Sacred Knowledge: Between Serious Seekers & Flippant Jokers
Now that certain objectionable practices have wiggled and wormed their way into the da‘wah – e.g. corporate attitudes which seems to put money first, the conscious use of comedy and tomfoolery, the culture of edutainment, the huge fees or honorariums that some charge for da‘wah, and an unhealthy celebrity culture which now surrounds certain speakers – let’s remind ourselves about the reality of revealed guidance and sacred Islamic knowledge:
1 – Sacred knowledge (‘ilm) is to be conveyed with seriousness and dignity, given the sources it is being conveyed from and the realities it reveals. The Qur’an speaks about itself in these very sober terms: إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلاً ثَقِيلاً – We shall soon cast upon you a weighty word. [Q.73:5] And: أَفَمِنْ هَذَا الْحَدِيثِ تَعْجَبُونَ وَتَضْحَكُونَ وَلاَ تَبْكُونَ – Do you then marvel at this discourse and laugh, yet not weep? [Q.53:59-60]
2 – The Prophet ﷺ said: لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ مَا أَعْلَمُ، لَضَحِكْتُمْ قَلِيلًا، وَ لَبَكَيْتُمْ كَثِيرًا – “If you only knew what I know, you would laugh little and would weep abundantly.”1 Religious knowledge, then, is serious and weighty: nothing about it is light or frivolous or lends itself to frolics or fits of laughter.
3 – Even if we are not scholars, it behoves us speakers or seekers of knowledge to adopt the demeanour and comportment of the scholars. Imam Malik once said: ‘It is a right upon a seeker of knowledge to be solemn, dignified, possess reverent fear [of Allah], and to follow in the footsteps of those who preceded him.’2
4 – The above must be done out of a love of virtue, beauty of adab, as well as saving others from the unsavoury aspects of our own character; not from showing-off or pretending to be what we are not. Of course, actions are judged by their intentions.
5 – Those giving religious instruction are meant to help raise our levels of piety and make us serious people. They must not pander to the mediocrity or frivolity that people have steeped themselves in, or surrounded themselves with, today. ‘Ali, radia’Llahu ‘anhu, said: ‘When you have learnt knowledge, then retain it; and do not mix it with laughter or futility so that hearts spit it out.’3 Ibn al-Jawzi makes a similar point about the wa‘iz; the preacher, not laughing, joking or behaving as the masses do: ‘so that they hold him in high esteem and thus benefit from his admonition.’4
6 – The occasional dignified humour or light hearted remark is permitted, providing it doesn’t compromise the seriousness of the message, nor trivialise it in peoples’ hearts; nor push people to being even more frivolous than most of them already are. While advising the students of Hadith – advice that is also applicable to other Muslim scholars, teachers, shaykhs and preachers – al-Khatib al-Baghdadi states:
‘The seeker of Hadith is required to shun levity, frivolity, or lowering oneself in gatherings by being silly or idiotic, roaring with fits of laughter and excess joking, and being overly humorous and frivolous. However, a little humour is permitted occasionally, as long as it doesn’t transgress the bounds of good manners or the way of knowledge. As for foolish, immodest, or immoderate behaviour, or whatever else gives rise to it in peoples’ souls or creates harm, it is repugnant. Too much joking or laughter demeans one’s status and belittles one’s gentlemanliness (muru’ah).’5
7 – In conclusion: If sacred knowledge doesn’t help lift our gaze towards God, or does not make us more serious people with lofty concerns, then we are, in all likelihood, receiving it with wrong hearts or from the wrong people! Sacred knowledge is noble; as must be its carriers, callers and teachers.
And Allah’s help is sought.
1. Al-Bukhari, no.4345; Muslim, no.426.
2. Cited in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi wa Adab al-Sami‘ (Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), no.212.
3. ibid., no.213.
4. Laftat al-Kabad ila Nasihat al-Walad (Beirut: Dar al-Muqtabas, 2013), 60.
5. Al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi, 1:232-33.
This was right on time! Jazaakum Allaahu Khayran.
I’ve said similar things for many years now. I’ve worked for Da’wah orgs for a number of years and was always troubled by the ‘cult of personality’ and this numbers driven business model to assessing results.
I’ve always maintained the need to see the goal of da’wah as communication and relationship building. It’s more akin to growing a crop than to a sales transaction (which is how it’s treated by so many).
While seriousness is definitely warranted, it is always a question of balance. There are those that are too serious, and then there are others who lack the necessary decorum.
May Allaah forgive us, and help us call to His Way according to His Way.
Amin! Excellent observations masha’Llah. I totally agree.
I always benefit from your comments, Aboo Suhaylah. I pray you and your loved ones are all well and keeping safe.
Jazaakum Allaahu Khayran wa-Baarak Allaahu Feekum. It’s truly humbling to receive such comments from you, because I feel the same way about your comments. May Allaah unite us in this world before the next (and then only in His Paradise).
Yes, my family and I are well and hopefully the same is true for you. Ma’a Salaam.
Jazak Allahu khairan for this timely piece. Islam is becoming a brand; its “consumers” looking for an identity, a label to wear. This is a symptom of another problem – the infantilisation of society. The cult of youth has become so seductive that age and wisdom are no longer valued. We must remain young, young at heart. There is nothing wrong with that, of course as long as one doesn’t confuse youth with infantilism. While in his 50’s the Prophet was able to enjoy a race with his wife Aisha (ra), but he was never infantile. Now we see 40 year-olds spending hours on Playstation – the gaming industry is one of the largest consumer industries around, and it’s not just kids buying the products, it’s kidults who have the spending power to make it such a large industry.
Adolescents find it hard to take anything seriously, and so they have to turn it into entertainment. And so Islam is being turned into entertainment.
I hope that you write about infantilism of society soon.
This is true we use to have a proverb “even the fool when he is silent he is counted among the wise , Growing up in a children’s home I didn’t know much about life or people We was very much sheltered but treated as maul adjusted experiencing excessive trauma today we call it abuse , having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world through books , the days I was aloud to wonder Out I would find myself in a beer garden sat with the old people in the hope of understanding it all. They didn’t drink to get drunk in fact they barely touched their drinks at all but it was more about temperance . Nobody said much of any thing but when they did speak it was worth listening. Today we have an abundance of speakers even I’m not sure sometimes what is being said or if it’s relevant in my life that has changed so much over the years from what it was to where we are now, much of what I thought I knew I’ve had to discard or revise for what is life but to open our eyes an awaken from our sleep . what became important to myself has no real relevance to other’s practically making me a loner . But I do remember things weren’t always like this … that death almost seems like a welcome guest when people lose fellowship with each other , deeds are but a mirage should they be a measure to which others attach value to us then having very little being weighed in , I feel in me we shall all be found in the balance then found wanting .. how insignificant we are how apparently unimportant to others we become , may Allah Subhanahu guide us that He forgive us to wipe away all our transgressions to set us captives free the world is a prison to the believers may Allah ﷻ illuminate our hearts & our cells . يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ Allahuma Ameen
Bless you Khalid. That is so very true, and so very well articulated, masha’Llah. The infantilisation of our culture and the spiritual dangers of kidulthood definitely need to be spoken about more. May Allah grant us ‘afiyah.
I do realize at times a still tongue makes a wise head . Jazakk Allahu khayran Ustadh.
Barakallahu fikum Abu Qais. May our tongues move or keep still according to His good pleasure.