The fact that Jibreel (’alaihis-salaam) asked questions to Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) about Islam, eemaan and ihsaan, the Last Hour and its signs, contains proof that asking questions is the key to knowledge and this is stated in the Mighty Book:
Ask the people of the Reminder, if you do not know. [Surah an-Nahl (16):43 and Surah al-Anbiyaa (21):7].
Also Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) stated that it is a cure for ignorance, as occurs in the hadith of the man who had the head fracture, where he said, “Why didn’t they ask when they were ignorant? Indeed the cure for not knowing is to ask.” And since the matter is as I have explained, then asking questions in a good way will assist in that matter, because whoever asks a question in a good way will learn. Therefore the great scholar, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said in Miftaah Daaris-Sa’aadah:
“And knowledge has six levels. The first of them is asking questions in a good manner ...there are some people who are prevented from it (knowledge) because they do not ask questions in a good manner, either because they never ask questions, or because they ask a question about something when something else is more important than it. Like the person who asks about superfluous things ignorance of which will not harm him, but leaves those things which are essential for him to know. This is the condition of many of the foolish students.”
Mujaahid said, “Knowledge will not be learnt by one who is too shy, nor one who is too proud.”
Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee said in his book, Al-Faqeeh wal-Mutafaqqih (2/143), “And it is befitting that shyness should not prevent a person from asking questions about something that has happened to him. But if he does become too shy and embarrassed to ask a question to the scholar, then he should give his question to one he feels at home with or one he feels relaxed with for him to ask the scholar on his behalf and to inform him about its ruling.”
So in summary, whoever wishes to reach the levels of the scholars let him begin by asking questions. How fine is the saying Allah has caused the scholar Ibn al-’Arabee to say, “How close the things are to being attained when they are given their due worth, and how far from attainment when they are not given their due worth. So ask the scholar you will be a scholar like him. Whoever attains wide knowledge must spend the dowry for that. So carefully consider the knowledge which you give a ruling with, there is no good in knowledge without careful consideration. For a person may strive and still be falling short, and the efforts of a person may be frustrated, even though he doesn’t fall short. The men whose actions we take as an example have gone and those men who censure every evil action also. I am left within the later people who seek to adorn one another to hide each others shortcomings.”
Know that asking questions in a good manner will help the scholar to give the answer, as Maymoon ibn Mihraan said, “Asking questions in a good manner is half of knowledge.”
Therefore it is essential to explain the knowledge of how to ask questions, because being ignorant of that will lead to confusion. Maalik ibn Anas said, “Ibn ‘Ajlaan came to Zayd ibn Aslam to ask him about something but he became confused in it, so Zayd said to him,`Go away and learn how to ask questions and then come and ask.’”
(i)The question should be a question to find something out, it should not be asked to cause trouble, nor should it be to show someone’s ignorance, and it should not be made as a test for someone. Because this is the condition mentioned in the Book of Allah: Ask the people of the Reminder, if you do not know. Surah an-Nahl (16):43 and Surah al-Anbiyaa (21):7. So one who does not know then he asks in order that he may be taught. However,it is permissible for one who knows that he asks the scholar in order to teach those people who are sitting round about. Because this is what Jibreel (‘alaihis-salaam) did with Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), his questions were asked in order to teach the Companions (radhiallahu ‘anhum) who were sitting around the Prophet.
(ii)It is not allowed to ask questions about something which there is no need of, things whose answers will trouble the one who is asking the question. Anas (radhiallahu ‘anhu) said, “Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) gave a khutbah and I have never heard the like of it. He (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said,`If you knew what I know,then you would certainly laugh only a little,and you would weep a lot.”’ So the Companions (radhiallahu ‘anhum) covered up their faces and they were weeping, so a man said,`Who is my father?’ He said,`Your father is so and so.’ So this aayah was sent down: Do not ask about things, which, if they are made plain to you may cause trouble to you.
(iii) Likewise, it is not allowed to ask questions about things which may cause difficulty and cause hardship to the questioner or for other Muslims. Sa’d (radhiallahu ‘anhu) said that the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said, “The severest of the Muslims in sin with regard to the Muslims is one who asks about something that was not forbidden but it is made forbidden due to his asking the question.”
(iv) Therefore the Companions (radhiallahu ‘anhum) and the Taabi’een used to hate asking questions about things before they happened and they would not answer those questions. Since this is going to excess which is something Allah has forbidden and He has declared His Prophet free from it. He ordered His Prophet to say: Say, ‘I do not ask you for any reward for it and I am not one of the ones who goes beyond bounds.’ Surah Saad (38):86.
