The Pitfalls of [Sacred] Knowledge, and an Explanation of
the Scholars of Evil and the Scholars of the Hereafter
[translated from Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin,
which is Ahmad al-Maqdisi’s summary of Ibn al-Jawzi’ abridgment of
al-Ghazzali’s Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din]
The Scholars of Evil are those whose aim in [acquiring] knowledge is to obtain comfort in the world, and to attainment worldly rank in the eyes of people. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) has narrated that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said,
“Whoever learns knowledge by which the Countenance of Allah should be sought, yet learns it only to attain some worldly provision, will not find the fragrance of Heaven on the Day of Resurrection.” [Abu Dawud]
And in another hadith, [it is narrated] that he said,
“Whoever learns knowledge in order to vie thereby with the scholars, or to argue thereby with the foolish, or to turn people’s faces towards him [in admiration] thereof, shall be in the Fire.”[Tirmidhi, He clasified it as weak.]
There are many ahadith about this. Some of the salaf said, “The most regretful person at [the time of] death is a neglectful scholar.”
1. Know that what is required from the scholar is that he establish the commands and prohibitions [of Islam]. He is not required to be an ascetic, nor to relinquish the permissible. However, it is fitting that he curtail [his indulgement] in [things] of the world as much as he is able. People vary, and not every body is amenable to austerity. It has been narrated that Sufyan Thawri (may Allah have mercy upon him) used to eat well, saying,
“If a beast is not treated well fodder-wise, it will not [perform] work.” [On the other hand], Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah have mercy upon him) used to sndure a tremendously austere life. Physiques [indeed] differ.
2. Among the characteristics of the Scholars of the Hereafter is that they know that the world is paltry and that the Hereafter is noble, and that the two are like two co-wives, and so they give preference to the Hereafter. Their deeds do not contradict their words. Their inclination is towards the beneficial knowledge of the Hereafter, and they shun those fields of knowledge which are of limited benefit, giving prioity to those whose benefit is greater.
In this regard, it has been narrated Shaqiq Balkhi (may Allah have mercy upon him) asked Hatim,
“You have kept my company for a long time. What, then, have you learned?”
He replied, “Eight things.
Firstly : I looked at creation, and saw that every individual has a beloved [person or thing], but when he reaches his grave, his
beloved is separated from him, and so I made my beloved my good deeds in order that they could be in the grave with me.
Secondly : I looked at the words of Allah, the Exalted, (meaning), “And he prevented the Self from caprice,”[Qur’an, 79:40] and thus I exerted [my Self] in eliminating caprice, until it settled upon the obedience of Allah.
Thirdly : I saw everyone who has anything of value guarding it, and then I looked at the words of Allah, the Flawless, the Exalted, (meaning),”That which you have shall perish, while that which is with Allah is enduring,” [Qur’an, 16:96]. and so whenever I obained anything of value, I turned it towards Him [by expending it in charity] in order that it might endure for me with Him.
Fourthly : I saw people referring back to wealth, lineage and nobility, although they are [worth] nothing. Then, I looked at the words of Allah, the Exalted, (meaning), “The noblest of you before Allah is the most pious,”[Qur’an, 49:13]. and so I practised piety so that I could be noble before Him.
Fifthly : I saw people envying one another, and then I looked at [Allah] The Exalted’s words, (meaning), “We have apportioned their livelihoods amongst them,”[Qur’an, 43:32] and so I forsook envy.
Sixthly : I saw them having enmity towards one another, and then I saw [Allah] the Exalted’s words, (meaning), “Satan is an enemy to you, so take him as an enemy,”[Qur’an, 35:6] and so I gave up enmity to them and took Satan alone as my enemy.
Seventhly : I saw them expending their selves in pursuit of sustenance, and then I looked at [Allah] the Exalted’s words, (meaning),
“There is not any beast on the earth except that its sustenance is [binding] upon Allah,”[Qur’an, 11:6] and so I busied myself with His rights over me, and I relinquished [pursuit of] that which is guaranteed for me by Him.
Eighthly : I saw them placing their trust in their commerce and manufacturing and their bodily health, and so I placed my trust in Allah, the Exalted.”
3. [Also] among the characteristics of the scholars of the Hereafter is that they are ill-at-ease with the rulers, and wary of mingling with them. Hudhayfah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Beware of the stations of sedition!”
They asked, “And what might those be?”
He replied, “The gates of the leaders. One of you enters upon the ruler and then corroborates him with lies and mentions [in his praise qualities] which he does not possess.”
Sa`id ibn al-Musayyib (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, “When you see a scholar calling upon the leaders then beware of him, for he is a scoundrel (literally: a thief).”
One of the salaf said, “You will not attain any of their world without their taking something better [away] from your religion.”
4. And among the characteristics of the scholars of the Hereafter is that they are not hasty to pronounce religious verdicts, and that they pronounce verdicts based only on that [material] whose authenticity they are certain of. The salaf used to pass on [the task of pronouncing] a verdict until it returned to the first [of them]. `Abdur-Rahman ibn Abu Layla (may Allah have
mercy upon him) said, “I met, in this mosque, one hundred and twenty of the companions of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and there was not one of them who, when asked about a hadith or for a religious verdict, did not wish that his brother would save him the task. Now, we have reached the stage where audacious people who lay claim to knowledge come forward to answer questions which, were they presented to `Umar ibn al-Khattab, he would have gathered the people of Badr and sought their counsel.”
5. And among their characteristics is that most of their investigation is into the knowledge of deeds, how to prevent the things which cause their corruption, cloud the heart and stir up devilish suggestions, for the form of deeds is simple and easy, the difficulty lying only in purifying them. The fundament of religion is to protect oneself against evil, and protection cannot really be achieved without recognising [the evil].
6. And among their characteristics is that they probe into the inner dimensions of the deeds of the Shari`ah, and take note of the wisdom therein. However, if they fail to discover the reason [for a religious ruling which is clear-cut, such as why prayer is 5 times daily rather than more often or less often], it suffices them to submit to the Law.
7. And among their characteristics is that they follow the [Prophet’s] Companions and the best of the Successors, and guard against every newly-invented matter [in religion, i.e. heresy].