Etiquette of the Learner - Part 2

6. Eat Less & Only Halal

Imam Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi narrates in Manaqib al-Shafi'i that Imam al-Shafi'i said:

"I have not eaten my fill in seventeen years besides a single instance, [and even] then I inserted my hand and vomited it back out."

One of the most effective things that aid a student's ability to acquire and retain sound knowledge and understanding lies in food consumption. One should limit the amount they eat and ensure everything is halal. Ultimately the reason for this is that excessive eating and drinking affects concentration and leads to things such as lethargy, laziness and heavy/excessive sleeping, all of which hinder the seeking of knowledge systematically and efficiently. The best practice to follow is that of the messenger of Allah ﷺ , where the stomach is portioned into three parts, one portion for food, one portion for drink and one portion for air. Beyond beyond this is excess and against the Sunnah way, which we should all strive to emulate and adapt into our lives.

7. To Be God Fearing

One must maintain within themself a sense of taqwa (piety) in all their affairs - food, drink, clothes, housing and all other aspects of life.

A student should not seek out dispensations in legal rulings. They should not even suffice with doing things because they are simply permissible. Rather, one should follow the way of the pious predecessors and remain upon that which is more cautious. It is understood that if the people of knowledge do not uphold and adhere to the Shari'a then it will slowly disappear from the lives of the people around them.

Recall the best of examples, the chosen Messenger of Allah ﷺ, did not even eat a date found on the floor due to cautiousness and fearing that it may be from someone’s charity.

8. Be Selective Regarding What You Eat

Many scholars have written extensively on the issue of healthy eating and maintaining a balanced diet.

A student should generally make a significant reduction in their intake of unhealthy food. Certain foods are also known to have adverse effects on both the mind (such as reducing focus/concentration and causing the mind to wander) and the body (such as sleepiness and lethargy).

We advise looking into what types of food can have negative effects such as those mentioned above and then avoiding such foods.

The opposite is also true with certain foods being said to improve memory and concentration. Consequently it would be recommended for the student to adopt such foods into their diet.

9. Control How Much You Sleep

A student should limit sleep (including naps) to a maximum of eight hours per day - just think, even this much equals to a third of one's life. If one is capable, they should try and reduce their sleep according to their physical ability and do so without overdoing it. Keep in mind that sleep deficiency is also harmful for the body and the mind.

Exercising or resting the body and relaxing when bored is not something blameworthy. For the student, the focus and objective of such should be to stay fresh and keep up one's energy so they are able to exert themselves in acquiring knowledge.

10. Keep Good Company

This is the most important point of all for a student of knowledge and can be broken down into three parts:

A) Excessive and pointless socialising should be avoided and there should certainly be no socialising with the opposite gender just as all other haram socialising should be avoided.

B) Avoid bad company. One should steer clear of specific individuals such as puerile or carefree people (including students with such traits), as keeping such company will not only hinder one's own journey for seeking knowledge but may lead to major consequences such as having a detrimental effect on their livelihood, status and even religion.

C) One should be sure to keep the company of those that will benefit them, or, those that may benefit from being in one's company. It would be most ideal if it worked both ways and both mutually benefit from each other. Examples of qualities one should look for in a companion are things such as:

- faithfulness/loyalty,

- truthfulness,

- righteousness,

- an inclination towards doing good,

- a disinclination towards doing bad, etc.

Good companions help one stay on the right path, with regular reminders and good advice - those who bring one back to one's senses when they see they are about to stray from the path.

Final Word Of Advice

It may not be possible for us to act upon all of these points right away but we should make a sincere attempt to implement and adapt into our lives as much as we can, step by step. Always pray that Allah keeps us sincere, opens for us the doors of acquiring beneficial knowledge, grants us sound understanding and uses us for the dissemination of sound Islamic knowledge.

Note: The above list is in no way exhaustive but they are however, a good starting point for a student. Voluminous works have been written on this particular subject by the scholars of Islam throughout the ages. Some of these amazing works have even been translated to English for the benefit of the masses.

The following is an abridged English translation of the same work that this two-part article was based on. We recommend purchasing a copy of this very useful book for further reading:

Etiquette of the Learner - Part 1

The following is an adaptive summary of a chapter from Imam Badr al-Din ibn Jama'ah al-Kinani's renowned work Tadhkirat al-Sami' wa 'l-Mutakallim fi Adab al-'Alim wa 'l-Muta’allim (A Memorandum to the Listener and the Speaker on the Etiquette of the Scholar and the Learner).

1. Purify Yourself From Ill Disposition

One must purify his heart from all bad traits such as dishonesty, malice, jealousy and so on. This will prepare the heart and make it receptive to acquiring knowledge, the ability to retain it and the insight to explore the deeper meanings.

Acquiring knowledge is a spiritual worship like salah is a physical worship. Some scholars have made a comparison between knowledge and salah. Just as wudu is a prerequisite of salah and salah is not correct without purification from both major and minor impurities, similarly, knowledge is not regarded as correct without purification from blameworthy characteristics. Once the heart is free from these vices the blessings of knowledge become apparent and also increase.

Imam Abu Bakr al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates in al-Zuhd wa 'l-Raqa'iq that Imam Sahl al-Tustari said:

"It is prohibited for light to enter the heart whilst there is something therein which Allah dislikes."

2. Correct Your Intention

Imam Abu Bakr al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates in al-Jami' li Akhlaq al-Rawi wa Adab al-Sami' that Imam Sufyan al-Thawri said:

"I have not struggled with anything which has been more severe for me than my intention."

The intention for the student should be:

- to attain the pleasure of Allah,

- to revive the Shari'a,

- to illuminate the heart,

- to purify the inner self, and

- to be close to Allah on the day of Judgement.

While the intention should not be to attain glory, fame, leadership or wealth.

Acquiring knowledge is a form of worship and thus requires a pure intention. If one's intention is pure, only then is it accepted and the blessings therefrom are manifested. However an impure intention will waste and dissipate such blessings and the result shall be debasement and destruction.

3. Start Learning From an Early Age

The seeker of knowledge should try and embark on the journey for seeking knowledge at a young age. Every moment which has passed cannot be retrieved nor can any extra or additional time be purchased. It is important to detach oneself from the distractions that waste or exhaust time. It is for this reason that our pious predecessors would often leave their families and homes in the pursuit of knowledge while reflecting on the ayah:

Allah has not made for any man, two hearts within him. [Surat al-Ahzab, Verse 4]

Just as Allah has not created two hearts within people neither can two things simultaneously receive a person's undivided attention. As such, a dedicated student must be fully immersed in seeking knowledge. There is a wise saying which goes:

Knowledge will not give to you even a portion of itself, until you have given to it all of yourself.

4. Be Content With Little

Imam Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi narrates in his al-Madkhal ila 'Ilm al-Sunan that Imam al-Shafi'i said:

"None seek this [sacred] knowledge with pride and self-importance and then succeed; rather, successful is the one who seeks knowledge by putting himself down while enduring having limited livelihood and serving the scholars (ulama)."

Being wealthy in this worldly life must not become the objective of the student. You must train yourself to be content with little and limit yourself to things that are necessary or purposeful rather than things which are simply desirable and extravagant.

5. Divide The Day Accordingly

You should schedule certain tasks for yourself during specific periods of the day based on when they are easier and divide your time appropriately.

The best time for:

Memorization = Dawn

Research = Early Morning

Writing = Evening

Revision = Night

The following is an abridged English translation of the same work that this two-part article was based on. We recommend purchasing a copy of this very useful book for further reading: