Being a Translation with notes


Kitab al-‘Ilm 



Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din






On the reasons which induced men to pursue the science of polemics, and on revealing the evils of debate and disputation as well as stating the conditions which render them permissible.

You should know that after the death of the Apostle of Allah, the caliphate was occupied by the orthodox and guided caliphs who were imams of righteousness, learned in the science of Allah, His essence and His attributes, versed in His statutes, and independent in handing down their legal opinions and decisions. In this they did not seek the aid of jurisprudents except in very rare cases in which consultation was indispensable. They devoted themselves to the science of the hereafter and used to refer legal questions and all that pertains to human affairs in this world to one another and with their keenest effort, as the accounts of their lives reveal, they followed after Allah.

When at their death, the caliphate passed on those who occupied it without either merit or independence in legal opinion and decisions, the caliphs were compelled to seek the aid of jurisprudents and to attach them to themselves on all occasions in order to consult with them on the manner of their judicial decisions. A few learned followers (tabiun), however, who continued to emulate the orthodox caliphs and persisted in conforming to the dictates of religion, and in following the way of righteous Fathers, were still living. Whenever they were sought for appointment as judges, they would flee, disdaining altogether such honour. Consequently the caliphs were compelled to be insistent in their desire to appoint them as judges and to delegate to them the power of government. Contemporaries were thus awakened to the glory of the learned men who, while they paid no attention to the caliphs and governors, were persistently sought by them. As a result these contemporaries turned with their efforts towards knowledge which they hoped to acquire in order to attain power and glory through the solicitation of governors. They bent themselves to the study of the science of legal opinions and offered their services to governors from whom they sought office and rewards. In this some failed while others met success, but those who were successful were not free from the obsequiousness of begging and the servility of indebtedness. Consequently the learned men, after having once been sought, have now become job seekers, and after having once been proud of their indifference to the sultans, having now become obsequious by waiting upon them. This is true of all except the few learned men of religion whom Allah has blessed in every

All that time people addressed themselves the most to the science of legal opinions and decisions because of the pressing need for it in governmental affairs. Later on, however, there emerged some celebrities and princes who had heard the pronouncements of people on the elements of faith and enjoyed listening to their arguments, and consequently found themselves well disposed to debate and disputation in theology. Thus people pursued wholeheartedly the science of theology, composed many books on the subject in which they set forth the methods of argumentation and developed the principles of contradiction, claiming all the time that their sole purpose was to defend the religion of Allah, safeguard the Usage of His Prophet, and to uproot all innovators, just as the jurisprudents who preceded them claimed that they devoted themselves to the legal profession and took upon themselves the affairs of the Muslims simply out of pity for Allah’s creatures and for the sake of giving them counsel and advice.

Subsequently, however, there appeared some distinguished men who deemed it improper to discourse on theology and start a series of debates therein because such a thing would lead to bloodshed and destruction. Instead they preferred to debate in jurisprudence and to point out the more important juridical points in the systems of al-Shafi’t and abu-Hanifah in particular.

Consequently men discarded theology and the other disciplines of knowledge and pursued especially problems of disagreement between al-Shafi’t and abu-Hanifah, while to those between Malik, Sufyan al-Thawri, Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, and others, they paid little attention. Their purpose, they claimed, was to elicit the abstruse points of the law, determine the principles of the system, and prepare the bases of legal opinions and decisions. They composed many works on the subject and elicited many points, setting forth therein the different kinds of syllogisms of controversy and enumerating the various works that pertain thereto. Furthermore they still continue to compose at this present time; as to the future, however, we do not know what Allah has ordained.

This, then, is what induced men to take up nothing but controversies and debate. If, however, the rulers of this world had favoured another imam or another science, men would have done the same and would have persisted in saying that they were employed in the science of religion and that they had no other aim than that of drawing near to Allah, the Lord of the Universe.



You should know that those who liken their debates to the consultations of the Companions cajole men by saying that their aim in those debates is to search after the truth in order that it may become apparent, especially because the truth is much desired and any co-operation in examining truth and the exchange of views therein is both helpful and telling. Furthermore, such was the custom of the Companions in their consultations, as for example, the time when they held a consultation on the case of the grandfather and the brothers,1 the penalty for drinking wine,2 the obligation on the imam

1.      al-Bukhari, Fara‘id, 9: al-Darimi, Fara‘id,11.

