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: