If one looks back at one’s life, as in the case of many of us, Allah Almighty provided us with free periods during which we could have acquired knowledge. The periods were there, the teachers were available, but many of us were not prepared to take the initial step of using these periods and going to the teachers to acquire knowledge. Today, for many of us, it appears to be too late. Being too late is in fact only an appearance, because if we wish to we can still organise our free time to acquire knowledge.
On numerous occasions I have appealed to you to go to the Azzawiyyah Masjid to attend the lectures there, by either Shaykh Achmad or Shaykh Siraj. The response was very poor. I find it quite embarrassing to sit in Shaykh Siraj’s class with a few odd murids. At one time, I had also encouraged people to attend the lectures of Shaykhah Maymoena. The response again was very weak. To a certain extent I have done my duty.
Let us talk seriously about the acquisition of knowledge. We all know or we should know that the acquisition of knowledge is a fard ayn. This means that it is compulsory on every Muslim, male and female, to acquire both sacred and other knowledge. There is a large range of Prophetic Traditions on this matter, and also a large number of scholars, such as Imam Ghazali, who have written on the matter. In many of the Islamic works there are always special chapters on knowledge and its acquisition. So we cannot say that we do not know about this. We in Tariqah must especially be very careful in carrying out this aspect of Islam. I remember reading somewhere that in one of the Tariqahs, only those with a thorough understanding of the Divine Law were admitted as murids.
In one of the verses of the Qur’an, Allah Almighty links His remembrance with investigation of His creation. He says:
إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَ الأَرْضِ وَ اخْتِلآفِ الَّيْلِ وَ النَّهَارِ لأِ َيَاتٍ لأِ ُوْلِ الأَلْبَابِ الَّذِيْنَ يَذْكُرُوْنَ اللهَ قِيَامًا وَ قُعُوْدًا وَ عَلَى جُنُوْبِهِمْ وَ يَتَفَكَّرُوْنَ فِى خَلْقِ السَّمَاتِ وَ الأَرْضِ
Behold! In the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding, men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting and lying down on their sides, and contemplate about the creation of the heavens and earth (iii: 190-191).
In these verses Allah (ﷻ) speaks about a very exceptional group of people whom He refers to as the Ulul al-bab, and He refers to them as being those who remember Him at all times and who investigate in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Surely, there must be a very important reason why our Lord refers to them as Ulul al-bab and why He defines them in this special way. I want you to imagine a student of Islam deeply engrossed in his studies of what our Lord has created and what He has sent to us. And the student, after a period of intensive studying, puts down his pen and picks up his rosary, calling on the One who had created what he has studied. Can you imagine the impact of his studies in combination with his remembrance of his Lord on his soul? Such impact most probably knows no bounds, as he draws from his spiritual power of his remembrance of his Lord to enhance his understanding of his Lord’s creation, and he draws from his understanding of his Lord’s creation, through his studies, to give reality to his remembrance of his Lord. Is there any obstacle that can interfere with the combination of what is mental and what is spiritual? Is there anything that can interfere with the full flowering of that individual’s mental capacities as he draws on the words of praise of his Lord? Is there anything? Is there anything? Any individual who acquires the ability to study, investigating and pondering over the almost unbelievable magnificence and greatness of his Lord’s creation, with a deep consciousness of the Creator that he arrives at, not only through his pondering, but also through his remembrance; I am sure, will have different stages of attainment available to him. Just imagine again that we use the words ‘Rabbul mashriqayni wa rabbul maghribayn’ as a litany. The litany can be at a very conscious level when it has with it the understanding that every planet in each solar system has an east and a west on that planet and also an east and a west as a projection from that planet. The astronomer or the geographer would understand. So, for each planet there are two easts and two wests. The geographer or astronomer when he calls on his Lord, it is almost as if he envisages the many solar systems with their planets and with the easts and the wests of those planets, and what he envisages is re-enforced in his heart by calling on his Lord as the Creator and the possessor of all those solar systems, its planets and the easts and the wests of those planets. Would such an individual not think: “This is my Lord”? Would he not say as his understanding grows and as his spirituality leaps ahead: “O my Lord”? Although he knows nothing of his Lord, he has come to have some understanding of his Lord’s Workings; so that when he calls: “Allah”, which embraces all of His Names and His Attributes, there is so much meaning for him in any of his Lord’s Names and Attributes. This ‘so much’ is in fact ‘so little’, but even if it is an atom’s weight of knowledge of his Lord, it brings about a satisfaction in him that he did not have prior to his engagement of his pondering of the creation and bringing the remembrance of his Lord into play at the same time.
I do not always understand why we are afraid of knowledge, why we will organize ourselves away from the circles of knowledge. Do you know that the Messenger (ﷺ) refers to the circles of knowledge; that is where people sit and discuss aspects of knowledge, as Gardens of Paradise, and we are encouraged to participate in such Gardens. If Muslims just follow this tradition, they would be the most knowledge-conscious of all people on this planet, and if they work to be part of the Ulul al-bab, they would become some of our greatest spiritual figures and thinkers. Do you think that Allah Almighty has placed this verse of the Ulul al-bab in the Qur’an for nothing? Every time He mentions a group of people on whom He placed His Graces and Blessings, is this not His reminder of us of what we can achieve? Today, there are so many books that have been translated from the Arabic that people can study, so many others who have qualified in religious studies, so many hifz schools and other schools. In fact our community is overloaded with these things. But in comparison to the size of the population, these schools are virtually empty. I read the other day of a large number of Companions (r.a.) who sat in the classes run by Sayyidatuna A’ishah (r.a.). All of them were Companions (r.a.) of the Prophet (ﷺ) and all of them learned so much directly from him; yet, despite their ages and positions they held, they sat in her class.
I have seen over the years how so many talented individuals have used their talents for all kinds of things for which no knowledge or very little knowledge is required. Those who are not learning are not only creating a major disservice to themselves, but they are also ignoring the Divine Instructions. We ask Allah Almighty to take us out of this malaise and to make us of those people who stand in front when it comes to His remembrance, amin.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]