Another Book of Knowledge

Book of WisdomTHE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE
Being a Translation with notes of
Kitab al-‘Ilm of
Al-Ghazzali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din
by
NABIH AMIN FARIS SH. MUHAMMAD ASHRAF
LAHORE, PAKISTAN

Editor’s Note:

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Praise be to Allah who has allowed us to accomplish this great task of bringing as much of Imam Ghazali’s works to the WWW. Praise be to Allah who distinguished the community of the faithful with the lights of certainty and favored the people of truth by guiding them to the foundation of faith; who saved them from the errors of the unrighteous and the wickedness of the unbelievers, and with His grace led them to follow the example of the chief Apostle; who directed their footsteps in the way of the honored Com­panions of the Apostle and enabled them to emulate the righteous predecessors, so that they protected them­selves against the dictates of sheer reason with the rope of Allah, and against the lives and beliefs of the early generation with the clear beaten track, combining thereby the products of reason and the ordinances of the traditional Law.

[…] Our intention is solely for Allah (swt).

May 14th 2003. New York.

 


BOOK I

THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE

COMPRISING SEVEN SECTIONS

The Book of Knowledge comprises seven sections:

1. On the value of knowledge, instruction, and learning.
2. On the branches of knowledge which are fard’ayn; on the branches of knowledge which are fard kifayah; on the definition of jurisprudence (fiqh) and theology (kalam) [as disciplines] in the science of religion; and on the science of the hereafter and that of this would.
3. On what is popularly considered to be part of the science of religion, but is [really] not, including a discussion on the nature of blameworthy knowledge.
4. On the defects of debate and the reasons why people have engaged in dissension and disputation.
5. On the proprieties of the teacher and the student.
6. On the deficiency of knowledge, the [drawbacks] of the learned, and the characteristics distinguishing the scholars of the science of the hereafter from those of the science of this world.
7. On reason, its value, categories and what has been said concerning it [in Tradition].


SECTION I

On the Value of Knowledge, Instruction, and Learning together with its evidence in tradition and from reason.

The excellence of knowledge The evidence for the excellence of knowledge in the Qur’an [is manifest] in the words of Allah: “Allah bears witness that there is no Allah but He, and the angels, and men endued with knowledge, established in righteousness.”(3:16) See, then, how Allah has mentioned Himself first, the angels second, and men endowed with knowledge third. In this you really have honour, excellence, distinction and rank. And again Allah said: “Allah will raise in rank those of you who believe as well as those who are given knowledge.” (58:12) According to ibn-`Abbas the learned men rank seven hundred grades above the believers; between each two of which is a distance five hundred years long. Said Allah. “Say, `shall those who know be deemed equal with those who do not?” (39:12) Allah also said, “None fear Allah but the wise among His servants;” (35:25) and again, “Say, `Allah is witness enough betwixt me and you, and whoever hath the knowledge of The Book!’ ”(13:43 ) This I mention to you in order to show that it was possible only through the power of knowledge. Allah also said, “But they to whom knowledge hath been given said, `Woe to you! The reward of Allah is better [for him who believes and does right],” (28:80) showing thereby that the great importance of the hereafter is appreciated through knowledge. And again Allah said, “These parables do we set forth for men: and none understands them save those who know.” (29:42) Allah also said, “But if they were to refer it to the Apostle and to those in authority amongst them, those of them who would elicit the information would know it” (4:85) He thus made the knowledge of His will dependent upon their efforts to find it out, and placed them next to the prophets in the [ability] to make it known. It has been said that in the following words of Allah, “O Sons of Adam! We have sent down to you raiments wherewith to cover your nakedness, and splendid garments; but the raiment of piety-this is best,” (7:25) the raiments represent knowledge, the splendid garments, truth, and the raiment of piety, modesty. Allah also said, “And We have brought them a book: with knowledge have We explained it;” (7:50) and again, “But it is clear sign in the hearts of those whom the knowledge hath reached;” (29:48) and, “With knowledge will We tell them;” (7:6) and again, “[He] hath created man, [and] hath taught him articulate speech.” (55:2-3) This, however, He said reproachfully.

