General / Imam Ghazali / Motivational

Imam Ghazzali: Excellence of the Qur’an

On The Excellence of the Qur’an and the Virtues of Knowledge and the Scholars

(fadl al-qur’an wa fadl al-ilm wa ’l-ulama’)[1]

فضل القرأن وفضل علم وعلماء

By S. Z. Chowdhury

Autumn 2003. 

             “As for the excellence of the Qur’an, he [SAW] has said: “whoever reads the Qur’an and then deems that someone does better than that which he does, he has thought little of (fa-qad istasghara) Allah’s[2] majesty.”[3]

            He (SAW) said: “There is nothing (ma) in the sight of Allah which is a better placed intercessor (shafi‘) than the Qur’an.”[4]

            He (SAW) said: “The best act of worship of my ummah is recitation of the Qur’an (tilawah al-qur’an).”[5]

            He (SAW) also said: “The best of you is the one who studies and learns knowledge (man taallama ’l-ilm) and teaches it (wa allamahu).”[6]

            He (SAW) also said: “Verily the hearts rust (la-yatasadda’) just like iron rusts. And he [SAW] was asked: ‘what is its remedy o Messenger of Allah?’ he [SAW] replied: ‘recitation of the Qur’an as well as remembering death’ (tilawah al-qur’an wa dhikr al-mawt).”[7]

            Fudayl b. ‘Iyad said: “The one who memorised the Qur’an (hamil al-qur’an) is the one who carries the flag of Islam (rayah al-islam)[8] and he should not engage in distractions (fa-la yanbaghi an yalhu)[9] with one who causes distractions and neither should he be forgetful [of the Qur’an] with one who is forgetful and nor to utter nonsense (yalghu) with the one who does [such a thing] out of respect and honour (taziman) owed to the Qur’an (li-haqq al-qur’an). He also said: whoever reads the last part of surah al-Hashr in the morning and dies that day, [Allah] imprints upon him the mark of the martyrs (khatama lahu bi-tabi al-shuhada’) and if he reads it in the evening and dies that night, [Allah] imprints upon him the mark of the martyrs.”[10]

            As regard the excellence of knowledge and the scholars: there are a plethora of narrations about this, so he [SAW], for example, said: “For whomever Allah desires good (khayran), He grants him deep knowledge in the religion (yufaqqihu fi ’l-din) and inspires him to guidance.”[11]

            And he (SAW) said: “the scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets (al-ulama’ warathah ’l-anbiya’).”[12] And it is well-known that there is no rank (rutbah) superior to the rank of Prophethood and no honour greater than the honour of inheriting that rank (la sharfa fawqa sharf al-warithah li-tilka ’l-rutbah).[13]

            And he (SAW) said: “The best of people is the knowledgeable believer (al-mu’min al-alim) who if he is required (in ihtayaja ilayhi) is of benefit and if dispensed with (istaghnaanhu), he will be self-sufficient (aghna nafsahu).”[14]

            He (SAW) also said: “The nearest people to Prophethood (aqrab al-nas min darajah ’l-nabuwwah) are the people of knowledge and Jihad. As for the people of knowledge (ahl al-ilm), they are those who guide the people (fa-dallu ’l-nas) to what the Messengers have brought and the people of Jihad are those who struggle with their swords (bi-asyafihim) for what was brought by the Messengers.”[15]

            He (SAW) further said: “The passing away of a tribe (la-mawt qabilah) is less severe (aysar) than the death of one scholar.”[16]

            He (SAW) also said: “On the Day of Judgment, the ink of the scholar (madad al-alim) will be likened to the blood of the martyrs (bi-madad al-ulama’).”[17]

            He (SAW) also said: “A scholar will not be satisfied (la yashbau) in his [pursuit] for knowledge until he reaches Paradise.”

            He (SAW) said: “The destruction (halak) of my Ummah lies in two things (fi sha’ayn): discarding knowledge (tark al-ilm) and amassing wealth (jam al-mal).”

            He (SAW) also said: “Become a scholar, a teacher, a listener or one who loves [them] but do not be a fifth category – i.e. a rejecter (mubghidan) – for you will be ruined.”[18]

            And he (SAW) said: “Scoffing knowledge (afah ’l-ilm) is haughtiness (al-khuyala’).”

            In the example of the men of wisdom [is the saying]: ‘whoever seeks knowledge and leadership (al-riyasah), he has deprived [himself] of success (al-tawfiq) and ruling (al-siyasah).”

