يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ
Yarfa‘i-llāhul-ladhīna āmanū minkum walladhīna ūtul-‘ilma darajāt
Allah will raise in rank those of you who have faith and those who have been given knowledge.
(Sūrat al-Mujādilah, No 58, Āyat 11)
In verses 9 – 11 of this sūra, Almighty Allah ‘azza wajall talks about certain rules for social interaction among believers. Then in the above phrase He talks about the reward for those who obey those rules. Obedience requires faith in Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā and knowledge and awareness of His wishes. The word ‘darajāt’ refers to ranks or different statuses. The word is plural and indefinite, implying a sort of limitless ranks in closeness to Allah and in the rewards they would receive.
This verse tells us that human beings ascend in ranks through two qualities – faith and knowledge. Sincere faith in Allah (swt) is the foundation of all the virtues of a believer, it is the root from which stem beautiful thoughts and actions. Knowledge is an outstanding quality of the believer. Its great merit has been mentioned in glowing terms in Hadīth. Although martyrdom in the way of Allah is the ultimate act of devotion, the Holy Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam says: The rank of a learned person over a martyr is superior, and the rank of a martyr over a worshipper is superior . . . and the superiority of a learned person over the rest of mankind is like the superiority of myself over the smallest of them. (Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān).
Many HadIth talk about the superiority of people with knowledge over worshipers. This is to show the distance between the two groups. Worship with faith is good and praiseworthy but cannot be compared with one who understand things clearly and then acts. The value of the later is vastly superior. In fact, the people with knowledge cannot be compared to any other groups of people. Allah (swt) says: Say, are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who possess intellect take admonition (Q 39:9)
Seeking knowledge is one of the most noble ways of spending time. The Prophet (s) says:One who proceeds on a path in the pursuit of knowledge, God makes him proceed therewith on a path to the Garden (Paradise). And, verily, the angels spread their wings for the seekers of knowledge out of delight. Verily, every creature of the heaven and the earth asks forgiveness for the seeker of knowledge, even the fish in the sea. The merit of the ‘ālim (the learned) over the ‘ābid (the devout) is like the merit of the moon over the stars on a full moon night. The learned are the heirs of the prophets, for the prophets did not leave behind a legacy of wealth but that of knowledge. So whoever partakes of it derives copious benefit. (Al Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, Kitāb fadl al ‘ilm, H. 1).
With the present restrictions of being home bound due to the pandemic, it is a good opportunity to spend time in seeking knowledge. Because of Internet and YouTube, numerous resources are available. Here are a few things that believers can do:
1) Enroll for online courses being provided by a number of Shi‘ī Islamic organizations and learning institutions. You can choose from a short course that runs weekly for a month, or long courses that run over several months.
2) List a few Islamic topics of interest to you and search for them on internet. You will be surprised to see that many good lectures by renowned scholars are available gratis in different languages for our benefit.
3) Team up with your spouse, family members, friends, or acquaintances to discuss on an Islamic issue. When in doubt or for additional clarification ensure to seek guidance from resident scholars in your city.
4) Within your social circles form a Book Club to read together and discuss the contents of books on Islamic creed, history, and ethics.
5) With your family members, every day discuss about five short Hadith from the Holy Prophet (s) and his Ahlul Bayt (a). You can select the Hadith from www.al-islam.org and https://hadith.academyofislam.
We pray to the Almighty to grant us tawfīq in making Islamic learning a lifetime practice for all members of the family. Undoubtedly this will raise our ranks with Almighty God and allow us to appreciate Islamic culture, teachings and values.
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Allāmah Syed Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.