As to [the evidence of the value of knowledge in] tradition (al-akhbar) the Apostle of Allah said, “Whom Allah doth love, He giveth knowledge of religion and guideth him into the straight path;” and again, “The learned men are the heirs of the prophets.” It is also well-known that there is no rank above that of prophethood, no honour higher than its inheritance. The Prophet also said, “What is in the heavens and in the earth intercedes for the learned men.” And what rank is higher than that of him for whom the angels of the heavens and earth labour interceding with Allah on his behalf, while he is preoccupied with himself. Muhammad also said, “Wisdom adds honour to the noble and exalts the slave until he attains the level of kings.” The Prophet pointed this out relating to the benefits of wisdom in this world, since it is well-known that the hereafter is superior and more lasting. Muhammad said again, “Two qualities the hypocrite lacks – good intentions and religious insight.” Do not doubt tradition, then, because of the hypocrisy of some contemporary jurisprudents; theirs is not the jurisprudence which the Prophet had in mind. (The definition of jurisprudence will come later). For a jurisprudent to know that the hereafter is better than this world is, after all, the lowest type of knowledge he can possess. Should it prove to be true and prevail, it would clear him of hypocrisy and deceit. The Prophet said, “The best of men is the learned believer who, if he is needed, he will be useful; and if dispensed with, he will be self-sufficient. “ And again he said, “Belief is like unto a nude who should be clothed with piety, ornamented with modesty and should have knowledge for progeny.” And again, “The nearest people to prophethood are the people of knowledge and the warriors of jihad”: the former have led men to what the prophets have proclaimed, and the latter have wielded their swords on its behalf. He also said, “The passing away of a whole tribe is more tolerable than the death of one learned man.” And again, “Men are like ores of gold and silver, the choicest among them during the Jahiliyah days are also the best during the days of Islam, provided they see the light.” He also said, “On the day of resurrection the ink of the learned men will be likened to the blood of the martyrs.” And again, “Whoever preserves of the law forty Traditions in order to transmit them unto my people, I shall, on the day of resurrection, be an intercessor and a witness on his behalf.” Muhammad also said, “Any one of my people who will preserve forty hadiths will on the day of resurrection face Allah as a learned jurisprudent.” And again, “Whoever will become versed in the religion of Allah, Allah will relieve him of his worries and will reward him whence he does not reckon” The Prophet also said, “Allah said unto Abraham, `O Abraham! Verily I am knowing and I love every knowing person’.” And again, “The learned man is the trustee of Allah on earth.” The Prophet said, “There are two groups among my people who when they become righteous the populace becomes righteous, and when they become corrupt the populace becomes corrupt: these are the rulers and the jurisprudents.” Again he said, “Should the day come wherein I increase not in knowledge wherewith to draw nearer to Allah, let the dawn of that day be accursed.”

Concerning the superiority of knowledge to worship and martyrdom, the Prophet said, “The superior rank the learned man holds in relation to the worshipper is like the superior rank I hold in relation to the best of men.” See how he placed knowledge on an equal footing with prophethood and belittled the value of practice without knowledge, despite the fact that the worshipper may not be ignorant of the worship which he observes. Moreover, without this knowledge there would have been no worship. The Prophet also said, “The superior rank the learned man holds over the worshipper is similar to the superiority of the moon when it is full over the other stars.” And again, “They will, on the day of resurrection, intercede [before Allah]: the prophets, then the learned, then the martyrs.” Great then is the state of knowledge which ranks next to prophethood and stands over martyrdom, the merits of the latter notwithstanding. The Prophet also said, “Allah was not worshipped with anyone better than the learned in religion. Verily a single jurisprudent is more formidable to Satan than a thousand worshippers.” For everything has [its] foundation. and the foundations of this religion is jurisprudence. And again, “The best part of your faith is [also] the easiest, and the best form of worship is jurisprudence.” The Prophet also said, “The learned believer holds a rank seventy degrees higher than that of the ordinary believer.” And again. “Verily you have come upon a time whose jurisprudents are many and Qur’an readers as well as preachers are few, whose beggars are rare and givers numerous, wherein deeds are better than knowledge. But there will come a time when jurisprudents are few and preachers many, whose givers are few and beggars numerous, wherein knowledge is better than works.” The Prophet also said, “Between the learned and the worshipper are a hundred degrees, each two of which are separated by the extent of a racing horse’s run in seventy years.” The Prophet was also asked, “O Apostle of Allah! What works arc best?” To which he replied. “Your knowledge of Allah.” He was then asked. “Which knowledge do you mean?” He answered, “Your Knowledge of Allah.” Again he was asked, “We enquire about works and you reply concerning knowledge.” Muhammad then said, “With your knowledge of Allah, a few works will suffice, but without such knowledge, no works, however numerous, avail.” The Prophet also said, “On the day of resurrection Allah will [first] raise the worshippers and then the learned to whom He will say, ‘O ye company of the learned, I did not imbue you with My knowledge but for My knowledge of you. Moreover, I did not imbue you with My Knowledge in order to torment you. Go ye, therefore, for verily I have forgiven you’.”

