In conjunction with taqwa, there exists ilm and amal
By: Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Jalali
In conjunction with taqwa (God-consciousness), there exists ilm (knowledge) and amal (practice). For how can we be conscious of God (the Almighty) if we do not have knowledge, and what is the point of having knowledge if we do not act upon it? The Qur’an stresses the importance of knowledge (ilm). For example, the Qur’an (58:11) states, inter alia, “Allah will raise those of you who have faith and those who have been given knowledge in rank.”
Also, the Qur’an (39:9) states, inter alia, “Say, „Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who possess intellect take admonition.”
Knowledge has different levels and degrees. There are those who are more knowledgeable than others. Also, some types of knowledge may be better or more beneficial than other types of knowledge. Knowledge is essential for every civilization. Without knowledge, a society cannot survive, let alone move forward. Islam insists on acquiring knowledge. Regarding the Qur’an, what were the first verses revealed?
“Read in the Name of your Lord who created; created man from a clinging mass. Read, and your Lord is the most generous, who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.” (Qur’an (96:1-5)).
So, one should acquire knowledge as much as possible. This knowledge does not have to be just religious knowledge. Any knowledge that brings benefit is important. However, as said before, some types of knowledge may be better than other types of knowledge, and it is only natural that knowledge that can benefit one in this life and the hereafter will have greater importance than knowledge that merely benefits one in this temporary world. Ilm helps one come closer to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, in a metaphysical sense. (Jalali, page 436).
For example, one needs to know what is right and what is wrong. Also, when one acquires knowledge, the beauty of this world (our existence) and its complexities naturally become apparent, which may strengthen one’s connection with God, the All-Wise. For example, when I was studying physics and engineering, I became aware of some of the magnificent physical theories, laws, and relationships of the Universe, and that made me truly realize that Something must be in charge of all of these things. It does not make sense that this Universe is a product of randomness. There is no limit in acquiring knowledge. The Qur’an (12:76) states, inter alia, “We raise in rank whomever We please, and above every man of knowledge is one who knows better.”
We should always try to learn more. Furthermore, following any creed without knowledge is haram (forbidden) in Islam. The Qur’an (5:104) states “And when they are told, „Come to what Allah has sent down and [come] to the Apostle,’ they say, „Sufficient for us is what we have found our fathers following.’ What, even if their fathers did not know anything and were not guided?!”
One cannot just say my ancestors or family did this and so I will also do this. What if it is completely wrong and against Islam? No, one must break the chain of ignorance by acquiring knowledge (of course, issues of conflict with family must be dealt with in a respectful manner and with wisdom and tact). The ahadith (traditions) also stress upon the topic of knowledge. They mention that whoever has knowledge is rightly guided and that whoever does not know may go astray. (Jalali, page 437).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that it is a duty to seek knowledge. He also said to learn from those who know. Additionally, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said, “Strive to acquire knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”
From a personal point of view, knowledge and education have truly benefited my family. My grandparents were poor farmers in India. My father told me that when he was young, sometimes there was not enough food to eat. However, my father was able to get an education and become a pharmacist. Eventually, he had an opportunity to come to the United States to practice pharmacy, provide for his whole family, and properly educate his children. The education he acquired allowed him to do all of this. All praise is due to Allah, the All-Generous.
Today, I am able to provide for my family because of the education I received, the education my parents worked hard for to provide for me. Without education, I am not sure where I would be. I may have been in India struggling to get by. I know other people who did not pay much heed to education, and they always tell me that they regret not studying because of the lack of opportunities or obstacles they are facing. Now, please do not get me wrong. I am not saying that being a farmer or living a certain type of lifestyle is bad and that one should become educated only to live comfortably.
Actually, Allamah Tabataba’i identifies ahadith regarding the virtues of farming. For example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that “A Muslim who plants a tree or grows a crop of which people, birds and grazing animals eat receives the reward for almsgiving.”
All I am saying is that education was able to benefit my family. Even if you want to be a farmer, be an educated farmer. Why? Because knowledge will help you be a better farmer. For example, you may learn how to grow better crops or you may learn how to farm more efficiently. Or, you may truly appreciate farming and be thankful to God while some other farmers may still be stuck in their ignorance and superstitions.
Acquiring education or knowledge does not only mean getting a degree (e.g., students may sleep in their university classes and not study, but as long as they pay their money and get a piece a paper at the end, they apparently are qualified as educated). One can read, study, ponder, and learn without entering the business world of modern academics. You see, knowledge, as mentioned before, has many levels and types. Knowledge can be used to benefit oneself and/or others in this material world, knowledge can help oneself to fight off superstition and ignorance, and knowledge can help one get closer to Allah (the Most High). No matter what you do, acquire knowledge.
