In order for our life to acquire depth, elegance, and meaning, and thus become beautiful, we must avoid wastefulness and other negative qualities. In fact, wastefulness is the forerunner of the destruction in the individual and the family, as well as in society.
All the bounties bestowed upon us are trusts. If they are not delivered to their proper places but are squandered in heedlessness and lust, Allah the Almighty removes his blessing.
Profligacy should not be thought of as merely the waste of property and possessions: it is a danger in all areas of life. We have seen that spending one’s life in vain is a kind of profligacy. Occupying oneself with useless knowledge, and misuse of knowledge for selfish reasons, are also profligate behavior.
The pursuit of knowledge is a sacred activity that satisfies the wonder produced in us by creation: such is the human desire to learn. That desire represents the apex of human nature. It is the love of knowledge that leads the faithful to wish to know Allah the Almighty, to thank Him, and to exalt Him by ritual acts.
The noblest form of knowledge is the personal knowledge of Allah (ma’rifat Allâh), which is the ability to recognize Allah in one’s heart. This transitory world resembles a classroom where an examination is being held. Under the circumstances, to busy oneself with knowledge that does not lead to the recognition of Allah, that does not ultimately produce wisdom and nurture the encounter with Truth in the heart, is a waste of the human drive to learn.
In the noble Qur’an, authentic knowledge is accompanied by deep feeling, namely mindfulness and surrender to Allah. We read:
Is he who offers devotions in the watches of the night, prostrate and standing, mindful of the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, (to be accounted equal with a disbeliever)? Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Are those who know equal with those who know not? But only people of understanding will pay heed. (az-Zumar, 39/9).
If we consider this verse carefully, we can differentiate knowledge and ignorance using divine criteria. Should we wish to be among those who know wisdom and truth, we should observe the following conditions:
During the night we should pray to Allah the Almighty, prostrate and standing, so that our hearts feel present with Him.
At every moment, in the course of all states and behaviors, we should be conscious of the accounting in the Hereafter.
We should constantly take refuge in our Lord, hoping for His mercy.
We should pursue a life guided by mindfulness of Allah, and so draw closer to Him.
We should protect ourselves from negative attributes that push one away from Allah the Almighty. We should make an effort to manifest the attributes of beauty, cultivating beautiful character traits in ourselves, particularly generosity.
We should maintain an awareness of being under divine observation, for it is as if all our actions are recorded by divine cameras.
We should try our best to protect our hearts from greed and worldly ambition .
We should be patient when difficulties arise concerning the implementation of religious rules and the communication of religious teachings.
If we would like to avoid being among “those who do not know,” here are their attributes.
Faithlessness and ingratitude.
Asking Allah for help in times of difficulty, but forgetting about Him in times of ease.
Setting up something else as equal to Allah, with the intention of leading people astray or as a result of indulging one’s selfish desires. Certainly Allah says:
Have you seen him who chose for his god his own lust?(Furqân, 43).
All of the sciences consist of discovering the rules and laws established by Allah to govern beings and events. Advancement in science depends upon increasing such discoveries. However, identifying the rules and laws established by Allah to govern beings and events is not the knowledge that leads servants to wisdom. That sacred and most desirable kind of knowledge consists of more than simple observation.
The most desirable knowledge results in our understanding the reasons behind our coming to this world and our departing from it. It encompasses understanding the language of all beings, and discovering their secrets. To know in this way is to solve the secret of creation, to be familiar with wisdom, and to possess a heart competent to receive its share from the disclosure of divine majesty and the flow of divine power.
To know is to find that which is really necessary. And the noble Qur’an states that the most necessary of all things is to die in a state of surrender to Allah.
To know is to set oneself free from the slavery of the animal self before it dies, and to awaken to the dawn of truth. To know is to interrogate ourselves before Allah does it for us.
Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî dove into the ocean of divine knowledge through deepening his understanding of outward religious knowledge. He spoke of his lifetime as divided into three stages. He characterized the early period, when he reached the zenith of the exoteric sciences but did not taste the pleasure of being closer to Truth, by saying “I was raw.” He characterized the middle period, when he received the disclosures of wisdom in his heart and reached divine pleasure, by saying “I was cooked.” And he characterized the period of maturity, when the secrets in the cosmos became readable like a book, by saying, “I am burnt.”
Spiritual sensitivity increases with advancing knowledge. True knowledge makes a person a traveler through a valley of wonders. The more one gets to know the wisdom and truth built into the cosmos, the more one becomes aware of the fact that one is weak, limited, and useless by oneself.. That realization is self-knowledge, and whoever knows himself, knows his Lord.
