The Etiquettes Of The Teacher And The Student

The Etiquettes Of the Teacher And The Student

The student should purify his inner self (tahārat al-nafs) from lowly characteristics and blameworthy traits before anything else because knowledge is the worship of the heart.

He should disassociate himself from all distractions, for when one’s mind is focused on more than one thing it falls short in grasping the realities of things.

The predecessors would prefer knowledge over everything else. It has been reported that Imam Ahmad, may Allah have mercy on him, only married in the age of forty.

Abu Bakr al-Anbari was gifted a slave girl, but when she came to him he was thinking about the derivation of a religious matter so she withdrew from him. Then he said: ‘Take her to the slave trader.’ So she asked: ‘Did I do something wrong?’ He replied: ‘No, but my heart became distracted by you, and you are not worthy enough to prevent me from my knowledge!’

The student must surrender to the teacher like a patient surrenders to the doctor. He must humble himself before him and be at his service excessively.

Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyAllahu ‘anhuma) took hold of the ride of Zayd ibn Thabit (radiyAllahu ‘anhu) and said: ‘This is how we were ordered to treat the scholars.[1]

If a student is too proud to learn from someone who is not famous for his knowledge, he is ignorant because for the believer, wisdom is the object of persevering quest, so he takes it wherever he finds it.[2] Furthermore, let him leave his personal opinion for the opinion of his teacher, for a teacher’s error benefits the student more than his own correctness.[3]

‘Ali (radiyAllahu ‘anhu) said: ‘One of the rights that a scholar has upon you is that after you have greeted the people in general you greet him individually. You must sit in front of him and you must not gesture with your hand or eye in his presence. You must not present frequent questions to him or present a question directly to him. Do not be stubborn in asking for an answer if he is tired and do not ask again if he refuses to answer. You must not grab his garment when he gets up. Do not spread his secrets, backbite anyone in his presence, and do not look for his mistakes. If he errs, accept his excuse. Never tell him: ‘I heard such and such say a thing,’ or: ‘Such and such differs with you.’ Do not describe another scholar in his presence. You must not turn away from accompanying him for a long time and you must not raise yourself above serving him. If he is in need of something and others fulfill his need before you, know that he is like a palm tree: you are just waiting for something to drop from it for you.’

If one wishes to learn he should not lend his ear to the differences between people, for this will only confuse him and tire his mind.[4] He should take the best of everything as life is not long enough for learning all the sciences. After this, he must put most of his energy into learning the noblest of all sciences, namely the knowledge that pertains to the Afterlife. This knowledge is his pathway to the certainty gained by Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (radiyAllahu ‘anhu) for whom Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) testified saying: “Abu Bakr (radiyAllahu ‘anhu) has not preceded you with constant fasting or prayer. He has preceded you with something that has settled in his breast.[5]

These are the duties of the student. With respect to the teacher, he has duties as well, among them the following:

He must be gentle with his students and treat them like his own sons. He must not ask money for teaching and must not expect reward or thanks. He must teach for Allah’s sake alone. He must not see himself as doing a favor for the students, but rather it is upon him to hold them in high regard for being people who have prepared their hearts to earn the proximity of Allah by planting the seeds of knowledge therein. They are like men who lend their lands to another for cultivation. It does not befit a teacher to ask for reward except from Allah. To the extent, the pious predecessors used to refuse any gifts from their students.

The teacher must not be stingy in granting advice. If a student shows bad character he must express his disapproval to him indirectly as much as he can. He must not scold him out loud, for this makes the students lose their reverence for him.

He must consider the student’s level of understanding and intellect and not delve into matters he cannot understand. It has been narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “I have been commanded to address the people according to their intellects.”[6]

‘Ali (radiy Allahu ‘anhu) said: ‘There is certain knowledge here – if only I could find people to carry it!’[7]

Al-Shafi’i said:

Should I scatter pearls for grazing camels?
Should I poetize prose for herders of sheep?
Who grants ignoramuses knowledge will waste it
Who denies the deserving from it has wronged them[8]

The teacher must implement what he knows and not go against Allah’s words:

“Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture?” [Qur’an 2:44]

‘Ali (radiyAllahu ‘anhu) said: Two types of men have broken my back (i.e. their actions are horrible): a violating scholar and a devotional ignoramus.’

[The Inner Secrets Of Worship by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, p.31-35]

[1] Tabarāni and Hakim, and al-Bayhaqi in al-Madkhal. Its chain is sound. Refer to Sharh al-Ihya’, vol. 1, p.312.
[2] Many preachers and orators quote this statement as a Prophetic hadith, but it is not a sound hadith. It has been reported by Tirmidhi #2688 and In Mājah #4169. The chain includes Ibrahim Ibn al-Fadl al-Makhzumi who is weak. Refer to Da’if al-Jami’ al-Saghir #4306.
[3] The student should show the teacher his mistake with wisdom and fine preaching. This is one of the principles of our monotheistic religion.
[4] This is a very important advice.
[5] Sakhhawi said: ‘I do not know this (Mukhtasar al-Maqasid, p. 169).’

Ibn al-Qayyim says in al-Manar al-Munif, p. 115: ‘This is the speech of Abu Bakr Ibn ‘Ayyash.’ Ibn al-Jazari says in Ghayat al-Nihayah, vol. 1, p. 327: ‘The well-known report which says: ‘Abu Bakr has not preceded you with constant prayer or fasting. He has preceded you with something that has settled in his breast’ is narrated by men with no knowledge and attributed to the Prophet. The truth is that it is a statement of Abu Bakr Ibn ‘Ayyash.’
[6] Suyuti says in al-Durr al-Manthur, #35: ‘Al-Daylami narrated it with a weak chain from Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyAllahu ‘anhuma).’ I say: Refer to Ithaf al-Sadah al-Muttaqin, vol. 1, p. 342-343. Bukhari mentions a suspended report in al-Sahih, vol. 1, p. 199 from ‘Ali that says: ‘Talk to the people in a way that they can understand. Or do you want Allah and His Messenger to be belied?’ Muslim narrates in al-Sahih (with the commentary of al-Nawawi, vol.1, p.76 from In Mas’ud (radiyAllahu ‘anhu): ‘You do not address the people with something that their minds cannot grasp but it will be a test to some of them.’
[7] This is the text found in al-Ihya’, vol. 1, p.57 and its commentary; vol.1, p. 343. And in the Shamiyyah edition: “law asabtu lahu hamalatah,” which is a meaningless mistranscription.
[8] In his Diwan, p. 124-126. Refer to: Mu’jam al-Udaba’, vol. 17, p.307; Jami’ al-Bayan al-‘Ilm, vol.1, p. 110; al-Hilyah, vol.9, p.153; and Manaqib al-Shafi’i, vol.2, p.72.

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