Religious knowledge is the legacy of the Prophets. The scholars are their inheritors. When a person acquires religious knowledge, he comes into a share of that inheritance.
This is why seeking Islamic knowledge is one of the greatest and noblest acts of worship a person can engage in.
A seeker of this knowledge should therefore adorn himself with the noblest conduct, and exhibit the best manners.
The various etiquettes that a student should observe can be divided into five broad categories – since some of these etiquettes pertain to the student’s relationship with his Lord, other etiquettes pertain to his attitude towards the scholars, others guide his dealings with his teachers, others govern his conduct with his peers, and still others focus on his relationship with himself.
We will be discussing a number of the etiquettes that come under each of these five broad categories.
Etiquettes Pertaining to the Student’s Relationship with His Lord:
1. The student should be sincere to Allah in his intentions for seeking knowledge. He should not seek Islamic knowledge for fame or status.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do not acquire knowledge in order to vie with scholars or dispute with the ignorant or turn people’s glances your way. Whoever does that is in the Fire.” [Sunan Ibn Mâjah (259) – declared a good (hasan) hadîth by al-Albânî]
2. The student should not transgress the limits set by Allah.
Allah says: “And so amongst men and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colors. Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, who have knowledge: for surely Allah is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” [Sûrah Fâtir: 28]
The more a person grows in knowledge, the more humble he becomes before his Lord.
Mâlik b. Dînâr said: “Whoever does not acquire knowledge that restrains his conduct, then what knowledge he has acquired is of no benefit to him.”
3. A student of religious knowledge should feel strongly about the teachings of his faith. He should feel enough concern to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Religion is Sincerity.”
We asked: “To whom, O Messenger of Allah?”
He said: “To Allah, His Book, His Messenger, and the leaders of the Muslims and to the common Muslim.” [Sahîh Muslim (82)]
4. The student should accept what Allah has set forth in the scriptures of religious rulings and teachings. He should not give his personal opinions preference over the clear dictates of the Qur’ân and Sunnah.
Allah says: “O you who believe! Put not yourselves forward before Allah and His Messenger; but fear Allah: for Allah is He Who hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Hujurât: 1]
Etiquettes Pertaining to the Student’s Attitude towards the Scholars:
1. The student should show respect and deference to the scholars, and he should beseech Allah’s mercy and forgiveness upon them in his prayers.
2. The student should focus on the scholars’ strengths and overlook their shortcomings.
3. The student should always assume the best about the scholars. He should never disparage any of them on account of an opinion that he might have held. He should assume that the scholar espoused that opinion because he believed it to be right and believed it to be what is pleasing to his Lord. A scholar who exercised his judgment and was correct received a double reward. A scholar who exercised his judgment and made a mistake received from his Lord a single reward.
The student should beseech Allah to reward the scholars for what they got right and to forgive them for their mistakes and shortcomings.
Etiquettes Pertaining to the Student’s Relationship with His Teachers:
1. The student should take as much care as he can to select teachers known for their piety, humility, and religious commitment.
Ibn Sîrîn was among the many scholars who said: “This knowledge is of the religion. Be careful who you take your religion from.”
Al-Khatîb al-Baghdâdî said: “A student should seek out a legal scholar who is known for being religious, who has a reputation for good conduct as well as proficiency.”
2. The student should behave humbly in his teachers’ presence and should show them respect.
Allah says: “Allah will exalt those who believe among you, and those who have knowledge, to high ranks. Allah is well acquainted with what you do.” [Sûrah al-Mujâdalah: 11]
`Ubâdah b. al-Sâmit relates that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever fails to show honor to our elders, mercy to our children, and due deference to our scholars is not one of us.” [Musnad Ahmad (21693) – Al-Haythamî declares its chain of transmission to be good (hasan) in Majma` al-Zawâ’id (1/127)]
3. A student should remain under his teachers’ tutelage in order to benefit from their conduct and their practice. He should seek to emulate their good manners and behaviors. He should avoid behaving contrarily.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever emulates a people is from among them.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (4031)]
3. The student should sit in the presence of his teachers attentively. He should not let his mind wander. Allah says: “Allah has not assigned to any man two hearts within his body.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 4]
4. The student should bear patiently any harsh treatment or sternness that his teachers might sometimes exhibit. He should find some excuse for their behavior.
5. The student should be considerate and polite in asking his teachers questions. Indeed, one of the best approaches to seeking knowledge is to ask questions in the right way. If the teacher remains silent, the student should not press him to answer.
Ibn `Abbâs was once asked: “How did you acquire this knowledge that you have?”
He replied: “With a questioning tongue and a discerning heart.”
6. The student should be attentive, even when the topic is one that he is already well versed in. This is one of the best manners a student of knowledge can exhibit.
`Atâ’ b. Rabâh said: “If I hear a youngster relate a hadîth, I listen as if I have no knowledge of it at all.”
He also said: “I will hear a youngster relate a hadîth and listen to him as if I had never heard the hadîth before, even though the truth is I heard it before he was born.”
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