A Lofty Ambition Behind Seeking Knowledge- [What One Should Strive to Constantly Recall and Why He or She Wants to Excel Others!]

In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.

Imaam Ibnul Qayyim [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said:

The loftiest ambition in seeking knowledge is to acquire knowledge of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah- to be granted understanding by Allaah [i.e. granted Tawfeeq to acquire sound knowledge] and through the Sunnah of the Messenger, and acquaint oneself with the boundaries of the revelation [i.e. neither going into excess nor being lackadaisical]. And the most baseless ambition of the students of knowledge is to confine their ambitions in following the bizarre affairs and that which has neither occurred nor has it been revealed, or acquainting (oneself) with the differences of opinion and pursuing the statements of the scholars, whilst having no ambition to acquaint oneself with what is correct among those statements. Little is there to benefit from the knowledge of these people. (1)

Ibnu Jamaa’ah [may Allaah have mercy upon him] stated about sincerity in seeking knowledge, “It is to have a good intention in seeking knowledge-seeking the face of Allaah by way of it; acting upon it; reviving the sharee’ah; enlightenment of the heart and (rectification) of its hidden affairs; seeking to get close to Allaah on the Day of Judgement, and putting one’s mind to that which Allaah has prepared for its people of His Pleasure and Great Favours”. (2)

Imaam Muhammad Ibn Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: If one says: Through what can sincerity in seeking knowledge be [present or attained]? We say: Sincerity in seeking knowledge can be [present or attained] by making an intention for the following:

[a] [The intention] to fulfil Allaah’s command because Allaah [The Most High] commanded it (i.e. to seek knowledge). Allaah said: [فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ- So know (O Muhammad) that La ilaha ill-Allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and ask forgiveness for your sin]. [Surah Muhammad. Verse 19]

So Allaah [Glorified and Exalted Be He] strongly urged [a person] towards acquiring knowledge. And strongly urging [someone] towards something necessitates having love for it; being pleased with it and commanding [one] to do it.

[b] [The Intention] to preserve Allaah’s Sharee’ah. That is because preserving Allaah’s Sharee’ah can be done by way of learning, memorization and writing.

[c] [The Intention] to protect and defend the Sharee’ah. That is because had it not been for the scholars no one would have protected or defended the Sharee’ah. And due to this we find the likes of Shaikhul Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah and other than him amongst the people of knowledge repelling ahlul bidah and clarifying the falsity of their innovations. We see that they reached a lot of good.

[d] [The Intention] to follow Muhammad’s [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] Sharee’ah. That is because it is not possible for you to follow his Sharee’ah until you learn about it. (3)

Imaam Ibn Qudaamah [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said:

In most cases envy occurs between contemporaries, peers, brothers and cousins, because of the conflicting goals of everyone that leads to discord and enmity. And due to this, you will find a scholar envying another scholar, but he will not envy a worshipper; a worshipper envying another worshipper, but he will not envy a scholar; a trader envying another trader and a cobbler envying another cobbler. That is because they have conflicting goals. The basis of this affair is due to love of the worldly things, because indeed the worldly things are restricted for those who compete for it. As for the afterlife, there is no restriction within it, because the one who loves knowledge and awareness of Allaah, knowledge and awareness regarding Allaah’s angels, Allaah’s Prophets and Allaah’s Mighty Dominion over the heavens and the earth, he will not envy others after being acquainted with these affairs, because they are not restricted by one another; rather one particular individual scholar is known by thousands of scholars and they rejoice due to the understanding he has.

This is why there is no envy between the (upright) scholars of the religion, because their aim is to acquire knowledge and awareness of Allaah [Glorified be He and free is He from all imperfections], which is a vast affair. Their goal is to acquire a high status in the sight of Allaah and that which Allaah has kept in the afterlife is unlimited, because Allaah’s loftiest blessing is the pleasure of meeting Him, which can neither be prevented nor restricted, nor can some competitors in the affair make it restricted for others; rather harmony increases as the competitors increase; but if wealth and status become the goal of the scholars, they will envy one another.