The duty of an individual is not only to acquire ilm (knowledge) but to also act upon the ilm
The duty of an individual is not only to acquire ilm (knowledge) but to also act upon the ilm. Amal (practice) is an essential factor. What is the point of knowing something if you do not follow or use that knowledge? For example, if you know that a specific substance in front of you is or contains poison, it would not make sense for you to ignore that knowledge and drink the substance anyway.
One can be the smartest person, but if he does not act upon the knowledge acquired, he is nothing or something worse than nothing. Even if you have great religious knowledge, you can go astray if you do not practice what you know. Look at Shaytan (Satan)! Practice is a second factor (knowledge being the first) when evaluating a society and/or the individuals thereof. (Jalali, page 438). The Qur’an (16:97) states, inter alia, “Whoever does good whether male or female and he is a believer, We will most certainly make him live a happy life.”
Accordingly, one who has faith and performs good deeds will live a happy life. What does this mean? I have seen pious people that do many good deeds, but they are still poor and do not have big houses or fancy cars. Why? A happy life does not mean just having material possessions or achieving worldly goals. A happy life is when one is truly content. For example, a rich person may always be worried about his money, and when someone comes to talk to him, he may be thinking that this person is here for only money (always worrying). You can have everything in this world and still not be happy. Allah (the All-Wise) says to do good deeds while having faith to be truly happy. Whether you are rich or poor, the feeling of true contentment is a great achievement.
Please note that the truths of science do not contradict Islam. Man may discover the beauty of the Universe, but only Allah (the All-Merciful) can create such a Universe. The truthful discoveries of science actually reinforce the power and greatness of God, the Almighty.
Furthermore, the wise Qur’an (9:105) states, inter alia, “And say, „Go on working: Allah will see your conduct, and His Apostle and the faithful [as well].”
These three are watching you, and so believe and do good work. Work, as opposed to laziness, is a duty upon each individual to bring blessings to his or her society. Islam strongly condemns laziness. If you do not work and just eat, you are not better than an animal. Please note that “work” has a broad meaning and does not only mean going to a modern job. Mothers that stay home and raise children may “work” harder than their husbands that go out to make money.
Nevertheless, the long lasting success of a nation generally depends on the hard work of its people. For example, the societies that discovered and utilized natural principles and laws (such as in physics and chemistry) benefitted greatly from the hard work of their scientists. The Qur’an (18:30) states, “As for those who have faith and do righteous deeds – indeed We do not waste the reward of those who are good in deeds.”
Also, the Qur’an (53:39-40) states, “[A]nd that nothing belongs to man except what he strives for, and that he will soon be shown his endeavour.”
The Qur’an (99:7-8) further states, “So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.” (See Jalali, page 439).
Accordingly, everyone has to strive to work and do good deeds with faith. Of course, the striving and the work are relative to an individual’s capabilities and situation. For example, no one expects a layman to perform life saving medical procedures or deduce Islamic rules like a mujtahid (an expert given permission to interpret the Qur’an and the traditions to form Islamic rulings). Everyone should strive to work based on their own level. Of course, one should educate themselves and acquire knowledge to reach higher levels. You see, ilm and amal are tied together.
What kinds of practice are important?
When talking about amal (practice), what kinds of practice are important? Well, let us take a closer look at the concept of work. As Muslims, we should not be aloof or lazy; we should work. We should not expect to receive everything and do nothing. (Jalali, page 439). The wise Qur’an (51:22) states, “And in the sky is your provision and what you are promised.”
What does this mean? The verse conveys the message that everything (in terms of provisions) is out there if you look for it. Do not say there is nothing. For example, fish will not walk to your house, but you can go to the sea or lake to catch fish (they are out there). Also, in regards to the blessed Maryam (peace be upon her and her family), the Qur’an (19:24-25) states, “Thereupon he called her from below her [saying,] „Do not grieve! Your Lord has made a spring to flow at your feet. Shake the trunk of the palm tree, freshly picked dates will drop upon you.”
The dates were not automatically placed in her hands or mouth. No, she had to shake the tree. One must work! All Prophets (peace be upon them) tended to flocks or were shepherds at one point in time. (Jalali, page 440). This was a type of work for them in their respective communities. Also, Prophet Adam was a peasant (agricultural worker), Prophet Idris was a tailor, Prophet Nuh was a carpenter, Prophet Hud was a businessman, and Prophet Muhammad was a caravan manager (peace be upon all of them and their families). Furthermore, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) entered into fair partnership-like financial transactions (mudharabah).
