The Importance of Knowledge*

A pious scholar who emerges from within a tribe is more effective than anything else in breaking the back of the Devil. Nothing can be more effective at breaking Satan’s back, decapitating him, and breaking his head.

Translations in other Languages

Prof. Dr. M. Es’ad Cosan
(May Allah have mercy on him)

With the intention of passing our time suitably, rewardingly, and beneficially for the pleasure of Allah on High by reading the Noble Hadiths of the one whose words are the most beautiful, Habibullah (Beloved of God) Muhammad Mustafa, our Master, our Prince, our Messenger, I want to tell you of a few of those Noble Hadiths.

Mā min ṣadaqatin yataṣaddaq bihā rajul ‘alā akhihi afḍala min ‘ilm yuʿallimuhu iyyāh.1

Of whatever alms a man gives his brother, the most meritorious is that he teach him something of his knowledge.  

Believers, in order to win the pleasure of Allah, make sacrifices. They make financial sacrifices. They make physical sacrifices. They work. Financial sacrifice is the alms tax: it is almsgiving. Physical sacrifice is service: it is giving one’s life when necessary; it is martyrdom; it is becoming a ghazi. In this Noble Hadith, our Master the Messenger (pbuh)2 shows that it is necessary for us to have a broad understanding of the term “alms” (for the Arabic ṣadaqah):

“A man cannot give a more valuable, a more virtuous kind of alms, of all the kinds that he gives his brother, than the knowledge he teaches him.”

That is to say, learning knowledge, teaching knowledge, and conveying and teaching to your brother what the pious scholar knows is a kind of almsgiving, a kind of philanthropy, a kind of charity, so much so that there can be no kind of charity more virtuous or more superior. The most virtuous almsgiving is teaching your believing brother information and knowledge. For that reason, we all must be zealous in learning and spreading knowledge, and in explaining and teaching it to those around us.

In another Noble Hadith, the Messenger (pbuh) stated:

Mā min shay’in aqṭaʿa li-ẓahr iblīs min ʿālimi yakhruj fī qabīlatih.3

“What breaks the back of the Devil, what defeats him best, what stymies him the most is a tribe’s giving birth to a pious scholar.”

A pious scholar who emerges from within a tribe is more effective than anything else in breaking the back of the Devil. Nothing can be more effective at breaking Satan’s back, decapitating him, and breaking his head.

That is to say, a pious scholar thwarts the activities of the Devil. Such a scholar is an extraordinarily effective weapon against the Devil. One Muslim’s teaching another the knowledge that he has is the most beneficial almsgiving. It is extraordinarily important.

The consequence of these two Noble Hadiths is the following: According to Islam, since knowledge is not tied to age, it is not required that knowledge be learned in any school. For not one of the Noble Companions (ṣaḥābah) attended school; not one had a diploma. There was no college; there was no organized educational institution. However, all of them, while living in the community and being by the side of our Master the Messenger (pbuh), matured due to their companionship (ṣuḥbah) with him.

Companionship (ṣuḥbah) means “friendship.” In Arabic, it does not mean “to have a friendly chat” [as it does in Turkish]. āḥibah-yaṣḥabu-ṣuḥbatan means “to be friends with someone, to be together.” The Honored Companions matured by being at the side of our Master the Messenger. Some were farmers; they had date farms that they watered, the dates of which they gathered, sold, and traded in. Some did other business. They were not all of a particular age. There was no condition like, “Children will go to school at a certain age.” There were people of every age. There were youths. There were the elderly. The most natural way of education was this. There was no age limit. There was no age discrimination or prerequisite. Everyone could learn. It was an educational chance for everyone who could come, a remedy in which each one could participate. It was such an opportunity that friendships formed, that friendships developed.    

