Many years ago in Uzbekistan, a baby boy was born blind. His mother, the strong mu'minah that she was, did not lose sight of He who had the power to cure him. She prayed and prayed for her son’s sight, and within a few years the boy regained his eyesight. But furthermore, she was widowed, and the boy an orphan. Regardless, she traveled with him to Makkah so that he could receive an Islamic education. She arranged for him to attend the circles of the scholars. He began excelling in the science of hadith. He traveled to distant villages in search of the most authentic sayings of RasulAllah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam. His mother named him Muhammad ibn Isma'il. Many of us know him today by the book he compiled – the book that stands after the Qur’an in authenticity – Saheeh Al-Bukhari.
In another land, in another time, chilly Baghdad winds would wake up another boy. His mother would bundle him in warm shawls and escort him through the darkness before fajr making sure he reached the masjid safely. After fajr she would wait for him as he read hadith to the biggest scholars of the land. Then she would meet him outside and together they would walk home. She was a strong mother indeed, for her son grew up to become an imam of the Muslim ummah, an imam by the name of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Manaaqib Ahmad, by Ibn Al-Jawzi).
Another scholarly name we are familiar with is that of Imam Suyuti. What many of us may not know is that he authored his first book, Tafseer Bismillaah Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheeem, when he was in the 2nd grade!
Why should we try to follow in the footsteps of these stars of Islam? The knowledge they had was unlike anything else. It was the law of Allah and the inheritance of the Prophets. It is our duty to preserve and protect the estate of Rasul Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, and that cannot happen without there being serious and sincere brothers and sisters spending long days and nights reading, reflecting, and teaching others.
Every Islamic revival that takes place is built on something. Some revivals are built on emotions, others on politics. The only one that will remain firm is the one that is built on the sound knowledge of the words of Allah and the Sunnah of Rasul Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam.
A sincere man once stood on the beach shore watching the waves thrashing a fish up and down. The man decided that he must save the fish. He thrashed into the water and grabbed the fish by the tail. Then he went back to the shore and threw the fish on the beach, satisfied that he had saved it from the water! When we work for the sake of Allah without knowledge of what the path of Allah is, many times we do as this young man did.
We are living in an age of information. We have lights in every corner of the house when only yesterday our ancestors read by the light of the moon. We have publishing houses when only yesterday our ancestors wrote the books they owned with their own hands. We have CD's to search the hadith archives when our scholars spent days upon days searching for proof and evidence in their libraries. Knowledge should increase with all this ease, but it has not.
When a prize is great, the responsibility and work required for it shall also be great. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
"Whoever seeks out a path to acquire knowledge (of the deen), Allah makes easy a path for him to Jannah" (Muslim).
Mu'aawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan narrated that the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
"Whoever Allah wishes good for, he grants them fiqh (understading) of the deen."
He also told us that the sincere scholars have a place with Allah no one else can reach. He sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
"The virtue of the scholar to a worshipper (‘aabid) is similar to the virtue of the moon when it is full to the rest of the stars. And verily the scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets. Verily the Prophets did not leave behind dirhams and dinars, but rather they left behind knowledge. Thus whoever takes it, takes it as a bountiful share" (Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah).
The position of the people of Islamic knowledge reaches such a level that Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala and the angels pray for them! Abu Umaamah narrated that RasulAllah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
"Verily Allah and His angels, even the ant in its hole and the fish in the sea, verily (they all) pray for he who teaches people good."
The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam also made du’a for them, as narrated by Zayd ibn Thabit:
"May Allah grant light (and happiness and beauty in the face) of someone who hears a hadith from us and memorizes it until he passes it on to others" (Authentic, narrated by Tirmidhi).
One of the hadith scholars that Imam Bukhari took from, Hisham ibn Ammar narrates an incident that happened to him when he was 8 years old. He said, "My father sold a house of his for 20 dinars so that I could go for Hajj (and study Islam). When I arrived in Madinah, I went to the circle of Imam Maalik. He was sitting amongst his students like a king. People would ask him questions and he would answer. When I entered the crowd and my turn came up I said, ‘Haddathani (recite to me)!’
“He said, ‘Rather you read.’
“I said, ‘No, you haddathani!’
“Imam Maalik said, ‘No you read!’
“When I talked back and argued, he got angry and said to another student, go outside with me and hit me 15 times! That student took me outside and hit me 15 times with a stick and then brought me back to Imam Maalik. I said, ‘You have wronged me! My father sold his house so that I could come to you and be honored by listening to your teaching and seeking knowledge from you. But you smacked me 15 times without any crime on my part. I shall not forgive you!’
“Imam Maalik then said, ‘What is the expiation for this wrong?’
“I said, ‘You have to recite 15 hadith to me as expiation.’
“So Imam Maalik began reciting the hadith to me until he completed 15. When he ended I told him, ‘Beat me more and read more hadith to me.’