2.      Cf. al-Bukhari, Hudud,1-4; al-Darimi, Hudud, 9.


to pay an indemnity when he commits a mistake in his interpretation as has been reported concerning the woman who had an abortion because of the fear of ‘Umar,1 and several cases of inheritance, as well as what has been reported on the authority of al-Shafi-i, Ahmad ibn-Hanbal. Muhammad ibn-al-Hasan al-Shaybani2 Malik, abu-Yusuf, and other learned men besides. You will understand this ambiguity between debate and consultation when I relate to you the following, namely, that co-operation in the search after truth is a part of religion but has eight distinguishing features and conditions.

These are:

1.      Whereas debate as a means of searching after the truth is one of the fard  kifayah duties, no one who has not yet fulfilled his fard ‘ayn duties should take it up. Thus whoever has a fard ‘ayn duty to fulfil, but addresses himself to the fulfilment of a fard kifayah instead, claiming that he seeks thereby the truth, is a liar; he is like the person who neglects prayer and traffics in weaving and tailoring saying that his purpose is to cover the nakedness of him who prays naked because he finds no clothes. Such a thing may occur and is quite possible just as the occurrence of the rare cases which are the subject of research in those debates is possible. Those who spend their time in debate neglect several duties which are, by general agreement, fard‘ayn duties. Similarly, anyone who has been expected to return a deposit to its owner at once, but, instead of so doing, seeks refuge in prayer which is the worthiest of all obligations before Allah, transgresses because it is not enough that a person be obedient and his works constitute acts of service unless he observes therein the rules of time, condition and sequence.


2.      Debate as a means of searching after the truth is justified provided the  doer is not confronted with a more important fard kifayah duty.


Thus whoever finds an important obligation waiting for him and turns to perform something else, transgresses. In fact he is like

1.      Cf. al-Bukhari, Diyat. 24-25.

2.      A.H. 189/A.D. 804-5; see ibn-Khallikan, Vol II, pp. 2278.


a person who comes upon a group of people and finds them, having been neglected, about to die of thirst, but instead of saving them by giving them water to drink, buckles down to study the art of bleeding, claiming that it is a fard kifayah and that unless the town had a bleeder the people will perish. On being told that a number of bleeders already exist within his region and, therefore, there is no need for his services he insists that notwithstanding all this, bleeding remains a fard kifayah. Likewise, he who does this and neglects to give his attention to the calamity which has befallen a group of thirsty Muslims is like the person who devotes his time to debate while several fard kifayah duties remain neglected in the town. Thus several have taken up the profession of law (fatwa) while a number of obligatory duties remain neglected in every town and no jurisprudent ever pays any attention to them. More specifically let me single out medicine in which there is not, in almost all the land, a Muslim physician whose word could be legally accepted in important matters. Nevertheless not one of the jurisprudents has taken up medicine. The same is true of the Muslim obligation to enjoin what is just and to forbid what is evil1 which is a fard kifayah duty.

A debater might perhaps be arguing in the midst of a hall draped with silk and among men apparelled with it, but would say nothing about it and instead would debate concerning a hypothetical case which might never come to pass, even if it should occur there would be several jurisprudents ready to attend to it. All this time he claims that he desires to come nearer to Allah through performing the fard kifayah duties. It was related by Anas that the Apostle of Allah was once asked, “When will the Muslim obligation of enjoining what is just and forbidding what is evil be neglected?” To which he replied, “When the best among you take to hypocrisy and the wicked, to adultery; when government shall pass to the hands of the least deserving among you and knowledge to those who are corrupt.”

3.             The third condition which justifies debate is that the debater should have the ability and right to form an opinion of his own (mujtahid), and should be one who can give decisions on his own

1. Cf Surah IX: 72.


responsibility without being bound be the opinions of either al-Shafi‘i or abu-Hanifah or any other imam, so that whenever he would find that the school of abu-Hanifah is right on a particular point he would hand down his opinion accordingly, just as the Companions and the imams used to do, and would ignore what the Shafi’ite school holds on the subject. On the other hand, he who lacks the right and the ability of independent interpretation (ijtihad), as is the case with all contemporaries, but would hand down his opinions on the authority of his imam, would not be able to reject the stand of another even though he should discover its weakness. Of what use to him there is debate when his system is well-known and his opinions are bound to conform to it? And whenever a doubtful point confronts him he would be compelled to say that the founder of his school might have an answer as he himself was not independent in interpreting the sources of the law. It would have been more fitting for him if his discussions were on points which lend themselves to two opinions, for then he might hand down his opinion in favour of the one and against the other and become thereby more and more disposed to one view and opposed to the other. Yet debates are not confined to this type of two-sided questions; often these are ignored in favour of cases in which the points of controversy have been fully discussed and decided.

