Having the Right Environment for Knowledge by Aisyah Jamil

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“Away from home, away from home. Away from home, away from home. Lord, I’m five hundred miles away from home.”  This famous folk song shares the lament of a traveller who is far from home, without a penny and too ashamed to return back home. We can see it as an analogy whereby all of us are proceeding towards the same destination, to return to our Eternal Abode and meet The King of The Day of Judgement. Each of us has a limited time here, we may be ‘500 miles’ away,’50 miles’ or even few minutes ‘away’. Hence, we must be prepared with the entire provisions required and expected, if not more. Once we are There (witnessing The Judgement), we would not be given a second chance to go back here in this world and perform good deeds to be presented to Him.

Knowing what the essential preparations are also means understanding our purpose here. And to know our life purpose we have to refer to The Holy Qur’an to know who we are, our origin, what are we equipped with and also to know where we are heading next after we leave this world. Thus, we need knowledge i.e. meanings, of what this life is all about because we want to reap “The Great Victory” as promised by Allah. In search for knowledge, the environment which includes our parents and friends has to be taken into serious consideration.

Family’s role in moulding a generation

In a Hadith, The Prophet s.a.w. said “Each child is born in a state of fitrah. Then his parents make him a Jew, Christian or a Zoroastrian…”  When we were introduced into this world, the state of our soul then was perfectly pure, having a strong connection still with the World of Sovereign where we witnessed God before entering here. Thus, parents’ duty is to ensure that their child maintains the ‘purity’ by inculcating knowledge of who is God, His attributes, names of the prophets and proper conduct to himself as well as others at a young age, even during pregnancy.

Maintaining ‘purity’ also means to preserve the state of fitrah. Exposure to technologies (television, mobile phone etc.) before the child reaches the age of discernment between right and wrong (mumayiz), will cause distractions. It is best for parents to impart necessary inputs to their child (e.g. about The Prophet s.a.w.), by means of direct communication, introducing facial expressions and different intonations. This is to prevent him from being forgetful of his previous experience during the Day of the Primordial Covenant when he, in the form of spirit (ruh), witnessed God, was addressed “Alastu bi rabbikum…” (Am I not your Lord?) and answered “Bala shahidna” (Yes indeed, we do witness!).[1] By preserving his fitrah, the child’s state is said to be conducive for guidance (hidayah) from Allah s.w.t. to seek true knowledge, perform good deeds and protect the heart from any bad element that will corrupt it, and this applies to children who are born in non-Muslim family too.

In Surah Ar-Rad Ayah 11, Allah says, “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)…” and a commentary by Yusuf Ali elaborates further, “Allah is not intent on punishment. He created man virtuous and pure; he gave him intelligence and knowledge; he surrounded him with all sorts of instruments of His grace and mercy. If, in spite of all this, man distorts his own will and goes against Allah’s Will, yet is Allah’s forgiveness open to him if he will take it. It is only when he has made his own sight blind and changed his own nature or soul away from the beautiful mould in which Allah formed it, that Allah’s Wrath will descend on him and the favourable position in which Allah placed him will be changed. When once the punishment comes, there is no turning it back. None of the things which he relied upon- other than Allah-can possibly protect him.”[2]

Clear enough, parents carry a heavy burden but The Prophet s.a.w. informed us of the glad tiding such that “When a person dies [the benefit] of his deeds ends, except three: a continuous sadaqah, knowledge from which benefit is derived, or a pious child invoking Allah for him.”[3] As an asset to his parents, the child is nurtured and taken care of so as to maximize his fullest potential at every stage of his life. With a vision to build a generation, strongly adhered to Islam and always committed in upholding the truth based on true knowledge, parents will be motivated to put in untiring effort and make countless sacrifices.

Friends and their influence

On acquaintance with friends, Imam Al-Ghazali in his Bidayatul Hidayah mentioned that there are two tasks incumbent upon us. First step is to think through the preconditions that are fit for brotherhood and friendship. Imam Al-Ghazali stated five qualities to look for in prospective friends which are intelligence, good character, piety, absence of greed and truthfulness.[4] The second task is to fulfil the duties of friendship and close companionship which concerns wealth, realisation of wishes, speech and the tongue, forgiveness, supplication (du’a), loyalty and sincerity as well as to ease a friend’s burden.[5]

Having known the five qualities that are to be scrutinized before being friends with another and the Hadith of The Prophet s.a.w. which state the different influence of a perfume-seller as compared to a blacksmith, one might ask, “Should we run away from those who are not of the same intellectual capability as us?” and “Must we keep a distance from those who are not performing solah or not donning the hijab?” Obviously, the answer is no. Isn’t every single individual that we have met or will meet in future pre-determined by Allah? Imam Al-Gazali stated the five qualities in relation to friendship for God (fillah) i.e. not for the sake of temporal benefits. Hence, in that context, we need acquaintances whose objective is to be closer to God. On the contrary, when it comes to call towards God (dakwah), we have to mix with the masses, our community.

