The Gateway To Success

I start with the name of Allah. I praise Allah and thank Him for the blessings of Islam. I humbly ask Allah to raise the rank of our Prophet, Muhammad, and his kind Al and Companions and to protect his nation from that which he fears for them. I pray to Allah to grant us the proper intention, the ability to understand, and the reward in the Hereafter.


Knowledge is the gateway to success, as known by many; however, people understand this statement differently. The Islamic definition and concept of knowledge, and how it is a gateway to success in this world and in the Hereafter, stand as an ambiguous matter to many people--which I hope to clarify by Allah's will.

Know, may Allah have mercy on you, the high status of knowledge has been established very strongly in Islam through explicit texts in the Qur'an and the hadith as well as in the writings of the scholars of Islam. Allah said in Surat al-Mujadilah, Ayah 11:

which means: [Allah raises the ranks of those among you who believe and those who were granted the knowledge.] Also, Allah said in Surat az-Zumar, Ayah 9:

which means: [Those who know are not equal to those who do not know.] In Surat Fatir, Ayah 28, Allah said:

which means: [Those who have the knowledge fear Allah the most.] The Prophet, who is the best of the creation, in his hadith related by at-Tirmidhiyy, said:

which means: <<The merit of the true scholar over the true worshipper is like the difference in merit between my status and the status of the lowest Muslim.>> The difference in merit between the Prophet and the lowest Muslim is extremely great and likewise is the difference between the true scholar and the true worshipper--i.e., the scholar who satisfied the conditions of being a scholar, and the worshipper who satisfied the conditions and integrals of worshipping.

Imam ^Aliyy Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth caliph, said: "Knowledge is better than money because knowledge protects you whereas you protect money." Knowledge rules over things, whereas money is ruled over. Money diminishes as you spend it, whereas spending the knowledge by teaching it to others increases your reward.

Islamically, the issue of knowledge is held in high regard. This knowledge is not any knowledge per se, but rather, the knowledge of the Religion of Islam. In Surat Muhammad, Ayah 19, Allah said:

which means: [O Muhammad, be firm in knowing no one is God except Allah.] In the hadith related by al­Bayhaqiyy, the Messenger of Allah said:

which means: <<Seeking the knowledge of the Religion is obligatory on every Muslim (whether male or female).>>

The wording of this hadith includes the term "every" (kul) from which the scholars clearly understood 'the Personal Obligatory Knowledge of the Religion,' and not all kinds of knowledge. Had every kind of knowledge been obligatory on every male and every female, it would have been a hardship beyond one's ability, and Allah does not order anyone with what he cannot bear.

Imam Abul Hasan al-Ash^ariyy said: "The first obligation on the slave is to learn about Allah, His Messenger, and His Religion." The Prophet, in the hadith related by al­Bukhariyy, said:

which means: <<Whomever Allah willed goodness for makes him knowledgeable in the Religion.>> It is also understood from this hadith whomever Allah did not will goodness for, will not make him knowledgeable in the Religion, i.e., an enlightened person who implements.

Hence it is clear from what has been stated so far, the knowledge we are referring to is the Religious Knowledge of Islam. Moreover, this knowledge of the Religion entails many facets and many subjects; the knowledge of tawhid and the knowledge of the rules of the Religion are among them. The knowledge of tawhid entails knowing about Allah and His Messenger, and it is the best of all the knowledge in Islam. The scholars repeatedly emphasized the clear evidences from the Qur'an, hadith, and scholarly consensus proving the knowledge of tawhid is ranked the highest among all knowledge. This is so because it has to do with knowing about Allah and about His Messenger--knowing what befits Allah and what is impossible to be among His attributes and what befits the messengers and what would be impossible to be among the attributes of the messengers. Abu Hanifah said: "Tawhid is the 'Great Knowledge (al-fiqhul akbar)." Imam ash-Shafi^iyy said: "I mastered the knowledge of Tawhid before mastering the knowledge of the rules of the Religion."

