Ilm & Tasawwuf – Advice to Students

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إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ

(only those fear Allah from among His servants who have knowledge)[35:28]

 فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

(So ask the people of the message if you do not know)[16:43]


 In a hadith of Prophet  صلى الله عليه وسلم, he has said:  العلماءورسة الانبيا    –     Scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets (may Peace and blessings be on them). Perhaps more importantly  in another hadith Rasoolullah  صلى الله عليه وسلم said: العلم نور – that Knowledge is light – its a spiritual  light;  a radiant light that is meant to penetrate our heart.

So, Many times this ayah is recited in front of Ullama (scholars of Deen):

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ

(only those fear Allah from among His servants who have knowledge)[35:28]

That Verily those who are the most fearing of Allah Almighty amongst His servants are the Ullama; are the religious scholars

And, normally the bayan that is given then is on the fear or the khashiyat of Allah Almighty. But today, I’m not going to speak about the Fear of Allah Almighty; Khauf-e-Khuda; Khasheeyat-e-illahi because if we look at this ayah,مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ So, the first requisite is that we make ourselves among His ibaad (slaves)  and those of us who are studying Arabic would know that مِنْ is for “tabyeezia” in this case – that it means from the ibaad, from the servants of Allah Almighty will come forth these Ullama who will then be fearful of Allah Almighty.So, the real purpose of studying in a Dar-ul-Uloom is to become an ‘abd; is to become a sincere servant and slave of Allah Almighty.العلم بلا عمل وبال والعمل بلا علم ضلال (that knowledge without practice is a wabaal – is like a travesty and having practice without knowledge is dalaal – is misguidance; that it leads you astray)

So, what we really need to see is: Are we being an ‘abd? And what does it mean to be an ‘abd? Allah Almighty Says in the Qur’an-ul-Karim:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنْسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ

(And I did not create the Jinn and Mankind except to worship me)[51:56]

That He has not created Jinn or Humanity except that they worship Him. This is the purpose of our life! But it doesn’t mean that we sit and worship Allah Almighty 24 hours in the Masjid it means we have to view ourselves as an ‘abd 24 hours a day! We have to carry ourselves with the humility of a slave and servant of Allah Almighty – walk like a slave; talk like a slave; act like a slave; think like a slave; hold ourselves as a slave; view ourselves as a slave and servant of Allah Almighty – this is what is called “Uboodiyyah” – servanthood.

Imam-al-Ghazzali (May Allah has Mercy on him) in his book, “Ihya Uloom-ud-din – Revival of the Sacred Sciences” on the Chapter of “Muhabbah”, writes:

“That there is no greater love for Allah Almighty; there is no greater rank of love for Allah Almighty  than Uboodiyyah – the greatest love we can give to Allah Almighty is to be His perfect slave and servant. And, this is also the greatest Sunnah of the beloved Messenger ( May peace and blessing be upon Him) – this is why we say in our tashahhud in Salah :اشهد ان محمد عبده و رسوله  That we testify that the beloved Messenger  صلى الله عليه وسلم is Allah Almighty ‘s ‘abd – first and foremost that he is the servant of Allah Almighty – and that he is the Messenger  صلى الله عليه وسلم

As all of us know, none of us can aspire to Risaalah (Prophethood). But, all of us should aspire to be an ‘abd the way Muhammad-e-Mustafa  صلى الله عليه وسلم was an ‘abd. But how many of us have ever made dua like that? that ‘O Allah! make me your servant and slave the way Prophet Muhammad  صلى الله عليه وسلم was your servant and slave; make my Salah the way his salah was; make my dua the way his dua was; make my dua the way his dua was. So, the purpose of knowledge is to do ‘aml.

Hazrat Mufti Mohammed Shafi rehmatullah ‘alaih’s definition of ‘ilm:

Once some students were sitting in front of hazrat Mufti Muhammad Shafi May Allah have mercy on Him   – one of the great Scholars of our akaabir Ullama-e-deoband, one of the great Muftis; a real Mufti; a Faqih; a legal Scholar of Pakistan – And he asked his students,

‘Can you tell me what is ‘ilm; what is the definition of Knowledge?’

