Knowledge is attractive and it’s something everybody needs. However, when the correct procedure is not followed, the desired results are lost. The trend of self-study that has become ever so popular in the current times actually contributes to the destruction of pure knowledge. The boom of the internet and its search engines have also contributed to this trend. What follows is an in-depth look at the “Need for a Tutor”
To acquire knowledge under the expertise of a fully qualified, Sunnah-conscious ‘Alim of Din is absolutely essential. Failure to do so will result in misguidance. In fact, the system of tutorship has been adopted throughout time and was even the practice of the Ambiya (‘alayhimus salam) and our pious predecessors. This is the only way in which one will acquire pure authentic knowledge. An added benefit is that one will also discover how to respect the people of knowledge. (see: Adabul ikhtilaf of Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah, pg.162 and Ma’alim Irshadiyyah, pg.159)
A common supplication of the Salaf (pious predecessors) was:
التعوذ بالله من تشييخ الصحيفة
“They would seek refuge in Allah from having paper as their shaykh/tutor”
(Ma’alim Irshadiyyah of Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah, pg.179)
What follows are a few substantiations for this phenomenon;
1. In this world, there will always be a) Those who know, and b) those who don’t. In this regard, Allah Ta’ala instructs us in the Quran, “Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know.” (Surah: 21, Verse: 7)
2. The Holy Quran was revealed by Almighty Allah Ta’ala for guidance and knowledge of the ummah. But, without the explanation of Rasulullah (sallallahu ’alayhi wasallam) the meanings would definitely be misunderstood. Allah Ta’ala addresses Rasulullah (sallallahu ’alayhi wasallam) in the Quran
“And we have revealed to you the Quran, so that you may explain to the people what was revealed to them.”
(Surah: 6, Verse: 44)
This is the strongest, most evident proof for this issue.
Substantiation from Hadith
3. Sayyiduna Mu’awiyah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) reports that Rasulullah (sallallahu ’alayhi wasallam) said:
«يا أيها الناس تعلموا، إنما العلم بالتعلم والفقه بالتفقه، ومن يرد الله به خيرا يفقهه في الدين»
“O people! Acquire knowledge, for it can only be acquired through tutorship. You will only understand if you are made to understand (i.e, by a teacher). Allah Ta’ala grants the understanding of religion to those whom he intends good for.” (Tabarani and others; see Fathul Bari and ‘Umdatul Qari, before Hadith: 68)
There are several narrations with similar wordings that can be seen in the above two sources.
The famed commentator of Sahih Bukhari; Hafiz ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) explains: “This means that reliable knowledge is only that which is acquired from the Ambiya (Prophets) and their heirs (the ‘Ulama)”
A similar explanation is echoed by ‘Allamah ‘Aini (rahimahullah) in his commentary of Sahih Bukhari.
They both have graded this narration as “hasan” (sound)
4. While emphasizing this point ‘Allamah Shatbi (rahimahullah) writes: “The proof for this in the Sahih Hadith: “Indeed Allah will not take away knowledge (from this world) by snatching it away at once, rather He will do so by taking away the ‘Ulama” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith:100)
He writes further: “There is therefore no doubt that the keys to knowledge are its bearers” (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.174)
5. Under the commentary of the above Hadith, Hafiz Ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) quotes a narration from Musnad Ahmad that says: “Indeed, the departure of the people of knowledge is actually the exodus of knowledge itself.”
(Fathul Bari, Hadith: 100)
The Pattern of the Ambiya (‘alayhimus salam)
6. Nabi Dawud (‘alayhis salam) is said to have benefited immensely from Luqman Al-Hakim, before Dawud (‘alayhis salam) received prophethood. (Tafsir Qurtubi)
7. Luqman Al-Hakim actually advised his own son with the same:
“O my son! Sit in the company of the ‘Ulama and stick your knees to theirs, for Allah revives the hearts with the wisdom (acquired from them) just as he revives barren land with the rain”
(Jami’u Bayanil ‘ilm; ma’alim Irshadiyyah, pg.164)
8. Sayyiduna Musa’s (‘alayhis salam) sojourn to Nabi Khidhr (‘alayhis salam) is well-known and enshrined in the Holy Quran.
9. Sayyiduna Yusha’ ibn Noon (‘alayhis salam) stayed in the company of Nabi Musa (‘alayhis salam) for a long while before receiving prophethood himself.