This knowledge of tawhid is of two categories. The first category is that which is obligatory on every accountable person, (The accountable person is the one who is pubescent, sane, and has heard the Testification of Faith in a language he understands.) The accountable person is obligated to know this knowledge; hence, this category is classified among the Personal Obligatory Knowledge. Examples of this knowledge include the belief in Allah and the belief in His angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Day of Judgment, Destiny, and the like. The second category of this knowledge of tawhid is that which is obligatory that some Muslims master--but not all Muslims. This obligation is classified as a communal obligation, since if some of the Muslims have that knowledge it is no longer an obligation on the rest of the community. Examples of this category is for one to learn the proofs of the tenants of belief from the Qur'an, hadith, and intellect such that one would have the ability to refute the claims of the enemies of Islam--like the communists and the innovators of misguidance. Also among the communal obligations some Muslims must acquire are the sciences Muslims need--such as medicine, engineering, agriculture, and the like. Hence, if enough Muslims learn these sciences such that they satisfy the need of the community, it is no longer obligatory on the others.

The first category of the knowledge of tawhid, the personal obligation, has two subdivisions. The first subdivision entails knowing correctly about Allah and His Messenger and believing in it beyond doubt. If one does not know and believe this, he would not be a Muslim, and he would not escape the everlasting tortures of Hellfire. However, having satisfied this and having uttered the Testification of Faith at least once in his lifetime, but not capturing other essentials of belief and not fulfilling other obligations such as fasting and praying and the like, he would be a sinful Muslim--provided he does not deny the obligation of fasting, praying, and the like. The second subdivision entails learning the thirteen attributes of the Self of Allah which are obligatory on every accountable person to know and learning the attributes of the prophets and what follows, such as believing in the angels of Allah, the Books of Allah, the Messengers of Allah, the Day of Judgment, Destiny--what is good and evil--Paradise, and the like. If having satisfied this, one will earn for his acceptable deeds.

As to the rules of the Religion, part of this knowledge is a personal obligation. The Muslim who is accountable is obligated to learn the matters of purification (taharah), the rules of prayers, the rules of fasting, and the rules of other obligations that apply to him, like Zakat, Pilgrimage, dealings, sins of the body, and the like.

Learning the Obligatory Knowledge of the Religion makes one able to discriminate between what is lawful (halal) and what is unlawful (haram), what is valid and what is invalid, what is acceptable and what is rejected, in addition to what is classified under the Religion as good or bad. The scholars of Islam have spoken explicitly about these criteria. In the chapter entitled "Knowledge Before Saying or Committing Action," Imam al­Bukhariyy stated: "If one acquires the Obligatory Knowledge of the Religion, one acquires the ability to differentiate between what is lawful and what is unlawful, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and what is good and what is evil."

Allah said in the Qur'an in Surat at-Tahrim, Ayah 6:

which means: [O believers, protect yourselves and your families from Hellfire which is fueled by people and stone.] Imam ^Ata' Ibn Abi Rabah who was among the followers of the Companions, interpreted that verse of the Qur'an. He said: "One protects himself and his family from the tortures of Hellfire by learning how to pray, fast, sell, buy, marry, and divorce."

Allah said in Surat adh-Dhariyat, Ayah 46:

which means: [I created the jinn and humans to order them with worship.] We have been created to be ordered to worship Allah, and worshipping Allah requires knowledge. For one to have a valid worship, first one has to learn about Allah correctly and have the correct belief. Imam al-Ghazaliyy said: "The worship is only valid after knowing correctly about Allah." Hence, if one learns that knowledge of the Religion, one would know how to perform the worship; he would know what is lawful and what is unlawful and what is acceptable and what is not. By implementing this knowledge accordingly, one earns the reward on the Day of Judgment. This knowledge is not limited to particular groups of people--all people are in need of this knowledge to carry out their tasks in compliance with the rules of Allah; this includes parents, teachers, carpenters, doctors, engineers, and others.

Acquiring this knowledge is very important and entails certain essential criteria. Among the criteria for acquiring the knowledge is to be sincere to Allah in one's endeavor. To acquire the knowledge for the sake of showing off or to be recognized by people as knowledgeable or for other worldly interests renders one sinful and a loser. the one who truly wants to acquire the knowledge needs to do that in sincerity to Allah as it is evident in the following hadith of the Prophet that was related by al-Hakim:

which means: <<Once a man came to the Prophet and asked him about the one who does a deed hoping for reward from Allah and hoping to be recognized by the people. The Prophet replied, "One does not have any reward for that doing." The question was posed three times, and three times the Prophet gave the same answer. Then the Prophet said: <<Allah does not accept any deeds unless they are done in sincerity for Him.>> One must seek the reward from Allah only.