Ar-Rabee’ibn Khuthaim said, “O servant of Allah,whatever knowledge Allah has given to you in His Book, then give praise and give thanks to Allah for that. Whatever knowledge He has kept concealed from you,then leave it to the One who knows it and don’t go to excesses, because Allah, the Mighty and Majestic said to His Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam): I do not ask you for any reward for it and I am not one of the ones who goes to excesses. It is just a reminder for all of men and jinn. And you will certainly know the news of its truth after a short while (after death and the Resurrection). Surah Saad (38):86-88.
Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr said in his book, Jaami’Bayaanil-’Ilm wa Fadlihi (2/138-139) “A group of the people of knowledge said, ‘The opinion (Ra’y)t hat is blameworthy, criticised, abandoned and which it is not allowed to look into, nor to occupy oneself with, is innovated opinion and its like from the innovated types.’ But others say, and they are the majority of the people of knowledge, ‘Blameworthy opinion that is mentioned in these narrations by the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and from the Companions and the Taabi’een is speaking about the rulings of the Shari’ah based upon personal opinion of what is good, and based upon surmise, preoccupying oneself with intricate and difficult matters, and with thorny questions, referring details of happenings to each other and making analogy based upon that without referring them back to their origins and looking at their causes and taking that into consideration.’
Applying one’s opinion before things actually occur and then laying down details to follow on from this and resultant side issues before anything happens and speaking about this before these things occur. This is like pure speculation. They say: So preoccupying oneself and delving into these things is an abandonment of what occurs in the Sunnah.
It involves looking into things which the Sunnah is silent about, and it means abandonment of occupying oneself with that which is essential from the Sunnah and the Book of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, and its meanings.” I say: and even if the excuse given for this hair-splitting, this laying down of details, this giving hypothetical answers, was that it is used just to train oneself upon the matters of fiqh, then it is still the same as is pointed out by Haafiz ibn Hajr al-Asqalaanee (may Allah have mercy on him) in his book, Fath al-Baaree.
(v) Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee (may Allah have mercy on him) in his book, Jaami’li-Akhlaaqir- Raawee wa Adaabis-Saami’, (1/211-214) brings a number of chapters in this regard and we will mention the most important of these headings due to their importance:
From correct manners is that when the scholar of hadith narrates a hadith and then something appears to the student while he is narrating and he wants to ask about that thing, he should not ask about it at that time. Rather he should have patience until the narrator has finished narrating his hadith and then he can ask about whatever he wants to ask about.
He should avoid asking the narrator of hadith when his heart is preoccupied.
It is not befitting that he should ask him when he is standing up, nor when he is walking, because there is a saying appropriate to each place, and there are places appropriate for the narrating of Hadith-and they exclude the streets and lowly places.
It is obligatory that the questioner should mention to the scholar of hadith those chains of the hadith which he wants to hear narrated from him, and if a hadith has many chains the questioner should specify the best of them and should specify the points of benefit he wishes to hear narrated by him. If the scholar of hadith responds and grants his request to narrate to him, then the student should be easy upon him and he should not trouble him.
(vi) It is permissible to ask a scholar about his proof. Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee said in his book, Al-Faqeeh wal-Mutafaqqih,(2/149), “And if the scholar gives him an answer to his question it is permissible for him to ask him about his answer, did he say it based upon a narration or did he say it based upon opinion.”
(vii) It is hated to keep repeating a question to the scholar in a troublesome manner. Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee said in his book, Al-Faqeeh wal-Mutafaqqih, (2/149), “And if he asks the scholar to explain and he explains it to him and then he repeats again and asks him to explain again, it is allowed for the scholar to add more. If he asks him again after that then it is allowed for the scholar to hold his tongue because frequent repetition will vex him. However it is recommendable for the scholar to be mild and treat with tolerance and make allowance for the people.”
(viii) It is allowed for him to ask about speech that is unclear to him. ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood (radhiallahu ‘anhu)said, “I prayed along with Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) one night and he stood for a very long time until I thought about doing something bad.” A student said to him, “What did you think of doing?”He said, “I thought of sitting down and leaving him.”
[Excerpted from The Manners Of The Scholar and the Seeker of Knowledge by Shaikh Saleem ibn ‘Eed al-Hilaalee As-Salafee al-Atharee]
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