Month 7: Knowledge


The importance of knowledge, and the duty of seeking it, has been greatly emphasized in Islam. A famous tradition from the Prophet (s) states: Seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim. Allah loves the seeker of knowledge. 1 Another tradition from him (s) states: Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.2 This shows that there is never a time in one’s life when it is too early, or too late, to acquire knowledge.

Acquiring knowledge about our faith and practices is more important than ever in the period of occultation. When he appears, the Imam (af) will ‘perfect’ the knowledge of the people; hence it is necessary for them to possess a level of understanding beforehand.

If we are truly waiting for this great teacher to come and perfect our knowledge, we should prepare by educating ourself to the highest degree, and prepare other students and facilities in readiness for his arrival. In that way, when he comes, everything will be ready for him, and he can focus on teaching that what no one else has knowledge of,  and dispel confusion and disagreement.

It is also necessary to define the meaning of ‘knowledge’ in the traditions above, and to identify what knowledge Islam considers important. In this regard, a tradition from the Prophet (s) states: The Prophet (s) entered the mosque while the people had gathered around a man. On asking who he was, he (s) was told, “He is a great scholar (allamah).” The Prophet (s) asked, “What makes him a great scholar?” They said, “He is the most knowledgeable of men about the genealogy of the Arabs, their histories, the events of the days of ignorance, and Arab poetry.” The Prophet (s) remarked, “That knowledge does not harm the one who is ignorant of it and does not benefit the one who is aware of it.” Then he (s) said, “Indeed, [vital] knowledge is about three [things]: Sound belief, fair obligations [to God] and established morals [based on sunnah]. Anything else is a surplus” 3

This knowledge comes from two primary sources; the Qurʾan and the traditions of the  Ma’sumin (a). It is our duty to firmly attach ourselves to these two weighty things so that we are adequately prepared for the coming of our Imam (af).

The knowledge that we gain from these primary sources should be reflected and acted upon, rather than just stored in our memory. A tradition from the Prophet (s) states: On the Day of Judgement, every knowledge shall prove useless to the one who possesses it except if one acted on it.” 4

So let us increase our knowledge, in preparation for meeting the Imam (af) by using the easy-to-remember acronym IMAM!

I – Increasing our knowledge

A tradition from Imam al-Sadiq (a) states: Knowledge has 27 parts. All the knowledge that has been brought by the Prophets (a) make up only 2 parts, and that is all that people have learned. When Imam al-Mahdi (af) comes, he will introduce a further 25 parts so that the 27 become complete. 5

During the occultation, it is our duty to constantly increase our knowledge of these two parts, by learning, asking questions with the intention of seeking to understand more, and pondering on what we have learnt. 

M – Making use of the knowledge

All knowledge is not ‘ilm. In fact ᾽ilm is ‘useful knowledge that is put into practice’. We need to practice what we know already, so that we are able to grow in order to learn and understand what we do not yet know.

A tradition from Imam al-Baqir (a) states: Whoever acts on what he knows, God teaches him what he does not know. 6

We must always act on the knowledge that we acquire. Let us model ourselves on the traits of our Imams (a) when we hear of a hadith about how they behaved in a particular situation.

True knowledge brings about awe/fear of God (Q 35:28). 

… إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ

those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah; surely Allah is Mighty, Forgiving.

A – Akhlaq

In Islam, the concept of ‘ilm is wider than just information and its acquisition. It covers theory, conviction and action and, thereby, growth.

When knowledge does not bring about spiritual benefit or growth then it is deemed worthless. A tradition from the Prophet (s) states: O God, I seek refuge in You from knowledge that does not benefit7

As well as giving examples, Allah gives us role models to emulate – the Prophet (s) and his household (a). Q 33:21 states:

لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِمَنْ كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا

Certainly, you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.

Knowledge is the fuel for human growth – the Prophet (s) was instructed to seek growth through knowledge. Q 20:114 states:

وَقُلْ رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا

So say: O my Lord ! increase me in knowledge.

M – Meeting the Imam (af)

We wish with all our heart to meet our Imam (af). However, when we meet him, would we know him, and be able to benefit from him? Would we be prepared to obey him, or would this meeting be to our detriment? Our meeting can only be fruitful if we have sincerely attempted to gain knowledge and implement what we have learned, and thereby become true servants of God.

A tradition from Imam al-Baqir (a) states: When the Qa’im (af) reappears, he will place his hand on the heads of the [true] servants [of God]  and thereby gather their intellect and perfect their conduct (akhlāq)8

In this way, he will accomplish his mission of filling the earth with equity and justice.

1 Misbah al-Shari’ah, p.13.

2 Nahj al-Fasahah, p. 218.

3 Al-Kafi, 1/32.

4 Bihar al-Anwar, 2/38

5 Wasa’il al-Shi’a . 7/326.

6 Bihar al-Anwar, 75/189.

7 Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, 5/69.

8 Bihar al-Anwar, 52/336.

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