Our Predecessors’ Zeal to Acquire Knowledge



Unprecedented zeal for knowledge

  • Imām Malik used to say, “Knowledge cannot be aspired for until one tastes poverty.” Thereafter he would narrate incidents from the life of his teacher Rabī’a al-Raiy wherein he endured extreme poverty. He mentions that his teacher would sell the beams of his roof and eat leftover food from the garbage dump in order to acquire knowledge.


  • When ‘Isām ibn Yūsuf would run out of pens to write with during class, he would immediately purchase one pen in exchange of a Dīnar (golden coin) to avoid missing out some information mentioned by the teacher.


  • A poet writes,

           قيل للفقر اين انت مقيم          قال لي في عمائم الفقهاء

Poverty was asked, “Where do you reside?” It responded “underneath the turbans of the scholars!”


Dissemination of knowledge

  • Abul-Qāsim ibn ‘Aqil Al-Warrāq says: "Imām Ibn Jarīr once said to his students, “Are you all ready to write down my lesson on the Tafsir (commentary) of the entire Qurān?” They enquired as to how lengthy it would be. He replied, “30 000 pages”! They said,” This would take a long time and could not be completed in one lifetime. So he made it concise and kept it to 3000 pages. It took him seven years to finish it from the year 283 up to 290 A.H.
  • He then said to them,” Are you all ready for a book on the history of the world, from Adam (‘Alaihis Salam) till this day?” they asked as to how lengthy this one would be, and he gave a reply similar to what he said regarding his Tafsīr. They then also replied in the same manner. He then said, “Inna Lillah! Courage has been destroyed!”
  • Imām Abū Yūsuf despite being the head jurist of his time, dictated his Amālī, which was transcribed in Three hundred volumes.


Phenomenal memory

  • Dāwūd ad-Dhabbi mentions, “I have never seen a book in the possession of my teacher Ismaīl bin ‘Ayyāsh. He had a habit of narrating Ahādīth from his memory. He had committed thirty thousand Ahadith to memory.”
  • Once a person rushed to Abū Zur’ah and said, “I made a vow that if Abū Zur’ah has not memorized one hundred thousand Ahādīth then my wife is divorced” Abū Zur’ah very calmly replied “You can rest assured, for verily I have memorized one hundred thousand Ahādīth”. Abū Zur’ah would often tell his students that he committed to memory one hundred thousand Ahādīth and remembered it just as one knew Sūrat al-Ikhlās.


This is but a glimpse into the academic life of our righteous scholars. If one attempts to sail across the vast ocean of luminaries produced by our noble Islamic heritage, undoubtedly he will find no shore. We ask Allah to imbibe in our hearts the due reverence of our forgotten yet unique heritage and to produce their likes amongst us once again.


The poet said it so beautifully,

                         أولئك آبائي فجئني بمثلهم        إذا جمعتنا يا جرير المجامع

“This is my noble ancestry, oh Jarīr, if we meet I challenge you to produce their likes.”



Written by: Muntasir Zaman, Student Darul Iftaa (USA)


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