Priority of Seeking Knowledge to Actions & Deeds
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
(Friday Speech Delivered by Imam Mohamed Baianonie at the Islamic Center of Raleigh, NC on October 17, 1997)
One of the most important shar’i issues is the priority of seeking knowledge to actions and deeds; knowledge must come before deeds because knowledge is the guide and because deeds without knowledge are definitely subject to error, innovation, and misleading. For that reason Allah (S.W.T.) raised up the degree of those who have knowledge, He (S.W.T.) said in surat Al-Mujadilah, (Verse 11), what can be translated as, "Allah will exalt in degree those of you who believe, and those who have been granted knowledge."
The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) elevated the one who has knowledge over the worshiper, He (S.A.W.) said in a good hadith reported by Imam At-Tirmithi, "An ‘Aalim (learned person in the deen) is as much superior to an ‘Aabid (Worshiper) as I am superior to the lowest among you." In another hadith reported by Imams Abu-Dawoud and At-Tirmithi, that the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) said, "An ‘Aalim (learned person in the deen) is as much superior to an ‘Aabid (Worshiper) as the full moon is superior to all stars." And Mu’ath (R.A.) said: "knowledge is an Imam (leader) and deeds are its follower."
The scholars of Islam understood the importance of this subject in the age of the companions of the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), so did their followers. In this regard, Imam Bukhari has made in his authentic collection of hadiths, in the book of knowledge, a chapter that is titled "Subject: Seeking Knowledge before Saying and Action". He meant that knowledge is a prerequisite or condition for saying anything or initiating any action so that the sayings and actions become valid and accepted by Allah (S.W.T.).
Imam Bukhari supported his opinion with some verses and Ahadiths. One verse in surat Muhammad, (Verse 19), what can be translated as, "(O Muhammad) Have knowledge that there is no god except Allah and seek forgiveness for your sin and to the believers males and females." So, Allah (S.W.T.) commanded the messenger Muhammad (S.A.W.) that he has to have knowledge of the Oneness of Allah first followed by asking for forgiveness which is an action. Although this speech is addressed to the messenger of Allah (S.W.T.), it can be
understood that it is also addressed to the whole Muslim ummah. Another verse that supports the opinion of Imam Bukhari in surat Fatir, (Verse 28), what can be translated as, "It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah." So, knowledge is the one that leads to fear of Allah, which in turn entices action. Among the ahadith that also supports the opinion of the Imam Bukhari is what the Messenger (S.A.W.) said, "If Allah wants good for someone, He helps him learn the deen." Because if he has knowledge, he will initiate an action and his action will be correct to Allah and His messenger’s teaching.
Knowledge comes before action, because with knowledge you can recognize the truth from falsehood in the matters of belief, and tell right from wrong in the matters of the sayings, and tell the sunnah from innovations in the matters of worship (ibadat), and tell the valid from the invalid in the matters of dealings, and tell the Halal from Haram in the matters of behavior, and the virtue from foulness in the matters of morals, and the accepted from the unaccepted in the matters of sayings and actions.
For this reason, the rightly guided khalifah Amar Bin Abdulaziz (R.A.) said, "Whosoever does a deed without knowledge, he will do bad more than he will do good." This is clear in the lives of some Muslims in the past and in the present- those who do not lack righteousness, sincerity, and zeal, but lack knowledge and understanding for the reality of deen. This is exactly what happened to the group of (Khawarij) kharijites (the oldest religious sect of Islam) who fought Ali Bin Abu Taleb (R.A.) and other companions of the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.); they the kharijites thought that with their action they will get closer to Allah (S.W.T.). Their unfortunate and disastrous story is well known in the Islamic history. The prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) said about them and those who are like them in an authentic hadith reported by Imams Bukhari and Muslim, "You the companions belittled your prayers compared to theirs, and your fasting compared to theirs, and your actions compared to theirs, they recite Qur’an but it does not go beyond their throat, they go through deen like the arrow goes through the prey." That is how the messenger described them: "They read Qur’an... but it does not go beyond their throat" which means they do not understand it and do not benefit from it. That’s why the messenger described them in another hadith reported by Imams Bukhari and Muslim, "They are young and have weak and narrow minds." They had so little knowledge and understanding, so they did not benefit anything from their reading the book of Allah despite the fact that their recital was abundant, because it was reading without understanding, and sometimes they understood it differently from what Allah meant.
For this reason, Imam Al-Hassan Al-Basri warned from getting too deep into the area of actions and deeds before having knowledge and understanding, so he said, "The one who does anything without knowledge is like the one who is not on any road, he does more corruption than he does good, so seek knowledge before ibadah. people sought ibadah and left knowledge until they carried their swords against the ummah of the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.); if they had sought knowledge, they would not have done what they had done."
That’s how big the problem of the kharijites was; it summarizes as follows: Deeds and sincerity to Allah without knowledge or understanding, or with erroneous understanding and little knowledge. Yes, it is a disaster of great magnitude in the history of this ummah, because of which many thousands of Muslims perished.... Ali (R.A.) and other prominent companions did their best to solve this problem of the Kharijites with knowledge and evidence and with intellect, but it was too late...Then it was a must that they had to be physically challenged in a battle because they insisted upon killing the Muslims, so the companions of the prophet (S.A.W.) fought them and killed many of them but many of them also escaped killing.... And when Ali (R.A.) used to be questioned about them, Are they unbelievers? He used to say: "No, they escaped from unbelief, they are our brothers who transgressed against us."
The problem of the kharijites during the age of the companions came to an end, but it has not practically ended in the life of Muslims because it is a problem that arises when the appropriate conditions and circumstances are available. It will not come from outside of this ummah and will not come from those who do not care about this deen, It will come from the group of people who are holding on to the deen and working actively in the path of Allah if they lacked knowledge and understanding...So it is essential to prevent this problem from recurring before it happens again....This can be accomplished with seeking knowledge, and understanding the Book of Allah and the sunnah of the prophet (S.A.W.) according to the method of the companions (R.A.).