4.             The fourth condition which justifies debate is that there should be none except on actual cases or cases likely to be so. Thus the Companions held consultations only as questions arose or were likely to arise, as for example questions of inheritance. We do not, however, see debaters concerning themselves with the criticism of cases in which the handing of opinions has caused widespread tribulations. Rather they seek the spectacular cases which attract attention and consequently, no matter what the nature of the case may be, discussion of the issue becomes widespread. They may even ignore cases of frequent occurrence saying that they are reported cases or rare events which are not spectacular. That the aim of a debate should be the truth is nothing short of a miracle. They would also drop a case because it has been reported although the way to


truth is through such reports; or they might drop it because it was not spectacular and would lend itself to little discussion. Truth, however, aims at reducing debate and arriving at conclusions concisely and not flatulently.


5.             The fifth condition which justifies debate is that it should be held in private in preference to public meeting in the presence of celebrities and sultans, because privacy is more conducive to understanding and its atmosphere more suitable to clear thinking. Public meetings encourage hypocrisy and make it imperative for the individual to defend himself whether he is right or wrong. It is very well-known that these public meetings and assemblies are not promoted by their devotees for the sake of Allah. One of them may be alone with his companion for a long period of time but will not even talk to him because there is no audience to applaud his rhetoric. He may at times try to start a discussion but for the same reason gets no response. But no sooner someone makes his appearance or a group assembles, than he will try his utmost to provoke a controversy and then monopolize the discussion.


6.             The sixth condition which justifies debate is that the debater should seek thereby the truth in the same spirit as that of the person who is searching for a lost object: he does not mind whether the object is found by himself or by his aides, regards his companion a friend not an adversary, and thanks him whenever he points out a mistake to him and reveals to him the truth. Thus if he pursues one way in his search for his lost object and his companion shows him another and better way he will not criticise him but rather will thank and honour him and rejoice with him. Such were the consultations of the Companions that once upon a time, when ‘Umar was addressing an assembly, a certain woman interrupted him and pointed out to him his mistake. Thereupon he said, “A woman hath hit the mark while a man hath missed.” At another time a certain man asked ‘Ali a question and, on receiving an answer, disagreed with him saying that it was different; to which ‘Ali replied: “Thou art right while I am wrong, Exalted over all is the Omniscient Allah.” On another occasion, abu-Musa, al-Ash‘ari then the governor of al-Kufah, was asked


concerning the fate of a man who had died fighting for Allah and replied that he was in Paradise. Thereupon ibn-Mas‘ud contradicted abu-Musa and said that, in his opinion, the man would be in Paradise if, at his death, he has been truly sincere. Abu-Musa, concurring with the opinion of ibn-Mas‘ud said, “What he hath said is the truth. Ask not my opinion when in your midst you have such an authority.” Such should be the fairness and justice of a seeker after truth. Should such a thing be mentioned nowadays to the most insignificant jurisprudent, he would deny it and declare it to be improbable. He would also say that there was no need at all for the explicit mention of sincerity since everyone knows that it was a necessary requirement.

Compare, therefore, the Companions with contemporary debaters, how the latter become embarrassed and ashamed whenever the truth is determined by an adversary, and how they exert their utmost efforts trying to deny the adversary his credit, malign those who refute their opinions, and finally liken themselves to the Companions in respect of co-operation in determining the truth.

