Translated by Tameem Ahmadi

The need for acquiring religious knowledge and the reply to the objections made by the worldly people on the students of sacred knowledge


‘Amr and Zayd are in a debate. Zayd argues that by the acquisition of sacred knowledge of Din, a majority of its students and scholars end up becoming immoral, greedy, destitute, and beggars. And since begging is forbidden in Islam [for able-bodied individuals], they become a source of disgrace and embarrassment for the Muslim community.

On the other hand, by acquiring secular knowledge; such as English, Science, etc. these people end up becoming a source of worldly advancement, affluence, honor and wealth. Through these worldly benefits, they are able to benefit the religion. And this is the ultimate objective of studying secular knowledge in the first place.

As far as the argument put against secular knowledge that it creates irreligious people, observation and experience proves that towards the end of their lives such people eventually repent from their sinful ways and become sincere seekers of self-reformation. And the current syllabi at modern secular institutions do not have such subjects in them that corrupt one’s faith.

As far as sacred knowledge is concerned, a person only needs to know how to recite the Qur’an in Arabic and learn a few basic fundamentals and he has fulfilled the religious requirement.

With these notions in mind, Zayd removed his son from the local madrasah and from the environment of Qur’anic exegesis, lessons of Prophetic traditions and the company of the righteous scholars and admitted him into a secular school in the company of liberals, leaving all his previous connections to religious obligations such as prayer, fasting, and Islamic identity.

‘Amr argues that one should definitely acquire some secular education for the sake of worldly necessities. There is no doubt that to the extent of necessity one should also learn the English language [but that should not be one’s main focus].

As for sacred knowledge, which in this day and age, is of the utmost importance and from one’s religious obligations, a person should excel in this field as well so that one’s faith and practice is not corrupted in the future.

At this moment in time, these two individuals (whose arguments we have put forward to you) are willing to make you their arbitrator in this matter. They would appreciate your guidance and will settle with your decision. Please decide who is right in this debate, providing evidences from the Noble Qur’an and Sunnah.


The effect of sacred knowledge is positive not negative

If Zayd is trying to say that the majority of students and scholars end up becoming immoral, greedy, penniless and destitute specifically due to studying sacred knowledge then this claim is outright false. In actual fact, the distinguishing feature of sacred knowledge is that it engenders piety, abstinence and independence in the hearts of its seekers. As for those who after acquiring sacred knowledge continue to be immoral then they would have become worse if they were to study secular knowledge.

Actual cause of immorality

The actual cause of immorality in these cases is more so due to the negligent upbringing and lack of proper nurturing in childhood than anything else. If parents were to instil in them from an early age the fear of Allah, hatred of sins, and safeguard them from bad company then by studying sacred knowledge they would have excelled and reached perfection in the qualities they were instilled with early on.

If proper nurturing and correct upbringing was neglected early on, then acquisition of sacred knowledge in itself can only rectify those bad habits to a certain extent but not entirely. If such children are deprived of sacred knowledge completely and put into a secular environment to study which is void of any teaching of morality, then their immoralities will only increase.

On scholars and students becoming greedy and destitute

As far as the argument that scholars and students of sacred knowledge become greedy and destitute, this also has nothing to do with the acquisition of sacred knowledge. Rather the root cause of destitution that is seen in some students is due to the social and financial background that many of them come from. Many of these students are from poor households of hardworking laborers from the lower class social status. Destitution, acquisitiveness and want are qualities which generally exist in people of such backgrounds already. And right from the beginning, these students acquire their religious education through the support of the madrasah, in terms of their clothing and food. This increases the quality of dependency and reliance upon others for the fulfillment of one’s needs. But how is this in any way a crime committed by the madrasahs? And what is the fault of sacred knowledge in this? If these madrasahs do not assist the poor students who are admitted to study then how will the legacy of sacred knowledge be perpetuated?

Root cause of this dilemma

The root cause of this dilemma is nothing but the attitude and social conduct of the Muslim community. Generally, the educated and upper class Muslims are disinclined towards religious and sacred knowledge. If these people of affluence and higher social standing were to wholeheartedly admit their children to study sacred knowledge just as they admit them to study secular knowledge (for which they spend thousands), and if after their graduation they were to admit them in the company of a qualified shaykh of spirituality then these evil qualities would never develop within them.

Although such a graduate will probably not earn thousands after graduating but he will definitely be adorned with such self-sufficiency and independence that all the treasures of the seven continents will mean nothing to him. Unfortunately, the affluent upper class do not even admit their children into madrasahs in the first place and when they do, they hold back from spending on them freely. So, how will this type of conduct and treatment not breed acquisitiveness?

The source of good character and morality

In short, the actual source of morality and good character is proper family upbringing. When sacred knowledge is added to this already strong foundation, then the great results of this knowledge fully take effect. If however the parents notice that these good qualities have still not been attained then it is highly recommended that they admit him in the company of a qualified shaykh by whose company these spiritual ailments and deficiencies will be remedied and rectified. After this method of action, Allah willing, no spiritual diseases of immorality will remain.

Superiority of sacred knowledge

Going a bit further, I honestly say that no matter how a student of sacred knowledge turns out, sacred knowledge will always be far superior and beneficial than secular knowledge. The person who even after studying sacred knowledge becomes greedy and hankers after people’s wealth, if he were to study secular knowledge he would have most likely become involved in bribery or other fraudulent dealings. These bribes that are taken are worse than just being greedy or asking for people’s money. What is the difference between begging and taking bribes? The difference is that a person begs from others through flattery, while bribes are taken through oppression and force. Another difference is that even though the one asking for money is committing a wrong, at least the one who is on the giving end is rewarded for [spending in] charity. As for the one who is on the giving end of bribery, he gets no reward at all and will probably be sinful for giving a bribe. Rather, he will be sinful almost all of the time (unless he is compelled to do so against his will).