            Allah says: (I shall turn away from my signs those who are haughty upon the earth).[19]

And [Imam] al-Shafi‘i – may Allah be pleased with him – said: 

–       “Whoever studies and learns the Qur’an, his worth is magnified (‘azimat qimatuhu).

–       Whoever studies and learns Fiqh, his position is elevated (jalla miqdaruhu).

–       Whoever studies and learns Hadith, his argument is strengthened (quwwiyat hujjatuhu).

–       Whoever studies and learns Mathematics (al-hisab), his judgment expands.

–       Whoever studies poverty,[20] his disposition softens (raqqa tabuhu) and

–       Whoever does not strengthen or fortify himself, his knowledge will not avail him (lam yanfahu ilmuhu).”

And al-Hasan b. ‘Ali – may Allah be pleased with both of them – said: “whoever frequents the gatherings of the scholars (man akthara majalisah ’l-ulama’), he unties and sets free the cord around his tongue (atlaqa iqal lisanihi),[21] makes clearer his way (fataqa maratiq dhihnihi) and becomes delighted at the increase[22] he finds in himself and therefore gains the company of he who teaches as well as the benefits of he who learns.”

And he (SAW) said: “When Allah refuses a servant [of His], He screens him from knowledge (hazara alayhi ’l-ilm).”

He (SAW) also said: “There is no greater poverty than ignorance (la faqr ashaddu min al-juhl).

And Allah knows best.

S.Z. Chowdhury


[1] Translated from the Mukashafat al-Qulub al-Muqarrab ila Hadrah Alam al-Ghuyub fi Ilm al-Tawassuf of al-Imam al-Hujjah al-Islam Abu Hamid Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Ghazzali (d.505), 1st edn. ed. by Taha ‘Abd al-Ra’uf Sa‘d, Maktabah al-Iman, Cairo 1999, section Eighty Seven, pp.347-348. Cf. also the Ihya’Ulum al-Din with the takhrij of the ahadith (printed as footnotes) entitled al-Mughnian al-Asfar fi ’l-Asfar  fi Takhrij ma fi ’l-Ihya’ min al-Akhbar of Imam al-Hafiz Zayn al-Din Abu ’l-Fadl ‘Abd al-Rahim b. al-Husayn al-‘Iraqi, 4 vols. 1st edn. ed. by ‘Abd al-Qadir ‘Ata, Dar al-Taqwa li ’l-Turath, Cairo 2000, vol.1, pp. 415-444, Chapter: The Etiquette of Reciting the Qur’an (kitab adab tilawah al-qur’an) where the account appears to be a summary of the contents found in the Ihya’.

[2] I have omitted the Arabic eulogies “taala” and “subhanahu wa taala” after the word Allah.

[3] Imam al-‘Iraqi writes:”…al-Tabarani related it from the narration of ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar with a weak chain.” An important point to bear in mind regarding the narration-verdicts given by Imam al-‘Iraqi is that the evaluation of each narration (hadith) is with respect to the chain pertaining to that particular narration only as cited by Imam al-Ghazzali and not the verdict after all or any corroborating chains have been brought together to arrive at a final verdict, i.e. each strength of the narration is declared as it stands prior to and in the absence of a full evaluation. Therefore, just because a hadith is declared weak (daif), it may very well be strengthened by parallel chains (asanid) of other narrations.

[4] Imam al-‘Iraqi says: “‘Abd al-Malik b. Habib narrated it from the narration of Sa‘id b. Salim in mursal form; al-Tabarani has it from the narration of ibn Mas‘ud [where it states]: ‘the Qur’an is the greatest of intercessors (shafi al-mushaffi‘)…” The narration is also found in the Sahih of ibn Hibban, vol.1, p.124 where Shaykh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut comments that “the chain is good (isnaduhu jayyid).” See also the evidence found in Muslim in his Sahih (#804), p.657 with the commentary of al-Nawawi entitled al-Minhaj bi-Sharh Sahih Muslim b. al-Hajjaj, 1st edn. Dar ibn Hazm, Beirut 2002 where the hadith reads: “From Abu Umamah (RA) that he said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) say’: ‘recite the Qur’an for it will come as an intercessor for its readers on the Day of Judgment (fa-innahu ya’ti yawma ’l-qiyamah shafian)’”; al-Darimi in his Sunan, 2 vols. Dar al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah, n.d. vol.2, p.430 from the narration of ibn ‘Umar and Abu Salih in the section: The Excellence of One Who Recites the Qur’an (bab fadl man qara’a ’l-qur’an) and Imam Ahmad in the Musnad, 1st edn. Bayt al-Afkar al-Dawliyyahh, ‘Amman n.d. 5/255 & 257 (#22498-22499, 22546 & 22566) as well as ibn Hibban in his Sahih (#116) and al-Hakim in the Mustadrak ala ’l-Sahihhayn, vol.1, p.564.