The difference between knowledge and wealth is that wealth does not remain in the hands of one person; but as for knowledge, it settles in the heart of a scholar and in the heart of the one taught by the scholar, whilst still remaining in the heart of the scholar. Therefore, whoever contemplates on the Greatness of Allaah and His Mighty Dominion [i.e. by pondering upon what Allaah has created and the revelation He has sent down], it will become the greatest pleasure for him than every other blessing, because neither can he be prevented nor restricted in that. And he will not harbour any envy in his heart towards anyone, because if others were acquainted with what he is acquainted with, it will still not reduce his pleasure in the affair.

You do not find people overcrowding to view the beauty of the sky because it is vast and unrestricted; therefore, if you are merciful to yourself, then it is obligated on you to seek after a bliss in whose path there is no obstruction and a pleasure that will not cease [i.e. the competition for this worldly life is restricted for its competitors and will come to an end, whereas the afterlife is unrestricted.] And this cannot be found in this worldly life, except by acquainting oneself with knowledge and awareness of Allaah and the amazing nature of His Dominion [over everything].

However, if you dont yearn to acquaint yourself with knowledge and awareness of Allaah and your desire is weak, then neither will you find it nor its pleasure. Therefore, you’re not man enough, because this affair is that of men, for indeed yearning for something occurs after experiencing it. The one who has not tasted will not know, the one who does know will not yearn, the one who does not yearn will not seek, the one who does not seek will not find (anything), and the one who does not find (anything) will be amongst those who are deprived.

Know that envy is a great disease of the hearts and the diseases of the hearts are not cured except with knowledge and action. The beneficial knowledge for curing envy is to know that in reality envy is harmful to your religious and worldly affairs, but the envied one is neither harmed in his religious nor worldly affairs; rather he is benefited by it. Blessings do not cease from the person you envy. And even if you were not a believer in the resurrection, this would still have necessitated a realisation–if you are sensible– to be mindful of envy due to the pain it brings to the heart as well as [having] no benefit; then how about when you know of its punishment in the afterlife.

And the clarification of our statement: Indeed, the envied one is neither harmed in his Religious nor worldly affairs, rather he is benefited by it in his Religious and worldly affairs: That is because the blessings Allaah have decreed for him will continue until the end of his lifespan and there is no harm upon him in the hereafter [due to be envied] because he has not committed any sin in that; rather he is benefited by it because he is someone receiving oppression from you, especially if the envy comes out through speech and action.

As for the benefit in the worldly life [i.e. the benefits of being envied] , it is because the most important aim of the creation is [to witness] the grief of an enemy and there is no punishment greater than the [blameworthy] envy you find in yourself. If you contemplate on what we have mentioned, you will know that you are indeed an enemy to yourself– a friend of your enemy [within yourself]. Your likeness is nothing other than that of a person who threw a stone at his enemy to kill him, but he could not harm him and the stone bounced back on his right eye and plucked it out. So his anger increased and he -again – threw a stone harder than the first one, but it bounced back on his other eye and plucked it out. So his rage increased, and he threw a third stone, but it bounced back on his head and broke it, whilst his enemy is safe and laughing at him. This is a knowledge base cure [for envy]. If a person reflects upon this, the inferno of envy will be extinguished from his heart.

As for beneficial action [to help cure envy], then it is to make binding upon oneself to destroy what envy commands one to do. If it arouses him towards hatred and defamation of the one who is envied, he should make it binding upon himself to praise and extol him. If it makes him arrogant, he will make it binding upon himself to be humble towards him [i.e. the one envied]; and if it makes him block favours from reaching him, he should make it binding upon himself to increase in giving him favours. And there were a group of the pious predecessors who whenever it reached them that a person backbit them, they would give him [i.e. the back bitter] a gift. These are very beneficial remedies for envy. (4)

Al-Allaamah Rabee Bin Haadi [may Allaah preserve him] said:

Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood [may Allaah be pleased with him] said that the noble Messenger [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] him said, ‘There is no envy except in two cases: a man whom Allah has given Al-Hikmah [i.e. knowledge of the Qur’aan and Sunnah] and he acts according to it; and a man whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously'”. [Al-Bukhaari’ Number 73]

These people have Ghibtah [i.e. they desire the blessings bestowed on others but do not have a blameworthy envy]. Hasad [envy] in this hadeeth means Ghibtah, but (as for blameworthy) envy, it is to wish that the blessings bestowed upon a person, such as wealth, knowledge and other things, should cease to exist regardless whether you want to have the same or merely wishing that the blessings be taken away from him. This is a disease of the Yahood [i.e. those Jews who knew the truth brought by the Prophet (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam) but they rejected it due to envy] and we ask Allaah to alleviate [this disease] from the Muslims, for indeed it is destructive disease, and Allaah’s Refuge is sought.