Another criterion for acquiring the knowledge is for one to receive it from knowledgeable people, and not by merely reading from books. The scholars of Islam, like al-Khatib al­Baghdadiyy, explicitly stated : "The knowledge is taken from the mouths of the scholars and not from the pages of books." The reasons are clear: one cannot ask a book about an ambiguity and receive a clarification; even a scholar might have a slip of the pen and write in his book an incorrect statement he did not intend to write; some of scholars' writings did not escape the cruelty of innovators of misguidance who planted errors in them. However, if one studied with a qualified teacher, the teacher would draw his attention to such matters. As related by at­Tirmidhiyy, the Prophet said:

which means: <<Allah facilitates a route to Paradise for the one who follows a certain route seeking the knowledge of the Religion.>> From that hadith, some scholars understood one leaves ones place to seek the knowledge, that is, one goes to the people of knowledge to pursue it and not simply to read a book on one's own.

Another criterion for acquiring the knowledge is to be neither shy nor arrogant in acquiring that knowledge. Imam Mujahid, who was a follower of the Companions (Tabi^in), said: "The one who is shy or arrogant does not acquire the knowledge." Hence, the one who wants to acquire the knowledge and arrive at the truth of a matter should not be shy in acquiring the knowledge nor arrogant. One should acquire the knowledge in order to gain the benefit regardless of one's age or social status.

In praising the women of al-Ansar, Lady ^A'ishah said:

which means: "Praised are the women of al-Ansar; (The Ansar are the people of al-Madinah who supported the Prophet; those who received the Prophet in al­Madinah when he immigrated there.) their shyness did not stop them from acquiring the knowledge of the Religion."

Also among the criteria for acquiring the knowledge is to take that knowledge from someone who has that knowledge--because he who does not have the knowledge cannot give it. In addition to this, that person must be trustworthy. Therefore, the knowledge is acquired from someone who is knowledgeable and trustworthy. In what was related by Imam Muslim, Imam Ibn Sirin said :

which means: "This knowledge is religion, so look thoroughly at whomever you take your religion from." One should stop for a moment and remind himself of far simpler matters: If one was seeking a particular university, one would spend a great deal of time looking into and checking the different levels of universities to determine which was better; if one needed a treatment from a doctor, one would usually look for a recognized specialist; if one wanted a house to be built, one would search for the best qualified in that field. Most definitely the knowledge of the Religion is a far higher priority, and one needs to look thoroughly at whom he will take that knowledge from.

Those who seek the knowledge endeavor and exert the effort in acquiring that knowledge. In reviewing the history of the great scholars of Islam, one will find they traveled extensively and covered long distances at a time when no airplanes, cars, or vessels were available. They used to ride a camel for months to cross the desert to get a reply on a certain case, or to acquire one chapter of knowledge from the trustworthy and knowledgeable teachers. Ibn Rislan said:

which means: "If one does not find a teacher where he is residing, then let him go to where he can find a trustworthy knowledgeable teacher."

Among the criteria for acquiring the knowledge is for the student to observe the proper manners with their teachers. This is part of acquiring the knowledge, and it has many secrets. This is why a person like Imam ash-Shafi^iyy turned the pages of his book so softly in the presence of his teacher, Imam Malik. To acquire the knowledge without disturbing his teachers, ^Abdullah Ibn ^Abbas, a family member of the Prophet, used to wait without knocking at the door of other Companions, until that Companion came out.

Also among these criteria is for the knowledgeable person to implement that knowledge and perform according to it. Al-Junayd al-Baghdadiyy said a piece of poetry in Arabic which means: "It is a great contravention that there are some who have knowledge but do not implement it and commit enormous sins instead. Worse than that, however, is a person drowning in ignorance who pretends to be a pious person."

The one who acquires the knowledge, satisfying the criteria for acquiring it usually becomes sincerely more humble. This humility is a sign of knowledge and is oftenly in the heart and it appears on the outside. Yet, the humility of the heart entails more than talking softly or lowering one's gaze in a shay manner. Some swindlers talk softly and lower their gazes in a shy manner, yet their hearts are like rocks. The more knowledgeable one is, the more aware one becomes of the greatness of the Creator and the littleness of one's self and the more aware of the fact one only acquired the knowledge Allah enabled him to acquire.