7.             The seventh condition which justifies debate is that the debater should not prevent his adversary from relinquishing one argument in favour of another and one illustration in favour of a second, as the debates of the Fathers were thus carried. The debater, also, should remove from his argument all the unorthodox subtitles of dialectics whether they are relevant or irrelevant. Thus he should not, for example, say that he was under no obligation to bring this up or that such and such a statement was contradictory to your first assertion and, therefore, unacceptable because going back to truth is in itself a refutation of error and should be accepted as an argument. You also notice how all assemblies are spent in defences and debates, so much so that a debater would deduce a principle from all alleged causes, and when asked what proof he had that his conclusion was explained by that cause, he would say that that was what he had found and would tell his critic, “If you should find anything clearer and better, produce it so that I might examine it.” The objecting critic would then insist that such a thing has several meanings which he himself has always known but need not go through them while the


debater would demand that they be discussed; but the critic would persist in his refusal. The debating assemblies are taken up by such questions while the poor debater does not realize that his saying that he neither knows nor remembers, and that he has no need for this or for that, is a lie against the law, because if he asserts that which he does not know simply to incapacitate his adversary he would be a wicked liar disobedient to Allah, any by his claim to knowledge he does not possess he would expose himself to the wrath of Allah. He would also have sinned even if his claims were true because he had concealed what he had known of the law. His brother Muslim had asked him in order to have things explained and examined, so that if he were right he would abide thereby but if he were wrong he would have his friend point out his mistake for him and lead him from the darkness of ignorance to the bright light of knowledge. No one will disagree that it is obligatory on the person to reveal whatever knowledge he may possess of the sciences of religion whenever he is asked about it. The meaning of his words, “I am under no obligation to bring this up,” is that in the rules of dialectics, which have been developed according to the principles of human curiosity and interest in the methods of deception and battling with words, he was under no obligation to admit anything unless it was obligatory by law. By his refusal to admit in the course of his argument a point which has been brought up and which he knows is true he becomes a liar and a villain.

Examine the consultations of the Companions and the negotiations of the Fathers. Have you ever heard of anything like this in them, or have you ever seen anybody who had been prevented from relinquishing one argument in favour of another and one illustration in favour of a second, and from citing as proof an event in the life of one of the Companions after having drawn an analogy, or quoting a Quranic verse having related a tradition? On the contrary all their debates were carried on in this manner: they used to set forth and examine everything that occurred to them just as it occurred.

8.                         The eighth condition which justifies debate is that one should only debate with those from whom he expects to learn


something, people who arrive at their knowledge independently. Usually, however, men nowadays avoid entering into a debate with intellectual giants and celebrities for fear that their adversaries should determine the truth. They would rather debate with their inferiors in the hope of confounding them with falsehood.

Many other minute conditions, which make debate justifiable, exist besides those already mentioned; but in those eight conditions you will find how to distinguish between those who debate for the cause of Allah and those who debate for some other purpose. But in general you should know that he who does not struggle against and debate Satan while his heart is subject to his most virulent enemy, the Devil, by whom he is being continually dragged to his doom, but does instead debate with men in cases wherein the mujtahid is right, or shares with him who is right his reward, the same is a laughing stock of Satan and an example for the sincere. Thus Satan rejoices when he throws him into the darknesses of evil which we shall now enumerate and discuss.



You should know and be sure that debates which are designed for the purpose of overcoming and silencing an opponent as well as for displaying one’s excellence and honour, bragging before men, boasting, and being contradictory, or for the sake of winning popular favour, are the source of all traits which are blameworthy before Allah and praiseworthy before His enemy, the Devil. Its relation to the secret sins of pride, conceit, jealousy, envy, self-justification, love of power, and others is like the relation of drinking to the sins of the flesh such as fornication, foul play, and murder. Just as the person who has been given the opportunity to choose between drinking and the other sins, deemed the former harmless and took to it only to be led by his drunkenness into committing all the other sins, so is he who succumbs to the lures of overcoming and silencing opponents in debate, and falls victim to the urge for power and boasting; these things have led him to conceal all wickedness in his bosom and stirred


in him all blameworthy traits. Proofs of the blameworthiness of all these will be discussed in the Quarter on the Destructive Matters in Life although we shall now allude to the major evils which are enkindled by debate. Of these we may enumerate the following.”

One is envy: The Prophet said, “As fire consumes wood so does envy consume good deeds.”1 The debater persists in envy because at times he overcomes his adversary and other times he himself is overcome; at times his words are praised and at other times those of his opponent are applauded; and as long as there remains in all the world one known among men for his versatile knowledge and regarded by them more learned than the debater and endowed with keener insight, the debater will inevitably envy him and wish that the favours and admiration which that man enjoys might accrue to him instead.


