Allah has praised the scholars in many places in the Quran. He has informed us that it is His knowledgeable servants who fear Him. They are the scholars. Ibn Abbas comments on the verse, Indeed, among His servants, it is but the learned who fear Allah (Quran, 35:28), saying, "Indeed, My servants who know My majesty, grandeur, and sublimity fear Me."
The best knowledge is knowledge of Allah, His names, attributes, and actions. This knowledge engenders in its possessor direct knowledge of Allah, His fear, His love, His reverence, His exaltation, His magnification, intense devotion, absolute reliance on Him, patience, being pleased with Him, and preoccupation with Him.
This is followed by knowledge of His angels, His Books, His messengers, the Day of Resurrecrion, and related matters. Likewise, this includes knowledge of Allah's commandments, prohibitions, His laws, rulings, and that which He loves and that which He loathes of His servanrs' outer and inner actions.
Those who join knowledge of Allah with knowledge of His commandments are the righteous scholars. They are more complete than those whose knowledge is limited to experiential knowledge of Allah. They are also more complete than those scholars whose knowledge is limited to understanding legal rulings. Examples of such [complete] scholars are Hasan al-Basri, Sa'id ibn al-Musayyib, [Sufyan] al-Thawri, lmam Ahmad, and their like. Others who obtained this state are Malik ibn Dinar, Fudayl ibn al-lyad, Maruf [al-Karkhi], Bishr [al-Hafi], and others who had experiential knowledge of Allah.
Whoever compares these two states knows the virtue of those who have both experiential knowledge of Allah and knowledge of His commandments over those who only possess direct knowledge of Allah. Therefore, how much better is one who has experiential knowledge of Allah and knowledge of His commandments over those who only have knowledge of His commandments! Their superiority is evident.
Some ignorant people think that devout worshippers are more virtuous than scholars. They imagine that scholars only have knowledge of Allah's commandments and that devout worshippers have experiential knowledge of Allah. Naturally, they consider those sages who have experiential knowledge of Allah more meritorious than the jurists who only possess knowledge of Allah's commandments.
We posit that scholars who have experiential knowledge of Allah and knowledge of His commandments are more virtuous than devout worshippers, even if these devout worshippers have experiential knowledge of Allah. This is because righteous scholars share with devout worshippers the virtue of possessing experiential knowledge of Allah. They may even surpass them in this virtue. However, scholars uniquely possess the knowledge of Allah's commandments and the honour of calling humanity to Allah and illuminating the path leading to Him. This is the station of the messengers, the successors of the messengers, and their heirs. This will be discussed later, God willing.
The knowledge that scholars possess is better than the supererogatory ritual acts of worship of the devout-acts of worship that some scholars may lack. Heightened knowledge of that which Allah has revealed to His Messenger creates an increase in experiential knowledge of Allah and of faith. Experiential knowledge of Allah and true faith are better than the acts of the limbs. However, the uninformed person extols the importance of such worship over knowledge because he cannot conceptualize the essence of knowledge nor its sublimity. Therefore, he Lacks the conceptual framework to attain the motivation to strive for knowledge. He can only conceptualize the essence of worship. He thus has the motivation to exert himself entirely in [his] devotions.
So you find many who lack knowledge preferring complete detachment from the world over engagement in the religious sciences and learning. As we just stated, such people cannot conceptualize the essence of knowledge and spiritual experience. One who fails to conceptualize something, its significance will never become rooted in the heart. In fact, an ignorant person conceptualizes the nature of the world and magnifies it in his heart. Therefore, he magnifies the virtue of one who leaves it. Muhammad ibn Wasi once saw youth to whom it was said, "They are the otherworldly people." [Mubammad ibn Wasi] asked, "What possible significance does the world have that merits praise for one who shuns it?" Abu Sulayman al-Darani is known to have conveyed a similar point. One who takes pride in other worldliness is like one who takes pride in leaving some trivial thing, something that has less significance with Allah than a gnat's wing. This world is petty and unworthy of mention, much less than something that evokes pride when it is shunned.
Many ignorant people extol supernatural occurrences and miracles and consider them better than the spiritual insight and knowledge given to the scholars. They conceptualize miracles [as a source of distinction] because they are manifestations of [a degree of] physical power and authority, which most people are incapable of. Supernatural occurrences, however, are nor extolled as such by spiritually elevated scholars. They shun such occurrences, considering them a form of tribulation and trial. They expose the worshipper to the trap of veneration. The scholars fear preoccupation with [such occurrences] and becoming content with them and thus severed from Allah by them. Abu Talib al-Makki relates this in his book [Qut al-Qulub] from a large number of spiritual sages, among them Abu Yazid al-Bustani, Yahya ibn Muadh, Sahl al-Tustari, Dhul-Nun al-Misri, Junayd, and others. It was said to one of them, "That person can walk on water." He said, 'One whom Allah empowers to oppose his whims is better off."
Abu Hafs al-Nisaburi was sitting with his companions one day at the outskirts of the city. While he was lecturing them enthralling them with his discourse, a wild goat suddenly descended from the mountain and knelt down before him. Al-Nlsaburi was visibly shaken and started to weep. His students asked him about his reaction, and he said:
I saw you gathered around me and how enthralled you were. I thought to myself, "If only I had a sheep to slaughter and could invite you all to a feast." As soon as this thought occurred, this goat came and knelt down in front of me. Thus I thought, "Am I like Pharaoh who asked his Lord to make the Nile flow for him and it was made to do so?" I then said to myself, "What can possibly protect me from Allah giving me every material good in the world, while I remain bankrupt in the Hereafter, possessing nothing?" This is what disturbed me.
The spiritual states of such sages is evidenced in the fact that they do not pay any attention to these supernatural occurrences. Rather, they are concerned with true knowledge of Allah, being humble before Him, [gaining] His love, nearness to Him, longing for His meeting, and obeying Him. The righteous scholars join [the spiritual types] in this, but surpass them through knowledge of the commandments of Allah and through calling humanity to Him. This is immensely virtuous with Allah, His angels, and His messengers. One of the righteous forbears said, "Whoever learns, acts on his knowledge, and then teaches it to others is considered to have attained greatness in the heavenly realm."
If the superiority of the scholar over the ordinary devout worshipper is clear, it should be understood that his superiority lies in increased knowledge. As for the devout worshipper lacking knowledge, he is denounced. The righteous forbears compared the latter to a vagabond; he does more harm than good. Such a person can be compared to a donkey turning a millstone; he goes round and round until he drops from exhaustion, having gone nowhere. This likeness is so clear that it requires no elaboration, and Allah knows best.
Travelling for Sacred Knowledge
Paths Leading to Sacred Knowledge
Knowledge of the Tongue and the Heart
Categories of Scholars
The Harm and Enmity of Corrupt Scholars
The Deception of Satan
Examples of Virtuous Scholars
Grazing the Gardens
All of Creation Assisting the Scholar
Scholars and Worshippers
Virtue of Knowledge
The Virtue of Adam over the Angels
The Scholars Truly Fear Allah
Heirs of the Prophets
Abstinence Of The Early Scholars
About Fudayl Ibn Iyad
About Hasan Al-Basri
About Sufyan Al-Thawri
About Imam Ahmad Ibn Al-Hanbal
About Imam Yahya Ibn Abi Kathir
About Imam Muhammad Ibn Aslam Al-Tusi
About Imam Al-Awzai