In the spirit of sharing knowledge, many people at some time or the other end up forwarding an email, re-sharing a post or re-tweeting what they received from others whilst omitting the initial source of that valuable piece of knowledge. This is ethically incorrect and can be termed as a form of disloyalty and treachery!
When we share knowledge, its best to state the source, so that the quotation carries with it its full weight. Acting like “we know it all” is not becoming of any honest Muslim. It’s actually tantamount to using divine knowledge to inflate our own personalities. How sad.
Furthermore, if this unfortunate trend doesn’t stop, a time will come when the credibility of every statement will be questioned…
Statements of the Scholars
The ‘Ulama of the past have stressed this repeatedly. They’ve even issued harsh warnings to those who failed in this regard.
1. Sufyan Thawri (rahimahullah) said:
نسبة الفائدة إلى مفيدها من الصدق في العلم وشكره، والسكوت عن ذلك من الكذب في العلم وكفره
Attributing a unique point in knowledge to its source is a token of appreciation and a sign of being sincere, whilst failing to do so is a form of ingratitude and a sign of insincerity.
(Al-Jawahir wad Durar, vol.1 pg.125)
2. Hafidh ibn ‘Abdil Barr (rahimahullah) writes:
يقال: إن من بركة العلم أن تضيف الشيء إلى قائله
It is said: “Ascribing knowledge to its source will bring blessing (barakah) in your knowledge”
(Jami’u Bayanil ‘ilmi wa fadlihi, vol.1 pg.89)
3. Imam Nawawi (rahimahullah) – while commenting on the Hadith: Religion is good counsel- said:
ومن النصيحة: أن تُضاف الفائدة التي تستغرب إلى قائلها، فمن فعل ذلك بورك له في علمه وحاله، ومن أوهم ذلك وأوهم فيما يأخذه من كلام غيره أنه له: فهو جدير أن لا يُنتَفَعُ بعلمه، ولا يبارك له في حاله. ولم يزل أهل العلم والفضل على إضافة الفوائد إلى قائليها. نسأل الله تعالى التوفيق لذلك دائمًا.
“…Part of good council (nasihah) is the attribution of a rare point to its source. Whoever does so will be blessed (receive barakah) in his knowledge and other affairs. Those who give the impression of other people’s work being their own will almost certainly not be blessed and their knowledge will not be of benefit to others. It has always been the habit of the people of knowledge and virtue to attribute things to their source. We ask Allah to allow us to always do so.”
(Bustanul ‘Arifin, pg.28)
The above three quotes have been extracted from “Dirasatul Kashif” of my most Honourable Teacher, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah (may Allah protect him) pg.321.
4. ‘Allamah Suyuti (rahimahullah) said:
لأن بركة العلم عزو الأقوال إلى قائلها، ولأن ذلك من أداء الأمانة وتجنب الخيانة، ومن أكبر أسباب الانتفاع
“…the blessing of knowledge lies in its attribution to its source. This is part of being faithful rather than being the opposite. It is also one of the best ways of attaining benefit.”
(See Qimatuz Zaman of Shaykh ‘Abdul Fattah (rahimahullah) pg.15)
5. Shaykh ‘Abdul Fattah (rahimahullah) says: “Indeed I have taken it upon myself in every single book of mine; small or big, to ascribe every line, nay every word to its source by citing the book, volume and page number. I did this so in academic honesty and to create reliance on the quotation.” (Qimatuz Zaman, pg.19)
Warning in the Hadith
Personally, I’ve always viewed one who “steals” knowledge (by not citing his source) as a culprit of the following Hadith:
المتشبع بما لم يعط كلابس ثوبي زور
“One who acts like he has what he doesn’t is covered in lies from head to toe”
(Sahih Bukhari, Hadith:5219)
These are stern words on a delicate issue.
Imam Shafi’i (rahimahullah) put it beautifully:
الحر مَن راعى وِدادَ لحظة وانتمى لمن أفاده لفظة
(قيمة الزمن، ص:16)
I will not translate this as it can only be appreciated in its original language.
All of the above applies whenever we adapt any piece of knowledge; be it in lectures, newsletters, magazines, websites or even on social media.
Citing the original source of your point is undoubtedly closer to ikhlas (sincerity) and a way of gratitude to the one who introduced you to it.
On many occasions, it actually adds credibility to the statement.
In fact, if this trend does not stop, a time will arrive in which people will hardly be able to verify the information they receive! The original source (be it a reliable or unreliable one) will be lost in the chain of copying and pasting…
What will become of us then?!
Lets “give due where it’s due” by quoting our source each time and being free of “academic theft”.
At the end of the day, we all have to answer in the court of Allah.