As to [the evidence of the value of knowledge in] the sayings of the Companions (al-athar), `Ali ibn-abi-Talib said to Kumayl, “O thou perfect of knowledge ! Knowledge is better than riches; for knowledge guardeth thee whereas thou guardest riches. Knowledge governs while riches are governed. Riches diminish with spending but knowledge increases therewith.” And again, “The learned is superior to the fasting, praying and self-mortifying man. Should the learned die, a gap would be created in Islam [by his death] and no one would fill this gap save one of his successors.” `Ali said:

“Learning is the glory of mankind,
The wise are beacons on the road to truth;
Man is worth his knowledge, nothing more –
The fool will be his inveterate foe,
Knowledge is man’s hope of life immortal,
Man may die but wisdom liveth ever.”

Abu-al-Aswad said, “Nothing is more precious than knowledge; while kings rule over men, they are ruled by the learned.” Ibn-`Abbas said, “Solomon the son of David was asked to choose between knowledge, wealth or power, but he chose knowledge and was thereby blessed with wealth and power as well.” Ibn-al–Mubarak was asked, “Who constitute humanity?” To which he replied, “The learned”. It was then said, “And who are the kings?” He answered, “The ascetics”. And who,” he was asked, “constitute the lowest class among men?” “Those,” said he, “who, in the name of religion, grow fat in the world.” Thus only the learned did [ibn-al–Mubarak] regard as belonging to mankind, because it is knowledge which distinguishes man from the other animals. Furthermore, man is a human being, not because of his physical prowess for physically the camel is his superior; not because of his size for the elephant is larger; not because of his courage for the lion is more courageous; not because of his appetite for the ox has the greater; not because of coitus for the least of the birds is more virile than he, but rather by virtue of his noble aims and ideals. [As a matter of fact] he was only created to know.