So, the Hasad intended in this hadeeth is Al-Ghibtah, which is to wish for the same blessings given to another person [without wishing that he be deprived of it]; for example, Allaah gives a person knowledge and the [ability] to perform good deeds, so you wish that Allaah should also give you knowledge and the [ability] to perform good deeds just as it has been bestowed upon that person. This is Ghibtah and it is praiseworthy. It is a [praiseworthy] striving to excel one another in good deeds. Allaah said: [وَفِى ذَٲلِكَ فَلۡيَتَنَافَسِ ٱلۡمُتَنَـٰفِسُونَ – And for this [i.e. paradise] let (all) those strive who want to strive (i.e. hasten earnestly to the obedience of Allah)]. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the students of knowledge to strive in acquiring knowledge and hasten towards all that is good, but without blameworthy envy; rather they should do this based on Ghibtah and hastening earnestly to the obedience of Allaah.

As for striving and hastening towards the Dunyah [against one another], it is blameworthy. [The Prophet (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam)] said, “Do not envy one another, do not hate one another [i.e. blameworthy envy and hatred], do not outbid one another [i.e. do not offer a higher price for a commodity when someone else wants it even though you do not intend to buy it] and do not compete one another in a blameworthy manner”. [Muslim 2563]. All these traits are blameworthy – both in the worldly and religious affairs.

Therefore, in the hadeeth [i.e. hadeeth reported by Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood], the Messenger of Allaah urged the Ummah to (hasten and seek to excel one another) in good deeds, such as in (acquiring) knowledge, (performance of the) Salaah etc. The Prophet said, “The best rows are the first rows”. [Muslim 440]. [The Prophet also said], “If the people knew (the reward for) pronouncing the Adhaan and for standing in the first row [in the congregational prayer] and found no other way to get it except by drawing lots, they would do so”. [Al-Bukhaari 654]

Hastening to get to the first row is a praiseworthy deed. Likewise [it is praiseworthy to] hasten towards seeking knowledge, seeking to become proficient in it, excel and become talented in it. I ask Allaah to facilitate i.e. ease and the means] for the Mutanaafiseen [i.e. those striving and hastening towards all good], so that there arises from this ummah the likes of the senior Imaams, such as Al Awzaa’ee, Ath-Thawri, Maalik, Ash-Shaafiee, Ahmad, Ibn Taymiyyah, Muhammad Ibn Abdil Wahhaab and those like them amongst the Imaams of guidance – those by way of whom Allaah raised the guiding light of Islaam and guided the nations, and whose knowledge enlightened the whole world. (5)


Imaam Ash-Shaafi’ee [rahimahullaah] said, “I wished that the people learnt this knowledge and attribute none of it to me”. [Jaami-ul Uloom wal-hikam: page: 131]

It was said to Imaam Ahmad [rahimahullaah], “May Allaah reward you for the good you have (done) for Islaam; so he said, ‘Rather, Allaah has (done) good for me through Islaam. Who am I, and what am I?’” [Siyar A’laam Nubulaa: 11/225]

Sufyaan Bin Uyaynah [rahimahullaah] said, “Indeed, I become angry with myself when I see you come to me, and I say to myself: These people have not come to me, except due to the good thoughts they have about me.” [Hilyatul Awliyaa: 7/285]

Abu-Bakr As-Siddeeq [radiyallaahu-anhu] said, “I wish I was a piece of hair on a believer.” [Az-Zuhd of Imaam Ahmad: page: 112]

Yoonus Bin Ubaid [rahimahullaah] said,Indeed, I found a hundred good qualities and did not recognise a single one for myself”.