The Statements of the Salaf
10. Furthermore, during the era of the Tabi’un, whenever anyone would claim to have any knowledge, he would be questioned as to whom he had acquired that bit of knowledge from. (Introduction to Sahih Muslim)
11. Khatib al-Baghdadi (rahimahumullah), the famous muhaddith of the fifth century, states in his book, Taqyidul-Ilm (pg.61), “Many scholars of the classical times had – at the time of death – either destroyed their books themselves or instructed others to do so on their behalf. This was due to fear that it may end up in the hands of ignorant ones who would not understand its verdicts and would only take the apparent meanings there from.”
He thereafter cited the names of classical scholars who had done so. From among them were: Imam Abidah al-Salmani, Imam Shu’bah ibn Hajjaj, Imam Abu Qilabah and Imam ‘Isa ibn Yunus (rahimahumullah). (Ibid pgs.61-62)
12. When Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) was informed of a group of people that sit in a “halaqah” (circle) discussing Fiqh (Issues of jurisprudence) in the Masjid, he enquired: “Do they have a leader (Teacher)?” The reply was negative to which he responded: “These people will never acquire (true) fiqh ever” (Adab al-Ikhtilaf pg.164 and Ma’alim Irshadiyyah, pg.163, both of Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah, Al-Faqih wal Mutafaqqih, vol.2 pg.83)
13. Imam Malik (rahimahullah) was once asked if knowledge could be acquired from one who did not sit in the company of the ‘Ulama (and who sufficed with books only). He replied in the negative and said:
“Knowledge should not be acquired except from one who has memorized, accompanied the scholars, practiced upon his knowledge and has piety in him.”
(Adabul-Ikhtilaf pg.165 and Ma’alim Irshadiyyah, pg.163)
14. Ibn Rushd (rahimahullah) writes: “In the earlier times knowledge was found in the chests of men. Then it was transferred to books, but the keys still remain in the chests of men. Therefore a student definitely requires a tutor who will open up for him the discussions and ways of understanding” (Footnotes on Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.174 and Ma’alim Irshadiyyah, pg.174)
15. Katib Baghdadi (rahimahullah) writes: “It is necessary for a learner to have a teacher under whom he could study, and one whom he could refer to for answers to difficult matters. (Al-Faqih wal Mutafaqqih, vol.2 pg.83 An-Nasihah li Ahlil Hadith, pg.259)
16. Imam Shatbi (rahimhaullah) mentions: “Books alone will not benefit a student in any way, unless there are ‘Ulama who will open up (the discussions and explain it) to them. This is common fact.” (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.178)
The System of the Salaf
One who studies the life of the Scholars of the past, will easily notice the lengthy periods they would spend on sojourn and in the company of their tutors. This is referred to as: “Mulazamah” or “Tulus Suhbah”.
This is clear in the lives of the Sahabah and Tabi’un and all those that followed. They acquired their knowledge from the bracket of believers before them. A Tabi’i could only attain the term “Tabi’i” after coming into physical contact with a Sahabi.
Merely sufficing on attending a few lessons (or a Maqra-ah, like has become common nowadays) isn’t considered as “Mulazamah”-perseverance. (see footnotes on Ma’alaim Irshadiyyah, pg.177)
17. Imam Malik (rahimahullah) said:
“Some men would sometimes attend the lessons of his teacher for thirty years!”
(Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.171)
18. Here are ten examples from an exhaustive list:
1) Nu’aim Al-Mujmir (rahimahullah) spent twenty years in the company of Sayyiduna Abu Hurairah (radiyallahu’anhu) (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.171)
2) Thabit Al-Bunani (rahimahullah) spent forty years with Sayyiduna Anas (radiyallahu ’anhu) (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.171)
3) Nafi’ ibn ‘Abdillah said: “I spent forty years attending the lesson of Imam Malik (rahimahullah) (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.172)
4) Al-Qa’naby also spent twenty years with Imam Malik (rahimahumallah) (Tartibul Madarik)
5) Imam ‘Abdur Rahman ibnul Qasim (rahimahullah) spent seventeen years by Imam Malik. (Tartibul Madarik; see: Safahat min sabril ‘Ulama, pg.116)
6) Muhammad ibn Ja’far was with Shu’bah (rahimahumallah) for twenty years (Khulasatul Khazrajy, pg.330)
7) Abu Safwan, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abdil Malik was with Ibn Juraij (rahimahumallah) for ten years (Sahih Muslim, Hadith: 3353)
8) Muhammad ibn Bashar was with Yahya Al-Qattan (rahimahumallah) for twenty years.