Companions of the Prophet and the Imams (peace be upon them and their families) also shared a similar work ethic. For example, Salman al-Muhammadi weaved carpets. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (peace be upon him and his family) said that you cannot gain anything in life by just sitting and wishing. He said that you have to drop the bucket in the well, and sometimes you may get a little water and sometimes you may get a lot of water.
One must work to progress. Now, I must stress again that work is not just the concept of leaving the house to go to the office and collecting a pay check (e.g., a person may go to an office and also may not do much work). Work is of many varieties. For example, a wife and/or mother that makes meals and feeds her family and manages a house is doing great and vital work. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him and his family) said that work is worship.
For example, supporting ones family by working is fulfilling an obligation, which is worship. Also, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) used to do some gardening type work and someone asked the Imam to let him (the other person) do the work.
The Imam said no as long as I am able to do the work because I want to be close to Allah (the Most High). Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, (peace be upon him and his family) said that never be lazy because if you are lazy, you may be lazy with God (the All-Merciful). Imam Ali as-Sajjad (peace be upon him and his family) said that you should do your work as if you will live forever, and you should do for your afterlife as if you will die tomorrow. Why? Well, focusing on the first part, when you do work for this life, do it properly.
For example, if you are going to fix your house, fix it so that it will not fall apart the next day. This has many advantages, such as physical betterment and stability or security as well as other positive effects. Personally, when I vacuum the house sometimes, I may not clean every corner or vacuum under certain objects (maybe because I am tired). However, I do feel the difference between doing a full complete job in vacuuming versus when I do not do such a good job. Firstly, the house does not look as nice or is not as clean when I do not put in the full work, and, secondly, I do not feel as satisfied.
When someone does something, that person’s work product represents that person in a way. As Muslims, we should do the best job at everything we do because our work represents ourselves, our character. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) was burying his son, Ibrahim, the Prophet looked in the grave and saw a pit in a corner. In order to level it, he smoothed the surface with his own hands and said, “Whenever anyone of you does a job he should endeavour to do it in a solid way.”
By doing something properly, we are trying to better ourselves, which may bring us closer to the Lord, the All-Beneficent. Of course, one should not get infatuated with materialism and work for the sake of mere aesthetic and worldly pleasure (because one may get addicted to material goals that may lead him astray). In Islam, all (no matter gender, race, nationality, etc.) are responsible to do some work and progress within the limits. (Jalali, page 441).
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) said to never be lazy and never complain. So, do your work (whatever it may be to help yourself, your family, and your society) and be thankful to Allah, the All-Gracious. Unfortunately, a lot of us do not want to do any work, and we just want to complain all day. That is not Islam. Every individual is a product of his or her work.
For example, someone (such as a parent or teacher) may guide you, but you have to put in the time and work in the end. If you do not read or listen, how can you learn? Also, the work you do or the lack thereof may have an impact beyond yourself. For example, if you ignore your child and do not teach her certain values and etiquettes (meaning, you do not do your work in raising the child), it reflects poorly on you and you have done a great disservice to the child (which may cause the child, you, and the community great pains).
From the concepts of ilm (knowledge) and amal (practice) stem a lot of responsibilities for a Muslim
From the concepts of ilm (knowledge) and amal (practice) stem a lot of responsibilities for a Muslim. One of the main standards a Muslim should maintain is the character of being easy (not difficult). Everyone in life faces difficulties and discomfort, but one should not let the difficult situations make him or her difficult. In the language of our time, we say, “Take it easy.”
For example, if you have an arrangement with someone else and for some reason the other person does not show or perform but gives a valid excuse, then accept the excuse and take it easy. If you do not, it is really bad for you. Your blood pressure increases, you get angry and may say or do something you will regret, etc.
For example, look at Imam Husayn (peace be upon him and his family). In the beginning, Hurr diverted the Imam and his companions based on his orders, and then at the end, Hurr decided to join Imam Husayn’s camp. Now, Imam Husayn (peace be upon him and his family) was always easy with Hurr. When Hurr came to the Imam’s camp and apologized, the Imam did not scold him or become furious. No, the Imam kindly asked him to sit, but Hurr felt obligated to fight right away. If we were in the Imam’s situation, would we act like that? Keep calm. If your spouse is shouting at you, do not shout back. One can diffuse many problematic situations just by taking it easy. Islam has insisted on taking it easy. (Jalali, page 442).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that I was sent by God (the Almighty) with a religion that is easy and pure. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) also said never be stubborn (because the other side might have a point) and that always be easy with people whether they are near (relatives) or far (in terms of relation). This kind of thinking and way of life was and is trying to destroy the tribal mentality as well as trying to build-up an individual.