Muhammad Bin Waasi [rahimahullaah] said,If sins were a smell, then none would have been able to sit with me”. [Ighaathatul Luhfaan: page: 90]

Sa’eed Bin Ismaa’eel [rahimahullaah] said, “Fear of Allaah leads you to the [path, obedience and pleasure etc.] of Allaah; self-amazement within your soul cuts you off from Allaah and belittlement of the people within your soul is a disease that does not heal”. [Shu’ab Al-Imaan: 10/494]

Zubair Bin Nu’aym Al-Baajee [rahimahullaah] said, “I do not know whether I have ever relied upon Allaah a single hour”. [Hilyatul Awliyaa: 12/148]

Kab Al-Ahbaar [rahimahullaah] said to man who came to him and was from those who sought after hadeeth, “Fear Allaah! Increase upon what you already possess without [seeking] to be elevated in the gathering and do not harm anyone, for indeed if your knowledge filled what is between the heavens and the earth alongside self-amazement, Allaah will not increase you in it (i.e.in this knowledge) except ignominy and deficiency! So the man said, ‘May Allaah have mercy upon you O Father of Ishaaq! Indeed, they lie about me and harm me’. So he [Kab] said to him, ‘Indeed, the Prophets were lied against and harmed, and they exercised patience; therefore exercise patience, and if not, then you are destroyed’”. [Hilyatul Awliyaa: 5/376]

“Whoever goes out [to seek] knowledge and [only] desiring knowledge, it will not benefit him; but whoever goes out [to seek] knowledge and desiring to act on knowledge, he will be benefited [even] with little knowledge”.

This is what is incumbent upon a student of knowledge when going out for knowledge and to the gatherings of knowledge. His aim should be that Allaah benefits him through knowledge, for indeed even a little will benefit him. As for acquiring a lot without giving concern to implementation, this will not benefit the acquirer of such knowledge; rather it will be a proof against him and not for him. (6)

Maalik Ibn Deenaar said, “Indeed, when a slave seeks knowledge to act upon it, his knowledge will restrain him [from what is blameworthy]; but if he seeks it for other than that, it will increase him in sinful behaviour and boastfulness”.

It will prevent him from self-importance and self-amazement; but if he seeks knowledge for other than acting upon it, he will increase in sinful behaviour and boastfulness. (7)

“There are two acts of transgression in the Dunyaa – transgression through knowledge and transgression through wealth. And that which will save one from transgression through knowledge is [to know] that [acquiring] knowledge is worship and that which will save one from transgression through wealth is Zuhd”.

Transgression through wealth is well known, just as Allaah said:

كَلَّآ إِنَّ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ لَيَطۡغَىٰٓ

أَن رَّءَاهُ ٱسۡتَغۡنَىٰٓ

Nay! Verily, man does transgress all bounds (in disbelief and evil deed, etc.). Because he considers himself self-sufficient.

Transgression through wealth [includes] extravagance, arrogance, self-amazement, self-deception etc. The other type of transgression is through knowledge, such as boasting, showing off, desiring to be mentioned, self-amazement, self-deception etc. So, just as there are people who are afflicted with transgression through wealth, likewise there are those afflicted with transgression through knowledge. If a scholar or student is afflicted with self-amazement, self-deception and boasting, then this is all tantamount to transgression through knowledge. (8)

Ref 1: An Excerpt from Al-Fawaa’id. page: 99. Slightly paraphrased]

NB: It is well known that the students of knowledge possess different levels of understanding and ability, so one has to take into consideration that a student – regardless his sharpness and effort in research into the statements of the scholars- is restricted in understanding and ability. So take into consideration regarding the fact that sometimes one will have to adhere to permissible Taqleed:http://www.salaficentre.com/2012/06/the-permissible-and-prohibited-forms-of-taqleed-salafipublications-com-article-id-mnj060005/

Ref 2: Source: Tadh-kirah As-Saami Wal-Mutakallim of Al-Kinaaniy: 67-70. Slightly paraphrased]

Ref 3: Source: Sharh Hilyah Taalib Al’Ilm’ pages16- 17. Slightly paraphrased]

Ref 4: An Excerpt from ‘Mukhtasar Minhaajil Qaasideen’ page: 199-201. slightly paraphrased]

Ref 5: An Excerpt from Marhaban Yaa Taalibal Ilm’ pages 51-52. slightly paraphrased]

Refs 6, 7 and 8: [Sharh Iqtidaa Al-Ilm Al-A’mal. Lesson 1]

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