One of the wise men said, “Would that I might know what thing was attained by him whom knowledge has escaped, and what thing has escaped him who has attained knowledge.” The Prophet said, “Whoever has been given the Qur’an and thinks that anyone has been given something better, he has degraded what Allah has exalted.” Fath al-Mawsili said inquiring, “Would not the sick die, if he is given no food or drink or medicine?” They said, “Yes”. To which he said, “Similarly the heart will perish if it is cut off from wisdom and knowledge for three days.” He did indeed speak the truth, for the nourishment of the heart, on which its life depends, is knowledge and wisdom, just as the nourishment of the body is food. Whoever lacks knowledge has an ailing heart and his death is certain; yet he is not aware of his doom because the love of this world and his concern therewith have dulled his sense, just as a shock from fright may momentarily do away with the pain of a wound although the wound be real. Thus when death frees him from the burdens of this world he will realize his doom and’ will, though to no avail, greatly regret it. This is like the feeling of a person who has attained safety after having been through danger, and like that of a man who has just recovered from his drunkenness. We seek refuge in Allah from the day when all things will be brought to light. Men are asleep but at death they Will awake. Al-Hasan said, “The ink of the learned Will be likened to the blood of the martyrs, and the former will prove superior.” Ibn-Mas`ud said, “Seek ye knowledge while it be found; it will be veiled when its narrators pass away. Verily, by Him in whose hand is my life, several men who died martyrs in the cause of Allah would rather that, at resurrection, Allah would raise them up as learned men for what they see of the veneration accorded the learned.” No one is born learned, but knowledge is only the result of learning. Ibn-’Abbas said, “I would rather spend a part of the night in learned discussion than in continual prayer.” The same was related of abu-Hurayrah and Ahmad ibn-Hanbal. AI-Hasan said that in the words of Allah, “Give us good in this world and good in the next,” (2:197) the good in this world meant knowledge and worship while that of the next signified paradise. A wise man was once asked, “What things shall we possess?” He replied, “Those things which you will not lose in the event of shipwreck,” meaning thereby knowledge, while by shipwreck, it is said, he meant the decomposition of the body through death. A certain wise man said, “Whoever takes wisdom for his bridle will be acclaimed by men as their leader, and whoever is known for his wisdom will be looked upon with respect.” Al-Shaf’i Said “One of the noble things about knowledge is that he who is given a portion of it, no matter how small, rejoices while he who is deprived of it grieves.”‘ Umar said, “O men! Seek ye knowledge. For verily Allah has a mantle of love which He casts upon him who seeks knowledge even of a single section. Should he then commit an offence, Allah will remonstrate with him thrice in order not to rob him of his mantle, even though that offence may persist with him until he dies.” Al-Ahnaf said, “The learned men came very near being Allahs; and all power which is not supported by knowledge is doomed. Salim ibn-abi-al-Ja’d said, “ My master bought me for three hundred dirhams and later set me free. Thereupon I said, ‘What shall I take up for livelihood? Finally I took up learning and no sooner had a year passed than the prince of Ma kkah called upon me but I would not receive him.” al-Zubayr ibn-abi-Bakr said, “My father had written me while in al-’Iraq saying. ‘Go after knowledge; should you become poor it will be your wealth, and should you become rich it will be your embellishment’.” (This has been related among the exhortations of Luqman to his son). He also said, “Sit in the company of the learned and keep close to them; for verily Allah quickens the hearts with the light of wisdom as he refreshes the earth with the rain of heaven.” A certain wise man said, “When the learned dies the fish of the sea as well as the fowl of the air will mourn him; while his face shall disappear his memory will not be forgotten.” AI-Zuhri said, “Knowledge is glorious and is not treasured except by the glorious.”


ON THE EXCELLENCE OF LEARNING

The excellence of learning is attested in the Qur’an by the following words of Allah: “And if a party of every band of them march not out. it is that they may instruct themselves in their religion;” (9:123) and again. “Ask of those who have Books of Monition if ye know it not.” (16:45)

[As to the evidence of the excellence of learning] in tradition, the Prophet of Allah said. “Whoever follows a path in search of knowledge. Allah will guide him into a path leading into Paradise.” And again. “Verily the angels will bow low to the seeker after knowledge in approval of what he does.” He also said, “To rise up before daybreak and learn but a section of knowledge is better than prostrating yourself in prayer a hundred times.” The Apostle again said. “One section of knowledge which a man learns is better for him than all the riches of the world.” And again. “Seeking after knowledge is an ordinance obligatory upon every Muslim.” He also said, “Seek ye knowledge even [as far as] China.” The Prophet further said. “Knowledge is like sealed treasure houses, the keys of which arc inquiry. Inquire. therefore, for therein lies reward for four: the inquirer, the learned, the auditor, and their admirer.” He also said, “The ignorant one should not hide his ignorance nor the learned his knowledge.” And in a tradition on the authority of abu Dharr, “To be present in the circle of a learned man is better than prostrating oneself in payer a thousand times. or visiting a thousand sick men. or joining a thousand funerals.” It was then said.. “O Apostle of Allah, is it also better than the reading of the Qur’an?” To which he replied, “What good. though. is the Qur’an except through knowledge?” The Prophet also said. “Whoever is overtaken by death while seeking knowledge wherewith to strengthen Islam. between him and the prophets in Paradise is but one grade.”

 [As to the evidence of the excellence of learning] in the sayings of the Companions, ibn-Abbas said, “While I sought knowledge, I was abased, but when I was sought for it, I was exalted.” Similarly, ibn-abi -Mulaykah said, “Never have I seen the like of ibn 6`Abbas: to behold him is to behold the most handsome man; when he speaks, he is the most eloquent, and when he hands down a judicial opinion, he [reveals himself] as the most learned.” Ibn-al-Mubarak said, I wonder how one who sought no knowledge could be moved to any noble deed;” while one of the wise men said, “Verily I pity no one as

