Not too long ago my job requested me to step outside of my comfort zone and do some video recordings for them which would be used to explain tenets of the religion to those who live in predominantly English speaking countries. I obliged at first out of feeling an obligation (because I work for them), but quickly became uncomfortable when I realized how large this project was going to be and that they wanted to create marketing material using me as the centerpiece. To make matters worse (for me) after we finished the initial project they requested that we make more content in the future, apparently I had done a good job.
I declined. Had I not been connected to the teachers that I am currently connected with, or if I had not gone through the current spiritual awakening that I had been going through, I might not have cared. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the viewership. I don’t think many of us would mind having videos that a couple thousand people view on a weekly basis (or the paycheck). Yet, therein lies the problem.
A friend of mind sent me a statement of Ibn Ata Allah, a Maliki scholar from Egypt who said, “Bury your existence in the earth of obscurity. If something sprouts before it is buried, its fruits will never ripen.”
Now maybe you’re reading this and don’t understand the benefit of this quote, but when I put into perspective the fact that students of the Islamic sciences around the world oftentimes get ahead of themselves after a little bit of study. Sometimes a student will have left to go abroad for a summer and come back aiming to teach books of Jurisprudence, Grammar, Logic and the sort. And while this post is not to judge their knowledge, the issue here is the fame and attention that comes with such a position. When someone comes back and joins the Dawah Show as some put it, it can be difficult to tame the ego. An ego that wants to be known, doesn’t mind being paid to deliver a Friday sermon, and wants to host classes that bring hundreds of students in attendance. It’s not easy, but that is when this quote comes to save you, is your goal to be fruitful to the community, or to simply be known? (It may be that both may come as a result of ones sincerity.)
Bury your existence in the earth of obscurity. If something sprouts before it is buried, its fruits will never ripen. – Ibn Ata Allah
Recently I came across a student who spent 4 months studying Arabic, and then went home to teach an Arabic course. I sat there thinking to myself, “How could someone who had no prior understanding of the nuances of the language now begin to open the door to others?” Where is the respect for the language and it’s richness? This isn’t a rare occurrence, so many do very similar to this and it harms their students, but worse than that, it harms themselves.
I think just about everyone knows of the narration from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in which he mentions the man who killed 99 people. But if you don’t, here it is.
Narrated Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Amongst the men of Tribe of Israel there was a man who had murdered ninety-nine persons. Then he set out asking (whether his repentance could be accepted or not). He came upon a monk and asked him if his repentance could be accepted. The monk replied in the negative and so the man killed him. He kept on asking till a man (A scholarly man) advised to go to such and such village. (So he left for it) but death overtook him on the way. While dying, he turned his chest towards that village (where he had hoped his repentance would be accepted), and so the angels of mercy and the angels of punishment quarrelled amongst themselves regarding him. God ordered the village (towards which he was going) to come closer to him, and ordered the village (whence he had come), to go far away, and then He ordered the angels to measure the distances between his body and the two villages. So he was found to be one span closer to the village (he was going to). So he was forgiven.”
This narration is loaded with gems from the immense mercy of God, the power of intention, and on how even the worst among us can be saved when we wish to set ourselves right. The other day I heard this narration for what felt like the 99th time and I came away with something new.
In the beginning of the narration when this man began his journey of repentance he was directed by the people to visit this monk, a man who was not extremely knowledgeable of God but nonetheless occupied a great rank because of his immense worship of God. It is understood that this monk, by merit of his visible state of worship was a person who would suffice the man. What happened? The worshipper gave an unsatisfactory and wrong answer and as a consequence was killed.
Let us rewind a minute and reflect on this blog post, do you see where I’m going with this? This man who killed 99 represents myself, or maybe you, unbounded and free to do as we wish but at times desperately wanting to control itself. When we are wanting to fix our inner selves, sometimes we come across people that give us the wrong answer, we lash out and further harm ourselves and others. As for the worshipper, he had no real knowledge but he visibly looked pious, he looked like the person in some of our communities that has the religious look. He may even represent you, those among us that have reached a rank of worship so high that people tend to see you as person of greatness. He represents the well-intentioned student of religion coming from abroad or from a weekend class or seminary. He killed himself. Had he kept his mouth closed and recommended a real person of knowledge he might have lived to continue his worship and this man would not have tallied up a count of 100, but instead he spoke and it led to his death. It is also important to note that the intentions of the worshipper aren’t being drawn into question, he wasn’t a bad person, in fact the narration highlights his status as a worshipper for a reason. But we learn something important, just because I have a good intention doesn’t mean I should be speaking.
This is how I feel about myself sometimes and I’m sure countless other students may feel the same. It is better to be silent and to speak on that which you know, than to speak and harm yourself and others. It is better to forego fame and fortune if that fame and fortune comes to one who is not yet equipped with handling it. In a world where everyone seems to know everything, and information is unlimited, knowledge is little. Don’t seek to be the truth until you are ripe, else you may find yourself in no time to be gone with the wind, like a seed that was never buried properly.
And this is a reminder for those who believe.