5 Stages of acquiring knowledge

Knowledge is a Nur (light) through which one identifies truth from falsehood. Ignorance, on the other hand, is darkness, which conceals the hazards of this path. Thus, we must acquire ‘Ilm (knowledge) to safeguard ourselves.

Sufyaan Thawri رحمة االله عليه has outlined five stages to acquire knowledge:

1. Istimaa’ (listening attentively)

When the Prophet ﷺ would be taught the Quran by the angel Jibreel, he would listen to the revelation attentively observing total concentration. Allah says in the Quran “And when the Quran is being recited, then pay careful attention to its recitation.”

Likewise, the companions of the Prophet ﷺ would also listen attentively to the Prophet ﷺ, and so would their students, the tabieen, listen to them with utmost devotion and concentration. Therefore whenever we are seeking knowledge, we, as students, should ensure that we have our full concentration on the teacher and the subject being taught. We should not be distracted by others, nor should we be glancing at our phones, rather we should be fully focused if we want to derive maximum benefit. 

2. Insaat (silence, pondering)

Insaat refers to paying attention, pondering, or being observant. Not to have a wandering mind. This means, if a student listened to the lesson inattentively, he will not grasp the intended meaning. Subsequently, there can be no guarantee that he has understood the lesson correctly.

It is recorded regarding a student of knowledge,that he used to perform Witr Salaah whenever he relieved himself from the call of nature, be it during the day or at night. When asked why he did this, he replied: “It is reported in the Hadith that “Whosoever relieves himself should perform Witr.” This is indeed a hadith which has been reported, however, this student had heard the hadith, but was not concentrating. He, therefore, did not realise that the word Witr means “odd number”, therefore in this context, it means that when a person is relieving himself he should use an odd number of stones (or tissue) to clean himself. 

In short, Istimaa must be coupled with Insaat.

3. Hifdh (remembering or memorizing)

A student of knowledge should aim to memorise everything that he has been taught. If he has attended a lesson of hadith, he should aim to memorise the hadith, the meaning of the words and the different points made by the shaykh. Furthermore, it is important to go over this revision frequently. In this day and age, students should make notes, and revisit these after class. Make sure to revisit your notes over and over again, and ask your teacher for any points which you may not have understood correctly.

4. ‘Amal (practice)

One should practice on whatever one has heard attentively and remembered. If one does not practice on the ‘Ilm acquired, it will be void of any benefit and blessing. Abdullah ibn Mas’ud said, “Learn, so when you have learnt, then act.”.

Abu Darda would say; I am not afraid that it will be said to me: “Oh Aamir what have you learned?”, but I am more concerned that it will be said to me: “Oh Aamir, what have you done with what you have learned!”

Therefore, as soon as you learn something, make sure you put it into practice. If you learn that reciting Surah Mulk every night will save you from the punishment of the grave, then make sure you read Surah Mulk every night. Indeed Allah says “He is the One Who created death and life in order to test which of you is best in deeds.” (Quran 67:2)

5. Nashr (preaching and imparting) 

‘Ilm cannot be transferred or protected without Nashr. It will remain in the confines of a closet or trunk and after a few days, it will be buried. 

Dear student, once you have learnt something, and thereafter memorised and started practicing upon it, make sure you go on to teach this knowledge. In this way, your knowledge will be strengthened and preserved. Furthermore, you will benefit others and it will be a means of sadaqah jariyah for you.

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