About the intellect, its capacity varies from one person to the other. The higher the intellect, the higher will be the wisdom and subsequently the higher will be the responsibilities burdened upon him. It is important to note that the potential of the intellect is so great and that has to be maximised and actualized, only then, one is said to be just to his intellect. Imam Al-Ghazali laid out for us in Ayyuhal Walad the four types of ignorance, out of which only one, could be treated i.e. someone with intellect and understanding, seeking guidance and the straight path, neither being overruled by envy and anger nor wealth and status.[6] Thus, understanding the five qualities also requires one to hold on to a positive thought regarding the author himself, Imam Al-Ghazali.

The Prophet s.a.w. said, “Two persons who have become brethren by the acceptance of Islam are like two hands washing each other”. Interestingly, this is elaborated in Ihya’ ‘Ulumiddin of Imam Al-Ghazali such that the two hands are offering help to each other towards one mission, an analogy for friendship for the sake of Allah. Not only that, a friend’s fault is covered as though he is taking the place of his friend’s, therefore, the two are like an individual without any difference except for the physical body.[7]  When something is tied to and for Allah, the quality and priority will rise above those which are just connected to worldly pleasures.

Now, do all these (criteria, duties and rights) still apply to us, Facebook and Twitter users? How do we determine how to accept online requests? Indeed “adding friends” and “confirming requests” bear the same kind of influence to our thoughts, principles and worldview. Backbiting, unnecessary discussions and false conclusions are widely, publicly shared with just the keyboard and fidgeting fingers. May we, with His Rahmah, make full use of the social media to invite others to think about our Home, to think about our Religion of Islam and to think about our role to play while we are still here.

An inspiration

The Proof of Islam, Imam Al-Ghazali, wrote many books for us to read and do research on. Imam Al-Ghazali and his brother Ahmad were educated by his father’s friends, as entrusted before his father’s death. After memorising the whole Al-Qur’an and mastering Arabic, he entered free madrasah, learnt under Imam Abu Nasr Ismail and arrived at Nizamia Madrasa under guidance of Imam Al-Haramain till he became a lecturer there. But there was a point when he was shaken by scepticism and doubts, leading him to go into tasawwuf. After travelling for more than ten years, Imam Al-Ghazali continued teaching, reading and writing. Before his last breath (as narrated by Ibn Jauzi), Imam Al-Ghazali said: The Lord’s command must be obeyed.[8] And a poem is found under his pillow.

The very first book under the volumes of Ihya’ is the Book of Knowledge, and the first verse revealed by Allah focus on knowledge too. Yes, the position of knowledge is very high and central in the religion of Islam. If one does not have a functional intellect, he is free from any responsibility and religious duty. By virtue of having sound reason which is one of the sources of knowledge, it incumbent upon a Muslim (man and woman) to seek (beneficial) knowledge. Every single action be it external (observable acts) or internal (thoughts, feelings and intentions), must be based on knowledge.

In conclusion, one has to seek true knowledge which leads him towards meanings, the truth, the realities of every single thing, and the function of everything so as to know where it should be standing or be placed at. A shoe is to be placed on the floor while The Qur’an is to be kept at a higher shelf after recitation. A child must be cautious of how he talks to his parents and similarly, a wife to her husband. All these observable actions is driven by what is in one’s thoughts and understanding and it is the intellect that supresses the lower desires.              Once the whistle is blown for the train to leave or when the drums are beaten, may we soar like the high-flying birds upon hearing “Return to your Lord”, as mentioned by Imam Al-Ghazali. May Allah Guides us to The Straight Path. Wallahu A’lam.

Knowledge of GOD
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[1] Surah Al-A’raaf 7:172

[2] http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsiraya/013%20Ra%27d.htm

[3] http://www.islamiska.org/e/z12.htm

[4] Bidayatul Hidayah, http://attahawi.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/bidayat-al-hidayah-by-imam-al-ghazali.pdf

[5] Ihya’ ‘Ulumiddin, translated by Prof. TK.H. Ismail Yakub SH. Kuala Lumpur:Victory Ajensi, 1988. Also from Ihya’:Book of Worldly Usages. Chapter on Love and Brotherhood, http://www.ghazali.org/books/ihya-v2.pdf

[6] Ayyuhal Walad, Translation by Al Haj Dr. Syed Sikander Bin Mohammed Al-Zawawi and Muhammad Harun Riedinger. First impression 2004. 2nd impression (Kuala Lumpur: A.S. Noordeen, 2012). p. 24

[7] Ihya’ ‘Ulumiddin, Book of Worldly Usages. Chapter on Love and Brotherhood.

[8] Ayyuhal Walad p. i-iii [Preface]

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