Etiquette of The Seeker of Islamic Knowledge - Adab Talib-ul-ilm (آداب طالب العلم الإسلامي)

Written by Admin ImanNest
Published on 2 November 2023

Collected by Sheikh Aslam Abuismaeel,
Of HikmahWay Institute

  1. Seeking Islamic knowledge from Allah and for Allah with sincerity is one of the greatest and most rewarding of good deeds! It is a means to the greatest of good achievements in this and the next life and it is also a goal in itself for the reward, the wisdom and enlightenment that is therein. It is a gift of Allah that Allah gives and allows people to acquire it according to the person's intention in seeking the knowledge, sincerity for Allah, piety, sacrifice for it, the striving in effort to acquire it and the patience in acquiring that knowledge, practicing it and disseminating it. Hence, sincerity, piety, effort, patience and most importantly Dua with istighfar are a key to opening the doors of Islamic knowledge and the doors to getting a proper and deeper understanding of the knowledge.
  2. Learn the foundation of knowledge from qualified scholars.
  3. Learn complicated matters of religion from qualified scholars.
  4. As long as possible, do not learn the foundations nor the complicated matters of religion from people who are (A) neither qualified Muslim Scholars of Islam (B) nor partially learned  people who are not supervised by peoperly qualified Muslim Scholars of Islam.
  5. Start learning from satisfactory qualified scholar that Allah has made available to you instead of waiting for the greatest top scholars who are not available to you to learn from. This way if we start with whatever of qualified teachers that Allah has made available then Allah keeps opening doors to more and better standard of learning sources.
  6. If we learn complex matters from popular speakers or pious people who are not satisfactorily qualified scholars, then it means these people who have not studied the essential parts of the foundation religious knowledge indeed have gaps in their own knowledge of Islam and err in fine and important foundations of religious knowledge. And therefore, likely to have serious mistakes in complicated matter of religion due to those gaps in their knowledge. Basically, popular speakers who are not satisfactorily and properly qualified Scholars, due to their gaps in knowledge and/or understanding, they are likely to make errors of serious consequences in foundations and in complicated matters due to gaps in their learning, ie in gaps in their knowledge and understanding.
  7. How do Scholars vary in levels of Scholarship? Answer: Scholars vary in (A) amount of knowledge and data they have learnt, (B) depth of understanding they have of that knowledge, and (C) piety (Taqwa) they have such that the sins do not cloud their judgement and good deeds bring to them from Allah the Furqan, ie ability to distinguish the right from the wrong, truth from falsehood, etc.
  8. Thus, not all qualified scholars are at the same level. Some qualified scholars are at the beginning level of being a Scholar, others are at increasingly higher levels of knowledge and understanding. Thus, there are scholars of varying levels of knowledge and understanding. Scholars of beginning level of knowledge and understanding are sufficient for most of our daily life Islamic learning needs, however, for the complicated matters we need to learn directly in person, or at least from books, of what the top level Scholars with extremely high level of knowledge, understanding and piety have taught and said about the complicated issues.  
  9. What is required to be a qualified scholar of Islamic knowledge?


To be a scholar a person needs to have at least a level of knowledge of all contributing subject and essential chapters within these subjects to either know the rulings/facts of most matters in that field of learning (since no one knows everything) AND to be knowledgeable enough to come up with ruling/fact of matter that is not yet known to the person.

To be able to come up with a ruling means at one of three levels of a Scholar (can be more levels, but three are mentioned here for simplicity). Level One is Tarjih: means to weigh up differing opinions of other scholars to choose stronger view. Level Two is Takhij: Means to come up with a sound opinion by yourself based on the verdicts of great scholars in light of the primary sources (Quran & Sunnah). Level Three is Ijtihad (within Madhab or Mutlaq): Ijtihad Mutlaq means to come up with a ruling of an issue by yourself directly from the primary sources (Quran & Sunnah) directly related to that field of knowledge and in light of what has preceded from great Scholars on these issues.

To be a scholar the person does not need to memorise the Quran and all the hadith but needs to know and understand the Quran at least a lot of the hadith and relevant sources related to that field and be able to look up the remaining text.  As an example of Fiqh, all that means that to be a scholar of Fiqh, a person would need to know:

  1. Relevant verses of the Quran and their meaning
  2. Relevant hadiths, their meaning and be able to verify their authenticity.
  3. Matters of Ijma (Scholarly consensus)
  4. It is good to be aware (not absolutely necessary) of opinions of other scholar from the past.
  5. Know Arabic language and its relevant field enough to have a sufficiently thorough understanding of the above.
  6. Know Usool Fiqh (principles of Fiqh)
  7. It is good to know at least the major Qawaid Fiqhiyyah (Maxims of Fiqh).

