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Enter The Cave - islam article

Introduction

It is important that every Muslim understands the essence of his/her existence. For in understanding this essence, there is much to be gained and the rewards are vast.

Allah created Adam, and He awarded him with the knowledge of all things relevant, which the Quran calls the “names of all things”. Whilst we don’t know the extent of this knowledge, it is clear from the Quran that this knowledge gave him the superiority over the angels.[1]

Through time, Allah allowed knowledge to continue. He taught the human with the pen[2], which is the mode of committing knowledge, and thus allowing its continuation. As in fact, when we came out from our mother’s womb, we had no knowledge[3] and knowledge had to be acquired, and this is the essence of humans. 

Therefore, seeking knowledge is irrelevant to a person’s social class, wealth, colour, race, gender or age. The more we walk on the path of knowledge to learn, the more we are connected / in line with our essence, the very own nature of humans, the status that Allah has given to Adam and so to all humans. 

Through this programme, we will see the emphasis of this whole matter.

Allah sent Prophets throughout time and chose the final message to be sent by the Prophet Muhammed (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and Islam isn’t something new. Rather, the Prophet came within the bigger picture. He said:

مَثَلِي ومَثَلُ الأنْبِياءِ مِن قَبْلِي كَمَثَلِ رَجُلٍ ابْتَنَى بُيُوتًا فأحْسَنَها وأَجْمَلَها وأَكْمَلَها، إلَّا مَوْضِعَ لَبِنَةٍ مِن زاوِيَةٍ مِن زَواياها، فَجَعَلَ النَّاسُ يَطُوفُونَ ويُعْجِبُهُمُ البُنْيانُ فيَقولونَ: ألّا وضَعْتَ هاهُنا لَبِنَةً فَيَتِمَّ بُنْيانُكَ فقالَ مُحَمَّدٌ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عليه وسلَّمَ: فَكُنْتُ أنا اللَّبِنَةَ.

“My example and the example of the prophets who came before me is the example of a person who built a multi-complex house. He bettered it, decorated and perfected it, except for one brick in a corner of one of its corners. So, people would go round the house, astonished by the wonderful construction; yet they would comment: “If only you placed a brick here, then the construction would be complete.” The Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “So, I was that brick.”[4]

The Prophecy of Muhammad (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) is the continuation and completion of the message that Allah wanted for humanity. With the end of the revelation, the link, the communication between the Heavens and the Earth ceased. That’s why when the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) passed away, Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said “the whole Madinah went dark to the extent we couldn’t see each other. Anyone of us would extend his hand [in front of him] and he would not be able to see it”.[5]

Here, scholars commented that it wasn’t just dark metaphorically, it literally went dark, as can is explicit in the words of Anas. In fact, Madinah is called “Madinah al Munawwarah”, the Illuminated City as Madinah became al munawarah when the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) entered it. After that, when the Prophet passed away, (adhlamatil Madina), al-Madinah became dark, momentarily. 

Some of the companions have understood this point very well. As an example, after the passing away of the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam), Abu Bakr said to Umar: “Let us go and visit Um Ayman as the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) used to visit her. [Um Ayman, was the Nurse who nursed the Prophet when he was young]. When they reached her, she began to cry. They asked her why she was crying adding “Don’t you know that what Allah has prepared for the Prophet is far better?”.

She replied “I don’t cry because of that. I cry because the revelation from the sky has stopped”. Um Ayman was sad because she realised that with the passing away of the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) the interaction between the heavens and the earth has ended.

The narration continues: “... and due to her weeping, they all started to weep.”[6] 

When the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) first received that message, in the cave of Hira, that was the beginning of that important phase in humanity. That phase in which the essential knowledge, that would complement and seal divine knowledge was about to begin - and soon end.

So, entering the Cave, is coming into the knowledge accessed through the interaction between Allah and humans via Jibreel (alaihi as salaam) who was also a messenger (rasul) who taught the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) who is also a messenger, who then brought the message to humans. 

Universality of the message

It is good here to remember that the knowledge brought wasn’t specific to the Arabs, to the tribes or that century. Rather it was for all the mankind for all time as human nature doesn’t change: we have the same desires, same needs, same issues. The environment around humans changes (technology, advancements, how states interact with each other, etc…) but the human – in essence – doesn’t change.

