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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the Way to Attend Study Sessions


On the
Way to Attend Study-Sessions

Imam Ibn Hazm

From "Al-Akhlaq wa’l Siyar" – Morality
and Behaviour

Published in "In Pursuit of Virtue" by
M. Abu Laylah



If you attend a study-session, behave only
like someone who wishes to increase his knowledge and to win greater recompense
from God. Do not behave like someone who is content with what he has, who
is looking for some fault to criticise or a curious detail to hawk around.
This would be the behaviour of vile men who never succeed in their studies.

If you come to it with good intentions,
you will always obtain the best results. Otherwise, to stay at home would
be less tiring for your body, more worthy of your moral conduct and more
salutary for your religious life.

If you do attend under the conditions that
we have indicated, take care to adopt one of these three attitudes and
there cannot be a fourth: [First,] you may keep quiet in the silence of
ignorance. Thus you will obtain the reward of your intention in attending
the study-session, praise for your reserve, dignity in your behaviour and
the friendship of those you mix with.

[Secondly,] if you do not behave like this,
ask the questions which someone would ask who wished to learn. Then you
will obtain, in addition to the four advantages just mentioned, a fifth,
which is to increase your knowledge. What characterizes the questions asked
by someone who wishes to learn is that he only asks about the points he
does not know, not those he does know. To ask about what one already knows
is a proof of ineptitude and a weak spirit, it is only palaver and a useless
waste of time for oneself and for others. By doing this you will only provoke
dislike and it will only be pure verbiage. So do not play games, it is
a bad fault.

If the person you are asking replies satisfactorily,
stop questioning. If his reply is not satisfactory, or if you do not understand
it, say to him, ''I do not understand", and ask him to elaborate. If he
does not explain himself more clearly, if he keeps silent or if he repeats
what he said before without adding anything, keep silent, otherwise you
will only bring upon yourself trouble and dislike, without obtaining the
desired enlightenment.

[Thirdly,] you can riposte as a scholar
would, that is to say that you can reply to the arguments advanced in a
way that refutes them clearly. If you are not capable of replying in this
way, if you are able only to repeat yourself or to reply using arguments
which your adversary will not find convincing, do not insist for you will
not gain by your repetitions any extra result or any information. You will
only succeed in annoying yourself and starting a hostility between the
two of you which could have serious consequences.

Guard against the questions that a prejudiced
man would ask or the ripostes of a show-off who is bent on being right
without knowing anything about the matter. These two attitudes are bad:
they witness to absence of piety, a great tendency to verbiage, a weakness
of spirit and considerable vanity. Let us commend the matter to God who
is our best support.

If certain statements are put to you verbally,
or if you come across a written text, guard against reacting violently,
which will bring about excesses in language, before you have assured yourself
by irrefutable proof that the ideas expressed are erroneous.

Neither should you accept them with the
enthusiasm of someone who is credulous and convinced until you have assured
yourself of their veracity by an irrefutable proof. In the two cases, you
would be shutting your eyes and turning away from knowing the truth. On
the contrary, consider what is being put to you as one would who is neither
against it nor for it, one who wants to understand, to the best of his
ability, what he has heard and read in order to increase his knowledge,
to adopt the new ideas if they are good or reject them if they are erroneous.
It is certain that if you behave like this you will be generally rewarded,
greatly praised and your merit will be recognized.

A man who is content with the small fortune
that he has and does not envy your opulence is as rich as you, even if
you are a Croesus. If this man resists the bait of gain to which you have
succumbed, he will be much richer than you.

Anyone who rises above the things of this
world to which you kneel is mightier than you.

It is a pious duty for Muslims to teach
the good and to practice it. Anyone who does both these things at once
is doing two virtuous deeds to perfection. But a person who contents himself
with teaching the good without practicing it is acting well by teaching
and acting badly by failing to put his teaching into practice, so mingling
a good with a bad deed. This case is preferable to that of the person who
would not teach the good any more than he would practice it. Such a man,
although not virtuous, is more worthy of imitation, he is less blameworthy
than someone who forbids the teaching of good and opposing anyone who practices

If it was only a man completely without
sin who had the right to forbid evil, if it was only the man of perfect
virtue who could teach the good, nobody yet would have forbidden evil or
ordained the good since [the death of] the Prophet peace be upon him. This
should be enough to make clear to you the corruption, wickedness and opprobrium
of anyone who might think this.

Abu Muhammad - may God be satisfied with
him said, "Here someone contradicted, protesting, 'When alHasan [al-Basri]
- may God be satisfied with him - forbade something [bad), he never did
it himself, and when he ordained something [good], he himself put his orders
firmly into practice. Wisdom requires that we do the same, for it has been
said that: nothing is more odious than to preach something and not practise
it, or to preach against an action and then to do it."'

Abu Muhammad replied, "The person who said
that was lying. There is something more ugly, that is, not to preach good
and not to preach against evil and also to allow oneself to act badly and
not to do good."

Abu Muhammad added: Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali
said this: Do not forbid a vice that you are given to yourself, for great
shame will fall on you. Start with yourself and forbid yourself your own
misdeeds. If you stop devoting yourself to them you will become a wise
man. Then your sermons will be accepted, people will take their example
from your knowledge and your teaching will be profitable.

Abu Muhammad continued: Abu al-Aswad wished
to condemn only someone who has done a deed after forbidding it to others:
such a deed would be doubly bad for having been committed by the very person
who forbade it. The poet was quite right for this is what the Almighty
said, "Will you command people to do good and forget to do it yourself?"
[Qur'an 2:44]. It cannot be believed that Abu al-Aswad wanted to express
any other idea. As for thinking that he did not want to be condemned for
a bad deed, God protect him from that! That would have been to act like
a wicked man.

Here is a true story about al-Hasan: When
he heard someone say that only a person who did no evil had the right to
forbid evil, he replied, `'Satan would like us to believe that, and then
nobody could forbid evil or ordain good."

Abu Muhammad confined: "Al-Hasan was right,
and that is what we said before."

May God grant that we may count among the
number of those whom He permits to do good and to practice it, and among
the number of those who see the straight road, for no one is without faults;
someone who perceived his own weaknesses will forget those of others. May
God permit us to die in the Sunna [law] of Muhammad. Amen, O Lord of the



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