Knowledge is the basis of every sublime state and the culmination of every high station. That is why the Holy Prophet said, ‘It is the duty of every Muslim, man and woman, to seek knowledge,’ that is, the knowledge of precaution (taqwa) and certainty. Imam ‘Ali [a] said, “Seek knowledge, though it be in China,” meaning the knowledge of gnosis of the self, in it is contained knowledge of the Lord.
The Holy Prophet said, ‘Whoever knows his own self knows his Lord; moreover, you should acquire that knowledge without which no action is correct, and that is sincerity … We seek refuge with Allah from knowledge which has no benefit’, that is, from knowledge which is contrary to actions performed with sincerity.
Know that a small amount of knowledge requires a great deal of action, because knowledge of the Hour requires the person who has such knowledge to act accordingly during his entire life. ‘Isa [a] said, ‘I saw a stone on which was written, “Turn me over”, so I turned it over. Written on the other side was “Whoever does not act by what he knows will be doomed by seeking what he does not know, and his own knowledge will be turned against him.”
Allah revealed to David, ‘The least that I shall do to someone with knowledge who does not act by his knowledge is worse than the seventy inner punishments which result in My removing from his heart the sweetness of My remembrance.’ There is no way to Allah except via knowledge. And knowledge is the adornment of man in this world and the next, his driver to Paradise, and by means of it he attains Allah’s contentment with him.
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. In times other than these, those who sought knowledge were those who had intellect, piety, wisdom, modesty and caution; but nowadays we see that those who seek it do not have any of these qualities. The man of knowledge needs intellect, kindness, compassion, good counsel, forbearance, patience, contentment and generosity; while anyone wishing to learn needs a desire for knowledge, will, devotion (of his time and energy), piety, caution, memory and resolution.
How the Men of Knowledge are Ruined
Caution and fear are the legacy of knowledge and its measure; knowledge is the ray of gnosis and the heart of belief. Whoever is denied caution is not a man of knowledge, even if he can split hairs in dealing with obscure items of knowledge. Allah said,
Only those of His servants who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah. (35:28)
Men of knowledge are ruined by eight things: greed and miserliness, showing off and partisanship, love of praise, delving into things whose reality they cannot reach, affectation by taking excessive pains to beautify their speech with superfluous expressions, lack of modesty before Allah, boastfulness, and not acting upon what they know.
‘Isa [a] said, ‘The most wretched of all people is he who is known for his knowledge, not for his actions.’
The Holy Prophet said, ‘Do not sit with every presumptuous caller who summons you from certainty to doubt, from sincerity to showing off, from humility to pride, from good counsel to enmity, and from abstinence to desire. Draw near to the person with knowledge, who summons you from pride to humility, from showing off to sincerity, from doubt to certainty, from desire to abstinence, from enmity to good counsel.’ None are fit to preach to creation except that person who has gone beyond these evils by his truthfulness. He sees the faults of speech and knows what is sound from what is unsound, the defectiveness of thoughts, and the temptations of the self and his fancies.
‘Ali said, ‘Be like the kind, compassionate doctor who places the remedy where it will be of benefit.’ They asked ‘Isa [a], ‘With whom shall we sit, O Spirit of Allah?’ ‘With one the sight of whom reminds you of Allah,’ he replied, ‘and whose speech increases you in knowledge, and whose actions make you desire the next world.’
Intellect and Passion
The man of intellect submits to what is true and is just in his speech; he shrinks from what is false but opposes it in his speech. He leaves this world behind, but does not leave his faith.
The proof of the man of intellect lies in two things: truthful words and correct actions. The man of intellect does not say something which the intellect rejects, neither does he expose himself to suspicion, nor abandon the help of those who have been tested. Knowledge guides him in his actions; gnosis is his certainty in the paths he treads, and forbearance is his companion at all times. Passion, however, is the enemy of the intellect, the opponent of truth and the companion of falsehood. The strength of passion comes from worldly appetites, and its initial manifestation is caused by doing what is forbidden, neglecting obligations, making light of the sunnah and engrossing oneself in amusements.
Reflect on what has passed of this world. Has any of it remained for anyone? Has anyone remained in it, be he noble or lowly, rich or poor, friend or enemy? Similarly, what has not yet happened of it resembles more closely that which has passed of it, than water resembles water. The Messenger of Allah said, ‘Death is enough of a warner; the intellect is enough of a guide; precaution is enough of a provision; worship is enough of an occupation; Allah is sufficient as an intimate friend; the Qur’an is enough of a clarification.’
And elsewhere, ‘Only affliction and trial remain of this world. If a person is saved, it is only by sincerely seeking refuge.’ And Noah said, ‘I found this world to be like a house with two doors. I entered through one of them and went out through the other.’ Such is the state of the one who was saved by Allah: so what is the state of one who feels at ease in this world, relies on it, wastes his life by cultivating it, and is full of worldly demands?
Reflection is the mirror of good deeds and the expiation of bad deeds. It is the light of the heart, and guarantees ease to other people and success in obtaining betterment for the next abode; it allows one to foresee the outcome of one’s actions, and causes an increase in knowledge. Worship of Allah is unparalleled when accompanied by this quality. The Messenger of Allah said, ‘To reflect for an hour is better than worshipping for a year.’
The station of reflection is only obtained by him whom Allah has singled out for the light of gnosis (ma’rifah) and tawhid.
The person of the gnostic (‘arif) is with the people, while his heart is with Allah. If his heart were to forget Allah for the time it takes to blink an eye, he would die of yearning for Him. The gnostic is the trustee over the happenings of Allah, the treasury of His secrets, the repository of his lights, the proof of His mercy to creation, the instrument of His sciences and the measure of His favour and justice. He needs neither people, nor a goal, or nor this world. He has no intimate except Allah, nor any speech, gesture or breath except by Allah, with Allah, and from Allah, for he frequents the garden of His sanctity and is enriched by His subtlest favours to him. Gnosis is a root whose branch is belief.
Wisdom is the light of gnosis, the measure of fearful awareness and the fruit of truthfulness. Allah has not given any of his servants a greater, more favourable, generous, lofty or more splendid blessing than wisdom for the heart. In Allah’s words;
He grants wisdom to whom He pleases and whoever is granted wisdom, he indeed is given a great good and none but the men of understanding remember. (2:269)
That is, only the one whom I have singled out for My sake and whom I have designated for it knows what wisdom I have reserved and prepared. Wisdom is rescue, steadiness at the beginning of the affair and a firm stance at the end. It makes Allah’s creatures aspire to Him. And the Messenger of Allah said to ‘Ali, ‘That Allah should guide one of His slaves at your hands is better for you than everything the sun shines upon, from east to west.’