The essence of the message contains these elements of universality, which covers all times and all places. In fact, Islam has the elements of guidance and support that cover all times and places. The message of Islam has these elements taught by the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) that allow humans to continue to apply the Deen even though the revelation has stopped. 

Revelation of the Quran

The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) received and so passed on the knowledge gradually. That was based on the foundation of the Quran. Knowledge was revealed in response to incidents, and sometimes not in response; and in a gradual way which allowed it to be consolidated and for those learning to process it. The whole process of learning, of passing on the message which went on for 23 years, stage by stage and not in a whole block. This shows the deepness of the knowledge taught by the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) as it is meant to reconnect with our deep nature which cannot be done in one go. 

The Sunnah

The compilation of the knowledge of Islam required the compilation of the Quran, but also the compilation of the living example and application of the Quran: and that was the Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) himself. Not only because he received the Quran but also because he brought clarifications and additional laws and guidance. This is because his understanding of the message of Allah was unique as he (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was the only one who was connected to Jibreel (alaihi as salaam): the messenger of Allah. Hence the words of the Prophet’s wife Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), when she said that his character was that of the Quran.[7]

So, another important aspect of knowledge was what the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) taught, known as the Sunnah. [The definition of the Sunnah will come later]. This teaching was of three categories as explained by Imam al Shafi’I in his book “Al-Risālah”.

- Firstly: Reinforcement of the Quran (establishment of Salah)

- Secondly: Explanation of some aspects of the Quran. (how to perform Salah, the status of Salatul Witr, when, how much, what nullify the salah, etc…). This shows that referring to the Quran only to understand and practice Islam is incomplete as the application of some divine commandments were only shown by the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws). 

- Thirdly: Implementation of new laws that are not mentioned in the Quran (forbidding the consumption of donkey meat or predator animals, etc…) 

The teaching of the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was of three types

- Verbal/ oral: he spoke words 

As an example, he said, “The five daily prayers, Friday prayer to Friday prayer, Ramadan to Ramadan and Umrah to Umrah are all atonements to that which is committed between them, as long as major sins are avoided.”[8]

- Acted: his actions were teachings including that which was narrated by other companions in verbal form.

With regards to actions, the hadith of Uthman who performed wudhu, and then said: “this is how the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) made wudhu”. Uthman was here narrating to us the actions of the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam).

- Affirmation of somebody’s action or words: Iqrar

An example of Iqrar is the adhan, the call to prayer. The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) were looking for a way to call people to Salah. They considered using a bell like Christians or a horn like Jews. They departed without having a satisfying solution. Abdullah Ibn Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him) saw in a dream a man to whom he explained that they were looking for a way to call people to salah. Then the man showed him how to make the adhan. Abdullah Ibn Zayd then went to the Prophet and related his dream. The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) affirmed it and asked AbdUllah to teach the words to Bilal ibn Rabah (may Allah be pleased with them all) to call to prayer as Abdullah Ibn Zayd saw in dream.

 

The scholars later on deducted an important part of the duty and teaching of the Prophet. Whenever the Prophet saw something related to the core message of Islam, he would either correct it or affirm it: this is what Iqrar is. Even his silence was an Iqrar. In fact, the actions of people can also pour into the vessel of knowledge; as what people did has to be either accepted or rejected. This is another aspect of the knowledge.

 

Here we can see how the corpus of knowledge is growing slowly. Now we have the Quran, the words of Allah; the words and actions of the Prophet (saws), his Sunnah; and how he (saws) commented or not on the actions and words of the people around him.

 

The duty of seeking and passing on knowledge
The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) brought all this knowledge to teach people. Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim. The reason of this is that each human is ordered, commanded to worship Allah correctly in accordance to the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet aiming to live accordingly to our inner nature as creations of Allah. And for that, the Quran and the Sunnah are guidance. 

The reality of the matter is that the Quran and the Sunnah have not been placed in anyone's heart unlike the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) who has been taught by Allah. But we, as humans have to acquire this knowledge through the process of learning.
 

