Event Review: Sh Ahmad Saad’s “Etiquette Before Knowledge”
Who: Shaykh Ahmad Saad
Where: Singapore Expo Max Atria
When: 22nd June 2012
Despite the relatively short length of his lecture, Shaykh Ahmad Saad spoke at great length on the relationship between etiquette (adab) and knowledge, focusing especially on the practices to be adopted by one seeking to be a student of knowledge.
Brother Abdul Shukor Hadi of the Singapore Haqqani Ensemble began the evening with a recitation of verses from Surah Al Kahf, and following that sang a qasidah, Hubbun Nabi.
Ustaz Nuzhan, executive imam of Masjid Jamiyah Ar-Rabitah, introduced the speaker and said that the topic was especially pertinent now, when one can learn anything with the click of a mouse, noting that there was a difference between information (ma’lumat) and knowledge (‘ilm).
Etiquette of the Students of Knowledge
Dressed in a Hadrami turban and a flowing grey coat over a white jubbah, Shaykh Ahmad Saad began by relating the story of ibn Al-Qasim, whose dedication to the pursuit of knowledge was such that he studied with Imam Malik for so long that he did not even realise he had a son.
Ibn Al Qasim had spent twenty years with Imam Malik, eighteen studying adab and two studying knowledge, and Shaykh Saad related that he wished he had spent all twenty years studying adab. Despite such dedication, men such as ibn al-Qasim would not even consider themselves students of knowledge, let alone scholars.
Among the qualities of a serious student as given by Imam Shafi’i was dedication. The Shaykh described the student of knowledge as having no other commitments, including not needing a job for his livelihood and not having a spouse.
Apologising to the married sisters in the audience, Shaykh Saad related a story from Suffyan ibn Uyaynah, who had asked one of his students whether he was married, and when the man replied in the affirmative, the scholar said he had sailed into the ocean. Upon finding out that the man had children, Suffyan ibn Uyaynah stated that he had already drowned. Shaykh Saad elaborated that when faced with the choice of either feeding their hearts or their children, most people would naturally take the option of feeding their children.
Saying that pursuit of knowledge was a long term commitment, Shaykh Saad used an example from Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah’s book Al-‘Ulama al-‘Uzzab (The Celibate Scholars) about Yunus ibn Habib, who would narrate hadith from memory to his student Abu Ubaydah Ma’mar ibn Al-Muthanna every day for twenty years from Fajr until Ishak. This was unlike his own students, who had to be given breaks every 45 minutes or else they would fidget and lose concentration.
It was from the hikmah of Allah that everything which is noble and precious requires a long time, and there was nothing nobler than knowledge.
Shaykh Saad critiqued the notion that knowledge can be taken directly from books, saying that the nur taken from teachers was not found in books. He stated that our deen is unique in that it is transmitted from chest to chest. Shaykh Saad said that had Allah intended for knowledge to be passed down purely through books, He would have taught the Prophet (SAWS) to read and write, and reveal the Qur’an in the form of writing. Instead, Jibril (AS) was sent to teach the Prophet (SAWS) the Qur’an through recitation.
[quote]The Shaykh noted that even in the revelation of the Qur’an, there was a chain of knowledge, with Allah as the first Mu’allim, teaching Jibril the Qur’an, who then taught it to the Prophet (SAWS).[/quote]
The Shaykh related encountering people who narrated hadith directly from the Sahih of Bukhari, and stated that Bukhari was meant for specialists. Those who read directly from Bukhari, he said, were often unaware of details such as the history and context of a hadith, or whether it was abrogated. Quoting ibn Hajar Al-Haytami, Shaykh Saad said that whoever seeks knowledge without a teacher will be misguided.
Shaykh Ahmad Saad also emphasised the importance of revising notes taken during classes, instead of simply chucking them aside. He recounted that Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi used to revise his lessons a hundred times a day, and Imam Rafi’i used to leave the sunnah prayers during his revision, saying to his peers that his studies were more blessed than the sunnah prayers.
Shaykh Saad spoke about Imam Ahmad ad-Damhuri, who was a faqih of all four Sunni madhabs and did not identify himself as belonging to a specific school of fiqh, instead calling himself al-madhabi and chose freely from the rulings of the different madhahib.
