follow their method in teaching and learning.
The student should beware of following different methods of different sheikhs in seeking knowledge, trying hard to follow different methods and leaving the method he began with. The reason for this is that each individual scholar may have a particular method for seeking knowledge. Some students hear of a particular sheikh who recommends a specific method so he follows it. Then he hears about another shaykh who mentions a different method of seeking knowledge so he leaves the first method for the second one, and so on. This method does not result in getting knowledge, as it is disorganized and chaotic. Instead a student should be committed to the methodology of his sheikh, taking his advice and his guidance.
Tip Number 5: to adhere to selecting the well known opinions from the religious verdicts of the scholars while beginning out in seeking knowledge.
The student of knowledge must adhere to discipline in choosing religious verdicts. The student, while he is in his early days of seeking knowledge, should choose from the well known opinions of the recognised and respected scholars whose opinions and religious verdicts are well-spread amongst people. This is an important issue. The student of knowledge does not begin his studies by choosing odd statements or verdicts that are contrary to the general fatwas of the respected well known scholars before he becomes strong and grounded in his knowledge, and becomes an exemplification of knowledge amongst the people.
Neglecting this issue during his time as a student of knowledge indicates one of two things; either a lack of sincerity and a love of fame and prominence, or haste, ignorance and self-praise.
Tip Number 6: to learn from scholars who are known for Taqwa and correct Manhaj
Be careful to only select scholars that possess taqwa, who are known for having correct Manhaj and correct Aqeedah. The student of knowledge treads the path of the scholars who are firmly grounded in their knowledge. Do not take knowledge from the people of deviated ways, who are known for contradicting or opposing the scholars in contemporary issues of Manhaj.
Those who are upon deviation in the deen are not to be referred to for knowledge, not even morals and manners. Imam al-Bukhari said: “I wrote from over 1000 scholars and I only wrote from those who affirmed that Emaan is speech and actions. I did not from those who said that is speech only”.[Allalkaua 5/889]
Shaykh al-Islam, in explaining the reason why the scholars did not write from those people who called to innovation and practiced it publicly, said: “the scholars did not abandon writing from them because of their sin, like some people think. However, they did it because it is an obligation to expose innovation of whoever shows innovation publicly, unlike the case of the one who hides it and keeps it to himself. If you must warn against him, then from that is abandoning him until he stop publicizing his innovation and from abandoning him is not taking knowledge form him. [Minhaj as-Sunnah 1/63]
Tip Number 7: to learn the correct etiquette of seeking knowledge.
The successful student of knowledge adheres to learning about the etiquettes of seeking knowledge by reading books on the subject to find out how students behave, how to be with one’s Shaykh and so on.
Some important books in this regard are Ornament of the student of Knowledge by Bakr Abu Zayd, A reminder for the listener (student) and the speaker (teacher) by Ibn Jama’ah , and The compilation of the ethics of the narrator of Hadith and the morals of the listener, by al-Khateeb.
And Allah knows best.
Article written by Shaykh Faisal Al Jasem (translation): www.f-aljasem.com