Our Master the Messenger (pbuh) emerged from the community as a blessed person who had been given an assignment by Allah on High. People gathered about him and listened to his words with heart and soul. They listened with their eyes fixed on his mouth, as if birds had settled on their heads and were ready to take flight if they but stirred. The words that he said were engraved on their hearts as if inscribed in stone. Later saying, “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) declared the following,” they reported it without forgetting, letter for letter, word for word.

In the daily flow of life, they learned their religious duties within the community. They were together in the morning. They were together in the afternoon. They went visiting together. When one of them passed away, they buried that person together. When one of them got sick, they went to his or her side together.

At this time, they left their tribes and homes and migrated in order to spend more time near our Master the Messenger. They settled near him, and there were those who went to bed and rose in the mosque. Those whom we called “Aṣḥāb-ı Ṣuffah,” that is, the Companions of the Prophet, numbered from 70 to as high as 350, 400, or 450 people.4  

It was an extremely effective and extremely natural way of teaching. That is, by establishing friendships, being together, without hindering the daily activities of life during the daily routine—to learn things within the normal course of life—this is the most effective way of teaching.

“Why don’t you have any religious knowledge?”

They say,

“In my time, there was no religious education. They kept the imams under surveillance. They did away with the Noble Qur’an. The gendarmes would come. They did not let my father teach me to read it.”

So, if they did not let anyone teach it at that time, read it now. Now the obstacle is gone. Go ahead. In the evening after work, till morning when you go to work, you have time. There’s Saturday. There’s Sunday. There’s vacation. There’re holidays. There’s the summer vacation. There’s annual leave. Learn now! There’s no age limit. There is no constraint like “Your day has passed; you’re past your prime; you can’t get registered in our school.”

There were no obstacles in the day of our Master the Messenger, either. And that is the best form of education.

Sufi education is like that. Sufi education makes the basics of our Master the Messenger (pbuh) come alive and continue in the same way. This is not found in other places. Other methods of education are artificial.

“If only my Master would bring down the Book... if only people would read the Book... if only they would become good Muslims...”

That is not what happens. It is not something that can be seen. It cannot be learned from past experience. However, as an example to be followed, Allah on High sent a messenger in the form of an unlettered prophet who could neither read nor write, as if to say, “Let everyone look; this is how one becomes a Muslim. In order to be a dear worshipper of Allah, it is necessary to act in this way,” for people to see with their own eyes, and this kind of teaching became the reason for a successful development, the like of which had not been seen in the history of the world. It is supremely beautiful…

I remember, for example, that my father was a merchant. In the morning, he would go to his business. At the morning prayers, however, he went to his teacher’s mosque. The evening meal would be eaten at home. After the night prayers, he would go to the mosque. Every evening until late, he would keep company there.  

We have another shortcoming. We keep company infrequently. The infrequency of our companionship opens the way to getting little instruction, and to slow progress in learning.

There was an event that affected me.... A professor friend of mine told me a story:  

A professor went from Germany to America. With the eye of a German, with the eye of a professor, he toured America and returned. Most likely, this was approximately twenty to thirty years ago, because the one who told it to me did so five to ten years ago. He came here, and his friends said, “You’ve traveled and seen America. So, come on and tell us; how was it?”

Germany is in a bit of a race and has a rivalry and competition with America. We, too, should be in on it because in charity, philanthropy, and in good deeds, it is the command of the Noble Qur’an. We, too, will compete. We will compete with all nations. It is necessary that we run and race to first place and become number one.

They asked, “Is America better, or are we? How do you see the situation?”

“America is better, more advanced.”

“Why? Is it because there are a greater number of computers and so on?”

Look here; this is very important... That is what most people suppose.

“Is it because the national income is so great? Is it because it has so many factories? It is because the size of their population is so much? Is it because the width of their continent is that much?”

“No! The people there—pay attention!—hold meetings at least three times a week; they do community work.”

Or as they say now, “social work.” The word “social” has become common. It is communal activity. That is, it is not individual. They do not stay at home; they do not entertain themselves; they do not take it easy and lay around. What do they do? The go out; they do some social activity with other people.

