بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious Most Merciful. All praise be to Allah, as much as is His right to be praised. And peace and blessings be upon Muhammad, His Messenger and slave, and upon his Family and his Companions after him.
To proceed: You who are desirous of acquiring sacred knowledge, expressing in yourself a sincere longing and a passionate thirst for it, know that if your aim in seeking knowledge is to compete, show off, outdo your peers, garner attention, and amass the debris of this world, then you are on your way to rendering your religion null and void, destroying yourself, and selling your eternal life for this present one.
Your transaction is empty, your business profitless. And the person who teaches you in this case is nothing less than an accomplice in your transgression, a partner in your loss. He can be compared to one who sells a sword to a highway robber, for as the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “Indeed, whoever helps with a sin by even half a word is a partner in it” (‘Irãqi from Musnad al-Daylami).
But if, in seeking knowledge, your intention and aim, between Allah Most High and yourself, is to gain guidance, and not simply the transmission of information, then glad tidings be to you. The Angels will spread their wings for you as you walk and the fish in the sea will ask forgiveness for you as you strive.
You should know before all else that guidance, which is the fruit of knowledge, has a beginning and an end, an outward aspect and an inward essence.
There is no way to reach the end without mastering the beginning, just as there is no way to discover the inner essence of it until you have arrived at an understanding of its outward.
Here I am going to point you to the “beginning of guidance,” for you to see where you stand and determine what your heart intends.
If you find your heart inclining toward it, and you find yourself compliant and receptive, then look to the ends of it, and immerse yourself in the oceans of this knowledge.
If, on the other hand, you find that in taking stock of it, your heart puts off starting it, or asks for more time in responding to its demands, then know that the part of your lower self wanting knowledge is the self that commands to evil, which has risen up out of obedience to the accursed Satan. Satan’s strategy is to throw to you the rope of deceit, then pull you in by it to the abyss of destruction; his intention is to present evil in the form of good until he succeeds in making you of “those who lose the most in respect of their deeds, whose efforts have been wasted in this life, while they reckon that they do good work” (Qur’ãn 18 : 103-4).
At this point, Satan will recite to you the excellence of knowledge and the high rank of the scholars, and all that has been related about it in hadiths and other narrations. And he so will divert you from the warming of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم: “He who increases in knowledge, but not in guidance, increases only in distance from Allah Most High” (‘Irãqi from Musnad al-Daylami); and this one: “Of those most severely punished on the Day of Judgment is the knowledgeable person whom Allah did not benefit through his knowledge” (Shu’ab al-Imãn) (he صلى الله عليه و سلم would supplicate [for protection] thus: I seek refuge in You from knowledge that does not benefit, a heart that does not fear, a deed that does not ascend, and an invocation that is not heard” (Hãkim)); and from this one: “On the night of my ascension to the heavens, I passed by people whose lips were being cut by pincers from the Hellfire. So I asked, ‘Who are you?’ They replied, ‘We used to order people to do good and not do it ourselves, and advise people against evil, even as we were doing it ourselves'” (‘Irãqi from Ibn Hibbãn; similar in Ahmad).
Then beware, O destitute one, of following Satan’s disingenuous advice and being roped in by his deceit.
Woe to the ignorant one, because he did not seek knowledge, and woe a thousand times to the knowledgeable one who did not act upon his knowledge.
Understand -may Allah Most High have mercy on you- that there are three classes of people who seek knowledge.
First is a man who seeks knowledge to make it his provision on the way to the Next Life, and intends by it nothing other than the countenance of Allah Most High and the home of the Hereafter. He is of the winners.
Second is a man who seeks knowledge to assist him in this present life and attain by it honor, good standing, and wealth. He is aware of what he is doing and feels in his heart that his state is not good and his intention is not right. He is of those who put themselves in jeopardy. If he dies before making repentance, it must be feared that he will come to a bad end and his fate is under the divine will. But if such a man is divinely guided to repentance before the arrival of his appointed time, and if he adds good works to his knowledge and redeems himself from his past shortcomings, he will become one of the winners. “For truly, one who repents of a sin is like one who has no sin” (Ibn Mãja).
Third is a man who has fallen completely under Satan’s sway. This man uses his knowledge only to increase his wealth, boast of his rank, and take pride in his large following. With his knowledge he explores every avenue, hoping to gratify all the desires he has for this world. In spite of all this, he still secretly believes he has a high place with Allah, because he adorns himself with the outer characteristics of the learned, following in their footsteps in dress and manner of speech, all the while rushing with frenzied desire toward the world, inwardly and outwardly.
This person is irretrievably lost. He is one of the foolish, deluded ones. This is because there is no hope for his repentance, as he is convinced that he is one of those who do good. Such a person is heedless of the words of Allah Most High: “O you who believe! Why say you that which you do not? Most loathsome is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not” (Qur’ãn 61 : 2-3).
He is one of those about whom the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه و سلم was speaking when he said, “There are some that I fear more for you than I do the Antichrist (Dajjãl).” People asked, “Who are they, O Messenger of Allah?” He صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “Evil scholars.”
This is because the aim of the Antichrist is to misguide people. And if the likes of a scholar urge people away from this world by their speech and statements, they actively invite them to it through their actions and state. This is because actions speak louder than words and human nature is such that it is inclined more to take part in what is done than to obey what is said.
How much more corruption, indeed, will the actions of this deluded man cause than any good brought about by his words, since the ignorant man only throws himself into pursuit of worldly things after he sees the scholars doing so. Thus, the deluded scholar’s knowledge becomes the very cause of the servants of Allah daring to disobey Him. Despite this, his ignorant lower self gives him assurance, filling him with hope and desire, calling him to expect favors from Allah as a result of his knowledge, and his evil-inciting soul makes him believe that he is superior to many of His servants.
Therefore, O seeker, be among the first class of seekers. Dare not to be of the second class, for how many a procrastinator dies before he repents, and forfeits everything. Above all, beware to not allow yourself by any means to be of the third class, and end your life wretchedly, utterly bereft of hope for success or salvation.
If you then ask, “What is the beginning of guidance, that I may test myself thereby?” know that its beginning is the outward form of God-consciousness (taqwã) and its end is the inward reality of God-consciousness. Hence, there is no ultimate bliss except through God-consciousness, and guidance does not come but to those who are conscious of Allah.
Taqwã means carrying out the commands of Allah Most High and turning away from that which He has forbidden. There are thus two parts to it, and in what follows I will expound to you briefly the outward manifestation of God-consciousness in both its parts.