We are constantly bombarded nowadays to seek knowledge and learn, yet many times this knowledge does not benefit the student. What is beneficial knowledge? The scholars and salaf of the past state that beneficial knowledge is knowledge that leads to actions. Ilm is not the goal, rather it is the means to the goal which is the pleasure of Allah and success in the hereafter. If knowledge does not make you a better Muslim, through your character and worship, then it is not benefiting to you.
The Prophet ﷺ used to supplicate:
اللَّهُمَّ انْفَعْنِي بِمَا عَلَّمْتَنِي وَ عَلِّمْنِي مَا يَنْفَعُنِي وَ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا
Allahumma-infa’nī bimā ‘alamtanī wa ‘allimnī mā yanfa’unī wa zidnī ‘ilmā
O Allah, benefit me from that which You taught me, and teach me that which will benefit me, and increase me in knowledge.
(Sunan Ibn Majah, by al-Hakim, Bayhaqi, Tabraani & authenticated by Albaani)
Points to note from the Dua of Prophet ﷺ
SIGNS OF BENEFICIAL KNOWLEDGE
Everything has its indications and signs. Indications that knowledge is beneficial are that it leads to fine character, good manners and praiseworthy attributes. This is common in terms of worldly and Islamic knowledge, a learned person is that who is of good character, who is confident of himself and isn’t insecure so he/she helps others grow as well.
The scholars listed some specific signs of Beneficial Knolwdge, we should all look into it and then ask ourselves about how much we share from these signs.
If a person is not given success to act upon their knowledge, then that knowledge is harmful, because the Prophet ﷺ said, “…And the Qur’an is a proof for or against you.” [Muslim]
He did not state another option (besides these two), therefore knowledge is either beneficial or harmful.
Al Fudayl ibn Iyyadh, said, It is upon the people to acquire knowledge. So when they attain knowledge, it is upon them to act (on it).
There are some people who are tested by this. Perhaps they may praise themselves, or they may deem that whatever they say is the truth and those who oppose them are wrong.
The same goes for loving praise. You find (a person), who loves to be praised, asking others what is said about him. When he finds that he is praised he swells and increases in his arrogance until he is amazed with himself.
The same goes for being arrogant towards others. Some people, and Allah’s refuge is sought, when Allah gives them knowledge they become haughty. This is similar to a rich person who is arrogant because of his wealth.
The Prophet ﷺ also said, “Shall I tell you about the people of Hellfire? They are every haughty, mean, and arrogant person.” (Bukhari, 4634)
Ibraaheem bin Adham said: “Whoever seeks knowledge with true sincerity, in order to benefit the servants of Allaah with it and benefit himself, being unknown will be more beloved to him than being arrogant. This is what will cause him to increase in humility with regard to himself, exertion with regard to worship, fear from Allaah, longing for Him, and humbleness in front of the people – not caring for what goes on in the day and night of this worldly life.”
Greatness belongs to Allah alone. He is in control of all the affairs of every single thing created. He commands and prohibits, creates and provides, gives and takes. He raises and lowers people’s status, alternates night and day, causes nations to rise and fall, so that one nation vanishes and another emerges.
Anyone who understands this will realize that our real status in the life of this world is only that of servants of Allah and this understanding gives root to the beautiful quality of humility which is one of the greatest blessings that Allah could bestow upon His servant because when a person becomes humble, he acknowledges his weaknesses and defects and submits wholeheartedly to the rulings of Allah and Allah in turn raises his status in both worlds. The Prophet ﷺ said: “…No one humbles himself before Allah but Allah will raise him (in status).” (Muslim)
A believer possessing humility knows that his knowledge, talents and abilities are all from Allah and this keeps his feet on the ground, grateful to Allah and always kind to his servants. Humility increases a believer’s self-confidence, which motivates him to do race to all that is good without putting others down.
Meaning: do not learn knowledge in order to become a leader, and do not (intend to attain) knowledge in order to obtain some aspect of the worldly life.
This negates arrogance and shows humility. There will be situation where people might ask someone who every thinks is supposed to know the answer, to say “I don’t know” when not sure is a sign of knowledge.
A man came to Imaam Maalik [Imaam of Dar ul Hijrah] and asked him about 40 issues. He only answered four of them, and he said regarding the rest of issues “I do not know”. The man said, “I came to you from such and such place upon my riding beast and you say you do not know?”
So Imaam Maalik responded “Get onto your riding beast and return to the town from which you came and say: I asked Maalik and he said ‘I don’t know’”.
When the Prophet ﷺ was asked about something that was not revealed to him from Allah heﷺ would wait for revelation to descend. Likewise, the Companions, when the Prophet ﷺ asked them something they did not know of they would respond, “Allah and His Messenger ﷺ knows best.”
Shaykh Abū al-Ḥasan Mālik Ādam said, “Saying ‘I Don’t Know’ Is Half of Knowledge”.
O my brothers & sisters, make it a point to say, “I do not know” and whoever says, “I do not know” has given an answer. Do not fabricate lies and engage in the rulings of the legislation without having clear insight [baseerah].
And saying, “I do not know” in affairs you do not have knowledge does not mean that you are deficient. Rather, it is the opposite. It is perfection/having integrity because saying “I don’t know” is piety and having fear of Allah, and the people will praise you for that.
