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Chapter 1. Travelling for Sacred Knowledge

A man came to Abu Darda' while he was in Damascus. Abu Darda' asked him, "Whar has brought you here, my brother?" He replied, "A hadith which you relate from the Prophet·" Abu Darda' asked, "Have you come for some worldly need?" He replied, "No." "Have you come for business?" He replied, "No." "You have come only co seek this hadith?" He said, "Yes." Abu Darda' then said, "l heard the Messenger of Allah say: 'Whoever travels a path seeking sacred knowledge, Allah will place him on a path leading to Paradise. The angels lower their wings for the student of sacred knowledge, pleased with what he is doing. The creatures in the heavens and earth seek forgiveness for the student of sacred knowledge, even the fish in the water. The superiority of the religious scholar over the devout worshipper is like the superiority of the full moon over the other heavenly bodies. The religious scholars are the heirs of the prophets. The prophets leave no money as a bequest, rather they leave knowledge. Whoever seizes it has taken a bountiful share.'"

(Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawod, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah relate this hadith in their compilations.)

Travelling for Sacred Knowledge

The early generations of Muslims, owing to the strength of their desire for sacred knowledge, would journey to distant lands seeking a single prophetic hadith. Abu Ayyub Zayd ibn Khalid al-Ansari travelled from Madinah to Egypt for the purpose of meeting a Companion because he heard that this Companion related a particular hadith from the Prophet. Similarly, Jabir ibn Abdallah despite hearing much from the Prophet himself, travelled a month to Syria to hear a single hadith. Without hesitation, such men would travel to someone of lesser virtue and learning in order to seek out knowledge that they lacked themselves.

A striking example of this sort of journey is what Allah relates in the Quran about Moses' journey with his young companion. If there ever existed a person who had no need to travel to seek knowledge, it was Moses, for Allah had spoken to him and given him the Torah in which all divine principles had been revealed. Still, when Allah informed him of a man (named Khidir) who had been favoured with knowledge, Moses inquired about meeting him, and then set out with his young companion to find this Khidir, as Allah the Exalted says, And behold, Moses said to his young companion, "I will not cease until I reach where the two seas meet, or l shall spend an exceptionally long time travelling" (Quran 18:60).

Allah then informs us that upon meeting Khidir, Moses asked of him, "May I follow you in order that you may teach me of the knowl­ edge you have been given?" (Quran, 18:66).

Details of their venture are related in the Book of Allah and in the well-known hadith of Ubayy ibn Kab which is related by Bukhari and Muslim.

Ibn Masud used to say:

I swear by Allah, besides whom there is no other deity, no chapter of the Quran has been revealed except that I know where it was revealed. No verse from the Book of Allah has been revealed except that I know why it was revealed. Yet if I knew of anyone more learned than me in the Book of Allah, I would make every effort to reach him.

Abu Darda said, "if I were unable to explain a verse in the Book of Allah and could not find anyone to explain it to me except a man in Bark al-Ghimad, I would journey to him." Bark al-Ghimad is the farthest corner of Yemen. Masruq went from Kufa to Basra to ask a man about a Quranic verse. He failed, however, to find in him knowledge [about the verse], but while there, he was informed of a knowledgeable man in Syria. He then returned to Kufa, from which point he set out for Syria seeking knowledge of the verse.

A man travelled from Kufa to Syria to ask Abu Darda about the validity of an oath he had taken. Also, Sa'id ibn Jubayr, travelled from Kufa to Makkah to ask Ibn Abbas about the explanation of a single verse of the Quran.

Hasan al-Basri travelled to Kufa to ask Kab ibn Ujra about the atonement for al-adha [during the Pilgrimage].

A thorough exposition of this issue, travelling to seek knowledge would be exceedingly lengthy indeed. But to further illustrate this practice, a man took an oath, the validity of which the jurists were unsure. When he was directed to a man in a distant land, it was said to him, "That land is near for anyone concerned about this religion."' This saying holds profound advice for one who concerns himself with his religion as much as he concerns himself with his worldly affairs. If something happens involving his religion and he finds no one to ask about it except a person in a far off land, he would not hesitate to travel to him in order to save his religion. Similarly, if an opportunity were presented to him for some worldly gain in a distant land, he would hasten to it.

In the hadith under discussion, Abu Darda gave glad tidings to the person who travelled to him seeking a hadith he heard from the Prophet regarding the virtue of knowledge. This is consistent with a statement of Allah, "When those believing in Our signs come to you, say, Peace be unto you. Your Lord has made mercy incumbent upon Himself!" (Quran, 6:54).

Similarly, once a group of students crowded around Hasan al-Basri, and his son then spoke harshly to them. Hasan said, "Go easy, my son." He then related this aforementioned verse.

Both Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah quote Abu Sa'id as saying,

"Indeed, the Prophet advised the scholars with good treatment of the students of knowledge."

Zirr ibn Hubaysh came to Safwan ibn Assal, seeking knowledge. Zirr said to him, "News has reached me that the angels lower their wings to the students of sacred knowledge." Abu Safwan also relates this directly from the Prophet.

One day people were crowded at the door of Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, who said, "The students of sacred knowledge deserve the friendship of Allah and eternal bliss." He envied their gathering for this purpose because it leads to eternal bliss. For this reason, Muadh ibn Jabal cried as his death drew near and said, "I weep at how I will miss feeling thirst from the midday heat [from Fasting], standing in Prayer during the long winter nights, and the crowds of students kneeling around the scholars in the circles of knowledge."

It is appropriate that the scholars welcome students and urge them to act on what they learn. Hasan al-Basri greeted his students:

Welcome, may Allah extend your life in peace, and may He enter us all into Paradise. Your seeking knowledge is a good act, if you persevere, are truthful, and are absolutely certain of the reward Allah has prepared for you. May Allah have mercy on you! Do not let your share of this good be such that it enters one ear and passes out the other. One who hasn't seen Muhammad should know that the Prophet has seen him moving to and fro. The Prophet did not erect tall buildings, rather, knowledge was given to him, and he dedicated himself to it. Do not procrastinate, salvation is at stake. What will make you heed? Are you hesitant? I swear by the Lord of the Ka 'ba, it is as if Judgment Day will come upon you this very moment.'