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Chapter 2. Paths Leading to Sacred Knowledge

Let us now begin explaining the hadith of Abu Darda. "Whoever travels a path seeking sacred knowledge, Allah will place him on a path leading to Paradise..." In another version of the hadith, it states, "Allah will make easy for him a path leading to Paradise." Another version found in Muslim, related on the authority of Abu Hurayrah reads, "Whoever travels a path seeking sacred knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path leading to Paradise."

Travelling a path seeking sacred knowledge can be understood as literally walking to the gatherings of knowledge. It can also encompass a more general meaning, like travelling an intangible path leading to the attainment of knowledge. This includes memorizing, studying, reading, making notes, comprehending, contemplating, and other acts which facilitate learning.

The Prophet's statement, "Allah will make easy for him a path leading to Paradise," conveys many meanings. Among them is that Allah assists the student of sacred knowledge in his quest, placing him on its path, and facilitating his success. In these ways, the path of knowledge leads to Paradise. This facilitation is expressed in the statement of Allah the Exalted, We have made the Quran easy to memorize. Is there anyone who will then be reminded? (Quran,54:17). Regarding this verse, some commentators say, "Is there anyone sincere in his quest for sacred knowledge that he might be aided in its attainment?"'

Many paths lead to Allah; among them is Allah's making it easy for the student of sacred knowledge to act on its dictates, if he learns it solely for the sake of Allah. Thus Allah will make it the cause of his guidance, will lead him with it, and cause him to act on it. These are all paths that lead to Paradise.

Furthermore, any student who seeks knowledge for the sake of sincere implementation, Allah will make it easy for him to gain additional beneficial knowledge. This is a path leading to Paradise. It is said, "Whoever acts on what he knows, Allah will bequeath unto him knowledge of that which he does not know." It is also said, "The reward of good is the good it initiates."' This meaning is indicated by Allah's statement, Allah increases in guidance those who pursue the path of guidance (Quran, 19:76). And similarly, As for those who accept to be guided, [Allah] increases them in guidance and bestows upon them piety (Quran, 47:17).

Those who search for knowledge desiring to be rightly guided, Allah increases them in guidance and beneficial knowledge. This type of knowledge obligates righteous deeds. These are all paths that lead to Paradise. An additional path is Allah making it easy for the student of sacred knowledge to benefit from that knowledge in the Hereafter, to cross the Traverse [Sirat], and to deal with the overwhelming horrors and imposing obstacles which precede it.

Knowledge is the Essence of Guidance

The reason the path to Paradise is made easy for the student of sacred knowledge, if he desires Allah and His pleasure, is explained as follows. Knowledge directs one to Allah from the most accessi­ble paths. Therefore, one who travels its path, without deviating from it, reaches Allah and Paradise by means of the most direct route. The routes leading to Paradise have all been smoothed for him in this world and the next.

As for one who travels a path without knowledge, thinking it is a path to Paradise, he has chosen the most difficult and severe path. Such a person will never reach his destination despite tremendous exertion.

There is no path to experiential knowledge of Allah leading to His pleasure and His nearness in the Hereafter except through the beneficial knowledge which Allah sent down to His messengers and revealed in His scriptures. This [knowledge] guides to the right path. With it, clear guidance is sought out from the darkness of ignorance, ambiguity, and doubt. Allah has referred to His Book as a light with which one is guided through darkness: There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear book. With it, Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to paths of peace and He brings them out of darkness into light (Quran, 5:15-16).

The Prophet put forth a parable between the possessors of knowledge and the stars that guide people through the darkness. Imam Ahmad relates (from Anas) that the Prophet said, "The similitude of the religious scholars on earth is that of the stars in the sky, by which [people] are guided through the darkness of the land and sea. If the stars are extinguished, even the guides might stray."

This metaphor is penetrating, for the path to understanding Allah's oneness, experiential knowledge of Allah, His divine rul­ings, and His rewards and punishments are not attained through empirical knowledge. Rather, they are known through divine reve­lation. He has made this clear in His Book and on the tongue of His Messenger. The scholars are the guides through the dark­ness of ignorance, ambiguity, and deviation. When these guides are lost, the travellers go astray.

The religious scholars have been likened to the stars, which pro­vide three benefits: they guide [people] through the darkness; they adorn the sky; and they are missiles that repel the satans who ascend the heavens [endeavouring to intercept Allah's commands to the angels]. The religious scholars possess these characteristics: they guide through the darkness [of ignorance]; they adorn the earth; and they are missiles that repel the satans, who mix truth with falsehood and introduce heretical innovation in religion. Such innovations are introduced by people following their own whims.

So, as long as knowledge remains, people will be guided. But sacred knowledge will remain as long as the scholars remain. When the scholars dwindle in number, people fall into error. The Prophet relates this meaning in a sound hadith:

Allah does not withdraw knowledge by extracting it from the hearts of men, rather He takes away the religious scholars. When no religious scholar remains, people take the ignorant as their leaders; these ignorant ones are questioned and gave religious verdicts without knowledge. They are astray and lead others astray.

Tirmidhi relates from Jubayr ibn Nufayr, on the authority of Abu Darda:

We were with the Prophet and he said, "There [will be] a time when knowledge will be snatched from the people until they will be unable to benefit from it." Ziyad ibn Lubayd said, "O Messenger of Allah, how will Allah seize knowledge from us when we recite the Quran? I swear by Allah, we recite it and teach it to our women and children!" He said, "May your mother be bereaved of you, Ziyad. I used to consider you one of the learned people of Madinah! The Torah and the Gospel are with the Jews and the Christians, yet do they benefit from them in anyway?"

Jubayr ibn Nufayr said:

I met Ubada ibn al-Samit and said to him, "Will you not listen to what Abu Darda is saying?" I then informed him of what he said concerning the loss of knowledge. He said, "Abu Darda has spoken truthfully. If you wish I will inform you of the first knowledge to be removed from people. It is humility [khushu]. You will enter the central masjid and hardly find a single humble person!"

Nasa'i relates a similar hadith from Jubayr ibn Nufayr, on the authority of Awf ibn Malik from the Prophet. He says in this hadith, "The Prophet mentioned the straying of the Jews and the Christians despite their possessing scriptures."

Jubayr ibn Nufayr also related:

I met Shaddad ibn Aws and I informed him of the hadith of Awf ibn Malik, and he said, "He has spoken the truth. Shall I not inform you about the first occurrence of the lifting of knowledge? Humility will be lifted to the point you will not see a single humble person."

Imam Ahmad relates a hadith in which Ziyad ibn Lubayd men­tioned something, whereupon the Prophet said, "That will be in the time when knowledge is gone." Ziyad mentioned this hadith and said, "Do not the Jews and Christians read the Torah and the Gospel without acting on it in any way?" In this version of the hadith, Ziyad did not mention the ensuing events contained in longer versions.

All of these narrations relate that the departure of knowledge resides in the failure to act on it. The Companions explained that the reason for this is the passing of inner knowledge from the hearts with inner knowledge referring to humility. In this vein, Hudhayfa relates, "Surely, humility will be the first knowledge to be lifted."