General / Motivational

Ibn al-Jawzi: Virtues of Scholars and Actions


The Hanbali hadith expert and esteemed  historian and theologian Imam Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201) writes in his moving autobiography entitled Sayd al-Khatir (p.138) the following:

Arabic Text:

فصل : في فضل العالم و العامل

لقيت مشايخ، أحوالهم مختلفة، في مقادير في العلم.   و كان أنفعهم لي في صحبته العامل منهم بعلمه، و إن كان غيره أعلم منه.   و لقيت جماعة من علماء الحديث يحفظون و يعرفون و لكنهم كانوا يتسامحون بغيبة يخرجونها مخرج جرح و تعديل، و يأخذون على قراءة الحديث أجرة، و يسرعون بالجواب لئلا ينكسر الجاه و إن وقع خطأ.   و لقيت عبد الوهاب الأنماطي ، فكان على قانون السلف لم يسمع في مجلسه غيبة ،و لا كان يطلب أجراً على سماع الحديث، و كنت إذا قرأت عليه أحاديث الرقاق بكى و اتصل بكاؤه .   فكان ـ و أنا صغير السن حينئذ ـ يعمل بكاؤه في قلبي، و يبني قواعد.   و كان على سمت المشايخ الذين سمعنا أوصافهم في النقل . و لقيت الشيخ أبا منصور الجواليقي، فكان كثير الصمت، شديد التحري فيما يقول، متقناً محققاً.  و ربما سئل المسألة الظاهرة التي يبادر بجوابها بعض غلمانه، فيتوقف فيها حتى يتيقن. و كان كثير الصوم و الصمت . فانتفعت برؤية هذين الرجلين أكثر من انتفاعي بغيرهما.   ففهمت من هذه الحالة أن الدليل بالفعل أرشد من الدليل بالقول .   و رأيت مشايخ كانت لهم خلوات في انبساط و مزاح ، فراحوا عن القلوب و بدد تفريطهم ما جمعوا من العلم . فقل الانتفاع بهم في حياتهم ، و نسوا بعد مماتهم ، فلا يكاد أحد أن يلتفت إلى مصنفاتهم.   فالله الله في العلم بالعمل، فإنه الأصل الأكبر .   و المسكين كل المسكين من ضاع عمره في علم لم يعمل به، ففاته لذات الدنيا و خيرات الآخرة فقدم مفلساً على قوة الحجة عليه


English Translation:


On the Excellence of the Scholar and Actions.

“I have met teachers of differing states and levels of knowledge and the one most beneficial to me having kept his company was the one who used to practice what he knew, even though there were others more knowledgeable than him.

I have also met a group from the scholars of hadith who had memorized [hadith] and were extremely knowledgeable; yet they would permit backbiting under the guise of ‘impugning and validating hadith transmitters’ (al-jarh wa ‘l-ta`dil), they would take payment in return for narrating hadith and they would be swift in giving answers, even if they were wrong, out fear their status would diminish [if they did not].

I met `Abd al-Wahhab al-Anmati (d. 538/1143). He used to be upon the way (qanun) of the Salaf (pious early predecessors). No backbiting could be be heard in his gatherings nor would he take payment for auditioning hadith. Whenever I would read a very heart-softening hadith, he would cry continuously. When he would cry (and I was very young at that time), it stirred my heart. He had the calmness of those whose description we hear about from the narrations transmitted down.

I met the esteemed teacher Abu Mansur al-Jawaliqi (d. 539/1145) who was very quiet, extremely cautious about what he said both exacting and deeply knowledgeable. Sometimes he would be asked a question on evidently easy matters (al-mas’ala al-zahira), one’s that his students would rush to answer. However, he would withhold from answering until he was absolutely certain. He used to fast a lot and often remained silent .

Thus, I benefited most from my encounter with these two more than I benefited from others. What I understood from this is that guiding people by one’s action is more inspiring than by words.

I have even seen many scholars who while in spiritual retreat (khalwat) laughing and joking and have brought to ruin all the knowledge they acquired. People benefitted very little from them while they were alive and were forgotten after they passed away and hardly anyone turns towards their books.

So by Allah, by Allah! Knowledge with actions because it is the greatest foundation. And the most impoverished (al-miskin) is he who wasted his life learning what he did not practice and thus looses the pleasures of the world and the great rewards of the Hereafter. Therefore, he will come forth [on the Day of Judgment] bankrupt (muflisan) with strong evidences against himself.”


  • Imam Ibn al-Jawzi relates a personal account of teachers he learnt from who benefitted him the most.
  • The teacher who combined both knowledge and the practice of that knowledge affected him the most. > Consistency in knowledge and deed is impactive.
  • Ibn al-Jawzi warns of scholars who have the knowledge like information banks but it does not shape their disposition to make them act on that knowledge.
  • Leading by practice and not just words and claims is also impactive and shows commitment as well.
  • The one with only knowledge with no investment for actions is the most ‘bankrupt’ and impoverished person before Allah.
  • The Islamic viewpoint is that knowledge is learnt for directing actions in order to seek Allah’s pleasure.
  • Knowledge without actions merely makes knowledge abstract and inert and hence ineffectual.
And Allah knows best.
S. Z. Chowdhury

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