I pity the man who seeks knowledge but understands not, and him who understands and seek it not.” Abu-al-Darda’ said, “I would rather learn one point than spend my night in continual prayer;” and again, “The learned and the learner are partners in righteousness while the rest of men are barbarians in whom there is no good.” He :also said, “Be learned, or a learner, or an auditor but never anything else lest thou perish.” ‘Ata’ said “[Attendance at] an assembly of learning atones [the evil of attending] seventy places of entertainment.” “Umar said, “The death of a thousand worshippers who spend their days in fasting and their nights in continual prayer is a lesser calamity than the passing away of one learned man who is aware of what is lawful before Allah and what is unlawful. “Al-Shafi’i said, “Seeking knowledge is better than supererogatory works.” Ibn-‘Abd-al-Hakam said, “I was [once] at Malik’s place studying at his feet when the hour of noon arrived. Thereupon I closed my books and put them away in order to pray; but he said, `What you have risen to perform is not better than what you were doing provided your intentions are good.” Abu-al-Darda’ also said, “Whoever should regard that rising early for study is not jihad [reveals himself] deficient in reasoning and intellect.”

 

ON THE EXCELLENCE OF TEACHING

The excellence of teaching is supported in the Qur’an by the following words of Allah: “…. And may warn their people when they come back to them, haply they may take heed to themselves”, (9:123) by which is meant teaching and guidance. Allah also said, “Moreover, when Allah entered into a covenant with those to whom the scriptures had been given, and said, `Ye shall surely make it known to mankind and not hide it’ …’ (3:184),”meaning thereby that teaching was incumbent upon them. And again He said, “But truly some of them do conceal the truth, though acquainted with it.”(2:141) Here Allah has ruled against concealing the truth as he has with regard to concealing evidence when He said, “He who refuseth [to give evidence] is surely wicked at heart.” (2:283) The Prophet said, “Allah does not give the learned any knowledge unless He enters with them into the same covenant He has entered into with the prophets – namely, to make it known and not conceal it.” Allah also said, “And who speaketh fairer than he who biddeth to Allah and doeth the thing that is right?” (41:33) and again, “Summon thou to the wav of thy Lord with wisdom and kindly warning;” (16:126) and also” And teach them `The Book’ and Wisdom.”(2:123)

[As to the evidence of the excellence of teaching] in tradition, the Apostle of Allah, on sending Mu`adh to al-Yaman, said to him, “That, through you, Allah may lead one man [unto Himself] is better for you than the world and all that is in it.”  He also said, “Whoever acquires but one section of knowledge in order to teach men, will be given the reward of seventy of the righteous.” Jesus said, “He who has knowledge and shall do and teach, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Prophet said, “When on the day of resurrection Allah says unto the worshippers and the warriors, ‘Enter ye into Paradise’, the learned would say, ‘By virtue of our learning have they attained their piety and fought for Thee’. Then Allah would say unto them, ‘I regard you alike with my angels: intercede and you will have your intercessions accepted.’ They then would present their intercessions and enter into Paradise.” This cannot result except from knowledge which is made active through teaching not from passive knowledge which is inert. The Prophet said, “Allah does not take away knowledge from men after He has given it to them, rather it vanishes with the passing away of the learned. Thus whenever a learned man passes away. whatever [knowledge] he had perishes with him. When finally there are none left but ignorant leaders they will give uninformed opinions whenever consulted, leading men astray and confusing themselves.” The Prophet also said, “Whoever has any knowledge but conceals it, will, on the day of resurrection, be bridled with a bit of fire.” He also said, “How excellent’ a gift and how admirable a present is a word of wisdom which you hear and inwardly digest and then carry it and teach it to a brother Muslim: verily it is equivalent to a year of worship.” And again, “Accursed is the world and all that is in it except the name of the exalted Allah and him who shall follow in His way, be it a teacher or one taught.” The Prophet also said, “In truth Allah and His angels as well as the heavens and the earth, even the ant in its hill and the whale in the sea, will bless the man who teaches his fellow men.” He also said, “A Muslim gives his brother Muslim no better benefit than a `fair’ tradition which had reached him and which he consequently imparts. He also said, “A good word which the believer hears and follows and also teaches is better for him than a year’s worship.”

