Can Sacred Knowledge be Obtained from Books Alone?

By Moulana Muhammad ibn Moulana Haroon Abassommar
Posted: 2 Rajab 1424, 30 August 2003

Q.) Some people have stated that the Ijaza system and the Isnad of a scholar is essential whereas others say that one does not require Isnad or Ijazah to be a scholar and that knowledge can be obtained from books alone.

Which is the correct opinion and is there any evidence to prove this point?

A.) To acquire knowledge under the expertise of a fully qualified, Sunnah conscious Aalim of Deen is absolutely essential. Failure to do so generally results in absolute misguidance. In fact, this has been the practice of the Ambiyaa, as well as our pious predecessors.

1. The holy Qur'an was revealed by Almighty Allah Ta'ala for guidance and knowledge of the Ummah. But, without the explanation of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam the meanings would definitely be misunderstood. Allah Ta'ala addresses Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam in the Qur'an, 'And we have revealed to you the Qur'an, so that you may explain to the people what was revealed to them.' This is the greatest, most evident proof for our view.

2. Allah Ta'ala mentions in the Qur'an, 'Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know.'

3. Sayyiduna Daawud (Alayhis salaam) is said to have benefited emmensely from Luqmaan al-Hakeem (Alayhis salaam), before Daawud (Alayhis salaam) received prophethood. (Tafseer Qurtubi)

4. Sayyiduna Moosa's (Alayhis salaam) sojourn to Sayyiduna Khidhr (Alayhis salaam) is well-known and enshrined in the holy Qur'aan..

5. Furthermore, during the era of the Tabi'een, whenever anyone would claim to have any knowledge, he would be questioned as to which person he has acquired that bit of knowledge from. (Muslim)

6. Hafiz Khateeb al-Baghdadi (RA), 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 his book himself or instructed so. This was due to the 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 narrated several incidents of the classical scholars who had done so. From among them were: Imam Abeda al-Salmani, Imam Shu'bah ibn Hajjaaj, Imam Abu Qilabah and Imam Eesa ibn Yunus. (Ibid pgs.61-62)

7. Imam Muhammad ibn Sireen, Hakam ibn Atiyyah and Wakee ibnul Jarrah have all stated that the primary cause for the misguidance of Banu Israel was the books that they inherited from their forefathers. (refer Taqyidul Ilm pg.61 and its footnotes)

8. Imam al-Awzaa'iee (RA) says, 'Knowledge was sublime for as long as it was obtained from the mouths of the learned men. But when it ended up in books, it's Noor (divine light) disappeared.' (Ibid pg.64) Note: The purpose of the previous 3 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. In no way do we intend to degrade the books of Shari'ah whatsoever.

9. Imam Malik (RA) was once asked if knowledge could be acquired from one who did not sit in the company of the Ulama (instead he 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.' (refer Adabul Ikhtilaf pg.145)

10.Shaykh Muhammad Awwamah (an unparalleled Muhaddith of these times) mentions beautifully in his book, 'Adabul Ikhtilaf', 'They (the Ulama) never used to pay 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 and others have narrated that when Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal 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 discuss with such a person whom I have never seen at the door of any Alim ever!' (Ibid pg.144)

We hope that the above 10 points are enough to convince and satisfy any person who has the slightest idea of sufficing on the study of books only without the supervision of a suitable Ustadh (teacher).

We will end this discussion with the translation of a famous poem which is attributed to Imam Shafi'ee (RA) and is quite famous on the tongues of the Ulama. he says:

Oh my brother

You will never acquire knowledge

Without these six things

Intelligence, desire, poverty

Sojourn, tutorship of an Ustadh

as well as a long consistent period (of studying under him)

(ibid pg.142 - 143)

And Allah Ta'ala Knows Best