“The importance of knowledge to the life of the Muslim is as food is to life -the source of its cultivation.”
When we look to history and in specific into the biographies of the scholars of Islam, those who lived in times now far gone but nonetheless golden there are a number of qualities that can be harnessed from their life-stories. Imam Abu Hanifa (r), for example, although descending from wealth combined trade and study. He left us a model where the teacher practiced self-sufficiency.
It is well known in scholarly circles that Imam Abu Hanifa (r) provided a salary for his students thereby teaching us that the quest for knowledge is a life endeavor and a worthy investment. Imam Shafi (r), he taught us that sustenance is important in the quest for knowledge and a fundamental need in the effort and to this cause he penned a poem. What we learn from these historical figures is the need for sustaining knowledge, funding study. There was a time when the educational system in the Muslim world was sustained by endowments that were well kept and managed.
Students were salaried there only concern then was to master knowledge. But it may not always be the case that seeking knowledge full-time is the best of routes nor is it for all. On the other hand, seeking knowledge is an obligation by default because in order to carry out one’s primary obligations in Islam we are required to study. So knowledge is an obligation because it is a means toward understanding which is needed to practice Islam that is we must understand Islam before we can practice it. Unfortunately, the vigor, love and enthusiasm for knowledge that once prevailed in the Muslim world and in the Muslim heart has grown faint and this for a number of reasons. Of the most important of reasons that can be deemed a cause for the lack of enthusiasm for learning among Muslims today may be due to the fact that most are busy looking to sustain life in the most primal of manners -earning for food and shelter. There is little time for greater concerns beyond those of the senses and instincts.
Josef Pieper wrote that “leisure is the basis of culture” in a work entitled by that very statement. Thus it is necessary to free time to then nourish the inclination to learn until it becomes firm in the heart. And to this end we must be free of a fixation limited only to the need to earn to live. We must learn to balance the necessities of life with the core realities that define life and make it worth living. Rather than be an enemy of the world in name of greater spiritual purpose we need to find that purpose in the mundane itself without sacrificing our souls to it -to the material sphere. Understanding this reality demands time and study and time and study in today’s money driven societies demands money. Understanding how to balance study and trade has once again become a lesson so desperately needed if we desire to see a flourishing culture emerge for Muslims.