The most dangerous knife in the kitchen is the dull knife. It’s unreliable and when you least expect it, it cuts you. When you most need it, it slips.I have noticed a growing tendency amongst our communtiy that we are no longer people of extended thought — knowledge you might say — but instead have become people of narrative. I do not say this as a snide remark but I say this with also indicting myself. Narrative is important but without foundational knowledge, we’ll have nothing other than shifting sand to plant the flag of our narrative in.
Everyone’s busy. That’s what I hear. That’s the excuse I’m given. But I also hear, “Shaykh, I want to learn Arabic!” (without showing up to the Arabic class) ; “Imam, how did you learn your Arabic?” (I spent many many long hours sacrificing play time to do thousands upon thousands of drills, etc.). The list goes on and on. And instead of providing opportunities for learning, I believe the last generation of institutions and their scholars/imams/etc., have largely indulged the phenomenon I call Islamotainment. Our gatherings, if we have them at all, tend to range from “chop-it-up” sessions to superficial demonstrations of knowledge that are more about their “wow” factor versus anything transformative. So what can we do?
First, we must ask ourselves if we’re satisfied with how things are. Little is going to change if we feel there’s no need for it in the first place. Second, we must be willing to sacrifice, even if it’s just a little bit. This is reminiscent as to what the wife of the Prophet ﷺ — A’ishah — relates when he said,
أنَّ أحبَّ الأعمالِ أدوَمُها إلى اللهِ وإن قلَّ
“The most beloved deeds to God are those done regularly even if small.” — Sahih al-Bukhari, #6464
And third, we must have a sense of urgency about the time we have in this life, how we spend it, and seeing knowledge as something fundamental, elemental even, to knowing and worshiping God. To this I am reminded of the statement of Abu Qilabah’s (a Successor of the Companions of the Prophet) in which he said,
ما أمات العلم إلا القصص – يجالس الرجل الرجلَ القاص سنة فلا يتعلق منه شيء – ويجلس إلى العالم فلا يقوم حتى يتعلق منه شيء
“Nothing kills knowledge quite like storytelling. A person can sit with storyteller for a year and nothing will come of it. But one can sit with a scholar and they won’t stand back up without having gained something.” – al-Asfahani’s Hilyah al-Awliya’ wa Tabaqat al-Asfiya’
I see Abu Qilabah’s use of “qasas” similar to our use of “narrative”. And I do believe that narrative is important: its ability to oversimplify powerful myths, as Joseph Campbell says, is extremely useful and can be very inspiring. But narrative built on sand is soon to shift. Where once one’s narrative was to be rooted in fitrah, now one finds oneself actively supporting homosexuality, not because the Qur’an changed its tune, or God went back on his word, but because the narrative changed on homosexuality. To this very topic, God says in the Qur’an,
ما يُبَدَّلُ القَولُ لَدَيَّ وَما أَنا بِظَلّامٍ لِلعَبيدِ
“My decree does not chnage with Me nor am I ever unjust to My servants.” — Qur’an, 50: 29
So I pray we can return to being a community that pursues knowledge, in big and short strides, so we can know who we truly are and live for the reason we were truly made: To worship The Almighty as He commands.