The Intention of a Seeker of Knowledge


141752253_6f11b85bff_z-225x300By Mufti Mahmud Ashraf ‘Uthmani


Translated by Ibrahim Khan

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

All Praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and may peace and blessings be on our master and intercessor Muhammad and his followers and his companions, collectively. And thereafter:

A Noble Hadith
عن كعب بن مالك رضي الله عنه قال : قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “من طلب العلم ليجاري به العلماء أو ليماري به السفهاء أو يصرف به وجوه الناس إليه أدخله الله النار”  رواه الترمذي (مشكوة – مرقاة ٢٧٨/١)

Ka’b bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said: the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Whoever seeks knowledge in order to compete with the scholars, or to debate with the foolish, or to draw people’s attention, Allah will put him into the Fire.” (Narrated from Tirmidhi as taken from Mishkat).

The Narrator
Ka’b bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) is a well known companion of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), who is related to the Khazraj tribe of the Ansar of Madinah. He is from السابقون الأولون (the first forerunners, the early Muslims). He was amongst those Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) who, before the Migration, pledged themselves at the blessed hands of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) at the Second Pledge at ‘Aqabah, and is also included amongst those who encouraged the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to come to Madinah. He was a poet, and is counted amongst the poets of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). With the exception of Badr, he participated in all the other battles of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). [However,] in the expedition of Tabuk, he did not go out in the journey for jihad, along with his two companions Mararah ibn al-Rabi’ and Hilal ibn Umayyah (may Allah be pleased with both of them). As a result, the three were reprimanded, as has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an: وعلى الثلاثة الذين خلفوا to the end of the verse (Surah at-Tawbah, verse 118). (The first letter of the names of the these three companions is مكه, through which remembering their names becomes easy.) Towards the end of his life, Ka’b bin Malik became blind, and in 50 H he passed away at the age of seventy. May Allah be pleased and satisfied with him.

The Narration
The [above] hadith has been narrated in numerous hadith collections with different wordings. However, the result and understanding from all the different narrations is nearly the same. The hadith has been narrated as marfu’, as mawquf, and also as maqtu’. Many well known Companions, inlcuding Ka’b bin Malik, Abu Hurayrah, Jabir ibn Abdullah, Mu’adh ibn Jabal, Anas ibn Malik, Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, and Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with all of them) have all narrated the marfu’ hadith with similar wordings from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), while Abdullah bin Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) is the narrator of the mawquf [version].

Difficult Words
A. ليجاري به العلماء، يجاري:
It is the present tense of the verb جرى يجري in the form of مفاعلة. The word جرى means to run and مجاراة means to run to get ahead of each other i.e. a race.
B. أو ليماري به السفهاء، سفهاء:
It is the plural of the word سفيه, and it refers to foolish and ignorant people. It comes from مراء or مرية of the word مماراة. The words مراء and مرية mean suspicion and conflict, while مماراة means arguing with one another, casting each other in suspicion, debating each other.
C. أو يصرف به وجوه الناس
The phrase “صرف الوجوه” means to turn the faces towards oneself, to draw attention to oneself.

In this noble hadith, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) forbade the seekers of knowledge of religion from committing three mistakes. That is, they should not seek knowledge due to the following:

1. “To compete with the scholars.”
2. “To debate with deviant sects.”
3. “To reach a high status in the eyes of the common people.”

When these three intentions are wrong, the question now arises: what should then be the purpose of knowledge of Din? The answer to this question, though not given in this hadith, is that it can be learned from the Holy Qur’an and other hadiths that the original purpose of the knowledge of Din is for only two things:

1. [Gaining knowledge in order to] understand religion – that one understand the rulings of religion and its limits so that bringing it into practice becomes easy.

2. [Gaining knowledge] in order to please one’s Lord. The Holy Qur’an has described this purpose thus:
“…so that they gain an understanding in the religion” (Surat al-Tawbah: 122).