Envy is a consuming fire; its victim is subject to torment in this world while in the world to come his torture will be more intense and painful. For this reason ibn-‘Abbas said, “Take knowledge wherever ye may find it, but accept not the opinion of one jurisprudent concerning another because they are as jealous of one another as the bulls in the cattle-yard.”

Another is pride and haughtiness: The Prophet said, “He who exalteth himself is humbled by Allah, and he who humbleth himself is exalted by Allah.”2 Said he again quoting Allah, “Pride is my mantle and grandeur, yea it is my cloak. I shall smite anyone who would contest my sole right to them.”3

The debater persists in exalting himself above his equals and peers and in claiming for himself a station higher than his worth to the extent that he and his colleagues fight over their seats in assembly halls and boast about the degree of their elevation or lowliness as well as their proximity to, or remoteness from the central seat. They would fight as to who should lead the way in narrow streets. Often the

1.      Abu-Dawud, Adab, 44; ibn-Majah, Zuhd, 22:3.

2.      Cf. ibn-Majah, Zuhd, 16:3; Matt, 22:12; Luke 14:11,18:14.

3.      See ibn-Majah, Zuhd, 16:2.


foolish, deceitful, and insolent among them justify themselves on the ground that they are thereby maintaining the dignity of knowledge because the believers has been charged not to object himself. They thus consider humility, which Allah and his prophets commended, abasement, and regard pride, which is reprehensible to Allah, the dignity of religion. In other words they have altered the signification of these terms for the confusion of people as they have altered the signification of other terms such as wisdom, knowledge and the like.

Another is rancour from which a debater is hardly ever free. The Prophet said, “The believer is free from rancour.” Several more traditions have been related in condemnation of rancour and they are well-known. Yet we do not know of a debater who, is capable of entertaining no rancour against anyone who would nod his head in approval of the words of his adversary, or who when the latter pauses in the midst of a sentence, would politely wait for him. On the contrary he would, whenever he is confronted with such a situation, entertain and foster rancour in his heart. He may attempt to restrain himself hoping thereby to disguise his feelings; but, in most cases, he fails as his feelings invariably reveal themselves. How can he refrain from rancour when it is inconceivable that all the audience should unite in favouring his argument and approve all his conclusions and deductions? Furthermore should his opponent show the least sign of inconsideration about what he was saying, he would entertain for him in his heart a hatred that would last throughout his life.

Another is backbiting which was likened by Allah to the eating of carrion.1

The debater persists in “eating carrion” and is continually referring to the words of his opponent and traducing him. Because he endeavours to be right in what he says about his opponent, he inevitably cites only what shows the weaknesses of his opponent’s argument and the flaws in his excellences. Of such is traducing and backbiting, while lying is sheer calumny.

The debater, moreover, cannot keep his tongue from attacking


1.      Cf. Surah XLIXL: 12


the honour of anyone who turns away from him and listens to his opponent. He would even ascribe to him ignorance, foolishness, lack of understanding, and stupidity.

Another is self-justification; Allah said, “Assert not then your own purity. He best knoweth who feareth Him.”1 A certain wise man was once asked, “What truth is reprehensible?” He replied, “A man’s praising himself [even though it be justified].” A debater is never free from praising himself and boasting of his power, triumph, and excellence over his peers. In the course of a debate he would repeatedly say, “I am fully aware of all such things,” and “I am versatile in science, of independent judgment on question of law, and well-versed in the knowledge of tradition,”and many other assertions besides with which he would sing his own praise, sometimes out of sheer arrogance and at other times out of the need to render his words convincing. It is also well-known that arrogance and self-praise are by law and reason condemned.

Another is spying and prying into the private affairs of men. Allah said, “Pry not.”2 The debater always seeks to uncover the errors of his peers and continually pries into the private affairs of his opponents. He would, when informed of the arrival in town of another debater, seek someone who could reveal the inside story of the man and would by means of a questionnaire attempt to bare his vices in order to expose and disgrace him whenever the need should arise. He even would inquire about the affairs of his early life and blemishes of his body in the hope of discovering some defect or disfigurement such as scalp pustule and the like. Should he fear defeat at the hands of his opponent, he would, in the course of the debate, allude to these blemishes, especially if his opponent should remain firm and stand his ground, and would not refrain from being outspoken if he were given to insolence and scorn. Both of these practices are regarded as clever ways of repelling the attacks of an opponent, as should be seen by the accounts of the debates of some of the illustrious and celebrated debaters.