“In that place, the average person participates in social activities three evenings a week. However, in Germany, the average person participates in social activities twice a week. In that case, the Americans are ahead of us,” he said.

This affected me a lot. It was a method of assessing societies that I had never known. I had never before heard of a society being evaluated by such a measure. This was a big thing. Now there are brothers of ours who have come from Australia. I have seen Australia. I was a guest there. After Germany, I saw England. America, too, I have seen.

There, upon entering a city, is a giant wall, panel-like. There is a place for signs to be posted. On that panel wall is a display showing how many social organizations there are in the city. That is, you see all the associations, charities, religious organizations, etc., that there are. So, pull over the car and stop on the side of the road. The writers’ guild, the canary-lovers association, the golf club, the bowling club, the Masonic temple (they do not say the Masonic association), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, everything is there. When a man looks there, he sees who there is of a like mind in the town that he has entered. It is a huge herd of signs. They are in the smallest towns, and they are in the largest ones. I liked it a lot.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

When I went to America, I saw that they did not abandon people in need at any level of society. There was woman who was really old, so old that her hair had gone completely white. Her memory would come and go, and her back was hunched over. She was a foreign-language–learning pen pal of our daughter-in-law. They had given her a duty, the duty of explaining American English to any guest coming to America, free, not for any money. On certain days of the week, they would meet together. I thought that this system had many benefits: The seniors were not cast away. Their experience was transferred to others. They got to know the foreigners, and the knowledge that they had acquired was transferred from them to their community.   

They did not desert the old, forsake the young, neglect the student, or give up on the middle-aged. I saw them while they were busy with their social work of the most advanced level, and I understood that we had a deficiency. So I then wrote an article for a magazine to say: 

“Social organizations are a type of tool, a type of factory. They, too, undertake production. If the social tools are many, the community gets ahead with the work of those tools. If there are no social tools, such as charitable societies, foundations, and clubs, then the community will fall behind.” If there are, and they work, then each will contribute its fruits and society will move forward.

When we entered a town in Australia, there was an absolutely beautiful park at the entrance. It was a park that the municipality had gone to great trouble, taken great pains to build. Traveling in a train of twenty to thirty cars, we approached the place and went in. There were places to do ablutions, and there were places to sit. We would perform our ablutions, recite the call to prayer, and do our prayers upon the grass in great ease and comfort.

Look how beautiful the teaching method of our Master the Messenger (pbuh) was! Every kind of people came to him, and they were taught while living their normal lives. The most virtuous, the most valuable alms that a man can give other people are a part of the knowledge that was taught to him. Then, the thing that breaks the back of the Devil the most in a community is the raising of a pious scholar, an extremely important affair.

We are ahead of them all. We are ahead of America. Why?

We meet not only three nights a week, but also on every evening of the seven days of the week. Here is our meeting place. Here is our meeting time. On top of that, we meet five times a day. If we put this system, this arrangement into practice, what great blessings will come about!

When I went to Saudi Arabia, I met with a few scholars. One thing got my attention: In Turkey, at our İskenderpaşa Mosque, I give a sermon once a week, on Sundays. But over there, I saw that the ulema give lessons every evening. They said, “This one, from the family of our Master the Messenger, is a pious, upright, real, and true scholar.” We went to visit him, and we became acquainted. The man had built a mosque next to his house that was ten times bigger than this place, this mosque. From one end of it, you could barely see the other. In front of his house there was another mosque. He had built this one for his own house. The doors were open to the back. We passed through the courtyard, we entered his house, and so we became his guests. They showed us great consideration, lining us up in the seat of honor and making introductions. They asked where we had come from and who we were. In that place, there was a professor who had come from Pakistan. On the other side, there were those who had come from England. I don’t know who was there. So and so was there, and so and so was there… They read three different books. One was of Qur’anic commentary, one of hadiths, and one of jurisprudence. We even got to take a turn when there was a word they didn’t know. “You are Turkish. You know Farsi. You know Arabic...,” and so they asked us. And we explained it.

