The Value of Knowledge: A Discourse by Shaykh al-Hadith Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani
Edited and abridged by Shaykh Badrul Islam
Learn to appreciate knowledge
If the one who has any link with this knowledge of the Deen were to spend his entire life in thanking Allah, he will fail to do so properly. Unfortunately today we do not value this great blessing. Instead, value is only for wealth and status.
I remember an incident reported by one of our elders. A scholar was teaching fiqh to a student and he told the student, “I am giving you something which has more value than gold, silver, pearls and jewels. Every mas’alah is very precious.” The student was delighted. When he finished his lesson he went home and his mother asked him to buy some vegetables. He went to the greengrocer and ordered the vegetables. The greengrocer charged him 50 pence. He said to the greengrocer, “I do not have 50 pence. I have something that is more valuable than gold and silver. I shall explain to you a mas’alah. My teacher said that each mas’alah is so precious that it is more valuable than gold, silver, pearls and jewels.” The greengrocer was annoyed by this statement as he did not appreciate the value of knowledge. He shouted in a harsh way, “Away with you! Go and give it to others. I want my 50 pence.” The student went back to his teacher and told him. “You told me that each mas’alah is more valuable than gold, silver, pearls and jewels yet it is not even worth 50 pence in the sight of the greengrocer.” The teacher explained, “My son, you went to the wrong place! I shall ask you to do something. Here is a precious stone, take it to the greengrocer and try to get your vegetables in exchange for this precious stone.”
The student went to the greengrocer and handed over the precious stone to him in exchange for the vegetables. The greengrocer declined his offer and said, “I want my 50 pence and not this small stone!” The student went back to his teacher and narrated the incident to him. The teacher told him, “Now, my son, take the precious stone and go to the jeweller and make the offer to him.” When he reached the jeweller, the latter was bewildered at the fact that this young boy was in possession of such a valuable stone. He looked at him from head to toe and asked, “Where did you get this precious stone from? It seems as if you stole it from somewhere. A boy like you cannot possess such a valuable stone!” The boy explained to him with much difficulty where he obtained it from and claimed his money. Thereafter he went back to his teacher and told him what had happened. The teacher told him, “You went to the greengrocer. He does not know the value of a precious stone. How would you expect him to appreciate it? The greengrocer's shop was not the place where a precious stone could be appreciated. Yes, a jeweller is an expert in his field. Hence he knows what the price and value of this stone is. He knows the reality of it.”
Therefore, this knowledge that Allah has blessed us with, we cannot expect the greengrocer, the wealthy, the worshipper of status to appreciate and honour it. Only those fortunate ones whom Allah wills to recognize its value can do so. In our present day this is indeed very rare.
Advice of a recent wali
Once one of our pious predecessors, Shaykh al-Hadith Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya (rahimahullah), came to our Darul ‘Uloom. We beseeched him to give us some advice. He would normally refrain from speaking a lot and this is a prime characteristic of the Awliya of Allah – they say little yet the whole world benefits from them. At that time the Shaykh al-Hadith was weak and poorly. On our insistence he said, “Brothers! I will give you one piece of advice: O ‘Ulama, recognize your value.” That was all he said and left. A short sentence indeed but volumes can be written on this.
The method of appreciating knowledge
My revered father Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Saheb (rahimahullah) said, “There are two ways of recognizing how to value and appreciate knowledge: (1) become a seeker of knowledge (talib al-‘ilm) and (2) do not restrict this knowledge to knowing only.”
The first way is to develop in oneself the unquenchable thirst for knowledge. That is, to become a true talib of knowledge. One will fully appreciate something only when there is a thirst and burning desire for it – when there is an addiction. When a person has an addiction to betel leaf (paan), he is constantly seeking it. After consuming one betel leaf he will have some temporary tranquillity in his heart. But soon the same urge and desire will arise again – the insatiable desire to consume another betel leaf. Similar is the case with smoking and drugs – may Allah save us all. Thus my revered father said that we must have [a burning desire and thirst] for knowledge like that for a betel leaf.
From the cradle to the grave
The popular saying goes ‘Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave’. As far as the science of Hadith is concerned it is a fabricated Hadith. But nevertheless the meaning and message is correct. A scholar went to visit Imam Abu Yusuf (rahimahullah) on his deathbed. After talking a little about his health Imam Abu Yusuf asked the visitor, “What is more rewarding – to pelt the Shaytan at Mina on foot or mounted?” Just imagine he was on his deathbed yet such a question is preoccupying his mind. The visitor replied, “Walking is best because there is more hardship involved.” Imam Abu Yusuf said, “No”. The visitor said, “Mounted then.” Imam Abu Yusuf said, “No. To pelt the jamarat al-‘aqabah mounted and the remaining jamarat on foot is best.” The visitor says, “I left his house. After taking a few steps I heard the sound of crying coming from the house. I knew Imam Abu Yusuf had left for the next world.” This is the meaning of ‘Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave’.
Another example is that of Mufti Azizur Rahman Saheb (rahimahullah) who wrote Fatawa Azizi in ten volumes. My father said, “Before Mufti Saheb would set off for Darul Uloom in the morning he would tend to the needs of the widows in his locality. If they needed shopping done, he would do it for them. At times the widows would say to him, “Molvi Saheb, You’ve bought the wrong commodity” or “You’ve bought the wrong amount.” To this he would answer, “I shall go again.” He was the grand Mufti of India and yet he had such a humble character. History bears testimony that when the soul of this august son of Islam departed from his body he had a fatwa in his hand which fell on his chest. This is the meaning of ‘Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave’. Until we have such a thirst and desire we cannot value knowledge.
A true seeker of knowledge
My father said that a seeker of knowledge is he in whose mind a mas’alah (or matter relating to knowledge) is revolving constantly. Sadly today we have developed a sense of contentment and satisfaction with our level of knowledge. We are content with [translations of] a few books and commentaries. With regard to that in which Allah has ordered us to limit ourselves - wealth and the things of this world - we have developed insatiable greed.
Allah has said to his beloved Prophet “Say: O my Lord! increase me in knowledge”. This shows that there should be no limit to the knowledge sought by the Prophet. What then should be the case with us? Instead of [seeking more knowledge] we are doing the opposite. While the Hadith states, “Two persons are never satiated: one who is seeking knowledge and one who is seeking the world.” But unfortunately, we have confined our studies to a few [translations] and commentaries.
Convey the acquired knowledge to others
The second path that will help one to appreciate and value knowledge is to convey its benefits to others. One should not sit idle with this great wealth they have acquired. They must pass it on to others. We must ponder over the various ways of disseminating this knowledge. May Allah grant Maulana Abul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi [Paradise]. He made a beautiful analogy of the nature of a scholar. He said, “[I visualize a scholar as] a pipeline. One end is found in Madina while the other is found amongst the laymen scattered in the world.” Thus a true scholar is one who quenches himself first and then irrigates others. If he ceases his work within the masses he shall be like a blocked pipeline. The fruits of knowledge will not be reaped unless it is conveyed to others. One must always be concerned with ‘how to deliver the goods’ and for that one needs to understand the different natures of people and their problems.