1.      Surah LIII: 33

2.      Surah XLIX:12.


Another is to rejoice at the injury of others and feel depressed when they are glad. Anyone who does not desire for his brother Muslim what he desires for himself is far removed from the way of believers.1 Thus he who prides himself by parading his excellence is inevitably pleased at the injury of his peers and equals who vie with him for glory. The hatred which exists between them is like that which exists between fellow-wives. Just as the one wife would tremble and turn pale at the sight of her fellow-wife so would a debater at the sight of another: his colour would change and his mind become perplexed as though he had seen a mighty devil or a hungry lion. How unlike the companionship and friendliness which used to exist between the learned men of religion whenever they met is this, and how unlike the brotherhood, the co-operation, and the mutual sharing which were characteristic of them under fair and adverse conditions alike! Thus al-Shafi‘i said, “Among the virtuous and wise, knowledge is like a bond of blood relationship.” I cannot, therefore, understand how some men, among whom knowledge has engendered a deep-rooted enmity, have followed his rite. Or can you ever imagine any spirit of friendliness prevailing among them when they are concerned with achieving triumph and boasting of it? How unlikely! It is bad enough that such an evil fastens on you the traits of the deceitful and robs you of those of the believers and devout.

Another is deception, the evidence of whose blameworthiness is well known and need not be enumerated. Debaters are compelled to deception because when they meet their opponents, friends, or followers, they find it necessary to endear themselves to them by saying nice things which they do not mean, by feigning to have been anxious to meet them, and by pretending to be impressed by their station and position, while everyone present as well as the speakers and those to whom they have spoken to, know that the whole thing is untrue, false, fraudulent, and wicked. They profess their love with their tongues while their hearts seethe with hate. From it all we seek refuge in Allah.

1.      Cf. al-Bukhari, Iman, 6


The Prophet also said, “When people take to knowledge and ignore works, when they profess love to one another with their tongue and nurse hatred in their hearts, and when they sever the ties of relationship which bind them, Allah will visit His wrath upon them and curse them, He will render their tongues mute and their eyes blind.” The truth of this tradition, which was related by al-Hasan, has been verified as these conditions which it predicts have been witnessed and seen.

Another is to resist truth and detest it and to persist in disputing it so much so that the most hateful thing to a debater is to see the truth revealed by his opponent; no matter what it may be, he would do his best to refute and deny it and would exert his utmost in deception, trickery and fraud in order to disprove his adversary until contention becomes in him a second nature. He is thus unable to hear anything without immediately expressing his objection to it. This habit of his would even drive him to dispute the truths of the Qur’an and the words of tradition and would cause him to cite the one in contradiction of the other. Furthermore wrangling even in opposing wrong is prohibited since the Prophet called men to abjure it although they are right in their contention. He thus said, “Whoever was in error and should abjure wrangling, to him Allah would build a dwelling in the confines of Paradise; while whoever was in the right and should abjure wrangling, to him Allah would prepare a habitation in the heart of Paradise.”1 Allah has also regarded as equal those who devise lies against Allah and those who call the truth a lie. He said, “But who acteth more wrongfully than he who deviseth a lie against Allah, or calls the truth when it hath come to him, a lie?”2 and and again, “And who acteth more wrongfully than he who lieth against Allah and treateth the truth when it comes to him as a lie.”3

Another is hypocrisy and flattering people in an effort to win their favour and mislead them. Hypocrisy is that virulent disease which, as will be discussed in the Book on Hypocrisy,4 leads to the

1.           Cf. ibn-Majah Intro, 7: 7.

2.           Surah XXIX: 68.

3.      Surah XXXX 33.

4.      See the Quarter on the Destructive Matters of Life, Bk. VIII.


gravest of the major sins. The debater wants nothing but to put himself forward before people, and to gain their approval and praise.