9) Salamah ibn Shabeeb spent forty years by Imam ‘Abdur Razzaq (rahimahumallah) (Al-Jami’u li akhlaqir rawi, vol.2 pg.265)
10) Imam Muslim accompanied Imam Bukhari (rahimahumallah) for six years. (Siyar A’lamin Nubala)
19. The Hanafi Jurist, Ibn Nujaim (rahimahullah) explains the reason for this: “… and so it may become known that knowledge cannot be attained without constant referral, repeated effort and tutorship.” (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg. 172)
20. Imam Shatbi (rahimhaullah) mentions: “The proof for the success of this system lies in the fact that every upright scholar that became popular and acceptable to the masses in his era actually had a teacher who enjoyed the same in his time.” (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.176)
Also see Imam Shafi’is (rahimahullah) advice at the end of this article.
21. Their lengthy sojourns
Another point of discussion here is the lengthy periods the salaf would spend on sojourn. Merely sufficing on the books doesn’t force a person to travel abroad and remain there for the periods of time that the salaf spent.
1) Imam Baqy ibn Makhlad (rahimahullah) had embarked on two sepearte journeys in search of knowledge; the first one lasted fourteen years, and the second: twenty years! (Safahat min sabril ‘Ulama, pg.60)
2) Imam Ibn Mandah (rahimahullah) spent forty five years away from home! (Safahat min sabril ‘Ulama, pg.65)
3) Imam Ya’qub ibn Sufyan Al-Fasawi (rahimahullah) said: “I remained on sojourn for thirty years”! (Safahat, pg.61)
22. Scanning the earth
During these journeys, the scholars would leave no city, village or town which had teachers of knowledge un-visited.
a) Ibnul Jawzi (rahimahullah) writes regarding Imam Ahmad (rahimahullah): “He travelled the entire (Islamic) world twice before compiling his Musnad” (Saidul khatir; Safahat min sabril ‘Ulama, pg.54)
b) Ibnul Muqri (rahimahullah) said: “I travelled from the East to the West (of the Islamic Empire) four times, and I visited Baitul Maqdis alone ten times”!!! (Safahat min sabril ‘Ulama, pg.64)
c) Several Muhaddithun have compiled booklets in which they narrated forty ahadith from forty different sahabah, which they heard from forty diverse Shuyukh that lived in forty different towns!
23. Not just one Tutor!
The Salaf never appease themselves with just one or two tutors. Their teachers sometimes numbered in the thousands!
1) Imam Bukhari (rahimahullah) said: “I have written hadith from 1080 teachers” (Hadyus Sari, pg.670)
2) Imam Ibn Hibban (rahimahullah) said: “I have perhaps written ahadith fom more than 2000 teachers” (Tadhkiratul Huffaz, vol.3 pg.921)
3) Ibn Mandah (rahimahullah) had 1700 Shuyukh” (Tadhkiratul Huffaz, vol.3 pg.1032)
4) Imam ‘Abdullah ibnul Mubarak (rahimahullah) had acquired knowledge from 4000 teachers. (Tadhkiratul Huffaz, vol.1 pg.276)
5) Imam Abu Hanifah (rahimahullah) is said to have had 4000 teachers from the Tabi’un only! (Ibn Hajar Al-Haitami in Al-Khairatul Hisan; see Atharul Hadith, pg.176)
6) Hafiz ‘Iraqi (rahimahullah) writes about Imam Qasim ibn Dawud Al-Baghdadi (rahimahullah): “He said: I wrote Hadith from 6000 shuyukh”!! (footnotes on Safahat, pg.64)
Disdain towards those who failed in this regard
24. My most respected teacher, Shaykh Muhammad Awwamah (an unparalleled muhaddith of these times) mentions beautifully in his book, Adab al-Ikhtilaf: “They (the ‘Ulama) never paid attention to one who did not have any ustadh (teacher), neither would they consider such a person worthy of even being spoken to due to him being prone to mistakes.”