One day the Apostle of Allah passed by two assembled groups: the members of the first were calling upon Allah and offering their supplications, while the others were instructing men. Whereupon he said, “These beseech Allah; if He wills He will grant them their request and if He wills He will withhold it; whereas those teach men and verily I was not sent but as a teacher.” Then he turned and sat among them. He also said, “The knowledge and guidance which Allah has sent me to declare are like unto heavy rains which fell over a certain locality. One spot absorbed the rain and put forth herbs and much grass; another spot held the waters with which Allah benefited men who drank therefrom, watered the earth therewith, and then planted it; and a third spot was flat, it held no water and put forth no herb.” The first part of the parable signifies the one who reaps the benefits of his own knowledge, the second signifies the one whose knowledge is of benefit to others, while the third stands for him who enjoys neither.

Muhammad also said, “When a man dies all except three of his works perish, namely, a permanent endowment for charity, useful knowledge, and righteous progeny that bring honour upon his memory.” And again, “He who leads to something good is like him who does it.” He further said, “Envy is unlawful except regarding two categories of persons: those to whom Allah has given wealth and power to spend that wealth rightly, and those to whom Allah has given wisdom with which they regulate [their lives] and which they teach.” The Prophet also said “Allah’s mercy is upon my successors.” On being asked, “But who are your successors?” he replied, “My successors are those who keep my laws and teach them to Allah’s people.”

[As to the evidence of the excellence of teaching] in the sayings of the Companions, `Umar said, “Whoever shall relate a tradition and thus induce someone to do according to its precepts, will, with the [actual] doer be equally rewarded. “Ibn-‘Abbas said, “All things even the whale in the sea will intercede for him who teaches men good.” One of the learned men said, “The learned man occupies the position of an intermediary between Allah and His creatures; let the learned, therefore, be mindful how he occupies this position.”

It has been related that Sufyan al-Thawri arrived in ‘Asqalan where he tarried but no man questioned him [or sought his knowledge]. Whereupon he said, “Hire for me a beast of burden in order to depart from this city, for it is a place where knowledge does not prosper.” He had not said this except in solicitude over the excellence of teaching in which lies the preservation of knowledge. ‘Ata’ also said, “I came upon Sa’id ibn-al Musayyab while he was weeping, at which I said. ‘What causes you to weep?’ He answered, ‘No one seeks from my any information.’ It has also been said that the learned men are the lights of the ages; each is the torch of his own age and through him his contemporaries obtain light.” Al-Hasan said, “Had it not been for the leamet:, men would have become like animals.” For it is through teaching and instruction that men are brought out of the category of beasts to that of human beings. ‘Ikrimah said. “Verily a price is set upon this knowledge.” When asked that it was, he replied, “It is to be given to him who can keep it well and not lose it.” Yahya ibn-Mu’adh said, “The learned have more compassion for the followers of Muhammad than either their fathers or mothers.” “How is that?” he was asked; to which he replied, “Their fathers and mothers shield them from the fires of this world while the learned protect them against the fires of the next.” It has been said that in the process of learning the first [step] is silence, followed by listening, then retention, then doing, and finally imparting. It has also been said, “Teach what you knows to him who does not know and learn from him who knows what you do not know. If you would do this you would learn what you have not known and would retain what you hive already known.” Mu’adh ibn-Jabal said, (I have also come across the same saving described as a marfu‘  tradition), “Acquire knowledge, for its acquisition is [equisition to] the fear of Allah, its pursuit is [equivalent to] worship, its study is [equivalent to] praise, searching for it is [equivalent to] jihad, teaching it to him who does not know is [equivalent to] almsgiving, and imparting it to those who are worthy is meritorious. Furthermore, it is the bosom friend of the lonesome, the companion in solitude, the guide [to religion, the comforter in both] happiness and misfortune, the aid to the lonely, the relative among strangers, and the beacon on the road to Paradise. Through it Allah exalts a few and makes them leaders in virtues, chiefs and counsellors worthy of emulation, pioneers in righteousness whose footsteps should be followed and whose deeds should be observed. The angels seek their friendship and with their wings they touch them to gain thereby their favour. The .living and the dead, yea even the whales and the fish of the sea, the lions and beasts of the field, as well as the heaven and its stars intercede for them, because knowledge is the protection of hearts against blindness, the light of the eyes in darkness, and the fortification of the body against decay. Through it man attains the dignity of sainthood and the loftiest ranks. To reflect upon it is [as meritorious] as fasting and its study, as continual prayer. Through it Allah is obeyed, worshipped and glorified; through it he admonishes and forewarns; through it His unity is declared, and through it also [man] abstains from sin. Through knowledge the ties of relationship are made close by kindly deeds, and the lawful and the unlawful are made known. Knowledge is like an imam whereas works are his followers. Knowledge is bestowed upon the fortunate and from the unfortunate withheld”.