Imam Ahmad ar-Rifa^iyy, may Allah raise his rank, used to have 100,000 people in his session. All of them would hear his lesson without the aid of auditory equipment. Out of humility, he used to say about himself, "I am no one."

Imam ^Aliyy said: "The people of knowledge are of three categories: First, a scholar who implements his knowledge--the one who has observed the criteria for acquiring the knowledge, followed the footsteps of the Prophet in his teachings, was obedient to Allah, and was not among those who strayed as a result of contradicting the methodologies prescribed by the Prophet. Second, one who learns and is on the path of success--the one who learns following the proper methodology, implementing the rules, and observing the criteria. Third, those who do not have the knowledge--the one who does not seek to acquire the knowledge in the proper manner, rather he follows any speaker who says anything out of ignorance."

This third type runs rampant in this country and in other places and is of great danger. We see many people stand on platforms and address masses of people, while they, themselves, are ignorant. They lead themselves astray, and they lead their listeners astray. This is of grave concern, and we need to be very cautious.

The cure for the diseases, shortcomings, and agonies many of our communities face depends on the extent of our obedience to Allah in applying the rules of the Religion and our degree of sincerity in doing that. The one who learns the Religion and implements it satisfying the methodologies and criteria discussed is pious and sincere. If such a person wants to marry, he conducts his marriage in a valid manner. He observes what is lawful and unlawful in the marital relationship, he fulfills his obligations, and he fears Allah. Since he knows how to have a valid marriage contract, his children will not be a result of adultery. He eats and drinks what is lawful, dresses in what is lawful, and lives in a lawful place, because he differentiates between what is lawful and what is unlawful. He does not take someone else's place by force and he does not cheat others because he observes the rights of others. If he goes out to buy things, he does so in a lawful manner, because he learned how to transact and do business according to the rules of the Religion. He implements the great manners the Prophet taught. This person performs his prayer in a valid way because he knows what makes prayer would acceptable to Allah. Likewise, his fasting, dry purification (Tayammum), Pilgrimage (Hajj), Purification, and the other aspects would be performed in a valid manner. He does all of that in sincerity to Allah because he knows this is a condition for earning the reward, the blessings, and the benefits in this life and in the Hereafter.

Once the members of the community attain these qualities, the relationships that govern them will improve, and the society at large will improve. The one who is sincere and knowledgeable and rich will spend in the ways of Allah--out of generosity, love, and seeking the reward from Allah. Also, the one who is poor, like other pious who were poor will have complete reliance on Allah and will implement the hadith of the Prophet:

which means: <<If you rely on Allah the reliance due to Him then Allah will sustain you and provide for you as He provides for the bird. The bird flies away from its nest in the morning hungry, yet returns with a full stomach.>> Allah will provide for the one who is poor and sincere, who has the proper reliance on Allah, just as Allah provides for the bird.

Examples of success in this life are to have a valid marriage, buy and sell lawfully, be knowledgeable and implement the knowledge, and perform the prayers, fasting, and Pilgrimage in a valid manner. The one who is knowledgeable will be led by his knowledge to piety and sincerity. The one who is pious will fall under the Qudsiyy hadith of the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam: Allah said:

which means: <<Allah said, I prepared for My pious worshippers in Paradise that which no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no one thought of before.>>

This is the ultimate success--the success in the Hereafter. The person who acquires the knowledge as it is prescribed in Islam enters the gateway to success in this life and in the Hereafter. So be eager to acquire that knowledge; be eager to be around the scholars; and be eager to associate with the scholars, for the Messenger of Allah said:

which means: <<The example of the scholars on earth is like the stars in the heavens with which one guides oneself through the darkness of land and sea.>> At-Tabaraniyy related the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam, in highlighting the importance of the scholars, said::

which means: <<The death of an entire tribe is easier than the death of one scholar.>>

Be warned of those ignorant people the Prophet spoke about in his hadith related by at-Tirmidhiyy:

which means: <<Allah does not take away the knowledge by ordering it pulled away from the people. Allah takes the knowledge away by making the scholars die. When no scholar remains, people take for themselves ignorant leaders whom they ask for religious answers. These leaders will answer them with ignorance, thus straying themselves and others.>>

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