And in one noble hadith, this purpose comes with the following words:
“Whoever seeks knowledge through intending Allah’s pleasure only …”From these two references to the Qur’an and hadith, it is learned that the purpose of gaining the knowledge of Din should be to obtain an understanding of Din so that Allah’s pleasure is acquired.In fact, some of the elders have disliked for someone in his student years to even keep the intention of seeking knowledge in order to teach the people. The reason is that in this intention, the creation is included as part of the purpose, which undermines the spirit of complete sincerity. Knowledge of Din should be sought only and only to gain an understanding of Din and to obtain Allah’s pleasure. Now, what is left are the services of propagating and teaching the people, writing and authoring, speaking and giving khutbah, and preaching and advising. These are not original intents of knowledge; instead, these are secondary commandments after having attained knowledge of Din. These duties come under the responsibility of the scholar in times of need. And after having attained the knowledge of Din, the scholar fulfills all of these (above-mentioned) tasks at their required times in order to seek Allah’s pleasure. It should remain clear that all of these tasks also become means to Allah’s pleasure; they are just not among the goals of a seeker of knowledge. Instead, they are responsibilities after having attained knowledge, and they are from it’s results and fruits. Therefore, a seeker of knowledge should, at the time of obtaining knowledge, keep only this intention that I am seeking knowledge to understand Din and attain Allah’s pleasure.Now, in the above-mentioned hadith, seekers of knowledge have been prohibited from three wrong intentions. The first is that one intend to reach the level of the great scholars, compete with them, and then exceed them in knowledge, and then to work based on that.The second is to intend to debate the deviant sects and foolish people, and through one’s arguments humiliate them.

The third [incorrect intention] is to attain a [social] rank in terms of livelihood and become the center of attention of creation and common Muslims.

The strange thing is that if these three intentions are stated in general terms, or they are given an outer feel of sincerity, then at first sight there is nothing bad observed in them. However, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said that anyone in who any of these three intentions is found will be entered into the Fire.

And the reason is the same. In these three intentions the actual goal is not to understand Din or to seek Allah’s pleasure. Instead, in these intentions, the creation and people themselves become the goal, and the seeker of knowledge exerts all of his effort for people. It should have been that he exerts all of his effort in order to correct himself and attain Allah’s pleasure. Making people the center or the purpose is not appropriate right from the beginning.

These three intentions have been commented on separately below:

ليجاري به العلماء (… in order to compete with the scholars…)
If any seeker of knowledge seeks knowledge with the intention that through seeking knowledge he will reach the level of the great scholars – in fact, he will try to exceed them – and in whatever field they are working he will go beyond them in that, then all of these intentions are against the actual goals of knowledge, and such a person has been warned of Hellfire by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace).

It should remain clear that appreciating the services of any big scholar or following the good that he says is not a bad thing; in fact, it is a good thing. But making that scholar the goal of seeking knowledge by desiring to compete with him or exceed him is a wrong intention. Therefore, to [keep the intention of] competing with a scholar or scholars worthy of appreciation, or intending to compete with them and exceeding them, has been forbidden.

Some details of this generality are that Allah Most High has created every human being alone and unique. He [the human] in his essence is unique. Everything about him – even his looks, his fingerprints are different from everyone else; the good things and positive aspects about him, his qualities, his morals, his knowledge and understanding – all of these are different from everyone else. He comes into this world alone – because of these characteristics – and alone he will go to the Hereafter.

Whether he is Imam Abu Hanifa or Imam Bukhari, Hafiz Ibn Hajar or any other scholar (may Allah have mercy on them); you absolutely cannot become like him. You and I can have a desire to tread in their footsteps or to acquire the positive qualities that they had and receive the opportunity to similarly serve the Din; but if anyone desires to become Hafiz Ibn Hajar, it would not be possible. There was only one Hafiz Ibn Hajar in this world. Therefore, for a seeker of knowledge to even think that he will become just like a certain scholar is a fundamentally wrong thought. Yes, you can pray that I also acquire positive qualities like them, and I also receive the chance for doing such services to the Din.

When this is the issue, that for one person to become just like another is impossible, then desiring that one becomes just like such and such an elder or scholar or even exceed him is not appropriate. In fact, in this intention is a call for competition, a desire for competition, which in a way relates to arrogance. Further, the desire to exceed them is a desire that leads to sins such as arrogance, greed, and envy. Because of this, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) has given a severe warning in this hadith, that whoever seeks knowledge of Din with the intention of competing with the scholars will be entered into the Fire.

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