These ten traits are among the greatest secret sins. Others, who lack restraint may engage in controversies leading to the exchange of blows, kicking, boxing, tearing garments, plucking beards, cursing parents, denouncing teachers, and outright slander. Such people, however, are not considered respectable human beings. The prominent and sober among them do not go beyond the preceding ten traits. One may be free of this or that trait with regard to his inferiors or superiors, whatever the case may be, or with regards to people outside his community or his sphere of work. Yet in his attitude towards his peers, who are equal to him in position, the debater is guilty of all these traits. Each of these ten traits may give rise to ten other vices which we shall neither discuss nor explain at the present time. They include snobbishness, anger, hatred, greed, the desire to seek money and power in order to attain triumph, boasting, gaiety, arrogance, exalting the wealthy and those in authority as well as frequenting their places and partaking of their unlawful riches, parading with horses, state-coaches, and outlawed garments, showing contempt to people by being vain and ostentatious, meddling in the affairs of others, talkativeness, the disappearance of awe, fear, and mercy from the heart, absent-mindedness to an extent that the worshipper would no longer be aware of what he had prayed, or read, or who had communed with him during his prayer, nor, despite the fact that he had spent his life in the study of those sciences which aid in debate but are useless in the hereafter, such as the embellishment of diction and the knowledge of singular anecdotes, would he be able to experience any feeling of humility in his heart.

These traits are common to all debaters although they have them in varying degrees each according to his own station. But everyone, even the most religious and the wisest among them, is subject to several of then. Everyone, too, hopes to conceal them and, by self-mortification, to free himself therefrom.

You should, moreover, know that these vices characterize


those employed in admonition and warning if their purpose is to be recognized and establish for themselves prestige, or to obtain wealth and position. They also characterize those who are working in the science of religion and legal opinions if they ever hope to secure a position in the department of justice or become trustees of mortmain properties (awqaf) or to excel their peers. In general, these vices characterize everyone who, through knowledge, seeks other than the reward of Allah in the hereafter.

Knowledge, therefore, would either doom its possessor to eternal destruction or lead him to life everlasting. For that reason the Prophet said, “The most severely punished of all men on the day of resurrection will be the learned man whom Allah has not blessed with His knowledge.” On the contrary how much better it would have been if he had come out at least even. This, however, is very unlikely because the dangers of knowledge are great, for he who seeks it seeks the everlasting kingdom and the eternal bliss which he will either attain or else be doomed to perdition. The seeker after knowledge is like him who seeks power in this world: if he does not succeed in amassing a fortune he cannot hope to be spared the humiliation of poverty. On the contrary, he will continue to live in the midst of the worst conditions. To say that in encouraging debate lies an advantage, namely, that of inducing people to seek knowledge since without ambition for power and the rivalry which it provokes all branches of knowledge would have vanished, is true in one respect but otherwise useless. Thus had it been for their expectation of playing at the ball and mallet1 and with birds,2 the school would not have been attractive to the boys. But this does not mean that the reasons for the school’s popularity are praiseworthy. Similarly in the case of ambition for power as the reason for the preservation of knowledge: it does not mean that the ambitious one is saved. On the contrary he is one of those whom the Prophet described when he said, “Verily Allah will establish this faith through men who have no faith.”3 And again,

1.      Al-Kurah w-al-Sawlajan.

2.      Unidentified game.

3.      Hikyat al-Awliya, Vol. III, p. 358.

4.      Cf al-Bukhari, Maghazi, 40:7; Qadar,5.


“Verily Allah will establish this faith through wicked men.”1 The ambitious is personally doomed to destruction although, through him, others may be saved, especially if he should urge people to forsake the world and in so doing outwardly resemble the learned Fathers while inwardly he conceals his ambitions. He is, in this respect, like the candle which burns itself out in order that others may see: the good of others lies in his own destruction. On the other hand if he should urge people to cherish this world he would be like the fire which, besides consuming everything, burns itself out as well.

The learned men are of three kind: First those who are outspoken in seeking this world and in their devotion to it they destroy both themselves and others. Second, those who call people to Allah in public and in private; they bring joy and gladness both to themselves and to those whom they call. Third, those who preach the hereafter, outwardly forsaking the world while inwardly seeking the approval of men and wordly prestige; they save others but destroy themselves.

Examine therefore to which of these three categories you belong and to what end have you been preparing yourself, and do not think that Allah would accept anything of knowledge and work which has not been consecrated to Him. Any doubts which you may have in this regard will be dispelled by the contents of the Book on Hypocrisy, in fact by all the contents of the Quarter on the Destructive Matters in Life.2

1.      Cf. al-Bukhari, Maghazi, 40:7, Qadar, 5.

2.      See Vol. III, Bk. III



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