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In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful.
The following is an article written by Shaikh Mufti Muhammad Bin Adam Al Kawthari regarding the importance of learning knowledge from a qualified teacher.
“Allah Most High created man different from animals. Animals are not in need of a teacher or trainer in a way man is. We see for example that, when a fish is born, it automatically begins to swim without being taught how to do so. If a man was to take the example of the fish and throw his new-born baby into the river thinking that he will swim, then he is without doubt insane, for a fish is not in need of an instructor who instructs it how to swim, while a man needs a tutor to teach him to swim.
Take the example of the new-born chick; the moment it comes out of the egg, it begins to nibble at food without being taught. However, a human baby will not know how to eat unless it is taught practically how to consume the various types of foods.
It is the Sunnah (way) of Allah Almighty that he fashioned human beings in such a way that they are in need of practical instruction from a teacher in order to learn any science, technique or craft. From the moment one is born, one is in need of practical teaching and guidance in all aspects of life.
There is almost consensus on the fact that it is virtually impossible for one to master any science or art in the world without the guidance and tutelage of a qualified teacher under whom one practically learns the fundamentals of that science. It is not possible to gain expertise in any field unless one submits himself to the guidance of a teacher.
Take for example the science of medicine. If one was to think that I will read and study the books on medical science in the comfort of my home, thus become a medical practitioner, then he will be considered to be insane by almost everybody. If this individual was to perform surgery on a patient or begins to treat people, then his patients will not end up anywhere other than the graveyard!
Even if this individual is very talented and knowledgeable, the guidance of a tutor is indispensable. Suppose this individual is able to understand the books of medical science and he masters the language in which the books are written, he will still not be permitted to work as a physician or surgeon unless he studies under the guidance of a qualified person in the field of medical science. No government will ever allow this individual to take up the medical profession, due to the fact that he did not pursue the method necessary in order to take up this profession.
It is the same with all the other sciences of the world in that the guidance of a teacher is necessary. No body would allow you to practice law until you don’t attend a law school and learn form a qualified barrister. Let alone the major sciences, even the simple art of cooking is not achieved by merely reading a book. There are several books published explaining the methods of cooking different types of food. If an individual who had never cooked in his life before, cooked by merely reading the procedure of cooking mentioned in the book, then you can imagined what the outcome would be!
So, it is the nature of man that he can not acquire knowledge merely from books unless he has a teacher and mentor to train and guide him. He needs to stay in the company of a qualified teacher who will help and assist him on every step and save him from the errors that may be committed. This applies to every science, art and craft, and sacred and religious knowledge is of no exception. It is not possible for one to acquire sacred knowledge unless one is trained by a qualified teacher and mentor.
This is the secret behind a book or scripture never being revealed except Allah Almighty sent a Messenger to explain its contents. There are many examples where a Prophet was sent by Allah Almighty and no book or scripture was revealed unto him, but there is not a single case where a book was revealed without a Prophet carrying it.
The simple reason behind this is that if a book was sent on its own, man would not possess the capability to understand it without the teaching of a Prophet. If Allah wished, He could have sent the book on its own. Every individual could have found a book when he woke up in the morning, and a voice from the heavens would have declared: “Obey what is in this book” but Allah, the Creator of mankind, who is fully aware of the human instincts, chose to send the book with a teacher who would explain the contents of the book, both practically and verbally.
Allah Most High explains this concept in the following verse:
“Allah did confer a great favour on the believers when He sent amongst them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting upon them verses (of the book), sanctifying them, and teaching them the scripture (book) and wisdom, while before that, they had been in manifest error.” (Surah Ali Imran, V. 164)
Similarly, Allah Most High says:
“And We have sent down unto you (O Messenger) the message, that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them.” (al-Nahl, V. 44)
Therefore, it is the Sunnah of Allah Almighty that He has kept two means for the guidance of mankind. One is through the medium of His books (kitab Allah) and the other is the Prophets and their successors. Hence, both, the book of Allah (kitab Allah) and men of Allah (rijal Allah) are necessary for one’s guidance. Sufficing with one of the two will surely lead to deviation.
At this point, it would be useful to quote the great scholar of Usul, Imam al-Shatbi (Allah have mercy on him). The following is the crux of what he stated on this issue in his renowned treatise al-Muwafaqat:
“The most beneficial and effectual way of gaining knowledge is by learning it from those who are masters in their fields. It is necessary to have a teacher in aspects of knowledge that need explanation and interpretation. It is not impossible for one to gain knowledge without a teacher; however, normally it is observed that a teacher is of utmost importance. This is, somewhat, agreed upon by the scholars.
Scholars said: “Sacred knowledge was in the hearts of men, then it moved into the books and the keys to these books are in the hands of scholars (rijal).” This implies the necessity of acquiring knowledge from the people who master it.
The basis for this is the Hadith which states: “Verily Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people but He takes away knowledge by taking away the scholars, so that when He leaves no learned person, people appoint ignorant as their leaders. They are asked to deliver religious verdicts and they deliver them without knowledge, they go astray, and lead others astray.” (Sahih al-Bukhari & Sahih Muslim) If this is so, then the scholars are without doubt the keys for this knowledge.” (al-Muwafaqat)
Imam al-Shatbi (Allah have mercy on him) further mentions three signs and characteristics of a expert qualified teacher:
1) He practices what he teaches,
2) He himself has been trained by a qualified scholar,
3) His students follow and pursue in his footsteps, for if his students generally tend to not follow him, then this is a sign that there is something inherently wrong with him. (ibid) (Taken from www.daruliftaa.com)
With regards to your question, you need to ascertain firstly whether they are scholars or not and if they are scholars from whom they have acquired knowledge. When these things are ascertained then there is nothing wrong in acquiring knowledge from them.
Only Allah Knows Best
Mohammed Tosir Miah
Darul Ifta Birmingham.