The ’learned’ are the ‘inheritors of the prophets’ but not the ‘learned’ we know!

[Al-u’lama warathat al-anbiya walakinhum laysa al-u’lama alladheena na’arafhum]

Sawt Al-Umma Issue 97
October 7th, 2002

Property markets collapse … Financial resources go to waste … The social fabric comes apart … Good health is displaced by sickness … Intellect weakens … Only our spiritual wealth remains…a wealth that nourishes our feelings with the taste of faith, wisdom and friendly persuasion.

An ancient poet once wrote ‘ Consider this run down caravanserai….at its door the days follow the nights….look how sultan after sultan come to this place with all their grandeur …they stay for the time ordained to them and then leave on their way.’  The door through which we arrived is the door through which we will leave. If we arrived like water we will leave like the wind and between arriving and leaving a man can be summed up in a single word – good, evil, tolerant stubborn, criminal, respectable, crooked, honorable, believer or atheist.  Choose for yourself whichever word you wish. Choose now while you can. What Allah and His Messenger [s.a.a.w.s.] have allowed [Ar: al-halal] is clear. So too is that which Allah and His Messenger [s.a.a.w.s] have prohibited [Ar: al-haram].  If a cat steals a piece of meat from your table, it will run away from you because it knows it’s doing something wrong. If you feed the cat the same piece of food it will sit submissively and contentedly on your lap. Even a cat knows the difference between al-halal and al-haram.  So what about a man?  Seek in your heart and you shall find – on condition   your heart is purified by faith.

Allah’s Messenger [s.a.a.w.s.] said: ‘al-halal is clear and al-haram is clear. Between the two are blurred or indistinct areas [mushab-bahat] unknown to numerous people. Whoever avoids these indistinct areas has saved his religion and honor, and whoever falls into these areas is like a shepherd circling around another’s property into which he is about to trespass. Every king has his protectorate. Surely Allah has a protectorate which on earth is what He has prohibited. Surely inside the body is a piece of flesh. If this piece of flesh is whole then the entire body is whole. If it is corrupted, then the entire body is corrupted. It is the heart’ [Al Bukhari Part 1 pp 34; Number 52]

If we were to illustrate this hadith into a simple canvas to convey its meaning to the intellect so that it eventually rests in the heart; let us imagine a road passing through the countryside. Green fields spread out into the distance on either side. A flock of sheep are being herded along the road. The immediate instinct of the sheep is to run off into the fields but the ever watchful shepherd prevents them from leaving the confines of the road. Although it is very tiring for the shepherd to remain so vigilant, it maybe for the sheep’s protection. He knows the fields are sprayed with chemical pesticides which will harm the sheep. Let us then imagine the shepherd falls asleep. With no supervision, the sheep take their chance to run off into the crops destroying the vegetation and themselves in the process. In a second picture, let us imagine a group of people who have no experience in dealing with sheep come along the road and see what is happening. They run into the fields trying to round up the sheep and bring them back to the road…the middle way. So what will happen? Because they have no experience dealing with sheep their efforts are futile. They not only exhaust themselves but exhaust the sheep and are unable to save the sheep from themselves or to save the vegetation they are eating. In a third picture, let us imagine that a wise man comes down the road from a different direction. He sees what is happening and asks the people what they are doing. They tell him they are trying to round up the sheep and get them back on the road. “That’s not the way to do it” he tells them. He then walks over to the shepherd and wakes him up. The shepherd blows his whistle and the sheep recognizing the sound of their master return to the road with no effort.

Allah says in the Quran: “Allah makes parables for people and Allah has knowledge of everything” [Al-Nur: 35]. So what is the meaning of this parable? The green fields on either side of the road [which are poisonous or harmful] and which the sheep desire so much represent what is haram or what is prohibited by Allah and His Messenger [s.a.a.w.s.]; while the sheep represent our sensory organs – hands, eyes, tongue etc. The shepherd represents the heart which controls the sensory organs and prevents them from trespassing into what is prohibited no matter how green or enticing. Just as it’s true that all that glitters is not gold, so too, not everything you can eat can be digested. The people who, without understanding or experience, try to round up the sheep and bring them back to the road represent the clerics and preachers who try in vain to cure the sick by preaching. This is not to say the clerics and preachers are of no benefit. Their benefit is like those who practice preventive medicine. They can only warn about the dangers of disease. They can try to prevent disease before it occurs but they are unable to cure it. The benefit is limited to prevention but not change. Change has its own doctors. They are the sheikhs and the learned [Ar: u’lama] who specialize in the treatment and cure of disease. They have been given the means and the power by Allah to ‘wake the shepherd’ or to wake or revive the heart and make it whole again. The man who woke the shepherd in the parable was one of them. He is a different kind of man about whom the Quran says: ‘Those who fear Allah among His servants are the learned’ [Fatir: 28]. They are the ‘inheritors of the prophets’ They know how to speak to hearts. They wake the heart and it calls to its subjects…its sheep..which are the sensory organs which are then able to remain steadfastly obedient to Allah away from caprice and what is prohibited and harmful.