[5] Imam al-‘Iraqi says: “Abu Nu‘aym cited it in his [book] Fada’il al-Qur’an from the narration of al-Nu‘man b. Bashir as well as Anas and both chains are weak.”

[6] Bukhari narrated it in his Sahih (#5027-5028), 2nd edn. Dar al-Salam li ’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzi‘, Riyad 1999, p.901 from ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan but with the wording: “The best of you are those who study and learn the Qur’an (man taallama ’l-qur’an) as well as to teach it.” See ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani’s commentary Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, 3 vols. Dar ibn Hazm, Beirut, n.d. vol.2, pp.2220-2221 (#5027-5028).

[7] Imam al-‘Iraqi says: “Bayhaqi cites it in Shuab [alIman] from the narration of ibn ‘Umar with a weak chain.”

[8] Meaning the one who memorises the Qur’an is like the one who is the ‘standard-bearer’ of Islam and Muslims or someone who has committed to memory the ‘essence’ or defining symbol of Islam.

[9] Most likely to mean avoiding the company of one who distracts and diverts a person away from study, contemplation and recitation of the Book of Allah.

[10] It is a distinctive feature of Imam al-Ghazzali’s Ihya’ that he cites references not only from the primary textual sources such as the Qur’an and Sunnah, but references (athar) from the Companions (may Allah be well pleased with them all), the luminaries of the successive generations as well as those verifiers and knowledgeable men and women (muhaqqiqun) of this Ummah.

[11] Imam al-‘Iraqi writes: “Agreed upon (muttafaqun alayhi) from the narration of Mu‘awiyah without the statement ‘and inspires him to guidance (yalhamahu wa rashadahu)’ which is an addition found in al-Tabarani’s [Mujam] al-Kabir”. See the Sunan of ibn Majah (#220-221), ed. by Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Maktabah al-Ma‘arif li ’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzi‘, Riyad 1417 AH as well as his Silsilah Ahadith al-Sahihah (#1194-1195 & 651) & al-Rawd al-Nadir fi Tartib wa Takhrij Mujam al-Tabarani al-Saghir (#1160); Bukhari in his Sahih (#3116, 3641, 7312, 7460 & 71), p.516 & Muslim, Sahih (#1037), pp.796-797.

[12] See the narration in al-Sahih of ibn Hibban (#255) ed. by Shaykh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, Mu’assasah al-Risalah, Beirut 1984 where the narration mentions that the Prophets neither leave behind possessions nor wealth as inheritance but only knowledge.

[13] Imam ibn Rajab al-Hanbali wrote: “As for the Prophet’s (SAW) saying, ‘The scholars are the heirs of the prophets,’ this means that they inherit the knowledge that the Prophets taught. They succeed the Prophets in their communities in the sense of calling people to Allah and His obedience, prohibiting rebellion against Allah and defending His religion”; see The Heirs of the Prophets, trans. by Zaid Shakir, 1st edn. Starlatch Press, 2001, p.49.

[14] Imam al-‘Iraqi writes: “al-Bayhaqi cited it in his Shuab al-Iman in mawquf form from Abu Darda’ [RA] with a weak chain and I have not come across it in marfu‘ form.”

[15] Imam al-‘Iraqi comments: “Abu Nu‘aym cited it regarding the excellence of the virtuous scholar from the narration of ibn ‘Abbas with a weak chain.”

[16] Imam al-‘Iraqi says: “al-Tabarani and ibn ‘Abd al-Barr mentioned it from the narration of Abu ’l-Darda’ and the original narration is that of Abu ’l-Darda’.”

[17] Imam al-‘Iraqi states: “ibn ‘Abd al-Barr related it from the narration of Abu ’l-Darda’ with a weak chain.”

[18] Cited by Hafiz ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in JamiBayan al-Ilm, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Cairo 1982, p.30.

[19] Surah al-A‘raf:146.

[20] Presumably meaning learning what it is to be poor.

[21] The word “‘iqal” is a rope, cord, clog or shackle used to halter the movement of an animal such as a horse or camel by tying its legs. The expression is intending to show the liberating nature of acquiring knowledge by sitting in those gatherings where it is taught. Not only that, it also suggests the power and force of knowledge in how it enables an individual to be freed from the hindering shackles of ignorance.  

[22] In other words, the benefits from attaining this knowledge.

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