It has been recorded in the biography of the great Imām, the mountain of ḥadīth, Imām Ṣufyān ath-Thawri, may Allāh ﷻ have mercy on him, that his mother once said to him when he was young:
‘O my son! Seek knowledge, and I will, with my spinning wheel, provide enough for you to live on. O my son! When you have written down ten aḥādīth (traditions of the Prophet ﷺ), look and see if you notice an improvement in the way you walk, in your level of patience, and in your degree of self-dignity. For if you do not see any such improvement, then know that your knowledge harms you and does not benefit you.’
Throughout the Qur`ān, the Sunnah, and the actions of the great ṣaḥābah (companions of the Prophet ﷺ), may Allāh ﷻ be pleased with them, there is a huge emphasis on acting upon and internalising the knowledge that we learn. Indeed, belief and action are tied closely together, and are inseparable from each other. Allāh ﷻ connects belief and action several times in the Qur`ān:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ الصَّـلِحَاتِ
“Verily, those who believe and do righteous deeds…”
Allāh ﷻ also says:
فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلأاللَّهُ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ
“So know that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and seek forgiveness for your sin…” [Sūrah Muḥammad (47): 19]
By analysing this great āyah, we find that Allāh ﷻ has taught us the knowledge: ‘there is none worthy of worship except Allāh ﷻ’ and then He teaches us the action: ‘and seek forgiveness for your sin.’
This is the link and the correct balance between knowledge and action.
- Understand the knowledge – that Allāh ﷻ is the only One worthy of worship
- Turn this knowledge into action – now we should worship Allāh ﷻ, and a particular act of worship is to seek forgiveness from Allāh ﷻ.
The first part is to seek knowledge and the second part is to act upon it.
The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Three things follow the deceased person; two of them return while one remains behind with him. His family, his wealth and his deeds follow him to his grave. His family and his wealth return while his deeds remain.’ [Muslim]
We are all alone in our graves with only our good actions to help us. No family will be there to hold our hand, no wealth will be there to buy protection. Either we rejoice in our good deeds or we lament our bad deeds.
Having said this, a person may raise the question: ‘in the grave, we are asked about who our Lord is, what our dīn is and who was the Messenger sent to us, which are knowledge-based questions, so how can we reconcile between this and what has been said above?’
Answer: Allāh ﷻ will only give us the ability to answer these questions if we acted upon them in our lives in this world.
Another version of the narration of answering the questions in the grave has an addition, which adds, ‘He (the man who correctly answered the questions of the grave) will be told: ‘You have said the truth; you have lived on this, died on this and will be resurrected upon this.’ Click here for further information on this as found in Tafsīr ibn Kathīr.
To understand this concept further, let us narrate to you the story of the shaykh and the parrot:
There was once a shaykh who was teaching his students matters of ‘aqīdah (Islamic creed). He taught them ‘Lā ilāha illallāh’ and explained its meanings and its conditions to them.
The shaykh loved keeping pets, so he was gifted a pet parrot by one of his students. As time passed, the shaykh became fond of the parrot so he used to take it to his lessons, until the parrot learned to repeat ‘Lā ilāha illallāh’. The parrot would utter it day and night.
One day, the students found their shaykh crying and sobbing. When they enquired about this, he told them that a cat attacked the parrot and killed it. The students replied: ‘Is this the reason why you are crying, O shaykh? If you wish, we will gift you another parrot better than that one!’
The shaykh said, ‘I’m not crying because of this. You see, throughout the life of the parrot, it would frequently utter lā ilāha illallāh day and night. However, when it was attacked by the cat, it didn’t say lā ilāha illallāh. It did nothing but scream! The parrot used to say this heavy statement with the tongue but its heart didn’t learn it. I am afraid to be like this parrot! We live our lives repeating lā ilāha illallāh with our tongues, but when death approaches us, we forget it and are unable to say it because we didn’t internalise it.’
When his students heard this, they began to weep because they feared a lack of honesty in their frequent uttering of ‘lā ilāha illallāh’.
So, you see, my dear readers, if we don’t allow our statements and actions to reach our hearts, if we don’t say or do them with meaning, then how do we expect to benefit from them? If all of our prayers are just statements and actions of the body, whilst our minds are wandering off elsewhere, heedless that Allāh ﷻ is in front of us, heedless of the heavy statements we are reciting, then how can we benefit from our prayers?
How do we expect to keep our connection with Allāh ﷻ, let alone create a solid connection?
I leave you to reflect upon the statement of the great companion, Ibn Mas’ūd, may Allāh ﷻ be pleased with him, who said:
“It was difficult for us to memorize the wording of the Qur`ān but it was easy for us to act upon it. For the people who came after us, it was easy for them to memorize the Qur`ān but difficult for them to act upon it.”
We ask Allāh to allow us to act upon what we learn and make our scale of good deeds outweigh our scale of bad deeds!