Allāh describes those who hoard knowledge but don’t act upon it:
مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ حُمِّلُواْ التَّوْرَاةَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَحْمِلُوهَا كَمَثَلِ الْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَاراً بِئْسَ مَثَلُ الْقَوْمِ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُواْ بِـَايَـتِ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ لاَ يَهْدِى الْقَوْمَ الظَّـلِمِينَ
The likeness of those who were entrusted with the Tawrah, but did not carry it, is as the likeness of a donkey which carries huge burdens of books. How bad is the example of people who deny the āyāt of Allāh? And Allāh does not guide the people who are wrongdoers. [Sūrat al-Jumu’ah (62): 5]
Imām Ibn Kathīr, states in his tafsīr (exegesis) of this āyah:
“Allāh ﷻ admonishes the Jews who were entrusted with the Tawrah and were ordered to abide by it. However, they did not abide by it, and this is why Allāh ﷻ resembled them to the donkey that carries volumes of books. Surely, when the donkey carries books, it will not understand what these books contain because it is only carrying these books using its strength. This is the example of those who were entrusted with the Tawrah; they read its letter but did not understand its meanings nor abided by them.”
Every day in our ṣalāh (daily prayers) in Sūrat al-Fātiḥah, we ask Allāh ﷻ to not be from those who don’t act upon our knowledge!
The famous interpretation of the last āyah is to not be like the Jews who angered Allāh ﷻ, nor be like the Christians who went astray. Why did the Jews anger Allāh ﷻ? They knew the truth but didn’t act upon it. Why did the Christians go astray? They worshipped Allāh ﷻ based on their whims and desires, not based on revelation.
Finally, the Prophet ﷺ said: “the Qur`ān is either an evidence for you or against you.” [Muslim]
It’s an evidence for those who believe in it, recite it regularly, learn its meanings, reflect upon it and act upon it, but it’s an evidence against those who don’t do the above.
The purpose of this 3-part series of articles is to remind us of some matters important to safeguarding our īmān:
- The purpose of knowledge is to act upon it, thereby attaining nearness to Allāh ﷻ. It is not to simply gather it so one can be labelled as a learned person. It is not to argue/debate with the foolish. It is not to attract the attention of people or to be recognized by scholars. Whoever seeks knowledge for this sake, then Allāh will admit him into the Fire as the Prophet ﷺ said in Sunan at-Tirmidhī.
- It is imperative to understand that īmān is directly linked with actions. For our īmān to increase, we must increase our actions. Our īmān will not simply increase by learning any type of Islamic knowledge, hence we must occupy ourselves with knowledge that is meaningful, beneficial and appropriate at each particular stage of our development. For example, it would not be meaningful, beneficial or appropriate for a person struggling with their īmān on a daily basis to occupy their time hoping to increase their īmān with complex fiqh (jurisprudence) or ‘aqīdah (creed) issues, differences of opinion between scholars, learning Arabic grammar, the sciences of ḥadīth or the different recitations of the Qur`ān. Rather, what they must do as a matter of urgency to guard their īmān and to nurture it is to learn spirituality topics in which they will benefit from immediately, such as the meanings of the prayer, life after death, Allāh’s Names and Attributes, the biography of the Prophet ﷺ and his companions, the meanings of the basic sūrahs that they have memorised.
- We do not mean to act upon every single reminder we receive on our phones or via social media as this is too overwhelming and the fear is that we may leave good acts altogether and not want to be reminded. We have to evaluate what stage we are at – are we praying 5 daily prayers on time? If not, this is the priority? Do we have doubts about Allāh? If so, these must be cleared as a matter of urgency. When we receive these reminders, we should intend to act upon them and work towards them by first building ourselves up in the right areas and then move on to other areas. For example, if we receive a reminder about fasting on the white days of each month, what do we do? Do we act upon it, in fear of it being an evidence against us? Or do we ignore it as it’s too difficult at the moment? We take the middle path. We must prioritise the more important acts first and then build ourselves up from there with the intent of implementing this extra fasting later on, once we have mastered the basics. For example, once we are praying 5 times a day on time, every day, then we should move on to the sunnah prayers.
- Build yourself up slowly and sustainably with consistency, otherwise, you will fall!
- For those of us who are struggling with the obligatory aspects of Islām, respecting parents, praying 5 times a day on time, leaving ḥarām acts, then we should most definitely prioritise these areas as a matter of urgency before learning and acting upon other optional, less urgent areas.
O Allāh! We seek refuge in you from knowledge that does not benefit, a heart that does not fear, a soul that is not satisfied, and a supplication that is not answered.
- Understand and make this du’ā as much as you can:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لَا يَنْفَعُ وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لَا يَخْشَعُ وَمِنْ نَفْسٍ لَا تَشْبَعُ وَمِنْ دَعْوَةٍ لَا يُسْتَجَابُ لَهَا
Allāhumma innī a’ūdhu bika min ‘ilmin lā yanfa’ wa min qalbin lā yakhsha’ wa min nafsin lā tashba’ wa min da’watin lā yustajābu lahā.
“O Allāh! I seek refuge in you from knowledge that does not benefit, and from a heart that does not fear (Allāh), and from a soul that is not satisfied, and from a supplication that is not answered.” (Muslim)