The ‘learned’ can be likened to batteries. They are not like ‘dry’ batteries which expire with time and repeated use nor are they like batteries that can be occasionally recharged. They are like batteries that are permanently linked to a dynamo which is constantly recharging them as and when required. The dynamo charge represents the blessings and support [Ar: al-madad] which Allah gives to the learned. The Quran says: ‘Fear Allah and Allah will give you knowledge’ [Al-Baqara: 282].  But who are the ‘learned’ The prophet [s.a.a.w.s] said: ‘Whoever pursues a road seeking knowledge Allah will lead him to one of the roads of paradise. Angels will lower their wings contented with the seeker of knowledge. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth and the fish in the water ask Allah to forgive the learned man. The favor granted to the man of knowledge over one who worships is like the favor granted to the full moon over the other heavenly bodies. The learned are the inheritors of the prophets. The prophets did not bequeath dinars or dirhams as their inheritance is nothing but knowledge. Whoever is granted this inheritance has been granted abundance’ [Abu Daoud, Vol, 4 pp 57-58, #3641]. Here we must ask ourselves whether anyone who reads or studies should be considered to be among the ‘learned’ or if anyone who is awarded an academic degree should count himself among the ‘inheritors of the prophets’. The answer to both questions is negative. The prophets did not acquire knowledge by reading or study. Some of them did not read or write. What books did they read and which courses did they take? Were there learned people who came before them from whom they were taught this knowledge? No. They were granted knowledge from the source of all knowledge which is Allah. In the same way, because the learned also receive knowledge from the source they are the only true ‘inheritors of the prophets’ who are defined by the way they receive knowledge. They do not gather it from books or academic research but receive it from Allah as a gift. The Quran says: ‘Then We bequeathed the Book as an inheritance to those of Our slaves whom we chose’ [Al-Fatir: 32] The ‘inheritors of the prophets’ are the learned. Academic scholars and clerics, no matter how learned, are not the true learned. Real knowledge is the knowledge of the prophets and the learned and a gift from the source of all knowledge. The Quran says: ‘We granted one of Our slaves mercy from Us and taught him some of Our knowledge’ [Al-Kahf: 65] The ‘slaves’ spoken of here are given knowledge not as something earned by them but as a gift which Allah gives to whoever He chooses.

Whereas the prophets are governed by religious law [Ar: al-shara’] and by Allah’s permission, the Saints [Ar: al-awliya] which is another name for the ‘learned’ or the ‘inheritors of the prophets’ are unrestricted by Allah’s power and permission on condition their will accords with the will of Allah [‘Allah attaches whatever he determines of His will with the will of whomsoever of His slaves He chooses and Allah does whatever He wills’]. If a person has the knowledge and ability to do something he has freedom of choice. If a person does not have the knowledge or the ability to do something, then he does not have freedom of choice. A person who has freedom of choice is accountable for his actions because he has knowledge and ability. A person who does not have freedom of choice is not accountable because he does not have knowledge or ability. A person who has freedom of choice is called the ‘slave of the Command’ [Ar: a’bd al-amr] while a person who does not have freedom of choice is called the ‘slave of the Will’ [Ar: abd al-irada]. If  knowledge or ability are not present, there is no accountability or obligation. For example, you may know the pilgrimage to Mecca is obligatory but if you are unable for some reason to perform it, then there is no obligation and you are not accountable. If you don’t know that ritual prayer is obligatory, then you are not obliged to pray. The obligation to change what is bad is also subject to the same conditions of knowledge and ability. Allah and His Messenger [s.a.a.w.s.] do not give anyone a command which if unfulfilled would make that person accountable unless such a person had the knowledge and ability. Knowledge by itself is not enough. By itself, it is not a tool of change.  Ability must also be present together with knowledge. And we have nothing other than to say:

Only Allah preserves from error and gives strength to do right