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The Fundamentals of Seeking Ilm

Introduction to Seeking Knowledge

Nowadays, knowledge has become easily accessible, especially since the boom of the internet. Knowledge of Islam has become easy to get, too. But with such ease of access and abundance of information, one can easily fall into the trap of Shaitan when seeking ilm of the deen.

So, what must a sincere knowledge-seeker do? What are the fundamental guidelines to seek knowledge? And how do we avoid information that can mislead us?

The solution is simple―follow the best of the generations and their etiquettes of seeking knowledge! Let’s find out what lessons they have for us.

Learning From the Best of the Generations

The sahaba, companions (may Allah be pleased with them); the tabi’een, students of the companions; the taba’ tabi’een, students of the students; and the nexts (may Allah have mercy on all of them) are the best of the generations. [Sahih al-Bukhari 6429]

This hadith highlights the importance of learning from the best of the generations and serves as a beacon to navigate through the difficult paths of seeking ilm.

The best of the generations did not just learn the good deeds by heart, they strived wholeheartedly to please Allah ﷻ. For instance, one random day, the Prophet ﷺ asked his companions if anyone was fasting, had followed a funeral procession, had given food to the needy, and had visited the sick. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) answered positively to all of the questions and was assured Jannah. [Sahih Muslim 1028b]

Likewise, we must go the extra mile to pay attention and be sincere when gaining knowledge and applying it in our lives. We should continuously scrutinise and align our actions according to the knowledge and guidance we receive.

  • Learning Good Company From the Companions

During the life of the Prophet ﷺ and after his demise, Abu Bakr and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) always competed with each other in performing good deeds. On many occasions, they also had a difference of opinion, but they resolved them in good nature.

  • Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) advised the others to be patient during the treaty of Hudaibiya and the demise of the Prophet ﷺ. [Sahih al-Bukhari 2731, 2732] [Sahih al-Bukhari 3667, 3668]
  • During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) took the initiative to compile the Qur’an, though the former hesitated in fear of innovation. Eventually, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) was convinced. [Sahih al-Bukhari 4986]
  • During the Caliphate of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), he consulted the committee of companions he had appointed and followed their advice.

There are numerous lessons from the companions (may Allah be pleased with them), among which, good companionship has to be emphasised, for it seems to have been forgotten in today’s times. It is best to have righteous companions who will motivate, compete, advise, and help us differentiate between the good and bad.

  • Learning From the Efforts of the Tabi’een  and Taba’ Tabi’een

The tabi’een dedicated their life to compiling knowledge from the companions through meticulous effort, sacrifices, and hard work. Their memory leaves us with incredible admiration as the information in their memory has been compiled into volumes and volumes of books. For instance, Imam Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on him), one of the forerunners of the science of hadith, travelled miles and miles to verify a single hadith.

Without such efforts by them (may Allah have mercy on them), we could not have gained much insight into the authenticity and the chain of narrations of ahadith. We should be immensely grateful for such resources.

The Basics of Seeking Knowledge

Bakr Ibn Abdillah Aboo Zayd says in his book that the knowledge-seeker lives between the texts of the Qur’an and the sunnah, and the knowledge associated with them. He adds that learning all the tools of every subject is important. For example, to learn Jurisprudence, one should learn jurisprudence, its principles, etc.

Furthermore, there are six levels to knowledge, as mentioned by Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him):

  1. Excellence in asking questions
  2. Excellence in paying attention and listening
  3. Excellence in understanding
  4. Memorising
  5. Teaching
  6. Fruit of knowledge – implementing and appreciating its boundaries.

In the end, to continue on our journey of seeking ilm, gratitude towards Allah ﷻ is an important attitude. The inability to appreciate and be grateful is a major reason why many people fall on this journey or leave it midway.

“If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more. But if you are ungrateful, surely My punishment is severe.”

[Quran 14:7]

Dangers When Seeking Knowledge

  • Imams and Mad’habs

The mad’habs derived their rulings from the Qur’an and sunnah to make them easy for people. Hence, following mad’habs should not contradict adhering to the Qur’an and sunnah.

Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) said,

“Do not follow me, and do not follow Malik or Thawri or al-Awzaa‘i. Learn from the sources from which they learned.”

He also said,

“It is a sign of a person’s lack of understanding that he follows others in religious matters.”

The important lesson that we should learn from the imams is the way they relied upon the Qur’an and sunnah in analysing and deriving ijtihad than the ijtihad itself, and they did not mandate the adherence to the ijtihad they made.

  • Sects and Deviation

The Prophet ﷺ warned us of people dividing into 73 sects. [Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2640 | Grade: Hasan (Darussalam)]

Sufism and mysticism intruded into the faith, which led people astray from the path of Islam. The Shia sect has modified the Qur’an (may Allah ﷻ protect us) and various ahadith.

Such deviant sects have their base in altering the sources of knowledge of Islam, whether it is by fabricating Qur’anic verses, modifying the chain of the narrations, falsifying the sahih ahadith, or innovating in the religion.

Such resources are abundant. Hence, knowledge-seekers must have an open eye to scrutinise and stay clear of all misleading information.


Every Muslim must be sincere, patient, and hardworking when seeking ilm, and they must vigilantly verify their knowledge.

The fundamentals of seeking knowledge and its etiquettes remain the same, irrespective of the platform or era. Such is the greatest wisdom that Allah ﷻ revealed through the Qur’an and sunnah. Believing and living by them is the ultimate solution to all our challenges.

May Allah ﷻ guide us to seek ilm in a righteous manner.

Written by: Zaithoon Zakariya
Edited by: The Editorial Team
© The Islamic Reflections Blog


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