EVIDENCE [FOR THE EXCELLENCE OF KNOWLEDGE] FROM REASON

The purpose of this section is to comprehend the excellence and value of knowledge. Nevertheless, unless excellence is in itself understood arad its meaning determined it will not be possible to acknowledge it as an attribute to knowledge, or to any other trait besides. Similarly, whoever expects to determine whether or not Zayd is wise without having understood the meaning and essence of wisdom, is sure to go astray.

Excellence is derived from the infinitive to excel, which is excrescence. When, therefore, of two objects which are similar, one has an extra characteristic, that object is described as excelling the other, no matter what its excellence may be. Thus saying that the horse is more excellent than the donkey means that the horse shares with the donkey the capacity for carrying burdens, but excels it in charging, wheeling, swiftness, and beauty. However, should a donkey possess a ganglionary growth it would not be described as more excellent, because the ganglion, though an excrescence on the body, is in reality a defect, an imperfection. In addition the animal is sought for its useful qualities, not for its physical features. If you then understand this, it will be clear to you that knowledge excels when compared with the other attributes, just as the horse is distinguished when compared with the other animals. Furthermore, while swiftness is an excellent [feature] in the horse, in itself it has no excellence. Knowledge, however, is in itself an absolute excellence, apart from any attribution. It is the description of Allah’s perfection, and through the angels and prophets were imbued with honour. The fleet horse is better than the slow. Knowledge is, therefore, an excellence in the absolute and apart from any attribution.

A precious and a desired object may be of any of three categories: what is sought as a means to an end, what is sought for its own [intrinsic value], and what is sought for both. What is sought for its own [intrinsic value] is nobler and more excellent than that which is sought as a means to an end. The dirham and the dinar are objects sought as means to an end to. secure other objects. In themselves they are only two useless metals; and had not Allah made it possible to transact business through them, they would have been the same as pebbles. Happiness in the hereafter and the ecstasy’ of viewing the face of Allah are sought for their own [intrinsic value], whilr physical health is sought both for its own [intrinsic value] and as a means to an end. Man’s health, for example, is sought because it is a guarantee against bodily pain, and also because it helps [man] to reach his ends and [secure his] needs. Similarly, if you would consider [the case of] knowledge, you would discover that it is in itself delightful and therefore sought for its own [intrinsic value], and you would also find it a way which leads to the hereafter and its happiness, and the only means whereby we come close to Allah.

The greatest achievement in the opinion of man is eternal happiness and the most excellent thing is the way which leads to it. This happiness will never be attained except through knowledge and works, and works are impossible without the knowledge of how they are done. The basis for happiness in this world and the next is knowledge. Of all works it is, therefore, the most excellent. And why not, since the excellence of anything is revealed by the quality of its fruit? You have already learnt that the fruit of. knowledge in the hereafter is drawing near to the Lord of the Universe, attaining the rank of the angels, and joining the company of the heavenly hosts. Its fruits in this world, however, are power, dignity, influence over kings, and reverence from all to an extent that even the ignorant Turks and the rude Arabs are found naturally disposed to honour their teachers because the latter are distinguished by a great deal of knowledge derived from experience. Even the animal does by nature honour man because it senses that he is distinguished by a degree of perfection exceeding its own. These are, then, the excellence of knowledge in the absolute. As shall be seen later, the different branches of knowledge vary, and with their variation their excellences vary.

The excellences of teaching and learning, in view of what we have already said, are therefore manifest. For if knowledge is the most excellent of things, the process of acquiring it would then be a search for the most excellent, and imparting it would be promoting the most excellent. For human interests extend to both the material and the spiritual worlds, and no order exists in the latter without existing in the former because this world is a preparation for the next, and is the instrument which leads to Allah anyone who uses it as such, a home for him who takes it as a dwelling place. The affairs of this world, however, do not become orderly except through human activities. These activities, crafts, and industries are divided into three categories:

The first involves four fundamental (activities) without which chaos would rule the world: agriculture for raising food-stuffs, weaving for manufacturing clothes, architecture for erecting houses, and politics for establishing human relationship and society and for promoting co-operation in the control of the means of living.

