Humility in Knowledge – A Forgotten Sunnah

Trend One – The Arrogant Students

“Do not attend the lectures of this Shaykh as he is a deviant because in one of his lectures five years ago, he mentioned that he follows a certain opinion which is incorrect,” said the twenty year old about a famous scholar.

“Why are you addressing him as ‘Shaykh’, he is just a normal student of knowledge like you and I,” said the twenty three year old first year student about the Shaykh with 30 years of experience and a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies.

“I used to respect you, but after hearing your opinion on this issue, I can no longer take knowledge from you as it is clear that you have been corrupted by the West,” hundreds of angry Facebook users wrote to many of their teachers.

Do any of these situations seem familiar to you? What about the following?

Trend Two – The Arrogant Teacher

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“I have a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and I am telling you that there is no way I can be wrong on this issue,” said the famous scholar.

“Do not address me by my name. Call me ‘Shaykh’ or ‘Mufti’, show me some respect,” said the 20 year old Islamic Studies graduate.

“I am the teacher and you are the student, I know better so never question my opinion,” said hundreds of Islamic teachers to their young students.

Now, what about the following situation?

Trend Three – The Salaf

“I am giving my opinion about her. If it is correct then it is from Allāh, but if it is incorrect then it is from me and Shaytaan,” said the famous companion Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) when asked for a fatwa.

“Woe to you, Yaqub! Do not write down everything you hear from me, for surely I may hold an opinion today and leave it tomorrow, hold another tomorrow and leave it the day after,” said one of the greatest scholars of this Ummah, Abu Hanifa, to his student Abu Yusuf.

“I have been sent to you with this question from my hometown in Morocco, undertaking a journey of six months to reach here,” said a man to Imam Malik before narrating the issue which Imam Malik was not familiar with. “Tell the person who sent you that I do not know,” was Imam Malik’s reply.

Humility is a key characteristic of a believer, even more so for a student or teacher of knowledge. The companions and early scholars of Islam exhibited this throughout their lives, because they understood the Deen and importance of practicing what they preached.

It is sad to see today that someone who just does a quick Google search or reads a Wikipedia article considers himself as an expert on a topic with firm belief that he can’t be wrong and those who oppose him must be deviants.

Where is the benefit of doubt? What happened to thinking well of others, especially our Islamic teachers? Where is the humility, which was a key characteristic of all our righteous predecessors? The same questions apply to Islamic teachers who feel they need to be treated special because they are famous or whatever reason they use to justify it.

We should remember the words of Allāh warning us all against these evils.

“Say: My Lord has only forbidden immoralities, what is apparent of them and what is concealed, and sin, and oppression without right, and that you associate with Allāh that for which He has not sent down authority, and that you say about Allāh that which you do not know.” [Surah Al-A’raaf, 33]

“Why then when you heard it (the slander), did the believing men and women not think good of their people and say this is an obvious lie?” [Surah Nur, 12]

“The true servants of Allāh are only those who walk on this earth with humility and when ignorant people try to dispute with them, they respond with words of peace.” [Surah Furqaan, 63]

This is a short reminder to all of us to humble ourselves while dealing with anybody and to approach Islamic knowledge with this humility. We should think before we speak and never talk to or about anyone in a way that we would not want them to address or talk about us.

Whenever we hear an opinion with which we disagree, it is best for us to give the person the benefit of doubt and consider it his Ijtihad (Ijtihad is the term used to describe the making of a decision through personal effort; without counsel from scholars) and not allow it to make us arrogant or harsh towards him/her especially if it is a teacher of Islam.

Allāh did not create us to spend our time writing long-winded refutations against scholars’ opinions, nor challenging du’aat (Muslim missionaries) and students of knowledge searching out their every fault and slip of the tongue, intentionally misrepresenting, and blowing their statements out of proportion. Allāh created us to worship Him alone and assist others in doing so, and this can only be accomplished if we humble ourselves and don’t look down on others.

Remember that humility is not weakness; it is honor and good character.

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7 responses to “Humility in Knowledge – A Forgotten Sunnah”

  1. umer says:

    may Allah bless you. i learn a lot from this article. keep it up.

  2. Hassen says:

    BaarakAllahu feek, very important reminder. I would suggest a small adjustment to your point on giving benefit of the doubt in cases of disagreement. I think it’s acceptable to politely and respectfully discuss an issue with the other person if one is knowledgeable enough to do so. But of course it should be done while upholding proper manners and etiquette.

    An example of this is when the woman Sahabiyyah challenged Omar when he wanted to limit the amount of mahr that could be given. It was Omar’s ijtihad but she challenged it and Omar realized his mistake and reversed his statement out of humility, masha’Allah.

  3. Hassan says:

    Salaam, if I am not mistaken I heard Sh Yasir Qadhi narrating a quote from salaf to the effect, “this knowledge is your deen, be careful from whom you take it”.

    So the very first point needs some clarification. Is it ok to limit oneself to certain scholars?

  4. Ahsan Arshad says:

    salaam alaykum shaykh ismail,
    I like the pattern of the arrogant student, teacher and then subhanallah the salaf – the humility of the sahabah and their approach to knowledge and teaching – I pray to Allah to help us adopt the same methodology

  5. Ali says:

    Jazakumullah for reminding humility to us, it is desparetely needed in this difficult time. I ask Allah (swa) give us the tawfiq to show humility on every walk of our life. Ameen

  6. Aziza says:

    Great reminder, JazakAllah Khair.

  7. berserk hijabi says:

    JAK for this article,it’s a great reminder to all of us. Okay, I don’t know about the rest of you guys,but does it irritate when people hear about the “humility problem” of our umma,nod knowingly and go “Mmmm this is SO true.Like, it’s SO hard to find humble people today.” doesn’t it seem kind of..contradictory?
    Sorry,if this rant upset anyone
    Once again jazakallahu khairan. May Allah guide us all to meet at the Haudh of Kawthar

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