Merely possessing the knowledge of something is of little value if one does not apply it. This is an accepted principle. It is even worse if one becomes arrogant on account of this knowledge.
The purpose of attending classes on the Seerah of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), for example, should be to adopt the inward and outward Sunnahs and to implement the lessons learned in our own lives. Sitting through lectures on the Shama’il and Hadith in general must result in the application of Sunnahs to ourselves. If this is not the case, we need to ask ourselves, what went wrong? How is it that I’ve spent so much time pursuing sacred knowledge yet I haven’t connected the dots to establish the relationship between knowledge and action?
This is precisely why our pious elders emphasized that a seeker of knowledge must always remain concerned about the acceptance of one’s knowledge (‘ilm) of the Deen. In other words, if the sacred knowledge one pursued receives acceptance from Allah, it was worth pursuing it and acting upon it. If, on the other hand, Allah does not grant it acceptance in His court then seeking it was an undertaking in vain.
The scholars of the heart (ahl al-tasawwuf) have laid out five steps to achieve Divine Acceptance (qubuliyyah) in one’s knowledge which are as follows:
STEP 1: Acquire knowledge
Seeking knowledge of the Deen is an obligation of varying degrees upon every believing person. This is the first step and an essential one. Without recognizing the need for increasing one’s knowledge it is impossible to improve our condition, as individuals and as a community.
To underscore the importance of seeking increase in knowledge, here is a Qur’anic fact:
Did you know that the ONLY thing Allah asked His Messenger (ﷺ) to seek increase in within the entire Qur’an is knowledge?
Allah says in the Qur’an as a command directed at the Prophet (ﷺ):
And say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” (20:114)
Given the significance of seeking increase in one’s knowledge, it only makes sense that acquiring sacred knowledge is the first step towards achieving Divine Acceptance because without knowing what brings us closer to our Creator there is no way forward.
STEP 2: Act upon the knowledge gained
Imam Darimi narrates in his Sunan that Sayyiduna ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) asked Ka’b (al-Ahbar), who had knowledge of the previous scriptures, “Who are the people of knowledge [according to you]?” Ka’b rahimahullah answered “those who act upon their knowledge”. In other words, the attribution of knowledge towards the people of knowledge is due to their acting upon it. Hence, the one who knows of the clear prohibitions of the Shari’ah but does not refrain from them by continuously and openly engaging in prohibited matters is not really from the people of knowledge, no matter how many honorific titles are assigned to him and how many degrees or ijazahs he has.
STEP 3: Act upon knowledge with sincerity (ikhlas)
Because the acceptance of all actions hinges upon intention, without sincerity in one’s intentions (i.e. acting purely for the pleasure of Allah) there can be no hope for reward. This sincerity is achievable through one simple method that our teachers advise of: Perform good acts and tell no one. Give charity anonymously, for example. Make it a matter strictly between you and Allah. DON’T TELL A SOUL. Or, for example, pray a few rak’ahs of supererogatory prayers when no one is around so that no one except Allah knows about it.
STEP 4: Sincerity in one’s actions must be adherent to the Sunnah
No matter the level of sincerity in one’s actions, if it opposes a Sunnah command, it is of no value. For example, one prays a few rak’ahs completely out of sight from his acquaintances and even his own family, completely alone in a room that no one has access to, but he performs them at sunrise or sunset. Even though there is little doubt about this person’s sincere intentions, because his actions go against the Prophetic command to abstain from prayer at these times, the disregard for the Sunnah results in no benefit for him.
Our actions, based on the knowledge we’ve gained, should not conflict with the Sunnah even if they are done with sincere intentions. Remember, actions which are in conformity with the Sunnah are the purest and the most beloved to Allah.
STEP 5: After acting upon knowledge with sincere intentions, worry about its acceptance!
Allah praised the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) in the Qur’an for their charity by stating:
And they who give what they give while their hearts are fearful … (23:60)
The Sahabah gave what they gave in the path of Allah but even after this clearly virtuous act their hearts remained fearful. What was their fear? They were worried about the acceptance of their sadaqah by Allah. Hence, a believer acquires requisite knowledge, acts upon it with ikhlas and ensures it is in line with the Sunnah but always remains concerned about its acceptance in the court of Allah. He continues to supplicate to Allah beseeching Him to accept his knowledge-seeking, his good actions and his refraining from what is prohibited. May Allah grant us all tawfiq. Amin.