When looking at Islam, one sees the principles of manners, forgiveness, kindness, etc. The qualities of a Mu’min (believer) include not being stubborn, always keeping his or her promises (meaning you can trust him or her), and not intentionally bothering other people. The principle of being easy is well founded in Islam, and there are at least three ways or means for easiness. For example, 1) giving (money, time, knowledge, work, etc.), 2) piety or taqwa (God consciousness), and 3) agreeing with whatever is good. The Qur’an (92:5-7) sums it up by stating, “As for him who gives and is Godwary and confirms the best promise, We shall surely ease him into facility.”
If you follow these principles, then life will be easy for you and you can maintain easiness with others. However, on the other hand, the Qur’an (92:8-10) states, “But as for him who is stingy and self-complacent, and denies the best promise, We shall surely ease him into hardship.”
Easiness is a blessing of Allah (the All-Merciful). There are people who are always worried about every little thing. They may have nice cars, but they are always worried if those cars will be stolen or scratched. Even if someone says salam (Islamic greeting of peace) to them, they become worried asking themselves, “What does he want now?” What kind of life is that? No, one needs to be patient and at ease. The Qur’an (41:34-35) states: Good and evil [conduct] are not equal. Repel [evil] with what is best. [If you do so,] behold, he between whom and you was enmity, will be as though he were a sympathetic friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except the greatly endowed.
Forgiveness is also very important in regards to ease. The Qur’an (7:199) states, “Adopt [a policy of] excusing [the faults of people], bid what is right, and turn away from the ignorant.”
Generally, always forgive. Forgiveness is great for many reasons, and if you do not forgive, you really bother yourself. Allah (the All-Wise) addresses Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) as stated in the Qur’an (3:159): It is by Allah’s mercy that you are gentle to them; and had you been harsh and hardhearted, surely they would have scattered from around you. So excuse them, and plead for forgiveness for them, and consult them in affairs, and once you are resolved, put your trust in Allah.
Here, forgiveness and consultation are stressed. Consultation embraces the idea of inclusion versus exclusion. Even if you do not follow the advice of others, the simple fact of including them makes a significant difference in situations. Inclusion may solve many problems, and exclusion may cause many problems. Also, forgiveness brings love and affection between individuals, family, and society. (Jalali, page 444).
Looking at the ahadith (traditions) from Prophet Muhammad and the Imams (peace be upon them all), one can see the significance of being easy. For example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that if you cannot give people money, at least have a happy face (do not frown).
Prophet Muhammad also said that if someone comes with an excuse, accept it, and he also said that a person who takes it easy gets along with others. One does not have to agree with someone else, but that person can be easy with others. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) said that if someone is good and does something wrong, forgive him.
Also, Imam Sadiq said that to make your deeds ma’ruf (good or accepted) you should 1) not comment on them (meaning, do not mention them or bring them up even if it is something big you did; because when you make your deed appear small, it is truly large), 2) make it easy for the other person (meaning, if someone asks you for help, help them in such a way in which you do not place difficulty on them), and 3) do it right away. (Jalali, page 445).
One of the greatest gifts Allah (the All-Merciful) has given mankind is prayer
One of the greatest gifts Allah (the All-Merciful) has given mankind is prayer. Now, there is ritual prayer (salat) that involves specific actions and sayings to be performed, and then there is du’a (call or supplication). The du’a or call to God (the All-Hearing) really has no conditions except true sincerity or purity. Du’a is a direct link or direct call to the Lord of all things. Meaning, the connection is between you and Allah (all glory be to Him). Yes, people may use different means to reach God, but the call or worship is still directed to God.
For example, one may ask Prophet Muhammad, the Imams, or any other Ma’sum (infallible being, peace be upon them all) to pray for him/her or ask from Allah (the All-Powerful) on his/her behalf, but the Ma’sum is just a means of purity, which Allah (the All-Hearing) has provided as a mercy. It is God, and only God that is the Ultimate Provider. We do not worship the Ma’sum, but we may use their purity just as a means when calling God (the All-Merciful). To further elaborate, people go to places of great purity to do du’a. For example, during Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) or ziyarat (visit), people make du’a at holy places, like near the Ka’bah. One can take advantage of the purity of the place to make a sincere call to the Lord (the Master of all). Of course we do not worship the Ka’bah; we worship the One God. Allah (the All-Wise) states via the Qur’an (2:186), inter alia,
“When My servants ask you about Me, [tell them that] I am indeed nearmost. I answer the supplicant’s call when he calls Me.”