“Imam Maalik laughed and said, ‘Be off’” (Ma'rifat Al-Qurraa' al-Kibaar by Imam Adh-Dhahabi)!
From the beginning of time, there has been a race between the doers of good and the doers of evil. Adam and Iblis, Musa and Fir'own, Muhammad sal Allahu alay wa sallam and Abu Jahl. Today, that race has not ended. How hard are the doers of evil working and how hard are we?
‘Umar radi Allahu anhu once said, "I seek Allah's protection from the jalad (the strength and enthusiasm) of the sinner, and the laziness of the God-fearer." It is as if he was contemplating the time that we are now living in.
Why are we too lazy to pray 2 rakaat at night, when the people of the dunya spend the entire night watching movies? Why do we cringe at paying 6 dollars for an Islamic book, when the people of the dunya spend thousands in pursuit of their sin?
Some of the fuqahaa' who came before us said, "For years I desired to eat hareesah (a sweet dish) and I wasn't able to because it was only sold during class time."
Imam Su'bah said, "If I ever saw someone running in the streets of the village I would only think one of two things: He was either crazy or a student of hadith!"
Ibn Al-Jawzi said, "I haven't seen a flaw more sad in the community than those who stop working even though they have the ability to continue."
To correct the situation we must reflect on the following:
First, we must be sincere in our desire to learn Islam. We are learning this deen to rid ourselves of ignorance and then to help others to rid themselves of ignorance. It is not a coincidence that the first hadith in Saheeh al-Bukhari is, "Verily actions are (judged) by their intentions…" The scholars are reminding us from page one that our path to learning must be for the sake of Allah. Allah ordered us to be sincere to Him in our actions:
And they have been commanded no more than this: to worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith) (Al Bayyinah 98/5).
RasulAllah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
"Whoever studies that which is meant for the sake of Allah, desiring only a piece of the dunya, he shall not smell the frangrance of Jannah on the Day of Judgement" (Authentic; narrated by Ahmad and Tirmidhi).
Ibn Abbas said, "Verily a man shall be protected (by Allah) in proportion to his niyyah (intention for doing what it is he is doing)."
The issue of intention is not an easy matter. Sufyan Ath-Thawree said, "I have never nursed something more rebellious than my intentions" (Al-Ja'mi' li akhlaaq al-Raawee by Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadi).
Listen to the advice of Imam Ibn Jamaa'ah on what it takes to correct your intention: "A proper and sincere intention when studying Islam is to intend to win the pleasure of Allah by what you are doing. You should intend to practice what you learn and to resurrect the Shari'ah, hoping that this knowledge will shine light on your heart, cleanse your soul, and bring you closer to Allah on the Day of Judgement…Your intention for studying Islam should not be to win any worldly commodity, like leadership, or fame, or riches. It should not be learnt so that you can show off to your colleagues or so that people will revere you and sit you in a chief position in their gatherings, and so on…" (Tadhkirat as-Saami' wal Mutakallim).
Secondly, we should understand that we are in a continuous war with Shaytaan, and that he does not want us to succeed in this studying. Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala says:
When thou does read the Qur’an, seek Allah's protection from Satan the Rejected One (An-Nahl 16/98).
The Shaytaan shall sit in the face of every good thing that you try to do. RasulAllah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam told us:
"The Shaytaan sits in the path (of every goodness) that the son of Adam (may try to take). He sat in front of him when he took the path to Islam and asked him, ‘How could you leave the religion of your fathers and your forefathers?’ But he disobeyed him and became Muslim. Then Shaytaan sat in front of him in his path to hijrah and asked, ‘How could you leave your land and your sky?’ But he disobeyed him and migrated (from Makkah). Then he sat in front of him in his path of jihaad and said, ‘Why should you do jihaad? It will only exhaust your wealth and body. You'll be killed, your wife will marry someone else, and your wealth will be divided (to others).’ But he disobeyed him and went for jihaad."
Rasul Allah then said, "Whoever does this, it is a duty upon Allah that He shall enter him into Jannah!"
One way Shaytaan will sit in your path is by making you procrastinate. He will tell you that you are busy now and that later in your life you shall take the time out to study Islam. Life will pass and the ‘after’ shall live forever. Shaytaan will tell you that the situation of the ummah is lost and that your studying will not help anything. Combat this with what you've seen from the jihaad of knowledge and teaching that RasulAllah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam and those that came before us did.
Shaytaan will tell you that there are enough scholars and so you are not needed. But scholars will die, and if the knowledge is not passed onto the next generation, it will die in the community. There are 1.4 billion Muslims and the problem that always comes up is that there are not enough teachers and scholars. Everyone is a shepherd and everyone shall be responsible for his or her flock.
Thirdly, we should never forget to pray to Allah to bless us with His Mercy in succeeding in our intentions to learn Islam for His sake. Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala says:
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them). I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me… (Al-Baqarah 2/186)