Secular institutes vs. madrasahs

As far as Zayd’s claim that secular institutions do not corrupt one’s faith and practice, observation and experience actually reveals the opposite. He should go and spend a few days at a college and observe how some Muslim boys deal jokingly with religious injunctions and how they develop doubts and confusions in their minds regarding their religion.

However, sacred knowledge and madrasahs fully preserve faith and practice, and the majority of one’s actions and conduct becomes morally rectified. But this is on the condition that there was a good moral foundation from the beginning, and the student was kept away from evil company, and morally upright teachers continued to emphasize upon him to act upon the sacred knowledge.

Does sacred knowledge breed destitution?

As far as claiming that sacred knowledge breeds poverty and destitution then in reply to this I say that the study of sacred knowledge for the sake of worldly gain is forbidden. Earning a livelihood is not the aim of sacred knowledge. So those who wish that their child should become a bread winner and money maker, then they should not use this [sacred knowledge] as a means of earning. Rather, after completion of the child’s religious studies, the parents should admit him to an institution wherein he could learn business, trade or some skill through which he could earn his livelihood.

As for that person who wishes to go into some worldly line of work then it is sufficient for him to learn the necessary fundamentals of Din through reliable and authentic sources and continue on in his line of work. And the one who intends to fully dedicate himself to serving the Din, it is essential that he studies the Arabic language and Islamic sciences under qualified and righteous scholars and, after graduation, stays in the auspicious company of a shaykh-e-kamil (qualified spiritual mentor). And even though this person may not end up earning a lot, he will be blessed with more fulfillment and contentment of heart than others.

Now I will present all the proofs for my statements in the hadiths below:

1. It has been reported by Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Sometimes the possessor of intricate religious knowledge is hardly a jurist. He who does not take benefit from his knowledge will be harmed by his ignorance. Read the Qur’an, be aware of what it prohibits you from, and if that knowledge does not prohibit you [from sinful and transgressing the dictates of the Qur’an] then [it is as if] you have not read it.” (Sunan al-Tabrani)

2. Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “People are like mines of gold and silver. The best of them in the time of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic period of ignorance) is the best of them in Islam if they seek knowledge (or understanding).” (Sahih Muslim)

Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari (may Allah have mercy upon him) comments on this hadith in Mirqat al-Mafatih, “The best of individuals in the time of jahiliyyah here is referring to those people who, although being in the period of jahiliyyah, had extremely good characters and morals. On the basis of their excellent character and morality, they have very high potential to be good Muslims on the condition that they seek knowledge. Otherwise, despite their character, nobility belongs to those more knowledgeable than them; that is the high determining factor.

3. Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrates that he heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) mentioned: “One jurist is more severe upon Satan than a thousand ardent worshipers.” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Sunan Ibn Majah)

4. Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “The person who seeks knowledge that is supposed to be sought only for the pleasure of Allah [and in spite of this] he seeks knowledge for worldly name, fame and material gain, he will not find [even] the fragrance of Paradise on the Day of Judgment [let alone be granted entry].” (Musnad Ahmad, Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan Ibn Majah)

5. Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If only the scholars of [religious] knowledge protect it and transfer it [only] to those who are rightful [to bear the knowledge], the people of their time and era would consider [such scholars] their leaders. But rather the scholars undergo great difficulty in disseminating knowledge to the worldly people so that they in turn could accrue some benefit from their worldly gains so they [i.e., the scholars] are considered minuscule and insignificant [in the eyes of people].

“I have heard your Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) say, ‘The person that gathers all his worries and concerns into one worry and concern, i.e., the concern of the hereafter, then Allah himself takes responsibility to oversee all the affairs and concerns of his worldly life. And the person who lets the concerns of the worldy life tire him and cause him to age, Allah has no concern for which ever valley he dies in.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Bayhaqi)

6. Sayyiduna Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “O Abu Dharr! If you start the day with learning one verse from the Qur’an, it is better for you than performing one hundred rak’ahs of optional prayer; and if you start the day with learning one chapter of knowledge whether it is practiced upon or not, it is better for you than performing one thousand rak’ahs of optional prayer.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

7. Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) say, “The world is accursed, and everything in it is accursed, except for the remembrance of Allah, that which is associated with it and a student [of sacred knowledge] or a teacher [of sacred knowledge].”

It becomes evident from these proofs that ‘Amr’s argument was correct and Zayd’s claims were completely baseless and false. And Zayd has committed a grave error in removing his son, who was very close to attaining the sacred knowledge, from the shade of the Qur’an, Hadith, Fiqh, Tafsir, and the company of the pious. And in placing him in the company of secular-minded people, and in neglecting the importance of Islamic appearance and fulfillment of the practical religious obligations, [Zayd has committed a great sin]. If Zayd’s son turns out to be negligent of his Islamic obligations, practice and morality then this son will be of no benefit to his father on the Day of Judgment. If he was to become a scholar of the Din then there would have been great hope in him benefiting the people in this life as well as becoming a means of his father’s salvation in the hereafter.

And Allah Most High knows best.

28th Rabi’ al-Thani, 1340 AH
December, 1921

(Imdad al-Ahkam, 1:225-226)