Du’a is very powerful. Besides experiencing many occasions in which God answered my calls for help (such as asking for help in school and work and asking for better health for my loved ones), I also know many people that tell me personal stories in which they make du’a and their wishes are fulfilled. For example, one brother told me that when he was in Hajj, he wanted something during tawaf (circumbulation) and he made du’a for it, and he swears that his du’a was answered right away.
However, the main question is why does Allah (the All-Wise) not answer every du’a of mine? For example, in 2006, my wife and I were determined to go for Hajj. We prayed and made du’a that we both can perform this great obligation and mercy. We paid the money, we packed the bags, and we were ready to get together with the other members of the Hajj group. The night before we were to go to the airport to begin our journey, we received a call from the group.
We were told that our 6visas were not obtained and that, actually, someone stole them. This was a devastating blow. The group decided to cancel the entire Hajj trip, and we tried our utmost to get on another Hajj group. We prayed and prayed for something to work out, but we were too late and we did not go for Hajj. My wife and I discussed why this did not happen for us. One theory is that maybe we were not ready. You see, Allah (the All-Knowing) sees things that we do not see. He knows what is better for us. The Lord sometimes does not answer our call because maybe we are not ready or what we ask for is not right for us, such as at that moment. There is a hadith (tradition) that states that the fastest or quickest reply from Allah takes forty years. What does this mean?
You see, Allah may not answer you right away because you might need to grow first before you get what you asked for. My wife does say that she feels more mature now and that she may appreciate Hajj more now than before.
Of course, there could be many other reasons why Allah does not answer or delays His answer (e.g., Allah may want to test us, what we ask for may not be good for us, there may be something better, we may not be sincere enough, and/or other reasons - some we can comprehend and some that may be beyond our comprehension). For example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that if you want your du’a to be answered, then purify your food and work. You see, there may be a lack of purity and/or sincerity on your part in which Allah (the All-Merciful) may not accept your call until you purify yourself.
In another theory, my wife and I thought that maybe we did something wrong, and that is why we did not go to Hajj. May Allah (the All-Gracious) make us aware of our wrong doings so that we can correct them. There are certain things one can do to increase purity and sincerity in regards to making du’a. (Jalali, page 449). For example, when making du’a raise your hands for supplication, start and end with salawat (invocation of peace upon Prophet Muhammad and his family), say Ya Allah ten times, and your intention should be clear and you should not have hypocrisy in your heart (no matter what you receive).
Also, whatever Allah chooses for you accept it, do not delay prayer (salat), and give charity. Furthermore, there is a beautiful hadith (tradition) from Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (peace be upon him and his family) in which someone asked him why his du’a was not answered and Imam Ali said that you know Allah but you do not obey Him, you know the messenger but you do not follow him, you know the Qur’an but you do not follow it, you feel the fire of Hell but you do not prepare to avoid it, you want to enter Paradise but you do not prepare to enter it, you receive favors but you are not thankful. If we are truly sincere (just not with our tongues, but with our whole being), then Allah (the All-Merciful) may answer us.
Du’a is truly a spiritual experience. It is one of the best remedies, and it gives comfort. For example, if you are stressed and worrying about many things, you can use du’a as a stress reliever. Personally, when I am upset or worried, I like going to a quiet area in my house to make du’a. I open up to the Lord and have an intimate moment. By doing this, I truly feel more relaxed afterwards. Just knowing that God is there listening to me really brings me comfort.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that du’a is the essence of worship. He also said that whoever does not know how to do du’a is a loser. Additionally, Imam Ali (peace be upon him and his family) said that who does du’a but does not act is fooling himself. So worship Allah by doing du’a, but act accordingly to be worthy of receiving an answer. In connection with the concept of du’a, there is the concept of dhikr (remembrance [of God]). The Qur’an (7:205) states, “And remember your Lord within your heart beseechingly and reverentially, without being loud, morning and evening, and do not be among the heedless.”
You see, when you remember Allah (the All-Beneficent) you become calm and relaxed. When one gets nervous, that is when Shaytan (Satan) attacks. Remember Allah to keep control and to be in a comfortable state. Now, what does it mean to remember the Lord? Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that whoever obeys Allah, he is in remembrance of Allah (the All-Generous).
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) said that I do not say, ‘Do not say Subhan’Allah (All-Glory be to God),’ but the essence of dhikr is when you have the choice to obey Shaytan, to obey yourself, or to obey the Lord and at that time you choose to remember Allah.
How many times have we sat down with the tasbih beads (prayer beads or beads used for remembering or glorifying God) and used our tongues to try to remember Allah, and then after we put the beads away we do not follow the commands of God in our daily activities? In addition to reciting tasbih, May Allah (the All-Powerful) gives us the strength to remember Him properly by obeying His merciful commands and recommendations.