The True Meaning of Study

By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi and translated by Tariq Pandor

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They said: Something has confounded us and as you are our teacher, can you please remove for us the confusion and clarify for us the correct way to look at it?

I said: I have never spared any effort in clarifying what is right and explaining, in revealing the truth and lifting the veil. So what is it that you find difficult and whose reins escape you?

They said: We live in a developed age and an advanced time, in which everything has become easy and paths are well-trodden. Sciences are easily attainable and art and literature are readily accessible and within grasp of reason and contemplation. If we want to know the history of a nation, the climate of an area, one of the natural sciences, or a medical or scientific theory, we watch a television programme which condenses for us the details in simple, enjoyable language and in an easy, attractive style. In this way, we pick up science and literature via the internet, YouTube and short messages on WhatsApp.

They said: We also observe that you have made the level ground rugged and the gentle difficult. You urge us to emulate the way of the early imams and the critically verifying scholars who combined extensive knowledge, and immersion therein, with action and piety. You quote to us their stories which leave us amazed at their reading, listening, exhausting travels and bearing of difficulties in the path of knowledge, and their production from these many burdens and loads of beneficial books which transcend description and explanation. And you narrate to us about yourself, that you have studied, along with what you have taken from your teachers in Nadwat al Ulama, from the writings of Ibn Hazm, Ibn Sina, Ibn al Jawzi, Al Mizzi, Ibn Taimiyah, Al Dhahabi, Ibn Khaldun, and Ibn Hajar and from the writings of contemporary scholars [such as] Shibli al Nu’mani, Hamid al Din al Farahi, Rashid Rida, Syed Sulaiman al Nadwi, Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Majid al Daryabadi, Al Manfaluti, Al Rafi’i, Al Siba’i, Taha Husain, Ahmad Amin, Maududi, Abul Hasan al Nadwi, Syed Qutb, and Al Qaradawi, as well as the books of western writers and others. How can we read even some of these when our attention is so scattered, our concerns so divided, our time is so short and blessings have been stripped from our lives?

I said: I do not take pleasure in burdening you with more than you can bear, nor do I enjoy throwing you to distant lands or into difficulty. Had I known a smooth path or an easy way by which you could achieve your aim and which would bring near that which is far, I would have pointed you to it. For I am as keen as I can be to advise you in truth and faithfulness. However, the issue, as you have mentioned, has become extremely confusing for you. What you are taking by way of abridgements, summaries, [concise] texts, television programmes and short YouTube and WhatsApp messages is merely information and a type of consumerism by which your age has come to be distinguished. What I want to bother and burden you with is education and teaching. These information programmes and short messages are nothing to do with studying.

They said: Explain to us fully the difference between what we do and studying, such that it may benefit us.

I said: Listen to what I have to say to you and use your minds to ponder it. Those who grow up in our time have become familiar and accustomed to pressing a button and whatever they desire materialises for them prepared – pictures, foods, drinks, news, opinions, conversations, sciences, arts, literature, counter-theories and conflicting viewpoints – without them using their minds, without employing their intellects, without exerting any effort and without hard work.

So this which you have quickly seized upon or grabbed is not study. Rather, to study is to arrive at the truth and what is right by memorising, deep probing study, analysis of views, referring back to the sources, discussing the evidences, knowing the points of view in differences of opinion, being fully aware of the known and the anomalous opinions, comparing between the schools and preferring some over others, testing theories and points of view, sitting with the learned, speaking with scholars, drawing close to [knowledgeable] people, copying books, capturing points of benefit and the dictations of teachers, travelling and journeying, enduring evening and night journeys, sometimes by land and at times on the deepest seas, and perseverance in the face of difficulties, for the one who adorns himself with patience is more worthy of attaining his need.

They said: Does our time allow for all of that?

I said: Yes, so protect it from being wasted. Beware of newspapers and magazines, television and radio, the internet, high-end mobiles and smart phones, loitering on the streets and in shopping areas, strolling in gardens, and keeping company with those fond of food and drink and infatuated with desires and pleasures. Avoid forming deep friendships with people and rise above making enemies.

They said: Who lives this type of life?

I said: Men and women in the East and West do live this. Theirs is a nobility by which they tread upon the stars. They have souls that cause them to settle on elevated lands and lofty heights and which refuse to settle them in low lands and inferior depths.

I have seen their type in Oxford, content with hard living, and turning their eyes away from the pleasures of life. They have no concern but knowledge and no aspiration but excellence. Calamity and misfortune have become easy for them, as if between them is a mutual bond and friendship.

They said: Are we not from the world? What do we do about its news and events?

I said: Ignorance of that will not harm you, even if some of it may be necessary. For [as the poet says]:

“Soon the days will reveal to you what you did not know,
And the one you did not furnish with provision will bring you the news.”

Disclaimer: Translations have not been checked by the author and represent the work of the translator