  1. Knowledge is of two levels with respect to how much knowledge is required for the issue (mas’alah): (A) Layperson level - Issues or matters whose knowledge should be known to every Muslim and should be accepted by every Muslim. In Arabic this is known as (معلوم من الدين بالضرورة). These matters do not require Scholarly knowledge and every Muslim must know and accept it. Examples of this is that daily five prayers are compulsory; fasting of Ramadan is compulsory; eating and drinking invalidate a fast; stealing is forbidden; honesty is our duty; alcohol, riba, zina and murder are forbidden; hijab covering of head is compulsory. (B) Ijtihad Level Matters at limited part or full level of Ijtihad (e.g. tarjih, takhrij, Ijtihad mutlaq): These are matters that require  complex level of knowledge to arrive at an opinion of verdict and as such only satisfactorily qualified Scholars can have an opinion in these matters. Examples include knowledge that Asr time begins when shadow is of same length as the height or of twice that; With is wajib or strongly mustahabb; does vomit invalidate a fast; is Niqab (face cover) compulsory or is it encouraged but not compulsory at times or discouraged in any situation;  is insect derived food coloring permissible or forbidden.
  2. With respect to knowledge and ability to hold one’s own opinion or necessity to follow someone else’s verdict, every Muslim is at one of three levels of knowledge: (A) Layperson, (B) Beginning or higher level of Student of Knowledge, (C) Qualified Scholar of early of higher level of a satisfactorily qualified Scholar.
  3. Layperson (العامٌِي): A Muslim person who is a lay person (العامّي) is not allowed to do have nor give opinions in complex matters (ijtihad) of the scholarly level of work, but such Muslims of layman level of religious knowledge must seek the knowledge from one of the levels of qualified scholars.
  4. Student of Knowledge (طالب العلم): Higher than the level of a lay person is a student of knowledge (طالب العلم) who is seeking knowledge and has reach a level of knowledge higher than of a lay person and lower than the level of a qualified scholar (although even a qualified scholar still continues to always seek Knowledge and understanding). A student of knowledge cannot give fatwa (opinion) but actually needs a scholar to get fatwa (opinion) from.
  5. A qualified scholar (Aalim or limited-level/full Mujtahid) is able to reach their own opinion at one of the three or more levels of scholar mentioned above (tarjih, takhrij, or Ijtihad mutlaq).
  6. How do we know if someone is a satisfactorily trained qualified scholar? Three ways:
    1. If the person has sought all the required knowledge from one (or more) scholars and they have given a declaration that this person has acquired the knowledge to at least the beginning level of a qualified scholar.
    2. If an institution with an appointed group of qualified scholars has taught the person the knowledge required to be a scholar and then the institution gives declaration by way of certificate or degree that the person has acquired the knowledge to the level of atleast a beginning level of a qualified scholar.
    3. If one or more Scholars (who are already known by these means to be good level qualified scholars) have gone through the person’s writings, speeches or sufficiently discuss personally with the person and then declare that he/they believe that this person is atleast beginning level of more of a satisfactorily trained qualified Scholar.
  7. Who is a qualified to give a fatwa (religious opinion) such that we can ask them for fatwa? To give fatwa to others requires two conditions to be met:
    1. The person is a qualified scholar according to what preceded above.
    2. The person is at least seen outwardly to have Taqwa, ie. at least outwardly seems to be a pious Muslim performing the obligatory good deeds, performs extra good deeds, avoids major sins and does not persist in minor sins.
  8. When we seek knowledge from a scholar, we are the one that needs to be humble and not expect the scholar to have humility towards us. The Scholar owes humility in appropriate situations in appropriate manner for sake of Allah, and it is not for students to judge that.
  9. We need to seek knowledge on the scholar’s terms and Islamic conditions and not expect the scholar to follow our terms and conditions. So, if the Scholar is late, cancels a class, does not answer a question, or reprimands a student, etc, then it is the Scholars right between him and Allah and it is not for a student to demand it on his part.
  10. If the scholar rightly disciplines us or even mistakenly becomes angry with us at times due to human nature to get angry, or displays other such natural human characteristics, then we should be patient with that, not let that stop us from continuing to seek knowledge from him, nor take it to our heart but rather we should overlook that. A Scholar is a human being with his own instinctive deficiencies and as long as he is trying for sake of Allah to improve his personal deficiencies, then it is not for us to oblige him to behave differently. We should benefit from his knowledge and the good characteristics and overlook the deficient characteristcs that are part of human instinctive shortcomings and are not a sin forbidden in Islam. Some of the greatest scholars of the earliest generation would sometimes instinctively become annoyed and angry with people or a student. But the student would bear it patiently and went on to become scholars themselves. For example imam Malik ibn Anas with his teacher the great scholar Nafi’, the freed slaves of Abdullah ibn Umar, ignored Nafi getting annoyed at times, worked in a way to avoid teacher annoyance, and came at other times as teacher likes and sought the teacher’s knowledge. Imam Malik went on to become a great Scholars himself.
  11. The scholar owes it to Allah to be good to the students in an appropriate manner but the students should not expect the teacher to be at perfect behaviour and manners with them because the teacher behaviour may be a human instinct and deficiency that Allah pardons or it may actually be Islamically appropriate for the situation that the student does not realise.if a student is not humble to accept this, then the student deprives himself of the precious knowledge of Allah’s religion!