This was different from those who eschewed following the madhabs and claimed to follow only the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Shaykh Saad retorted that scholars like Imam Shafi’i and Imam Abu Hanifah did not take their rulings from the Taurah and the Injil, and stated the four mujtahid Imams were closer to the Qur’an and Sunnah than anybody today.[quote]Adab, Shaykh Saad said, was like a shield protecting our knowledge.[/quote]
Etiquette of the Scholars
Shaykh Saad also spoke about the adab of the ulama. Imam Malik, he said, did not teach hadith without first bathing, applying perfumes, wearing his imamah, burning bukhor and sitting in an honourable manner out of respect to the hadith of the Prophet (SAWS).
Often, scholars were more like fathers rather than teachers, and the Shaykh recounted his teacher Shaykh Ali Gomaa giving a student a blank cheque for him to buy a flat closer to his own. The Shaykh also spoke of a scholar who personally gave money to buy 700 copies of a text of usul fiqh and another who bought laptop computers for all of his students. The most merciful to the ummah, he said, are the scholars who take care of both the dunya and the akhirah of their students.
He also spoke on the need for gentleness among scholars, saying that the Companions would bring the harshest Bedouins to the Prophet (SAWS) in order to see how he dealt with them, and of course the Prophet would always treat them in the kindest manner.
Closing his talk, Shaykh Ahmad Saad insisted that his lecture was merely an introduction to the topic of adab, not a complete exploration of it and said it was necessary to be upright in order to truly inherit knowledge.
Question and Answer
A member of the audience asked about the implications of knowledge gained online, without etiquette.
The Shaykh answered that those who obtained knowledge without etiquette were prone to confusion by Iblis, and would not gain the barakah of the shuyukh. He stated that websites often represented specific points of view, and those who pursued knowledge online would be narrow-minded and unaware of controversies and ambiguities. Worse still, they would speak ill of scholars whom they disagreed with and accuse them of bid’ah, kufr and ignorance. He reminded the audience that the flesh of the scholars was poison.
Another questioner asked how one could pursue knowledge if married, and what one could do in the absence of great scholars in Singapore. Shaykh Saad encouraged getting spouses involved in religious activities, and said it was common for couples to pursue knowledge together. He stated that women were encouraged to pursue knowledge as well, noting that there were 8000 women scholars of hadith, and that Sayyidatina Aishah was well-known as a narrator of hadith.
The Shaykh went on to ask the audience not to be blinded by scholars from other countries at the expense of local scholars. He said that there were many graduates from Al-Azhar in Singapore, as well as many scholars of Prophetic descent. Singapore belongs to the Ummah of the Prophet (SAWS), Shaykh Saad said, and it was important for us to not just look at the rizq of others but ignore our own.
The last question of the evening asked why knowledge was not spread for free.
Shaykh Saad answered that knowledge cannot be quantified by a monetary amount, and noted that Imam Ahmad had said that were he to make du’a for his teacher Imam Shafi’i for his entire life, he could not repay him. Still, he noted that without funding, the sources of knowledge could not be supported, and said that there was a lack of waqf dedicated to knowledge.
Shaykh Saad stated that in the past, serious students of knowledge were supported with a monthly salary, as was the practice for students of Al Azhar, who were supported by a religious endowment prior to the revolution of 1952.
With such endowments being a rarity, students were forced to graduate quickly in order to find jobs and make a living. However, the Shaykh also mentioned that money should not be a barrier to acquiring knowledge, and one who cannot afford it should still have access to knowledge.
The Shaykh conveyed a lot of knowledge for such a short lecture, and one can only hope to have the adab of the students of knowledge. What I found especially important was his point that the local scholars should not be ignored. I sometimes find that people are, for whatever reasons, critical of local teachers of Islam and avenues of knowledge, and I believe it is only to our own detriment that we ignore Singaporean scholars and students of knowledge. Knowledge should be pursued even to China (or Egypt as it were), however the journey should begin in one’s own land. May Allah be pleased with Shaykh Ahmad Saad and all our scholars.[divider]
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local training institute and a part-time writer.