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Balancing between Seeking Knowledge and Softening the Heart— Ibn al-Jawzi


Imam abu’l-Faraj ibn a-Jawzi, in his book Sayd al-Khaatir, wrote the following on the importance of softening the heart in the midst of talab al-’ilm (seeking knowledge):

رأيت الاشتغال بالفقه وسماع الحديث لا يكاد يكفي في صلاح القلب إلا أن يمزج بالرقائق والنظر في سير السلف الصالحين‏.‏ لأنهم تناولوا مقصود النقل وخرجوا عن صور الأفعال المأمور بها إلى ذوق معانيها والمراد بها‏.

I feel that occupying oneself with fiqh and acquiring narrations is hardly enough to rectify the heart, unless one mixes with that the study of al-raqaa’iq (heart-softening narrations) and examining the biographies of the salaf al-saaliheen, because they [i.e. the Salaf] realized the intended purpose of those narrations and extracted the commanded actions from them, perceiving their intended meanings and desired understandings thereby.

 

 

‏ وما أخبرتك بهذا إلا بعد معالجة وذوق لأني وجدت جمهور المحدثين وطلاب الحديث همة أحدهم في الحديث العالي وتكثير الأجزاء‏.‏ وجمهور الفقهاء في علوم الجدل وما يغالب به الخصم‏.‏ وكيف يرق القلب مع هذه الأشياء‏.‏

And I do not inform you of this except after personal trials and error, because I have found that the majority of the muhadditheen and students of hadeeth are primarily concerned with the shortest chain of narration and increasing the number of narrations. And that the majority of the fuqahaa’(jurists) are primarily concerned with knowledge of debate, argumentation and how to win an a dispute. And how can hearts by softened with these things?

 

 

وقد كان جماعة من السلف يقصدون البعد الصالح للنظر إلى سمته وهديه‏.‏ لا لاقتباس وذلك أن ثمرة علمه هديه وسمته فافهم هذا وامزج طلب الفقه والحديث بمطالعة سير السلف والزهاد في الدنيا ليكون سبباً لرقة قلبك‏.‏

And there used to be a group of the salaf who would visit a righteous servant in order to observe his characteristics and manners, and not to take knowledge from him. And that is because the fruits of his knowledge were his manners and conduct, so understand this! So combine the study of fiqh and hadeeth with studying the lives of the salaf and those who exercises zuhd in this dunya in order that this might be a cause of softening for your heart.

 

 

وقد جمعت لكل واحد من مشاهير الأخيار كتاباً فيه أخباره وآدابه‏.‏ فجمعت كتاباً في أخبار الحسن وكتاباً في أخبار سفيان الثوري وإبراهيم بن أدهم وبشر الحافي وأحمد بن حنبل ومعروف وغيرهم من العلماء والزهاد والله الموفق للمقصود‏.‏ ولا يصلح العمل مع قلة العلم‏.‏ فهما في ضرب المثل كسائق وقائد والنفس بينهما حرون ومع جد السائق والقائد ينقطع المنزل ونعوذ بالله من الفتور‏.‏

And I have compiled a book for each and every one of the well-known and excellent people, containing their tales and their manners. I have compiled a book about the exploits of al-Hasan (al-Basri), and a book about the exploits of Sufyan al-Thawri, Ibrahim ibn Adhham, Bishr al-Haafi, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ma’roof, and others from the ‘ulamaa’and those who were known for their zuhd, and Allah is the giver of success. And deeds are not performed correctly with (only) a little knowledge. And what should be understood (from all this speech) is in the parable of a stick and a carrot [i.e. a push-factor and a pull-factor, one thing which is motivating you by fear and another which is motivating you with a reward], and a person’s soul is stubbornly in between the two. But with a persistent stick and carrot, one can keep moving, and we seek refuge with Allah from apathy.

 

[Sayd al-Khaatir 1/71]

 

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