I was surprised. Every evening they learn something. In this way, learning happens. In this way, it accrues. This way, it goes on.

They would say,

“We are following such and such a beautiful book.”

Page by page, page by page... Going there every evening, they would finish it.

My father went to the sheikh’s mosque every evening without fail. My friend’s father, too, went every evening. Every evening verses and hadiths were discussed; knowledge was developed and learned.

What is the result of these two Noble Hadiths?

The pious scholar who emerges from a community brings Satan to ruin and breaks his back. In that case, what will we do? We shall work to raise such scholars from among our families and children.

 “I couldn’t do it. My child, you must be educated. I am behind you. I’ll buy you a Mercedes, if you but study. I’ll feed you on bird milk; there is no bird milk, but... I’ll feed you on cream and honey....!”

I do know people who speak in such a way, and that is why I am saying it.

 “My child, it is enough for you to study. I didn’t have the chance. Make that dream come true in my place.”

Should a pious scholar emerge, the Devil cannot deceive other men. Why? The scholar studies verses; he studies hadiths. He attracts people to Allah’s way, and he guides them along Allah’s way. It is for this reason that we work to raise our children to be scholars. At the very least, from our villages, from our communities, from our towns, and from our tribes, may there be at least one.

My Muslim brothers do not know Arabic. Forty years a Muslim, sixty years a Muslim, seventy years a Muslim, and they still do not know Arabic. They do not understand the verses that they read. They pass before Allah, say Allah is great, stand for prayers, say a few things, but they do not have the slightest idea of what they are saying. “What did you say to your Lord? What answer did He give?”

“I don’t know. From the time I was small, my mother and father sent me to the local school. On summer vacation, I learned a few things. I recite them.”

Such a thing is not right!

It is not right, but it is happening. It is not as if it never happens. Although one earns merit if one recites the Noble Qur’an without understanding it, it is not the most meritorious act. Yes, a human says, “Allah is great!” and he passes on to Allah’s court and into His presence.

An Egyptian, an old hodja (imam/teacher), returned to his congregation and said,                                                   

 “Make your rows straight. Face toward the Qiblah.”5 If there’s an empty space in the row in front of you, move forward to fill it. Ordered rows a part of a complete prayer.

Then he said something that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and my eyes tear up.

“Just as you have turned face front toward the Kaaba, so turn your hearts to Allah,” he said.

Allah is great! You are standing in the presence of Allah. You do not see Allah, but Allah sees you.

What does “Allah is great” mean? People don’t understand “Allah is great.” Why do we do this [raise our hands to our ears when we say it in prayer]? Allah is great! This has nothing to do with one’s ears. We raise our hands to our ears, and that is all… 

From where do I understand this?

I did not read it from a book. It is a guess, but that is what I think.

While doing the circumambulation about the Honored Kaaba, if we cannot get near it, what do we do?

In the name of Allah—Allah is great—we perform istilâm to the Black Stone from afar. What does istilâm mean? It means to give salaams, greetings.  

When we begin the circumambulation of the Honored Kaaba, three times do we say, “In the name of Allah, Allah is great; in the name of Allah, Allah is great; in the name of Allah, Allah is great,” and so we begin to turn, calling on Allah to bless the Messenger.

That is the giving of salaams.

When you enter Allah’s court, you say, “Allah is great!” Worship is begun in that way. That is the beginning. It is so, so important! Then you bow down your head. Our Master the Messenger said,

 “When a person stands for prayers, the doors of the heavens  open as soon as he says, ‘Allah is great.’ The angels and houris line up on either side of him. The person enters the presence of the Sublime Lord.”

It is necessary that we grasp this. “When we bow down in prayer, it is as if we are bowing down at the feet of the Most Gracious.”

These words are allegorical, but I relate them because they are in a Noble Hadith. They are not to be taken literally.

