Knowledge is one of the most influential factors for living a successful life. If we consider life not only limited to the material or animal world, a ‘successful life’ points out to the capacity of man to soar up to the spiritual realm and benefit from it. The Qur’an explicitly says “Are they equal those who know and those who do not know?” (39:9) implying a negative answer to such a question.
Through history, Muslims thinkers and scholars gave different meanings to the word ‘knowledge’. Although many narrations emphasise the importance of the role of knowledge, the general allusions found in the hadith literature paved the way for a variety of opinions about the identification and the nature of such knowledge. For example, jurists referred to the science of jurisprudence, exegetes to the science of exegesis, traditionalists to the science of hadith, theologians to the science of theology and so on. Even outside the realm of religious sciences, doctors may identify knowledge in the field of medicine, chemists in the field of chemistry, and so on, having in this way a very selective kind of approach.
If we ponder upon the contents of Islamic literature, we may find that, directly or indirectly, it contains an exhortation to develop all these sciences but also we can find an underlying theme as relevant and necessary to cultivate a sound relationship with God.
The exposition of certain truths, the practical code of worship and conduct, the stories of the prophets, and so on all point to this fact. Some scholars start developing a science on how to deal with God, what thinkers like al-Ghazali and Ibn Qudama called ‘ilm al-mu‘amalah and whose focus is the feelings of the heart and the state of the soul while working on God’s spiritual path.
Some people have also referred to such science as the ‘real fiqh’ (which literally means ‘understanding’) whose legal aspects are just a less relevant part of it.
Al-Ghazali himself pointed out the necessity of developing a sound relationship with God, especially for the religiously erudite, after a period of negligence following the pious predecessors and the rightful imams. He was followed in his footsteps, and at times rectified in some details, by different scholars from various schools like Ibn Qayyim, Zayn al-Din al-‘Amili and Fayd al-Kashani.
scholars was that although information and formal schools increased in time after the Prophetic era, real knowledge decreased. In fact, real knowledge is not obtained by multiplying attendance to classes or reading books; such elements are very important and not to be discarded because they give us valuable information, but knowledge is indeed how we deal with such information and how we process it in our personal life. Not surprisingly in much of the classical literature, the knowledgeable person is identified as the one who ‘practices what he learnt’. In al-Kafi, it is reported that while explaining the verse “Only those who have knowledge from amongst His servants fear God” (35:28), the great Imam Sadiq(a) said that it refers to those who put their knowledge into practice.
However, in this context, the expression ‘put into practice’ could be a term which does not give justice to its meaning. Here, it is not only physical movements that we are referring to, like standing, bowing or prostrating during our daily prayer, or giving charity but what is really meant is the progression of the heart with more peace and happiness accompanying us. It is indeed the real spirit and scope behind those physical movements and religious commitments without which they would be meaningless.
Even the driest treatise of jurisprudence admits that a prayer performed with a wrong intention would be invalid. If we want to go deeper, we may translate such a concept by saying that a prayer not performed out of love is not a full prayer. Even if such a prayer is performed only out of fear of divine punishment or desire for divine recompense, the element of love and attachment is indirectly involved towards the One who can bring joy or suffering.
Dealing with God is, therefore, having a one-to-one relation with Him, to communicate with Him and to feel that He is present even if we do not see Him. This is manifest by firm belief, the performance of some actions, and abstinence from others.
The firm belief is explained in the formula “I testify that there is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger”. When it is pronounced with awareness, automatically a stronger bond between the Lord and servant has been created. It is a building of a personal connection between the individual and God, not something that he has to do or not to do per se.
The actions that must be done are all the obligations such as ritual prayer, zakat, fasting and pilgrimage, while the actions to be abstained from are sins, but all that we believe in and everything we do will have no value if it is not corroborated with an advancement of our spiritual condition.
Fear of God, hope in Him, satisfaction with His decree, truthfulness, sincerity, and so on are all qualities that should accompany conventional faith. Conventional faith implies being Muslim by mere affiliation, something necessary for a believing person and a claim that can bring personal and social acknowledgement but that may not necessarily reflect reality and things the way they are.
The Prophet Muhammad(s) was sent with a message of truth in a society where people used to take a side based on blood-lineage or social position. Such a brilliant and courageous person broke the social norms of his society to speak the truth, with a message of truth and with the hope that truth shall always prevail. Therefore, it is necessary for a faithful Muslim to be truthful with himself first: sincerely humble while he prays, genuinely loving while he gives charity, and earnestly concerned when he helps people. Such states of the heart will be one day our shelter near God and are actually our provision to continue our journey towards Him; all else will fade away.
Personal inclinations and attitudes that shape the personality of a believer should be taken seriously into account because they are not only the link between the theoretical notions and the physical duties which characterise a righteous Muslim life but also are what we take to our graves, what will be left with us after our presence in this temporary world.