In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Abu Hurairarah [may Allaah be pleased with him] narrated: “Allaah’s Messenger [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] 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 Islam, if they acquire [sound] understanding of [religious knowledge]’”.
Al-Allaamah Zayd Bin Haadi Al-Mad’khali [may Allaah have mercy upon] said:
In this hadeeth, it is legislated for the one to whom something related to the religion is hidden that he asks, and the scholar is the one who is asked. The Prophet [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] is the foremost teacher and the one who conveys the religion (ordained) by Allaah. His companions used to ask him that which they wanted to understand in order to act upon it.This hadeeth is proof [regarding the fact that] the companions of the Prophet asked about affairs related to their religion in order to acquire understanding of the religion. Knowledge- as it is said – is based on questions and answers. In this hadeeth there is proof (regarding) the virtue of Taqwah, just as Allaah [The Mighty and Majestic] said: [إِنَّ أَڪۡرَمَكُمۡ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتۡقَٮٰكُمۡۚ– The most honourable of you in the sight of Allaah are those who fear Allaah the most]. Taqwa gathers every good, because it is clearly manifested in fulfilling commands, keeping away from prohibitions, declaring lawful what is lawful and declaring unlawful what is unlawful – inwardly [in one’s heart] and apparent [on one’s actions], and adherence to the [Qur’aan, the Sunnah, the Straight path etc].
In this hadeeth there is proof regarding the virtue of Yusuf [peace be upon him] and his fathers because the Prophet [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] mentioned them.
In this hadeeth there is proof regarding the humility of the Prophet because he made known to them the virtue of his brother- the noble Prophet – Yusuf.
In this hadeeth there is proof regarding the virtue of the Arabs if they possess understanding of the religion of Islaam and learn the religion, for indeed the noble Qur’aan was sent down in the language of the Arab, so if they acquire understanding of the religion [ordained] by Allaah, they will be able to convey it in Allaah’s earth. This is what happened in this Ummah of Muhammad, for indeed when he was sent, he called the Arabs to Eemaan until a great Ummah was established who were able to perform Jihaad and gave Dawah in the path of Allaah. So, they dispersed in the earth after acquiring understanding of their religion from Allaah’s Messenger [peace and blessings of allaah be upon him] and spread it in the regions of the earth- propagating, teaching, performing Jihaad and judging between the people, until Allaah [gave Islaam the upper hand] almost everywhere in the world through them, and this was a favour bestowed on them by Allaah.
In this hadeeth there is proof regarding the virtue of Fiqh in the religion and that the one who acquires understanding of the religion [ordained] by Allaah – with a good intention- in order to remove ignorance from himself, act based on the understanding in the Islamic religion and spread it in the earth, then indeed he has a great reward and station in the sight of Allaah. And Allaah knows best.
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. (1)
Al-Allaamah Rabee Bin Haadi Al-Mad’khali [may Allaah preserve him] said: The Comprehensive Sharee’ah Understanding of Al-Fiqh Fid Deen [Understanding In The Religion] “Whoever Allaah wishes good for, He grants him understanding in the religion”: When this ‘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 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, 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, the Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] 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) Muhammad [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] brought.
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. Some people deeply preoccupy (themselves with other) sciences and subject matters, but do not know this knowledge which the Messenger brought- 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. [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, till the advent of the seal of the Messengers Muhammad [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him], 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. (2)
The Messenger (ﷺ) said: Indeed, Allaah [The Most High] has removed from you the pride of the pre-Islamic period and its boasting about ancestors. One is only a pious believer or a wretched sinner. You are sons of Adam and Adam (was created from) dust. Let the people abandon boasting about their ancestors, for they are merely fuel in Jahannam; or they will become more insignificant in (the sight of) Allah than the beetle which rolls dung with its nose. (3)
The Messenger [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him] said, “Whoever is held back by his deeds, his (nobility) of lineage will not push him forward” (4) Imaam Nawawi [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said, “Its meaning is that the one whose deeds are deficient and he does not catch up with the performers of (good) deeds, then it is obligatory upon him not to crown himself with nobility of lineage and the virtues of his forefathers, whilst he is lagging behind in (performing good) deeds”. (5)
[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]
[Ref 3: Saheeh Abee Dawud 5116]
[Refs 4 & 5: Saheeh Muslim…part of hadeeth in ‘The Book Pertaining to the Remembrance of Allah, Supplication, Repentance and Seeking Forgiveness. Sharh Saheeh Muslim: Hadeeth Number 2699; Vol 17, page 18]