One, who knows, knows the true owner of creation, the king of the only kingdom. Such a person becomes an abundant source of tenderness and mercy to creatures, because of their Creator.
One who knows, forgives; one who knows, perseveres; one who knows, loves. One who knows seeks the good pleasure of his Lord and intimacy with Him. For such a person, self-sacrifice is joy.
One who knows does not hurt others and cannot be hurt by others. Such people are emotionally very strong and do not live under the influence of unconscious feelings. Their language is the language of compassion.
One who knows, if she has to choose between pleasing Allah and pleasing His servants, chooses the good pleasure of Allah.
One who knows tries to be with the One, his Lord, in every situation – “standing up, sitting down, or lying on his side.”
One who knows always engages in contemplation, is aware of the divine magnificence and the flow of divine power through the universe. Politeness, elegance, and sensitivity become his essential nature.
One who knows is a person of heart and spirituality.
One who knows finds peace and happiness everywhere and in any situation.
One who knows feels responsible for other people and for society.
One who knows is aware of the fact that her country, nation, and flag are all entrusted to him. This is because protection of faith, family, property, and life all depend on the protection of the country and the nation from destructive influences.
One who knows commits himself to the spiritual life in order to become free from the slavery of the animal self.
One who knows is set free from playing with the deceitful toys of the transitory world. He keeps her fleeting possessions out of her heart.
One who knows sets himself free from rudeness of heart, from the evils of fame and lust.
One who knows has such maturity of heart that when he encounters the attractive invitations of wealth, fame, and desire, she is able to say “I take refuge in Allah.”
One who knows understands his nothingness before the divine majesty. One who knows, knows that he does not know anything.
One who knows gets rid of foolishness and is aware of what he should know.
One who knows experiences the pleasure of showing mercy, serving others, and being humble, for these are the fruits of having faith, and he experiences the taste of faith.
One who knows, marvels at beauty. That is, he admires the wonderful examples of divine art in the cosmos.
One who knows understands the language of the universe, because everything talks to the one who knows.
One who knows experiences the harmony between the intuitions of the intellect and those of the heart.
One who knows constantly experiences the love and ecstasy flowing from faith.
One who knows has a share in direct personal knowledge of Allah.
One who knows moves from the cause to the Causer, from the effect to the Effective, from the art to the Absolute Artist.
One who knows his Lord in his heart knows everything. One who does not know Him cannot know anything, for people become foolish when their hearts are blind.
The Messenger of Allah, who is the best among those who know the Lord, said, “If you knew what I know, you would laugh seldom and cry often…You would go out to the desert and pray to Allah with fervent cries.”(Ibn Mâja, Zuhd, 19).
When `Umar (r.a), the second caliph, passed away, Abdullah ibn Mas’ûd (r.a) remarked, “Nine -tenths of knowledge has now departed.”
Other Companions objected. “There are still knowledgeable people among us!” they observed.
But Ibn Mas’ûd answered, “I am talking about inner knowledge, not outer knowledge.”
In the noble Qur’an, Allah declares:
…among His servants, only people of knowledge fear Allah.(Fâtir, 35/28)
As the holy verse indicates, knowledge that does not evoke the feeling of surrender and the fear of Allah in one’s heart is not the kind of knowledge that meets with Allah’s good pleasure, the merits of which are mentioned in the Qur’an and in Prophetic traditions.
Certainly, the worldly sciences are needed insofar as they are used properly. Indeed, the worldly sciences, through their progress, have provided human understanding with new evidences of the magnificence of Allah. Thus they contribute to human appreciation of the splendor of the divine art and its wonderful disclosure. In this regard, the undertakings of science, from astrophysics to genetics to the wonders achieved by technology, indeed all the scholarly activities and their applications, serve the discovery of the flow of divine power in the cosmos.
In the noble Qur’an, Allah states:
We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves until it is clear to them that it is the truth. Does not your Lord suffice as witness over all things?(Fussilat, 41/53)
The point of seeking knowledge is to learn the secrets of the physical and metaphysical realms so as to reach deeper understanding of Allah. That is, in addition to affirming the existence of the Creator, one’s heart should be capable of seeing how divine power flows through things and how Allah’s might is disclosed in them. What a pity some hearts are so sick with ignorance that they cannot grasp the divine art despite all the advancement in sciences and so many discoveries!
