A friend and old classmate of mine recently shared a statement of the Prophet Muhammad (s) to our fellow classmates as they prepared to graduate:
َمَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَبْتَغِي فِيهِ عِلْمًا سَهَّلَ اللهُ لَهُ طَرِيقًا إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ، وَإِنَّ الْمَلَائِكَةَ لَتَضَعُ أَجْنِحَتَهَا لِطَالِبِ الْعِلْمِ رِضًا بِمَا صَنَعَ، وَإِنَّ الْعَالِمَ لَيَسْتَغْفِرُ لَهُ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ حَتَّى الْحِيْتَانُ فِي الْمَاءِ
He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, Allah will make the path of Paradise easy to him. The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the oceans seek forgiveness for him…
(Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)
Alhamdulillah, I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to seek sacred knowledge. Each time I set out toward it, it was enabled for me. Whether I was a kid in Sunday school, a teenager in the front row of an AlMaghrib class, or a 20-something prolonging the real world to study Arabic and Islam full-time in a new city, Allah paved my path whenever I set an intention toward knowledge.
But it pains me to say that I didn’t always treat each opportunity with the respect and determination that it deserved. I didn’t always value what I’d been given. I didn’t always give it my all.
As much as the knowledge and my teachers gave to me — the insights, the improvements in my own life, the understanding of true reality — I didn’t always give the pursuit of knowledge its due.
It reached a point where, despite all the benefit I was gaining and all that I was learning (even despite my efforts becoming less and less)…I found myself in a situation where I had to step back. I had to re-examine my purpose in seeking knowledge. I had to connect the dots I’d been drawing for so long, and take time to work on myself based on the knowledge I’d gained so far.
As I realize now, because I took the pursuit of knowledge for granted, and because I started doing the minimum, and because I stopped seeing this opportunity as something I should be endlessly grateful for…I stopped deserving the opportunity.
And thus, I lost the opportunity. Yes, I actively stepped away myself, but it’s ultimately Allah who lines things up and allows us to be in the pursuit of knowledge, or to be taken away from it.
But this hiatus was only temporary, and alhamdulillah, I was able to get myself back to center, back to my purpose, back to valuing the opportunity to seek knowledge, now with an even greater appreciation.
Which brings me to why I’m writing this post today. Yesterday, my classmates, whom I started a journey of knowledge with, graduated without me. I listened and watched from afar, and in all honesty, the biggest feeling I had was pride. I was so immensely proud of my friends and classmates for the journey they’d completed, and for valuing this opportunity for knowledge more than I had.
I missed them. I missed my teachers. I missed the experience.
But by Allah, this is what was supposed to happen. In order for me to value the opportunity for knowledge, it had to be removed from me for a while.
And as my friend and classmate narrated that Hadith above, I started to tear up, because it made me realize a very specific nuance of the mercy of Allah.
And that is this wording: “He who follows a path in quest of knowledge…”
The benefits above are not for those who have knowledge, it’s for those who simply follow a path, in quest for knowledge.
Simply taking the step toward it is enough for Allah to activate the angels and everything in the heavens and earth to facilitate you.
We often use the term طَالِبُ الْعِلْمِ (taalib-ul-‘ilm), translated in modern Arabic as “student of knowledge.”
But the word طَالِب linguistically means “one who seeks something.”
We don’t say صَاحِبُ الْعِلْمِ (saahib-ul-‘ilm), “one who possesses knowledge.”
We say the seeker of knowledge.
That’s the person who gets the reward, the sweetness, the facilitation, and the ease.
And whether our memories fail us as we try to memorize vocabulary and ahadith and ayaat, or if we’ve covered all the classical texts or just the Arabic letters, if we’ve been blessed to retain everything with photographic precision or we’re still struggling with the basics…as long as we keep seeking, we’ll keep receiving the reward.
And if there’s anything I’ve learned in all my learning, it’s that as long as you show up, the opportunities will show up, too.
We just have to remain sincere in our intentions, in our seeking, and in our understanding that in this whole equation of the preservation and learning of Islamic knowledge, we are the part that’s replaceable.
We do not dignify Islamic knowledge because we choose to learn it; it dignifies us by allowing us to pursue it.
I ask Allah to let us all recognize the blessing of the pursuit of knowledge, and to bless us to never take it for granted.