So, one student replied: ‘Maarifah – to know” Another student replied, “Idraak – to Assess; to ascertain”. One student replied, “Tafaqquh – to understand”. But Hazrat was  quiet. The students realized that they weren’t getting the right answer – that they were well off the mark. So, then one of them said, O Hazrat, why don’t you tell us yourself.

So, then Mufti Muhammed Shafi rah gave an incredible definition of ilm; a standard through which all students of knowledge should check themselves; a standard through which all teachers of knowledge should check themselves:

”Knowledge is that light that when it enters the light of a believer it demands that it be practiced upon – this is the definition of ‘ilm-un-Nafeh.”

So, knowledge is not just the information we get from books. Theres one thing called, “Ma’loomaat” and another thing called, ‘ilm’. A person can get lots of Malumaat means that a person can get lots of information; news; facts about fiqh; about different things. But, ‘ilm is that noor – that light – that when it enters the heart of a believer it demands that it be practiced upon. So, if we want to call ourselves Talib-e-‘ilm – that we are seekers of Knowledge – it means that we are seekers of that light  – seekers of that knowledge; seekers of that practice; seekers of that Uboodiyyah; seekers of that slavehood and servanthood of Allah Almighty .

Intention of Seeking ‘ilm:

Hazrat Sufyan at-thauri May Allah have mercy on Him has said that:

If a Talib-e-ilm is sincere in his intention there is nothing better than him on the face of this earth – i.e. there is nothing better in the entire earth than a talib-e-ilm who is sincere in his intention

So,what should the intention of a Talib-e-ilm be? It should be that he[/she] only wants to acquire knowledge solely for the sake of the Pleasure of Allah Almighty. It is narrated by some of our Salaf Saaliheen that, that is how they used to approach knowledge they wanted to do ‘aml on each and everything that they learned; each and every verse of the Qur’an. So much so that in one narration it is written that the Salaf Saliheen(Pious predecessors) used to sit there and think  and ponder on  الم “Alif-laam-Meem” (2:1), that how do we do ‘amal on this! that we want to practice upon every single ayah how can we do amal on الم. That is the approach they took to acquiring knowledge.

Ikhlaas of Imam-al-Ghazali rah: 

“There was a famous sultan by the name of Nizam-ul-mulk. Although he was a political ruler, he had a lot of love for ulama; he had a lot of love for ilm. So he made all these madaris, all these dar-ul-ulooms, called Madaris-e-Nizamiyya, (the Nizamiyya Academies) of Baghdad and of different places.

Once somebody came to him and said ”O Nizam-ul-mulk, you have made these Dar-ul-ulooms because you think people are coming there to acquire the deen, people are trying to please Allah. But just go to your Dar-ul-ulooms and see what the situation is with the students. If you go to one student, he says that I am here because my father is a big khatib, he is a big orator. And I also want to come here so that when I graduate, I can also become a great khatib. If you go to another student, he will tell you that I am here because my father is qazi. He’s a judge, he has a big post, and he has a lot of respect in society. So I also want to graduate so that people will call me qazi, people will call me mufti. Then go to another person, he will say I am here because my father is Imam in the Jamia Masjid in the city, and everybody gives him presents, and people respect him, people come to him and ask him to make dua. So I am here because I want to follow my father’s footsteps and become Imam”.

 Nizam ul Mulki heard these things, and he said no, I’ll check for myself. So he went to his madrassa  in Baghdad. And he asked one student, then he asked another student. And he found that the person was right, that every student he asked seemed to have some riya, some show, some ostentation, some ujub (vanity, thinking how great you are instead of thanking Allah Almighty ). Nizam-ul-mulk found that his students were full of these things. Then he made a niyyah in his heart. He said that this is terrible. That my whole plan has backfired, I am going to close this madrassah down. As he was walking away from the madrassah after making this niyyah, he saw one more student sitting in the corner, and he saw that that student was reading. And Allah Almighty put it into his heart that he thought: let me go and ask this one last student, what does he say?

He went to that student, and said, ”O student, why are you here?”. The student just looked up, and looked back down, and kept reading. Just ignored him.

Then he asked a second time, ”why are you here”?

The student just looked up, ignored him, and looked back down.

And the third time he said, ”O student, do you not know who I am, the founder, the principal, the person who made the madrassah. O student, I am Nizam-ul-Mulk; I am asking you why you are here”.

