Episode 1: First Quarter: On Acts of Worship
Book 1: Book of knowledge
The definition of knowledge is unusual to begin a book that wants to focus on inward reality as one would assume the priority should be something practical and not abstract. However, Imam al-Ghazali explains the very purpose of religion as all affairs that have to do with affirming the existence and submitting to Allah (God). The religion is truth and what is the truth is that which is known to correspond with reality. The reality is Allah (God). In this form of religion, all we need to do to submit to Allah (God) requires knowledge. This justifies why the book must start with understanding what knowledge means, including the what and why of knowledge. One thing the Prophet was commanded by Allah (God) to seek an increase in is "knowledge", in Suratul TaHa (20:114)
"...and say, "My Lord, increase me in knowledge."
There are lots of evidence in traditions that point to the virtues of knowledge and the status of the possessor in the community of men.
In a sound narration of Prophet Muhammad; "When Allah wishes good for someone, He bestows upon him the understanding of the deen (religion)." Imam al-Ghazali commented that having knowledge alone is not enough, knowledge that does not result in action or sincerity is without meaning, it can be compared with someone who has a medicine but could not use it as an ailment when he is sick. The knowledge that is sought after and praiseworthy is the understanding of the religion. The word being used is "Al fiqhy fi'deen" (understanding of the religion). Imam al-Ghazali calls the attention of the reader to common misunderstandings among people on this terminology. He says it actually means knowing what is right, the depth and consequences of something. Beneficial knowledge is knowing what draws one closer to Allah (God), wherever one is in life in terms of one's actions/inactions. And the first knowledge is to know the One who is worshiped and that is why the next chapter will be on the science of sound beliefs in the oneness of Allah and His reality. The third quarter of the book of Ihya would be assumed to be the most important part of the book because, apart from the fact that no one has unpacked destructive traits and character as insightful as Imam al-Ghazali, it is something so hidden and subtle that anyone cannot escape those faults and so it makes sense to understand them and be watchful of them so one can return when one slips. However, understanding them alone without knowing who can save one from those traits and adorn one with beautiful traits is fruitless, that is why the chapters of beliefs and worship precedes in the arrangement of Ihya book.
Knowledge is of two types in relation to human activities;
1.Fard ayn (essential knowledge required of an individual): What an individual needs to know in other to properly submit to Allah (May He be praised and exalted) in the things that one engages in life, as compared to praiseworthy knowledge which has to do with pleasure/reward in its attainment.
2.Fard kifaya"(communally obligatory knowledge): This is needed to preserve the essential good of the community, worldly and religiously.
"The beginning of knowledge is silence, next to it is listening, followed by retention, acting in accordance with it and teaching/spreading it" - Muhammad al Harith in Ihlyatul awliya.
Seeking knowledge requires Adab (right way of doing things) and part of it is to have reverence and respect, consult, follow a trodden path, master what one learns so one can intensify it and be able to spread it to others accurately. Fruits of knowledge is becoming an Ulama' al-akhirah (scholars of hereafter) meaning someone who has the ability to seek the hereafter and who can show others the path to hereafter. The path to hereafter been the most important thing as Imam al-Ghazali expounded extensively to show proofs of that in this chapter. Another fruit of knowledge is to be an Al-alim al Rabbani (Lordly scholar) which means to be someone whose knowledge enables to direct self and others to their Lord.
What is important to finally reference as for opportunities of knowledge is the prophetic inheritance, whoever strives for knowledge knows he is seeking the inheritance of the prophet and the most knowledgeable will have the most share as reported in the popular hadith (sayings/deeds of Prophet Muhammad). Secondly, knowledge is empowering as it enables one to live in realization and to be an agent of good, either by becoming a scholar or by acting in accordance with reality and truth. "Service without knowledge is toil without fruit". It is more honorable to strive to enlighten people with what one has acquired of beneficial knowledge as Allah(God) said: "And who could be better of speech than he who calls [his fellow-men] unto God, and does what is just and right, and says, “Verily, I am of those who have surrendered themselves to God” Quran (41:33).
I will like to note that this series is only meant to stimulate our curiosity and motivate us to do the needful for what is important in our lives. So, there are some other important details left out in this chapter and similar will happen in other episodes of this series. Therefore, the book of knowledge is actually divided into seven sections;
• Benefits of knowledge, instruction and learning,
• Branches of knowledge,
• What is religion and what is not,
• Pitfalls of debates and argumentation and why people fall into it,
• Adab (right way) of Student of Knowledge (this could also mean everyone interested in knowing or learning beneficial things),
• Dangers of Knowledge, and the differences between the scholars of this world (ephemeral) and the afterlife (literally means those inspired and genuinely working for the sake of God),
• Intellect, it's virtues and it's vices.
Providing details on all the sections will be too lengthy for a summary but mentioning the sections may spark some interest to read the whole chapter comprehensively. May we be blessed with that which is beneficial.