Event Review: Seeking Sacred Knowledge with Shaykh Ahmad Saad | By Noor Hanisah Binte Noordin
“Fantastic, very informative. He talks about the giants of the past but he is a giant for us! Inspiring, anecdotal, relatable. I left the evening full of hope.” [Bina Rahmah-Shephert, homemaker and student of knowledge]
What: “Glimpses from the Patience of Scholars”
Where: Singapore Post Auditorium
Who: Shaykh Ahmad Saad Al-Azhari
When: 11 Muharram 1435 (15th November 2013), 8pm
On a beautiful Friday evening, Shaykh Ahmad Saad began by telling his audience of 200 how much he dislikes his biography being read out at the beginning of his talks. A long biography so impressive to us but he asserts is nothing compared to the scholars of the past. SubhanAllah. Scholars so impressive, they should be considered ‘giants’, as some affectionately call them. Scholars with astounding patience. Many of us think of patience as simply waiting. But through the stories of these giants, we come to understand inshaAllah that patience can also mean perseverance and unwavering efforts.
Contrary to the descriptions that have been put up about the talk though, Shaykh Ahmad covered knowledge, in addition to patience. And as such, his talk the very next night complements if not completes this one.
The importance of knowledge
Many of us know the hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad (?) tells us the three things that continue after our death:
Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (?) said: “When a person dies, his deeds are cut off except for three: Continuing charity, knowledge that others benefited from, and a righteous son who supplicates for him.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi Vol. 3, Book 13, Hadith 1376)
But we don’t realize that knowledge is all these three things at the same time. Knowledge taught to others is something that others benefit from, a form of continuing charity and in Shaykh Ahmad’s words, ‘The book of a scholar is his eternal son’. This is because the book continually lives on, as long as people keep reading and benefiting from it. In this way, the book is a son who ‘supplicates’ for him or her.
However, knowledge does not come to someone without his or her immense effort and perseverance. As such, Shaykh Ahmad shared with us four types of efforts or patience that our revered scholars go through to deliver the Islamic knowledge that we know today.
1. Journeying for knowledge
Shaykh Ahmad believes that one should travel to knowledge and that knowledge doesn’t just come to anyone. Journeying is evident in the stories of scholars such as the renowned four mazhab’s imams: Imam Syafie, Imam Hanafi, Imam Maliki and Imam Hanbali.
In particular, Shaykh Ahmad shared a story of Baqyi ibn Makhlad, a scholar who journeyed from across the seas to learn from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Hanbali). Unfortunately, Ibn Hanbal could not teach anyone openly as he was on house arrest. So every day, Baqyi ibn Maklad would dress as a beggar and visit Ibn Hanbal’s house. And every single time, Ibn Hanbal would write for and pass to Baqyi ibn Maklad one or a few hadith. Eventually, Baqyi ibn Maklad collected from Ibn Hanbal up to 300 hadiths!
2. Abandoning sleep and other pleasures
As someone who valued sleep very much, this part was the hardest for me to understand. Many of the scholars sacrificed sleep for knowledge and studying. Muhammad bin Muhammad At-Tusi was a scholar who divided his night into three: 1/3 for writing, 1/3 for Quran and the other 1/3 for sleeping. Another scholar simply states that he doesn’t usually eat or sleep.
Instead, such scholars only sleep when sleep overcomes them and once awake, immediately goes back to studying. Shaykh Ahmad commented that today we treat learning knowledge like being imprisoned. Throughout lessons in school, we look forward to breaks more than the lesson. Once classes are over, most of us rush out in glee.
Compared to the scholars of the past? The past giants had unmatched zeal indeed.
3. Undergoing poverty and selling belongings
Since worldly matters were not of importance to the scholars, many faced poverty too. Imam Malik was of the opinion that: “No one can achieve higher status in knowledge until he is hit by poverty or even until he prefers poverty to everything.” Such was the priority of scholars.
4. Losing books or having to sell them
Finally, a scholar or a lover of knowledge would hate to sell his or her books. Shaykh Ahmad mentioned that he recently (5th Nov) shared a video on his Facebook account about an Iraqi man who had to sell his books because he needed to earn money for his children and family.The man was tearfully selling books that he’d kept for up to 20 years because he had no other choice. We may not understand the language used in the video, but the man’s emotions easily comes through.
But what is the parallel today?
How can we emulate these seemingly far-fetched efforts and patience of yesterday’s giants?
Shaykh began the answer to this by explaining that today, although things are easier with the technology that we have, some elements of the efforts remain the same. For example, it might be easier to travel today on plane than on foot in the past. However, in both instances, one leaves the family and has to adjust to new places as well as new people.
Knowledge is better taken in this way than if it was just within one’s home town and comfort. Only through these efforts, this patience, will the knowledge be taken with ‘two hands’. Additionally, the meeting of the people and experiences gained will add to that knowledge received. And then Shaykh Ahmad reminded us of a portion of verse 286 of Surah Al-Baqarah and shared an insight that saddened me.
God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear:
each gains whatever good it has done, and suffers its bad.
If Allah SWT only burdens people with what they can bear, then technology today doesn’t mean we’re better off than the people of yesterday. One of the reasons Allah SWT allows this technology to make our lives ‘easier’ could be because He knows we cannot bear as much as our past scholars. Physically at least, if not mentally as well, we are weaker. If we have access to such technology, we are much weaker. SubhanAllah.
Finally, Shaykh Ahmad answered the last question from the audience of the day by sharing that there was no such thing as the English phrase, ‘One’s patience wearing thin’. We either have patience or we don’t. We either bear with ignorance for now whilst we study to no longer be ignorant, or we remain ignorant for the rest of our lives. Such is a reminder for us all.
“We have the lamest excuses to postpone studying about Islam. He reminded us of the obligation to seek knowledge. And we need these reminders.” [Yazmin Samsudeen, social work volunteer]
By being there at the talk, through this review or through the words of other attendees, may we all benefit from the talk and the beautiful insights of both the speakers and attendees, Insha’Allah. To complement, or complete, insights from this event, read about Shaykh Ahmad’s talk the very next day on ‘Seeking Sacred Knowledge’ at the same venue and time, here.
Bio of speaker: Shaykh Ahmad Muhammad Saad Ash-Shafi’ie Al-Azhari Al-Hasani is modest man of smiles, stories and poetry, frequently shares his own experiences during his talks as well as makes his audience laugh. Born into an Egyptian family of scholars descending from the Prophet (?), he memorized the Quran at age 10, studied Islamic Sciences from various scholars and graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in Islamic Studies from the Al-Azhar school system. He is a father of three, Director of Ihsan Institute for Arabic & Islamic studies, and teaches in the North London Central Mosque.
Noor Hanisah Binte Noordin
Noor Hanisah is a full-time Muslimah, daughter, sister and learner. She is passionate about community service, outreach & development.