In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Abu Hurairarah [radiyallaahu-anhu] narrated: “Allaah’s Messenger [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam] was asked, ‘Who is the most honourable amongst the people?’ He said, ‘The one who fears Allaah the most’. They said, ‘We are not asking you about this’. He said, ‘Then the most honourable amongst the people is Yusuf, Allaah’s Prophet, the son of Allaah’s Prophet, the son of Allaah’s Prophet, the son of Allaah’s Khaleel’. They said, ‘We are not asking you about this’. He said, ‘So you are asking me about the Arabs’ descent; the people are of different descents and those who were best in the Pre-Islamic period are the best in Islaam, if they acquire [sound] understanding of [religious knowledge]’”.
Benefits Derived From This Hadeeth – By Shaikh Zayd Bin Haadi [rahimahullaah]
The evidence [or testimony for the main subject matter in this hadeeth] is that the people are of different descents. The best of them during the Pre-Islamic era are the best in Islaam if they possess [sound] understanding [in the religion]. Therefore, whoever was from the good people during the Pre-Islamic era and acted that way amongst the people, then Allaah blessed them to accept Islaam and they acquire understanding, they’ll be the best people because they had a good basis which Islaam increased in good and perfection. [Ref 1]
Shaikh Rabee Bin Haadi [hafidhahullaah] said:
The Comprehensive Sharee’ah Understanding of the [phrase] Al-Fiqh Fid Deen [Understanding In The Religion]: “Whoever Allaah wishes good for, He grants him understanding in the religion.” When this [phrase] ‘Understanding in the religion’ is stated amongst the people, they understand it to mean the books of Islamic jurisprudence [i.e. the books that discuss the rulings related to prayer, zakat, fasting, marriage etc]. This is a deficient understanding. Fiqh [understanding] – first and foremost – is the understanding of the [sound] creed and Tawheed [i.e. sound Islamic monotheism]. This is the highest level of Fiqh, because the nobility of knowledge is [determined based on the] nobility of its subject matter. The best and noblest subject matter is Tawheed, which teaches the people about the Attributes of their Lord and the perfection of His Attributes, [informs them, explains and reminds] them about His Oneness, to worship Him [alone] and sincerely establish the [entire] religion for His Sake.
Therefore, we seek understanding of Tawheed from Allaah’s Book [i.e. the Qur’aan], the [authentic] Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam] and from the understanding of our Salafus Saaleh [i.e. the Sahaabah, the Taab’een and the At-baa at-Taabi’een]. We seek understanding in all areas of [Sharee’ah] knowledge – understanding [related to what] is halaal and haraam, acts of worship, mutual dealings, [sound Islamic politics], economics and in every affair. All these affairs – and all praise and thanks be to Allaah – are extensively [found] within the [message] brought by Muhammad [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam].
When Fiqh is mentioned, its intended [meaning includes] understanding of every affair that is connected to our religious and worldly affairs, and the foremost of them is the knowledge of Tawheed [Islamic Monotheism]. There is nothing that can do without the knowledge of Tawheed, [because] some people deeply preoccupy [themselves with other] sciences and subject matters, but he does not know this knowledge brought by the Messenger [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam], to such extent that you find many people who are well versed in language, Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy and the science of rhetoric; but – by Allaah – he does not know [the sound meaning] of ‘Laa ilaaha illal laah’ – the Islamic Monotheism, which Allaah sent all the Messengers with- the first and last of them. [Allaah said]: [وَلَقَدۡ بَعَثۡنَا فِى ڪُلِّ أُمَّةٍ۬ رَّسُولاً أَنِ ٱعۡبُدُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَٱجۡتَنِبُواْ ٱلطَّـٰغُوتَۖ – And verily, We have sent among every Ummah [community, nation] a Messenger [saying]: “Worship Allah [Alone], and avoid [or keep away from] all false deities.” [Surah An-Nahl Aayah 36]
Every Messenger came with this [Message], until the advent of the seal of the Messengers Muhammad [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam], who resided in Makkah for ten years and called to Tawheed. Tawheed was the foremost aspect and basis of his call. The prayer – the second pillar of Islaam after the testimony of faith ‘Laa ilaaha illal laah – was not legislated until in the 10th year [of his Messengership], and the full details [related to] Zakat was not legislated until [after his migration to] Madeenah and all the other laws. This shows the importance of Tawheed, so how is it that many people who ascribe to Islaam- those who claim knowledge – are ignorant of it, then how about the ignorant people. And due to this, Misguidance, Bidah and grave worship has become widespread, and this arose due to ignorance regarding the [perfect] Names and Attributes of Allaah and negation of Allaah’s [perfect] Attributes. And [also] a people from the other religions entered into Islaam and plotted against the people [through] corrupt sciences – rhetoric, philosophy, forged [or spurious] historical accounts [or events] and what is similar to that, and thus corrupted their [sound] creed and methodology. [Ref 2]
[Ref 1: Source: An Excerpt from At-taleeqaat Al-Maleehah Alaa Silsilah Al-Ahaadeeth As-Saheehah. Vol 1pages 34-35. Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 2: Source: An Excerpt from Marhaban Yaa Taalibal Ilm – pages 243-244. Slightly paraphrased]