The second involves such activities as are auxiliary to any of the above-mentioned fundamental activities. Thus iron craft is auxiliary to agriculture as well as to several other industries, and supplies them with their respective tools and instruments such as the implements for carding and spinning cotton preparatory to its weaving.

The third involves such activities as are supplementary to the previously mentioned principal industries, e.g., the process of milling and bread-making in relation to agriculture and the process of laundering and tailoring to weaving.

The relation of these principal activities to the order of things in this world is as the relation of the members of the body to the whole, because the members of the body are also divided into three categories. These are fundamental like the heart, the liver, and the brain; auxiliary like the stomach, veins, arteries, and sinews: or supplementary and ornamental like nails, fingers and eyebrows.

The highest of these activities are the fundamental, and of these the highest is politics [as employed] in unifying [people] and in reform. For that reason this discipline demands of those who pursue it a degree of perfection greater than that required by any of the other disciplines; and in consequence it is inevitable that the politician should subordinate to himself, and make use of, the other profession.

Politics, bent on reform and on guiding people to the straight path which [insures] salvation in this world and the next, is [in turn] divided into four classes: the first, which is also the highest, is the [religious] polity of the prophets which involves their jurisdiction over the thoughts and actions of the privileged few and the common folk alike. The second is the [civil] polity of the caliphs, the kings, and the sultans, which involves their jurisdiction over the actions, but not the thoughts, of the privileged few and the common folk. The third Is the intellectual polity of the learned man, who know Allah and His will and who are the heirs of the prophets, which involves jurisdiction only over the thoughts of the privileged few since the understanding of the common folk is too low for them to benefit, and their power of discrimination is too weak to observe and emulate their actions, and are, therefore, subject to no compulsion or restraint. The fourth is the [“ecclesiastical’] polity of the preachers which involves jurisdiction only over the thoughts of the common folk.

Next to the [religious] polity of the prophets, the highest is, therefore, the intellectual because of its service in disseminating knowledge, in diverting the souls of men from the destructive and undesirable traits, and in guiding them to those which lead to happiness and are praiseworthy, all of which, in the final analysis, fall within the purpose of teaching. We have only said that the intellectual activities are more excellent than the other professions and activities because the superiority of an activity is known by three things:

1 . By examining the native endowments of man through which the activity is realized, as in the case of the superiority of the theoretical sciences over the linguistic. Wisdom is attained through the intellect while language, through the sense of hearing (and intellect is superior to the [mere] sense of hearing).
2. By examining the extent of its usefulness, as in the case of the superiority of agriculture over the goldsmith’s craft.
3. By observing die object. of its operations, as in the case of the superiority of the goldsmith’s craft over tanning; the object of the one is gold while that of the other is the hide of a corpse.

It is further apparent that the religious sciences, which are the knowledge of the path to the hereafter, are comprehended through the maturity of the intellect: and as we shall see later, clear understanding and clear intellect are the highest attributes of man, because through the intellect the responsibility of Allah’s trust is accepted, and through it man can enjoy the closeness to Allah.

Concerning the extent of its usefulness there is not the slightest doubt since it contributes to happiness in the hereafter. And finally, how could the merit of an object of an activity be denied when the objects with which the teacher deals are the hearts and souls of men. The noblest being on earth is the homo-sapiens and the noblest in his essence is his heart with whose perfecting, cleansing, purifying, and leading to Allah the teacher is occupied. Thus on the one hand the work of the teacher is a (form of] praise to Allah and on the other hand a (form of] stewardship. It is in fact the highest form of stewardship because Allah has bestowed upon the heart of the learned man knowledge, which is His most intimate attribute. Hence the learned man is like the keeper of Allah’s most valuable treasures and has permission to give from them to all who need. What rank is, therefore, higher than that in which the servant is an intermediary between his Lord and his fellowmen, to draw them closer unto Allah and to lead them to Paradise to which the pious repair. May we, through the Grace of Allah, become one of them, and may He bless every chosen servant.

[End of Section I]

Source: http://www.ghazali.org/works/bk1-sec-1.htm

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