  12. The students should show the outmost respect towards a Muslim scholar of Islamic knowledge for the sake of knowledge of Allah that the scholar has. This should be regardless of whether the scholar is behaving in a way that the students like or not so long as the scholar’s behaviour is not clearly haram.
  13. While a Scholar of another period maybe called by first name only in an academic listing, however, the Scholar we learn from should be addressed with an appropriate title for a religious teacher who is a Scholar, just as we address out parents with an appropriate title of respect for the relationship that Allah decreed. As part of respect of the scholar, the student should address his teacher who is a qualified scholar in appropriate ways that are meant for Islamic scholars in the Islamic culture of that place and time. Examples of way for a seeker of fatwa or student of knowledge to address the teacher who are a qualified scholar is with terms such as
    1. Sheikh so and so
    2. Hoja so and soUstadz so and so
    3. Moulvi so and so etc
  14. Just as respecting the teacher is important, likewise, a Student of Knowledge should treat the books of knowledge with respect according to the value of knowledge therein and out of respect for that knowledge.
  15. It is good to write the knowledge or memorize it. Imam Shafiee used to learn from Imam Malik wherein he would memorize the knowledge while other students with lesser memory would write and take notes in the class.
  16. It is good to revise knowledge by ourselves and with fellow students of knowledge.
  17. Sins prevent from acquiring knowledge and understanding so sacrifice the Haram and needless for sake of knowledge from Allah, strive to avoid sins and do good deeds, and keep company of pious people who encourage us to strive for Allah and avoid spending time with sinful people or those who glorify a sinful or Islamically wasteful useless life!
  18. Even if you have learnt a topic from one scholar on one occasion, still if the same (or another) scholar teaches the same topic again, it is good to attend again to learn the same topic from the same scholar for one of many types of added benefit. Likewise, if another equal or greater scholar is teaching the same topic, it is good to attend that and benefit as well.
  19. It is good for a student of knowledge to seek knowledge with the same qualified teacher over a long period of time, sometimes even after the student himself becomes a scholar. Ibn Qayyyim sought knowledge from his teacher Ibn Taymiyya over many years even after Ibn Qayyim became a scholar himself. Muhammad ibn Hassan Al-Shaybani and Qadi Abu Yusuf sought knowledge from their teacher imam Abu Hanifah over years for a long time even after they themselves become scholars. Imam Shafiee’s leading students sought knowledge from him over years even after they became Scholars themselves and after Imam Shafiee’s death one of them became the main source of Imam Shafiee’s knowledge.
  20. Once a student has learnt from one scholar for a long time if another equally good or better qualified scholar becomes available then it is good to learn from both of them. Example: Muhammad ibn Hassan learned for a long time with Imam Abu Hanifah in Iraq and then he travelled to Madinah and studied for another long period with imam Malik in Madinah. Likewise, imam as-Shafi’ee studied from imam Malik for a long time and with Muhammad Hassan as well.
  21. A student of knowledge should start by learning the foundation and only after that go into complex and complicated levels of knowledge and understanding. Likewise, a student should begin with small but comprehensive books of knowledge and only after that progress to learning from large books with deeper and more complicated issues.
  22. It is important to learn the foundation of religion and the earlier levels of knowledge from either a qualified scholars or a learned student of that scholar who is appointed and authorised by the scholar to teach newer students the beginning levels of knowledge. Many scholars of the early generations have strongly warned to not learn from the books alone but to instead learn from human teachers in early levels of learning. Among many benefits, learning with a human Scholar teaches humility, obedience, someone greater in an aspect to look up to, be able to have one’s own errors pointed out by the teacher, discuss matters to gain better understanding, etc. Later levels of continuing knowledge can then easily be pursued through books after the earlier levels of learning are completed with beneficial etiquettes from a Scholar
  23. It is good to memorise some matters of knowledge, such as some verses of the Quran or preferably the whole Quran if possibke, and to memorise few or lot of hadith, Arabic grammar principles and Fiqh rulings or even Fiqh booklets. The more we memorise the better it is, but understanding is the necessary part that is the most important. Due to importance of memorizing, it is best to start learning Islamic Knowledge at a young age to be able to memorise and remember knowledge.
  24. Ultimately knowledge is given by Allah to whom He decides to give to based on His kindness, mercy, justice and deep knowledge of who deserves the knowledge or who to test with it. The key to acquiring more knowledge of Islam with a correct and deep understanding is the degree of piety of the seeker of knowledge and the degree of striving and sacrificing for Allah and for the knowledge. Therefore, it is vital for a seeker of knowledge to try to be very pious, which means avoid all sins and especially major sins and not continue to do minor sins, seek forgiveness (istighfar) frequently, perform obligatory (wajib) duties, sacrifice the Haram desires and wasteful pursuits, and strive to do many extra optional good deeds with excellence (Ihsan).
  25. Always keep doing dua, check one’s own piety, keep being pious, sacrifice of Dunya, strive in obedience of Allah, for pleasure of Allah and for Aakhirah, and always keep seeking more and more knowledge with Ikhlas (sincerity).
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