He further says: “Qadi Iyad (rahimahullah) and others have narrated that when Imam Ahmad ibn Hambal (rahimahullah)was requested by the ruler of his time (al-Mu’tasim) to discuss a certain matter with ibn Abi Du’ad, he (Imam Ahmad) turned his face away and said:
“How can I converse with a person whom I have never seen at the door of any ‘Alim ever!”
(Adabul ikhtilaf pg.144)
25. When Abu Ja’far Ad-Daudi objected to a view of the upright Scholars of his time, they retorted: “Keep quite! You have no teacher!”
(Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.164)
26. Shaykh ‘Awwamah (may Allah protect him) also states: “All of us have a lineage. A student also needs a family tree for his knowledge, which consists of his teachers. One who has no teacher, is actually illegitimate in his knowledge; like a person whose identity and lineage is unknown. He holds no weight.” (Golden guidelines -English-, pg.8, Ma’alim Irshadiyyah, pg.160 and Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.164)
The Harms of Failure
27. Imams Muhammad ibn Sireen, Hakam ibn Atiyya and Waki’ ibn al-Jarrah (rahimahumullah) have all said that the primary cause for the misguidance of the Banu Isra’il was the books that they inherited from their forefathers. (Taqyidul-Ilm pg.61 and its footnotes)
28. In fact, since the compilation of knowledge is also an indirect cause of the people slackening in attending the lessons of the ‘Ulama, Imam Awza’i (rahimahumullah) said:
“Knowledge was sublime for as long as it was obtained from the mouths of the learned men. But when it ended up in books, its nur (divine light) disappeared.”
In one version he says:
“…when it ended up in books, those who were non eligible crept in!”
(Sunan Darimi, Hadith: 467)
Note: The purpose of the previous two quotations is to prove that mere studying of books is incorrect and void of divine assistance. The ideal would be to study those very same books under the auspices of a learned teacher. Undermining the books of Shari’ah is not the intent.
29. Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah provides another angle to this discussion by saying: “How could we expect respect from one who hasn’t acquired knowledge from the ‘Ulama, and hasn’t remained in their company for a lengthy period whereby he could have inculcated their habits? How could such a person recognize the value of the ‘Ulama? Hence when he criticizes them verbally or with his pen, it brings no surprise! It is guaranteed, that he who attends the gatherings of the ‘Ulama will indeed begin to respect them” (Adabul Ikhtilaf, pg.172 and Ma’alim Irshadiyyah, pg.172)
30. ‘Allamah Ibn Hajar Haitami (rahimahullah) writes: “Whoever attained knowledge from the books only, became a deviate that misled others too.” (Fatawa hadithiyyah; see Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.165)
31. Al-Shatbi (rahimahullah) writes: “Most of the deviated sects and individuals who opposed the sunnah were culprits of failing in this regard.” (i.e, they never had tutorship) (Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.176)
32. It’s a sad trend nowadays that people attend a few lessons of a particular Islamic subject and then try to figure out the rest by themselves. It gets worse, when some merely engage in “self study” by relying upon books, computer programs or on searching the internet for information with which they fill up their “fatwas” or “articles” without any guidance or supervision of a qualified specialist in that field.
33. I end this discussion with the translation of a famous poem which is attributed to Imam Shafi’i (rahimahullah) and is quite famous on the tongues of the ‘Ulama. He says:
Oh my brother!
You will never acquire knowledge
Without the following six essentials;
Intelligence, desire, poverty,
Sojourn, tutorship of a shaykh (teacher)
Accompanied by a long consistent period (of studying under him)
(Adabul ikhtilaf, pg.162, also see footnote on Ma’alim irshadiyyah, pg.174)
Whatever has been written above was done out of concern for the misinformed sincere seeker of knowledge.
The 33 quotations cited in this discussion are enough to convince such individuals against falling prey to this evil trend.
According to my seniors, online courses are not sufficient substitutes. This may be resorted to in extreme cases and for the purpose of learning the basics of Din only. It is not a justified means for higher Islamic study. This, as well the recent dangerous trend of “Maqra-ahs” (swift recitals of Hadith Books with no adequate commentary) needs a detailed discussion which I hope to engage in soon insha Allah.
And Allah Ta’ala Knows Best
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