الحمد لله رب العالمين وصلى الله وسلم على رسول الله وعلى آله وأصحابه ومن اهتدى بهديه إلى يوم الدين
Of everything I have read on the theme of seeking out knowledge, I have never come across any narration – other than from revealed texts, of course – that does a better job of delineating the roadmap of how to seek out knowledge than the following narration. Granted, some of the advice given in it is directed at the student of Hadith in particular, but much of it applies to students of all of the Islamic sciences. If one is considering theoption of dedicating one’s life to the pursuit of Islamic knowledge, one would do well to read over and iver again the following narration.
Al-Qaadee Al-Waleed ibn Ibraheen Al-Bukhari was one of the students of Imam Bukhari, and when he grew up, he became the chief judge of the district of Ar-Rayy.
He related that when he was just entering the early years of adulthood, he developed a yearning to seek out the knowledge of Hadeeth. And he of course went to one of the most eminent Hadeeth scholars of his time and told him about his desire to become a student of knowledge. That scholar was Imam Bukhari (R), and if the beginning part of his response seems enigmatic at first blush, it becomes clearer towards the end of the narration.
He said to Al-Waleed,
“O my son, do not embark upon an endeavour until you know its limits (i.e., what you will be required to learn in order to master the endeavour or course of studies you are embarking upon) and until you know the talents that will be required of you in order for you to succeed at it. And know that a man does not truly and completely become a scholar of Hadeeth until he writes down four things with four things and the example of four thing; until he writes during four stages; until he writes in four conditions; until he writes in four places; until he writes down on four things; and until he writes down from four kinds of people.
When he does that, four types of things will become easy for him [to lose (i.e., those four things will not preoccupy his time and thoughts)]; also, he will be tested in four things. And if he remains patient throughout those tests, Allah will honor him with four things in this world, and will reward him with four things in the Hereafter.”
Al-Qadee Al-Waleed asked,
“May Allah have mercy upon you. Interpret for me all groups of four things you mentioned.”
Imam Bukhari said,
“Yes the four things one needs to write about are:
- legislations of the Messenger salalahu ‘alayhi wasalam and all information one can gather about him;
- the Companions and their talents (and doings and achievements);
- the Taabi’oon and their doings and,
- the rest of the scholars of Islam and their biographies, their names, their Kunyahs, the places they went to, and the eras they lived.
The examples of narrations one should know about are:
- a narration that has a complete and connected chain of narrators;
- one that has a chain that is only missing the name of the Companion who narrated it;
- one that is Mawqoof (i.e., it stops short at someone before the Prophet salalahu ‘alayhi wasalam, therefore it can be ascribed to a Companion, but not to the Prophet salalahu ‘alayhi wasalam) and,
- one that is disconnected.
One must write narrations (and knowledge in general) when:
- one is young;
- when one reaches the age of understanding;
- during the years of one’s young adulthood and,
- during one’s middle years.
One must write down (narrations and preoccupy oneself with knowledge under four conditions):
- when one is busy;
- when one is free;
- when one is poor and,
- when one is rich.
One must write down knowledge in four places:
- on the tops of mountains;
- while travelling by sea;
- in cities and,
- in the desert.
And one must write knowledge on four things:
- on stones;
- on shells;
- on leather;
- on shoulder bones (of animals) until the time comes when one is able to transcribe that written information onto actual paper.
One must write down from (four kinds of people):
- from those who are above him,
- those who are below him,
- those who are at his level,
- as well as from the book of his father – but he has to be sure that he is transcribing from the actual handwriting of his father and not from the handwriting of someone else.
Furthermore, one must strive to do four things:
- to seek out knowledge seeking only the Countenance of Allah swt and His Good Pleasure;
- to act in accordance with the Book of Allah swt;
- to spread knowledge among students;
- and to author works, so as to keep one’s remembrance alive even after one’s death.”
Imam Bukhari (R) went on to say,
“And one will not accomplish these things without four things that he, as the slave of Allah, must acquire himself:
- knowledge of the Book (of Allah)
- (knowledge) of language
- (knowledge) of As-Sarf
- (knowledge) of An-Nahuw
Then one will need four things that are from the gifts of Allah swt (which He swt gives to whomsoever among His slaves He wishes):
- ability (and talent),
- a strong drive (to learn),
- and a retentive memory
If one is blessed with all of these things, four things will become easy for him (i.e., they will become insignificant in his eyes when compared to his greater purpose in life):
- and homeland
And one will be tested in four things:
- enemies who find satisfaction in his failures and mistakes;
- friends who find fault with him;
- ignorant people who level accusations against him;
- and (contemporary) scholars who become jealous of him (and his achievements).
If he remains patient through all of these tests, Allah swt will honor him with four things in this world:
- with the honor of becoming content with one’s lot in life;
- with the aura of awe one inspires in others though one’s profoundly deep faith (in Allah swt);
- with the sweet satisfaction of having (and of studying) knowledge
- and with an eternal life (i.e., even after such a scholar dies, he will live on through the good works and knowledge he will have left behind).
And Allah will reward him with four things in the Hereafter:
- with the option of interceding for whomsoever he wants from his (Muslim) brothers;
- with being blessed with the Shade of the Throne (on a Day during which there will be no shade save that shade);
- with being able to drink from the Basin of Muhammad salalahu ‘alayhi wasalam (when there will be no water save for the water in that Basin);
- and with being the company of the Prophets in the highest levels of Paradise: ‘Then they will be in the company of those on whom Allah has bestowed His Grace, of the Prophets…’ [Surat an Nisaa, 4:69]. “
Having explained what it entails to be a life-long student of knowledge, Imam Bukhari (R) said to Al-Qaadee Al-Waleed:
“O my son, in general terms I have informed you of the various things I have heard from my teachers on this topic. So either come now to fulfill the purpose for which you have come to me (to seek knowledge), or abandon this endeavour (if you feel that you will not be able to live up to the terms I explained to you).
[Tadreeb Ar-Raawee (2/157, 159)]
In the above mentioned account, Imam Bukhari (R) pointed put all the hardships and obstacles that stood in the way of achieving excellence in the sciences of Hadeeth. To become a knowledgeable Hadeeth scholar, one had to, Imam Bukhari averred, travel far and wide to seek out Hadeeth narration – to the peaks of mountains, across vast seas, far out into the desert, and in the centers of large cities. During scholarly travels, one would have to make do with shells, leather, and pieces of bones upon which to write; and only when on returned to the city, where one could procure paper, could one transcribe the knowledge one gathered into books.
One has to study the lives not just of the Prophets and his Companions, but also of the scores of narrators that related Hadeeth narrations. In short, to become a Hadeeth scholar, one had to dedicate one’s entire life to pursuit of knowledge – all day, every day, every month, and every year of one’s life.