So he looked and said ”yes, I know who you are. And now I realize that you won’t let me be. So let me answer your question. I am only here because I realized that I need to live a life that is pleasing to Allah Almighty. And I did not have the knowledge, I did not know how to live such a life, so I have come here because the knowledge of how to please Allah is in these books, so that’s why I am here. So if you would be so kind, please don’t disturb me, because I am busy trying to get that knowledge”.

So when Nizam-ul-Mulk saw that there was one student who was still so sincere, he changed his niyyah in his heart, and said no, I will keep this madrassah open. And that student later on became known as the famous Imam Ghazali (May Allah have mercy on Him)). That was Imam Ghazali. This is a story of his student days, and he later on became one of the most famous Professors of the Nizamiyya Academy in Baghdad.” [taken from: here]

So our niyyah, our intention in studying should only be to seek the Pleasure of Allah Almighty from the moment we enter to the moment we leave and even after that our niyyah during our entire life should be that we are only acquiring knowledge so that we can seek  the pleasure of Allah Almighty.

Ilm, ‘amal & Ikhlaas

There are three things: ‘ilm, ‘aml & ikhlaas.

Ilm is the knowledge that is contained in these books. Alhamdulillah, every student in the Dar-ul-uloom  is learning that knowledge or intends when he grows older to attain that knowledge.

Ikhlaas, means sincerity – that we do everything to seek  the Pleasure of Allah Almighty.

And, ‘amal means practicing upon our knowledge.

Now, how do we get these things? So, practically speaking, ‘ilm we get by entering a Dar-ul-Uloom – by studying hard; working hard – doing our takraar; doing our mutaala (reading). But, how is it  that we get ‘amal in our heart. Well, for each and everything that we do we have to look at our akaabir Ullama-e-Deoband that how is it that they got everything. Infact, we will look even before that, our salaf saliheen, our big scholars who were the people of ‘ilm – how did they make themselves people of ‘amal? So, the way they used to make themselves people of ‘amal was that they learned another science and that is called the Tazkiyah – the science of purifying oneself.

– Hazrat Sufyan at-thauri May Allah have mercy on Him, used to keep the company of Abu Hashim Sufi May Allah have mercy on Him, and it is narrated from him, that “If it wasn’t for Abu Hashim Sufi May Allah have mercy on Him , Sufiyan At-thauri would not have learnt the details of riyaa’ (to do something for display, showing off) and he would’ve been caught in riyaa’.

– Imam Abu Hanifa May Allah have mercy on Him – a famous saying by him: If it were not for two years, Nauman(his real name) would have been destroyed! –> Which two years? The two years that he spent learning the purification of his heart & soul from the company of Imam Jafir-e-Sadiq May Allah have mercy on Him.

– Imam Ahmed ibn-e-hanbal May Allah have mercy on Him, used to keep the company of Bishar Hafi May Allah have mercy on Him. Once his students asked him that, Oh Imam Ahmed you are such a big Scholar – you know so much – why do you go and sit at the feet of this Sufi Bishar Hafi May Allah have mercy on Him ? And he said, ‘My students! I’m ‘aalim bikitaabillah  and he is ‘aalim billah – that I know the Book of Allah Almighty, but he knows Allah Almighty. He has the maarifah – the deep knowledge and understanding of Allah Almighty and therefore I sit at his feet.

Now, these are the stories of early generations. Imam Abu Hanifa amongst the Tabieen; Sufiyan At-thauri amongst the Tabieen; Imam Ahmed ibn-e-Hanbal amongst the Taba-e-Tabieen.

And all of us know that the Sahaba, they learned Tazkiya from the very first Muzakki صلى الله عليه وسلم – which is also mentioned among four functions of Prophethood:

يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ

[3:164](Reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom)

So,  one of the functions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم  was to do tazkiyah of the Sahabah May Allah be pleased with them .

…to be continued, inshaAllah


  1. Usthov says:

    لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ الله عَدَدَ مَا خَلَقَ فِي السَّمَاءِ, لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ الله عَدَدَ مَا خَلَقَ فِي الاَرْضِ, لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ الله عَدَدَ مَا بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ, لا إله إلا الله عَدَدَ مَا هُوَ خَال

  2. saeedah hussain says:

    Assalamualaikumwrwb, it was an amazing article MashAllah. Would we have the second part to the article ?

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