Here are just some of the personal qualities we can develop within ourselves to be true to the path we are taking.
Striving for sincerity
If done with the correct intention, seeking knowledge can be one of the greatest acts of worship. So let us intend to draw closer to Allah through our striving for knowledge. Our intentions should be to practice what we are learning in our daily lives and be better worshippers of Allah, to remove ignorance from ourselves and others, to preserve the teachings of Allah and the Messenger for our generation as well as the next and defend the religion of Allah. Through sincerity we seek Allah’s blessing in our efforts. The Tabi’ee scholar Sufyan ath-Thawri said, “We began seeking knowledge for other than the sake of Allah, but knowledge refused to be sought for other than Allah’s sake.” Having a pure intention, like the Sahaba did, will maximise our reward so we must deliberate over and correct our intentions regularly.
Avoiding sincerity corrupters
Purifying our intentions is a continuous process as Shaitan constantly tries to taint them. Some key things to avoid are: seeking status, fame, trying to draw attention to ourselves or seeking knowledge merely to compete or debate with people. Neither should we seek knowledge solely for financial gain. The best way to counteract riyaa’ or showing off – which the Prophet (SAW) described as ‘hidden shirk’ - is to increase in our private acts of worship so that there are acts of worship we do that no one but Allah knows about - not even our spouses! One of the first people to be thrown into the fire on the Day of Judgement will be a scholar who taught people merely to be praised, so we need to be vigilant lest something that we think is an asset becomes a liability.
Clinging to the Qur’an and Sunnah and consensus of the scholars
The student should give special attention to the Qur’an- reciting it with correct tajweed, memorising it, understanding it and applying it - because it is the word of our Creator and the foundation of the Islamic sciences. And she should study the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) with the guidance of scholars, because the student cannot just pick up a hadeeth book and start applying everything in it as she will not know if the hadeeth is one that is to be applied generally or specifically or if it was abrogated or not etc. Carefully observing the aspects of Shari’ah upon which there is consensus of the scholars is imperative as their consensus is binding upon the Ummah and through it one can avoid a lot of confusion.
Acting upon one’s knowledge
The fruit of knowledge is action. Our knowledge is not benefitting us if it is not impacting on our everyday lives - our beliefs, manners, acts of worship and dealings with others. When we learn the virtues of certain acts and the prohibition of others, or when it is established that something is without doubt a command of Allah or of the Prophet (SAW), we, as students, must be the first to strive to implement what we have learnt. Regarding this, the Prophet (SAW) mentioned that, “The Qur’an is a proof for you or against you.”
Calling to Allah and defending the Shari’ah
Being a carrier of the Prophet’s inheritance, knowledge, the student has a higher level of responsibility in terms of calling people to Allah and defending the Shari’ah – not just from people who seek to distort it from outside Islam, but also from those who have fallen into innovations within
student of knowledge has a higher degree of responsibility to patiently bear some of the annoyances that she faces from society.
the religion. It was the true scholars and people of knowledge of every generation that protected the religion so that it could be passed on to the next generation unchanged. This includes defending the Prophet (SAW) from attacks on his character and prophethood.
Wisdom in one’s words and actions
The wise person is the one who puts things in their right places. The student of knowledge must evaluate what the priorities are in any given situation. Sometimes she may have to deal gently in one situation with one type of person and more directly in another setting with another. So for example, if there is a person in front of her who does not pray or fast, her priority in doing da’wah to that person is not to call them to observing hijab. Rather, the prayer comes first and then the other pillars of Islam as understanding and implementing these will help that person to begin practising Islam properly. Sometimes it may not be wise to discuss certain subjects in front of certain people so the student should use hikmah (wisdom) in such situations.
Being open minded
The student should avoid argumentation about things that scholars legitimately differ upon – matters of ijtihad. There are many areas with legitimate differences of opinion amongst scholars and they should not be made a basis for partisanship or hatred and enmity. The Sahabah themselves had differences of opinion about various matters. Studying the different opinions should make a student more accommodating and understanding and not force the opinion he follows, upon others. As for matters that there is consensus about, then the student should teach and correct people with regards to them with wisdom.
The student of knowledge will have to be willing to use her time, money, body and energy in the pursuit of knowledge. She must be disciplined and organised, which also means avoiding wasting time in useless pursuits. She may have to sleep less, strive harder, spend money, sacrifice and be willing to travel and work hard to seek that knowledge. When other people are playing, she will be concerning herself with benefitting the Ummah. When others are amusing themselves, she will be finding ways to benefit herself in the next world. As Imam Ash-Shafi’ee said about seeking knowledge: “O my Brother, you will never gain knowledge without possessing six [qualities]; I will inform you of these in detail and with clarity: Sharpness [of the mind], eagerness [to learn], striving hard and having the means; And the company of a teacher and a long length of time!”
Knowledge takes time to seek as well as to settle in one’s mind. It is a step by step process, so if a student skips a basic step and tries to study something more advanced without the proper foundational knowledge, she will trip up and make mistakes later on. The student has to be patient and seek knowledge in an orderly and structured way. This may take a long time and, in reality, is a lifelong process that the student has to be patient with and persevere upon. If there is something that the student doesn’t understand, she has to be patient in finding out about it properly before forming an opinion about it. Patience is also needed when engaging with one’s community and with people. It is inevitable that some people will offend or hurt us in some way, but the student of knowledge has a higher degree of responsibility to patiently bear some of the annoyances that she faces from society.
Zuhd and Wara
The basic level of zuhd is avoiding attachment to this life by abandoning the things that Allah has forbidden. The scholars describe the zuhd that people of knowledge and high standing with Allah
have: that they should also stay away from things whose permissibility is disputed and things which are luxuries among the Halal matters and things that will distract one from the remembrance of Allah. Wara’ is having an extra level of piety wherein one is extra careful will regards to even permissible things that might lead one to fall into forbidden matters.
The more our knowledge increases, the more our humility should increase, because we realise how much we don’t know! We should regard ourselves as sinful and others as forgiven. Honour and the respect of others is something that is bestowed upon us by Allah as the Prophet (SAW) said in an authentic hadeeth: “Whoever humbles himself for Allah, then Allah will raise him.”
Some characteristics may be deeply entrenched in us but the soul is like a wild horse that we must tame by continuously forcing it to do what we want it to do. At first, taming it will be painful as it resists change. But over time the soul can be trained and habituated to good, even becoming addicted to doing what pleases Allah and avoiding evil. Some of the scholars advised that if you want to develop a certain characteristic or habit, do it for 40 days and it will become a part of you. Why not try it?