Those who commit injustice by misusing knowledge for personal advantage are indeed unfaithful to knowledge itself. This means that they are wasteful of their own minds and hearts. In order for any knowledge to become useful, the intellect and will that produce it must be educated by Qur’anic and Prophetic teachings. Then the results of the search for knowledge may cure the raw egotism and weaknesses from which mankind suffers. If a scholar lacks such an education in religious principles, his knowledge may lead him into dangerous paths so that he becomes a means of leading people astray.
Unfortunately, today when students are examined to determine whether they can pursue advanced studies, the only accepted criterion is their mental abilities. No one bothers with asking whether a student has the virtues and merits of heart that will enable him to assume the responsibilities of the science he wishes to learn. Yet in order to obtain eternal happiness and salvation, studying something externally is not sufficient.
Take for example the case of a student of law. If his study is not guided by spiritual knowledge, he may support injustice and cruelty with his legal knowledge, instead of supporting right and justice. Or take a student of medicine: she may turn out to be a professional killer instead of helping people to recover! A manager with the mental capacity for learning business, if he lacks the feeling of mercy and love, may end up as a tyrant over his employees. Through their professional knowledge, such people may cause much more harm than uneducated people are capable of producing.. And if they use their knowledge wrongfully and wastefully, they may be destined to eternal disappointment.
Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî clarifies this point in his Mathnawî:
A talented person may be envied. But take heed of the case of the Devil, and (if your knowledge is not in harmony with your heart) do not be too impressed with yourself. Don’t forget that the condemned Iblîs, cast away from the divine mercy, was one of the closest beings to Allah for thousands of years: he was the chief of the angels. Yet he became proud of his knowledge and worship, and so behaved badly, taking issue with the creation of Adam (pbuh). Iblis despised Adam, and as a result he was disgraced.
If the knowledge you acquire guides you to truth, to reality, to mindfulness, and to good deeds, then it is genuine knowledge. We should not forget that the Devil had knowledge, and that Qârûn (who set up the Golden Calf) had knowledge as well. But their knowledge inflated their egos and led them to extreme pride and arrogance. They could not control the desires originating from their lower selves, and they trusted themselves too much.
Certainly, knowledge that leads people to boastful display and arrogance and thus to disappointment may outwardly produce beautiful and useful things. Is it not a grave responsibility? This is why when the Messenger of Allah prayed to Allah for knowledge, he always said: “O my Lord! I ask You for useful knowledge! I take refuge in You from useless knowledge!.. (Muslim, Dhikr, 73).
There are different kinds of useful knowledge. Just as knowledge of basic Islamic practice (fiqh) is indispensable, so knowledge concerning turning to Allah, sincerity, and avoiding hypocrisy is also indispensable. If one neglects the latter, one may be disappointed in the Hereafter. Those who do not obtain the most useful knowledge, no matter how many other things they know, may be deprived of reaching the only Truth, our Lord.
Imam Ghazâlî warns against the waste of time and effort when studying sciences:
The sciences that you study should be such that they illuminate your heart and beautify your character. Suppose you knew that you had only one week left in your life. Immediately, and for the rest of that limited time, you would turn to useful knowledge. You would meditate on your situation, cut your ties to worldly desires and try to be the best person you could be. But it is certain that on any night or any day we live, we may possibly die. Accordingly, the studies that you prefer to engage should be such that they make you sensitive regarding the divine greatness and guide you to enhance your spirituality.
The acquisition of knowledge requires suffering difficulties, yet its value only emerges when it is implemented in life. Acquiring knowledge but not implementing it is meaningless labor under the burden of useless weight. It turns a scholar into a porter, or as the Qur’an says, “a donkey carrying books.” If knowledge is not well digested and put into practice, if it does not influence our behavior, if it does not become part of our personality and reach the level of recognition of Allah, if it does not direct the servant toward self-effacement, humility, and the elimination of arrogance, then it is immoderate and all the effort spent acquiring it is wasted.
One should not forget that Allah the Almighty entrusted all truths and secrets to humanity in the noble Qur’an. The essence of all sciences is contained in it. Whatever is found in the cosmos, “dry or moist,” (An’am, 6/59) has a place in the Qur’anic treasury. Allah the Almighty says:
The All-Compassionate has taught the Qur’an. He has created the human being. He has taught him speech. (Rahmân, 55/1-4).