Automatically we can find many encouragements within the Quran, such as the supplication taught to the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam).

Allah said to him: “and say, ‘My Lord, advance me in knowledge!”[9]

In addition, the Prophet (saws) has highlighted the benefits of acquiring knowledge at many occasions. 

The Prophet (saws) compared knowledge to water:

مثَلُ ما بَعَثَنِي اللَّهُ به مِنَ الهُدَى والعِلْمِ، كَمَثَلِ الغَيْثِ الكَثِيرِ أصابَ أرْضًا، فَكانَ مِنْها نَقِيَّةٌ، قَبِلَتِ الماءَ، فأنْبَتَتِ الكَلَأَ والعُشْبَ الكَثِيرَ، وكانَتْ مِنْها أجادِبُ، أمْسَكَتِ الماءَ، فَنَفَعَ اللَّهُ بها النَّاسَ، فَشَرِبُوا وسَقَوْا وزَرَعُوا، وأَصابَتْ مِنْها طائِفَةً أُخْرَى، إنَّما هي قِيعانٌ لا تُمْسِكُ ماءً ولا تُنْبِتُ كَلَأً، فَذلكَ مَثَلُ مَن فَقُهَ في دِينِ اللَّهِ، ونَفَعَهُ ما بَعَثَنِي اللَّهُ به فَعَلِمَ وعَلَّمَ، ومَثَلُ مَن لَمْ يَرْفَعْ بذلكَ رَأْسًا، ولَمْ يَقْبَلْ هُدَى اللَّهِ الذي أُرْسِلْتُ بهِ.

“The similitude of the guidance and knowledge with which Allah has sent me with is like the example of the ample rain falling on the grounds. So, of the grounds was that which was fertile; it accepted the water and brought forth grazing pasture and many plants. and of it, was that which was solid, held the water and Allah benefits people thereby, who drank and gave others to drink, and used it for irrigation. But some of it has fallen on a portion of sandy land which neither retains the water nor produces herbage. Such is the likeness of the man who understands the religion of Allah and who gets benefit of what Allah has sent me with; he learns and teaches others. It is also the likeness of the man who neither raises his head on that account (meaning he does not benefit from what the Prophet (ﷺ) was sent with) nor accepts Allah's Guidance with which I am sent".[10]

This similitude shows the relation between people and knowledge. Some of us will search or receive the knowledge, learn it and then will benefit others with it. When some of us will take the knowledge and hold it, they might transmit it but they will not benefit from it, like a lack of real understanding. They don't learn the benefits of the knowledge. Others will benefit from them
And some people who would not hold nor benefit from it, like infertile grounds without water.
 

This hadith is an encouragement to learn and also to pass on the knowledge i.e. to teach. The essence of knowledge, is to be passed on. This is the only way humans can keep the message alive. This is what Allah showed us as when He taught Adam and then ensured the continuity of passing on the knowledge with the pen. As Allah “taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not”[11]. That is the nature of knowledge, it is there to be passed on and taught.
Many others authentic hadith emphasize this aspect of knowledge.
 

The Prophet (saws) said: “convey from me even if it is one verse”[12], which means even if it is a small quantity. This hadith shows the importance of passing on the knowledge, provided that we are sure of it as we, as human, cannot know how the it can benefit others. Indeed, it might be that the person who receive the knowledge, even if it is just one verse, is more understanding than the person who transmits it and so can derive more from that knowledge.

In that regards, Imam Ahmed explained the fuqaha’ (scholars) are like doctors and those who narrate the ahadith are like pharmacists: they prescribe the medicine or they make the medicine. He went on to say, “And along came Muhammad Ibn Idrees Al-Shafi'i a doctor and a pharmacist.” meaning that he has mastered the knowledge of hadith and fiqh.
 

The derived teaching: principles

Another aspect of knowledge which is related to this is the principles. Through what the prophet (saws) has said and done, there are sets of principles which can be derived.

 

In one occasion one of the companions who was praying had tied his horse. During the Salah the horse untied itself, so the companion left the Salah to tighten it again, lest the horse would run away. People around who were not companions started blaming him for what he did, which upset him. He then said "I have witnessed the prophet, I have lived with him I saw that he was easy, he was not someone who has made things hard for us. What you are doing here is not like the prophet was doing."
 

