Quranic Reflection No 654. Āyat 18: 66 – Etiquette before a Scholar


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قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَىٰ هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَىٰ أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمْتَ رُشْدًا

Mūsā said to him, ‘May I follow you for the purpose that you teach me some of the knowledge you have been taught?’ 

(Sūrat al-Kahf, No. 18, Āyat 66)

One of the necessary roles in a Muslim community is that of the religious scholar. Both the intellect and the Islamic tradition necessitate that some members of the Muslim community undertake the noble task of seeking Islamic knowledge, until they become deeply knowledgeable in the religion and can teach and guide other believers. Refer to the Quranic verse 9:122, for example. When such an individual possesses both knowledge and piety, Islamic teachings have emphasized that they are to be revered. For example, Imam Mūsā al-Kāzim (peace be upon him) has said: Venerate a scholar because of his knowledge and relinquish disputing him. And Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has said: One who revers a scholar has shown reverence to his Lord.

In the above verse from Sūrat al-Kahf, an amazing level of humility and etiquette is presented by the prophet of Allah, Hadrat Mūsā (peace be upon him) when he approaches Khidr to learn from him. This even though Mūsā was himself one of the great prophets of Allah ‘azza wajall, who had a lofty position both spiritually and socially. Nonetheless, he humbly seeks permission to be able to follow Khidr. The idea of unconditionally following is itself a sort of submission before Khidr. Mūsā also admits that Khidr is in possession of knowledge that Allah bestowed upon him, and he asks that Khidr in turn bestow this knowledge upon him. This means that he is asking Khidr to do that which Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā did. He has raised the level of Khidr to being the one in charge, while he will be a submissive servant. Note also that Mūsā asks Khidr to only teach some of what he has been taught, as if he is admitting that he can never be at the same level as Khidr. Such respect is a lesson for us all and we must strive to abide by it when we interact with pious scholars in our lives.

On a final note, during this era that we live in, due to certain factors, the necessity of a religious scholar has been multiplied. For example, the religion of Islam today is under attack from forces within as well as external enemies, many of whom have much to say and need to be responded to in an academic manner. Who can take up this task other than a religious scholar? Or consider the difficulty of understanding the primary texts of Islam today, after over a thousand years since these texts were first written down. The distance of the culture, changes in the Arabic language, the loss of certain primary sources, the addition of fabrications, and the constant growth of a vast corpus of literature that is analyzing these primary texts and theorizing how this analysis must be undertaken, all adds to the difficulty of studying Islam today.

One of the individuals from Toronto, who undertook this responsibility and spent years of his life studying the religion to then come back and preach was the late Syed Asad Jafri who tragically left us at a young age. We ask Allah by the sake of his forefathers, Muhammad, and the progeny of Muhammad (peace be upon them), to raise the station of Syed Asad in the hereafter and allow him to inspire a generation of future scholars.

Resources: Shahīd al-Thānī, Muniyat al-Murīd (The Desire of the Aspirant).