The Qur’an consists of the latest instructions and messages of Allah the Almighty to humanity. The kind of knowledge that our nation and world need the most, today, is the kind of knowledge found in the Qur’an. This is why we must pay attention to learning it properly. However, in order to understand the Qur’an properly, one must enter into its realm of spirituality, and one must have the property of mindfulness, which is an attitude of heart. Indeed the Qur’an warns believers:
…when they are reminded of the revelations of their Lord, they do not fall deaf and blind thereat.(Furqân, 25/73).
…And verily we have struck for humanity in this Qur’an all kinds of similitudes, that perhaps they may reflect(az-Zumar, 39/27).
Thus the Qur’an urges us to form a profound relationship with it. But in order to establish such a relationship, it is necessary for us to purify our hearts as we purify our bodies for worship. And for that, we need spiritual education. We also read in the Qur’an:
Will they not then meditate on the Qur’an? Or are there locks on their hearts? (Muhammad ,47/24)
Truly he succeeds who purifies it (his inner being, from bad character traits)(Shams, 91/9).
Our guide, the noble Qur’an, invites us to reflection. Since the noble Qur’an announces the divine will, some people, those who are spiritually closer to Allah the Almighty, will grasp its message better that others. Nut as it is stated in the noble Qur’an:
…So fear Allah; Allah teaches you… (Baqarah, 2/282).
This is why every verse in the Qur’an is open to us according to the level to which our heart belongs.
In the noble Qur’an, Allah warns the whole Muslim community in the person of the Prophet (pbuh) :
…if you follow their wishes after knowledge has come to you, then truly you shall have from Allah no protecting friend nor defender. (Ra`d, 13/37)
The fact that our Lord describes the noble Qur’an as “knowledge” indicates that for Muslims the first imperative of study is the Qur’an, and culture based on the Qur’an. No authentic Muslim intellectual life without reference to the Qur’an can be conceived. Unfortunately, some people in our time have demoted the study of the noble Qur’an to a subsidiary affair.
It is quite sad that some believers think that the Qur’anic education we provide our children need not be serious and long. They prefer short programs like summer schools or weekend courses, as if they were trying to dispose of an unwanted burden! Parents also neglect the dimension of meaning in their children’s Qur’anic education. They tend to put emphasis simply on the recitation of the Qur’an, but not on the instructions in the Qur’an.
To undervalue the noble Qur’an, the greatest divine gift to humanity, and belittle the Qur’anic schools while elevating the study of other things, is to search for a bright future in a blind alley. For humanity needs spiritual nourishment more than it needs material nourishment.
How beautiful is Mawlânâ Rûmi’s saying:
Do not feed your body so much! After all, it is a sacrificial victim that will be delivered to the soil. But feed your heart as much as you can, for it is your heart that will ascend to honor. Feed the spirit with spiritual nourishment. Feed it with mature thinking, subtle understanding, and other spiritual delicacies so that it becomes powerful when it goes where it is supposed to go.
Worldly desires are like chains binding our spiritual life. If your heart is filled with self-interest, you cannot reach the presence of Allah. Inclination toward worldly desires is like a stone bound on your back: as long as it is there, you can neither swim nor fly. If a believer does not occupy himself with truth, he occupies himself with falsehood. Sa`dî of Shîrâz expressed it well: “The souls of the heedless who follow their worldly desires are disgusted with themselves.”
It is a terrible confusion to look for happiness by pursuing wretched immoral actions! The goal that will guarantee our future happiness is not the attainment of some diploma handed out by mortals like ourselves, but the good pleasure of Allah the Almighty. Allah warns:
…The treasures of the heavens and the earth belong to Allah; but the hypocrites do not comprehend.(Munafiqûn, 63/7).
Let us not forget: the spirit that will give shape to societies is not the spirit of selfish pedants who memorize large numbers of books, but the spirit of those who deepen their hearts with wisdom drawn from the Qur’an and who are a source of mercy and peace for society. That is the spirit of people mindful of Allah, the faithful who love serving others.
The poet Mehmet Âkif gives the prescription that may cure the problems of humanity:
By taking inspiration directly from the Qur’an We can teach the age to understand the value of Islam…
O my Lord! May you protect us from the suffering of those unfortunates who take their wretchedness to be happiness, since they lack the true happiness that emanates from the Qur’an! May you grant us the opportunity to examine ourselves before you question us in the Hereafter and thus become servants with mature hearts! May you protect us from profligately wasting our eternal life through our transitory passions and ignorance in this world!
. See Âl-Imrân, 3/102
. See Âl-Imrân, 3/191.
. See Yusuf, 12/23.
. See Jum’ah, 62/5