Compiling the knowledge to ensure its transmission 

The Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) passed on the knowledge to the sahabah (companions) who passed on the knowledge at various degrees. The amount of knowledge passed on by the companions wasn’t based on their status or piety but rather depended on other circumstances. For instance, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) only passed on little knowledge. The reason was that he passed away only two years after the Prophet (saws) while others lived longer so were able to pass on more of the knowledge of the Prophet.

The compilation of the Quran

After the passing away of the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) the Companions questioned how to compile and transport this knowledge. They first focused on the Quran and discussed whether they should compile while the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) never did or commanded to do so. They saw the risk of losing parts of the Quran through time. As the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) never forbid to write it down, they considered that losing parts of the Quran was more dangerous than doing something the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) didn't do. So, they decided to compile the Quran while enough people were still alive to ensure its exact transcription. 

The compilation of hadith was discussed later on. One of the objections to compile the hadith at the same time was based on the fear that people could confuse hadith and Quran. As a result, for a period of time the majority of the hadith we're not written but passed on orally. And as time passed by, the number of people who narrated hadith has decreased, varied (death, moving, etc…) 

The compilation of hadith

Most of hadith where taught individually, as they were extracted from incidences of the day-to-day life and not taught in study circles. This means that ahadith don’t follow a specific plan of teaching unlike the Quran and so their authentication couldn’t be made based on the content but only based on who related them. Ahadith would be narrated by whomever happened to be with the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam), hence the fact that the number of companions who narrated a specific hadith can vary a lot. 

For that reason, ahadith had to be more scrutinised, this is the science of hadith. 

The number of companions who narrated hadith didn’t reflect its importance as in fact all the ahadith are essential. For instance, the hadith saying actions are based on their intention was only narrated by Umar Ibn Khattab. From Umar only one narrator (Alqama ibn Waqqas) passed on this hadith and no one else. And from Alqamah, only Muhammad ibn Ibraheem narrated it. So, for three levels of narrations, it was only one person narrating to one other (level -1: Umar, level 2: 

Alqamah, level 3: Muhammad ibn Ibraheem) and later it spread widely. 

This was a whole new aspect of knowledge became another field of study, looking for a way to make sure the narrations were properly attributed to the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam). The first generation of Muslims were trustworthy and the hypocrites of that generation, who could spread lies were well known. But later on, people had different intentions and motives. Some people started to change some of their narrations or fabricate hadith for their personal benefit whether 

- To prove a point, or to support an opinion for their personal interest. 

- To sell their own purposes (business matter). Like people who fabricated or changed hadith related to what the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam)  liked to eat. 

- To encourage people to do good deeds. Some people attributed to the Prophet that reading such and such verse or du’as would be rewarded that way. Even if the intention was good, the action here is wrong as they attributed words to the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) which weren’t his. 

- To create a confusion within the Muslims 

- To tell stories as this was a way of earning and to increase familiarity. 

Muhammad Ibn Sīrīn said on this matter “They didn’t used to asked for the chain of narration. But after the troubles fell, they would say: “Name for us your men!”[13]meaning tell us from whom you are narrating this tradition.

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him and his father) said, “Before when we heard a man say, ‘The Messenger of Allah salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam said..’ we would turn our attention to him and made our ears listen to him. But when people rode the hard lands and the plains, we would take from people except what we recognised.” [14]

This explains the difference in the number of ahadith narrated by scholars. For example, al-Tabarāni compiled a large number of hadith but a large portion are classified as weak. On the opposite Imam al-Bukhari was extremely selective and cautious when he compiled his book. 

So, in matter to keep the purity and the originality of the message of Islam, scholars had to become very widely observant to constructively criticise people who reported ahadith, scrutinising their character and behaviour. 

Conceptualise the Arabic language

At the beginning of Islam most of the Muslims were Arab. They could understand the language in which the Quran and the Sunnah were taught. With the expansion of the Muslim Empire, lots of people embracing Islam were not Arab. So, there was a need to construct the Arabic language so it could be taught to non-Arab speakers to allow a proper understanding of the message. 