This is could be understood best from the saying of Omar R.A. about having Hope & Fear of Allah. Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “If a caller from heaven announced that all people would enter Paradise together but for one man, I would fear that I am him. And if a caller announced that all people would enter Hellfire together but for one man, I would hope that I am him.”
So one should have bad thoughts of himself because perhaps a person’s nafs (soul) may tempt and whisper to him evil. Therefore, he should not have good thoughts of his nafs.
In regard to Islamic knowledge it was said: “He whose knowledge doesn’t cause him to weep, can be justifiably considered not to have been granted beneficial knowledge”, since Allah described the people of knowledge saying:
“Say believe in it (the Qur’an) or do not believe. Verily! Those who were given knowledge before it, when it is recited to them, fall down on their faces in humble prostration. And they say, ‘Glory be to our Lord! Truly, the Promise of our Lord must be fulfilled.’ And they fall down on their faces weeping and it adds to their humility.” [Al-Qur’an 17:107-109]
Thus knowledge carries its possessor towards humility, prostration, crying, calling oneself to account and truthfulness with Allah.
Indeed crying is the clearest sign and best proof of the knowledge one possesses and of a person’s truthfulness. What is the benefit of knowledge a person learns, if it doesn’t lead him to crying, humbleness, penitence and good dealings with the people?
Is not the possessor of knowledge one who knows most about his Lord? Has he not read about His Exalted, Perfect, Lofty Attributes that which causes his heart to humble and his eyes to shed tears? Has he not read in the Book of Allah and in the sayings of the Messenger of Allah, ﷺ, texts pertaining to the Fire, the terror in the grave and the fearful accounts of the Resurrection because of which mountains are humbled out of the fear of Allah?
SIGNS OF NON-BENEFICIAL KNOWLEDGE
1. Do not Practice
Knowledge mandates actions as we studied earlier but those who learn and preach but do not practice there are serious warnings in Quran & Sunnah against them
Allah says “Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do” (61:3)
Rasoolullah ﷺ said: ’A man will be brought and put in the hell fire and he will circumambulate (go round and round) in the hell fire like a donkey of a (flour grinding mill), and all the people of the hell fire will gather around him and will say to him, ‘O so-and-so! Didn’t you use to order others for Al-Ma’roof and forbid them from Al-Munkar?’
The man will say, ’I used to order others to do Al-Ma’roof (Islamic monotheism and all that is good) but myself never used to do it, and I used to forbid others from Al-Munkar (polyhtheism, disbelief, and all that is evil) while I myself used to do Al-Munkar’” (Bukhari)
2. It Breeds haughtiness, pride and arrogance
How many times do we see that shaytaan is able to trick a person to be arrogant about the knowledge he has and hence he becomes rude with others and thinks of himself to be better and above others. This sadly is valid for both people with worldly or Islamic knowledge. Although Islamic knowledge does give a person an honourable position but that should never make him arrogant which the Shaytaan would use and make him commit mistakes.
3. It causes one to seek elevation in the worldly life
Vanity, power and position is great weapon of Shaytaan he makes people love it so much that a lot of the times they end up compromising on their morals and more importantly on their religion. This age is a perfect example to it where we see a lot of speakers who try to vow their audience by telling them what they would like to hear losing focus of what should be told.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “He who does not acquire knowledge with the sole intention of seeking the Pleasure of Allah but for worldly gain, will not smell the fragrance of Jannah on the Day of Resurrection.” [Abu Dawud].
4. Getting into Arguments
Arguments are disliked, discussions are welcome but we see so many times that people just get into arguments and then we see their rage taking over them and shaytaan makes them say things that are not even facts just so that they win the argument.
We see these days that a lot of people are searching the internet or trying to learn things just so that they can win over arguments. If the intention is to advice and guide people then arguments would never get them anywhere it can only cause harm.
Al-Awzaa’ee said: “When Allaah desires evil for a people, He opens the door of argumentation for them and prevents them from (doing good) deeds.”
Ma’roof bin Fayrooz Al-Kurkhee said: “When Allaah intends good for a servant, He opens for him the door of actions and closes for him the door of argumentation. And when Allaah intends evil for a servant, He opens for him the door of argumentation and closes for him the door of actions.”
Ahmad ibn Hanbal reported: Al-Hasan al-Basri, may Allah have mercy on him, heard some people arguing and he said, “By Allah! These are not but people who are bored with worship and they found speaking easier upon them than acting. Their piety diminished and thus they speak.”
Al-Shafi’i, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “Among the degradation of knowledge is that you debate everyone who debates you, or you argue with everyone who argues with you.”
And he said, “Knowledge is ignorance to the people of ignorance, just as ignorance is ignorance to the people of knowledge.”
5. Openly claims to have a close relationship with Allaah,
Openly and repeatedly claiming of being pious is a bad sign and is usually for personal benefits. The same applies to the worldly knowledge, the one who has knowledge wouldn’t just go around saying I am very educated etc he would show his knowledge in action.
‘Umar said: “Whoever says he is knowledgeable is really ignorant”.
So compare your position to this – may Allah have mercy upon us – and don’t forget the virtuous saying, “He who’s knowledge doesn’t cause him to weep, can be justifiably considered not to have been granted beneficial knowledge.”
We conclude by a small poetry by Muhammad bin Abee ‘Alee Al-Asbahaanee who said:
May Allah ta’ala grant us beneficial knowledge and protect us from knowledge that does not benefit. Ameen.