The question is: is knowledge simply to know? How does Islam define “knowledge”? Our Sixth Imam (peace be upon him) has explained what knowledge truly is: “Knowledge is not acquired through learning. Rather, it is a light that illuminates in the heart of one who wants Allah to guide him.”
Seeking knowledge of Islam is no doubt an obligation upon all believers. In today’s world, we can fulfill this obligation effortlessly through the abundant resources available at hand. We need not travel long distances, when the information we need is only a click away. We have Islamic websites to order books, and even read e-books from. To get replies for our Fiqh-related queries, there are official websites of our respected Maraja Taqleed; we also have many respected scholars who are ready to provide us with what we need.
With all these resources at hand, acquiring knowledge is a piece of cake. The question is: is knowledge simply to know? How does Islam define “knowledge”? Our Sixth Imam (peace be upon him) has explained what knowledge truly is: “Knowledge is not acquired through learning. Rather, it is a light that illuminates in the heart of one who wants Allah to guide him.” The knowledge that Islam talks about is that which adds to our faith and practice. True, that to gain knowledge one needs to do some extensive learning, but from the Islamic point of view, that certainly is not the criteria to be considered knowledgeable (Alim). A popular example in this regard is the Satan. No one can doubt the enormous knowledge that Satan has. He has lived before the time of Adam and remains alive to this day; he knows all that one can know! But has his knowledge made him any less deviant or less sinful in the eyes of Allah?
Knowledge that does not accompany action brings no worth to the person or to his society. In our societies, we tend to get impressed by people who exhibit their vast ocean of knowledge; however, a person of knowledge is not only the one who showcases tremendous knowledgeable facts, rather (s)he is a complete manifestation of those facts. Imam as-Sadiq helps us to recognize a true Alim: “He who truly knows is the one in whom sound actions, pure supplications, truthfulness, and precaution speak out – not his tongue, his debates, his comparisons, assertions, or claims.” It is natural for us to be amazed at the knowledge and oratory skills of some scholars, but these qualities have no value when the actions of the person are not in accordance with Islamic ethical values and laws.
As a matter of fact, our Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) had said, “Three persons cause damage to religion: unjust Imam, ignorant ascetic, and immoral scholar.” In our societies, we have many scholars that study for several years in seminaries, but do their actions coincide with their knowledge? Worse still is when these “scholars” who have enormous knowledge avoid preaching or preach inadequately! When a “scholar” does not approve through practice what (s)he knows, that in fact brings damage to Islam. This is evidently because a person who is well-known as an Alim is seen to be a role model for the people around him. Contrary to this situation, often times our communities are blessed with amazing scholars, who set perfect examples for us to follow, yet we see that many of us do not benefit from them. Quite ironic, isn’t it?
All this by no means should discourage us towards acquiring more and more knowledge. Rather, these guidelines by our Infallibles must serve as an inspiration for us to develop the appropriate sincerity of intention while acquiring knowledge. If we follow the guidelines given by Imam Sadiq, we will have fulfilled our obligation: “If you want knowledge, first seek out true servitude (to Allah) within yourself. And seek knowledge according to its use (i.e. what you can act upon) and ask Allah to make you understand, and He’ll make you understand.”
Knowledge is constructive for a person whose intention is none other than to approach Allah. At this point, it is worth mentioning the advice of the late Ayatollah Behjat which he would give to his students: “Whoever acts on what he knows, Allah will teach him what he does not know.” In other words, the process of acquiring knowledge continues on its own when synchronized with practice.
The support and blessings of the Almighty are guaranteed to the one who submits to His laws. When the people of a community imbue Islam into their lives, and have proper leaders and Alims whose very existence becomes a source of learning, how can such a community escape the mercy and blessings of Allah?