The scholars had now to develop the science of Arabic language its grammatical and linguistic rules. 

Teaching the principles of the Deen

Quran and hadith were first brought to the Arabian Peninsula, and so the message was very relevant to them, to their language, culture, belief, customs, etc…. Later on, when the message of Islam had to be explained to people of different cultures, different ways of living and thinking, there was a need to explain certain concepts of the Deen like Qadar, al-Jabar (free will) and others. There were important theological and philosophical questions. This has led the scholars to develop the whole aspect and principles of Aqidah. 

The ruling of the practicing Islam: Fiqh 

In the same way, to make sure the practice of the pillars, like how to practice Salah, how to perform hajj, the different types of fasting and the ruling, what is allowed (halal and recommended), what is prohibited (haram),etc… has to be explained in a way that makes it understandable to everyone, everywhere. These questions resulted to the development of Fiqh which is defined as the understanding the text and the context of the text. 

The derived concepts 

In relation to Fiqh, scholars had had to identify and agree on what are the reliable sources (Quran and Sunnah) from which the principles and ruling (Fiqh) can be derived from. This is about defining the framework of the Fiqh or how to make sure to understand the Deen: Quran, Sunnah. 

What are the sources that that can be used to derive the principle of Fiqh (qiyas, maslaha, istihsan, etc) we call this field Ilm Usul (the knowledge/ science of the source). 

The same need was about the sources of reliable text which means the Quran and the Sunnah.

The science of tafsir

The Prophet salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam gave very few elements of the tafsir (exegesis) of the Quran. But now that so many people don’t understand or master Arabic as the people did at the time of the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam), the science of tafsir was then needed. 

Science of purification

To respond to the need of spirituality, to soften the heart, scholars have developed the science of purification (Ilm al Tazkiyah or Ilm Al Tasawaf) extracting the elements of purification of the heart from the Quran and the Sunnah. 

Summary

Walking on the path of knowledge is essential for every Muslim as it will be reflected in our practice of the Deen. Attaining knowledge on itself is greatly rewarded by Allah. Imam Malik was asked what would be the best action for someone sentenced to death?

He replied, “Seeking knowledge!” They queried, “even if it will not benefit the person about to die in this life?” He said, “Because seeking knowledge is a very highly rewarded action”.

Imam Shafi’i said that seeking knowledge is more rewardable then praying supererogatory prayers. 

Through time and with the expansion of Islam understanding the message of Allah was a bigger concept and not only limited to a literal reading of the Quran and sunnah but had to incorporate various other fields underlying in the Quran and the Sunnah. 

The expansion of Islam created the need to explain the message of Islam accordingly to the understanding of people who receive the message. Indeed, the environment in which people live will shape their thinking and understanding. Scholars have carried the responsibility to extract from the reliable and authentic sources of the message of Islam different principles so that the message can be understood by those who acknowledge Allah is the only true God and Muhammad (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) as His messenger. 

I hope that this Islam article opens us avenues for learning.

    

[1] Holy Quran: Chapter of the Cow; 2:31-33.


[2] Holy Quran: Chapter of the Clot; 96:4-5.


[3] Holy Quran: Chapter of the Honey Bee; 16:78


[4] Hadith: Narrated by Imam Muslim


[5] Reported by Ibn Kathir in “Al-Bidayah wal-Nihaayah”.


[6] Hadith: Narrated by Imam Muslim.


[7] Hadith: Narrated by Imam Ahmad.


[8] Hadith: Narrated by Imam Muslim.


[9] Holy Quran: The Chapter of Ta-Ha; 20:114


[10] Hadith: Narrated by Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim.


[11] Holy Quran: Chapter of the Clot; 96:3-4


[12] Hadith: Narrated by Imam al-Bukhari


[13]Narrated by Imam Muslim


[14] Narrated by Imam Muslim

 

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 “Enter the Cave” is a compilation of the essential modes to studying and learning the essence of Islamic Knowledge. It is a series of essays which help the student to draw a path towards learning Islam and its sciences. 

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