He said this Noble Hadith, “The one who kisses the Black Stone, who caresses it, is one who has entered into a compact Allah.”6

These words are important!

You prostrate in front of the Most Gracious. It is something terrific. It is something to delight you that can never be enough, but it is necessary to taste these delights. It is necessary to know these words. It is necessary to understand the words that are said. You should know Arabic. You should know hadiths. You should know the Noble Qur’an. You should know its meaning. You should know its religion. You should know what is haram and what is halal, what is right and what is wrong.

“We do not know Arabic, my hodja.”

Fine. Does the Fenerbahçe Sports Club bring trainers from Brazil in order to teach football well? They do. You, too, bring a trainer, a hodja, a knowledgeable person from the other side of the world to train you to become a good servant of Allah. Come every evening, put a blackboard here, and learn Arabic. Learn one or two verses. How did the Honorable Companions of the Messenger learn the Qur’an? You cannot do it all at once, it is a huge book.

“Come on friends! Let’s learn the Noble Qur’an!”

Once you have taken that first step, it will take three years. Learning all the Noble Qur’an is not easy. So how did they learn it? Every night, they learnt “a decade.” What does “a decade” mean here? It means about ten verses. In the Noble Qur’an, a group of verses that constitutes a unit of meaning are said to be “a decade.”  This is shown by an ‘ayn.7

“Master Hodja, would you read a Noble Decade?” While following the meaning of the Qur’an, if you want to read a group of verses that constitute a unit of meaning, then you will read from ‘ayn to ‘ayn.

When you go home, look at your Noble Qur’ans. At the end of each verse, there is a rosette that has a verse number. If there is an ‘ayn in that place, then that place is the end of the part, the section to be read—that is to say, a period or a full stop, meaning the end of the paragraph. They call it a decade, not a paragraph.

Decade by decade, they learn the Qur’an.

“We can learn a decade, my Hodja, it is but a small thing.”

Whether that much or even double that, a person can learn it in one day; it is not that difficult. Look at what we read, at the novels we finish! We, too, have read much. In school, the literature teachers pushed us, saying,

“Summarize this novel!”

May Allah grant them their due! But what can I do with that?

They taught us so much—the Russian writer so and so, the French litterateur so and so, the English litterateur Shakespeare, or whoever else—except our religion! They taught us everything but our religion. They even taught us the Greek myths. “There was a man called Zeus. He lived on top of Mt. Olympus. From there, he rained down lightning bolts on all sides.” Where did I learn this? They taught us!

They had a god called Venus, and one called Bacchus. One was the god of wine, another the goddess of love, another the god of music.

What are they to me? What are the sophistry, the paganism, the blasphemy of the Greeks to me?

If you would only show me faith, teach me belief! How beautifully Mawlânâ Jalâlu’d-dîn Ar-Rûmî said it:

            [Çün bi hâni hikmet-i Yunâniyân,

            Hikmet-i imâniyân râ hem-bidân]

            Since you are reading the wisdom of the Greeks,

            Also know the wisdom of the believers!

“You are learning the Greeks; so also learn the believers,” he said.

There is no knowing belief. Learning the faith is forbidden.

“The Imam-Hatip schools must be closed down. The Qur’an schools must be shuttered.” Why?

“Let Islam not be taught!”

If we learn Greek mythology, is that acceptable?

“It is good. Learn as much as you can!”

So-and-so besieged Troy. Some guy chased another one. There was the epic of Homer. Someone got strangled, and I don’t know what else.

What are these do me? What use are they to my world, to my hereafter? Why did you have me taught these things? Why did you have me read the atheistic French philosophers? I now know that what they thought is wrong, but my life is nearly finished. I became a professor, I retired, and now I know. Not everyone knows these things. They think these people are precious, that they were great men. But they were not. They were backward, all of them. They knew nothing. They did not even know the world around them, let alone the one to come. Nothing good can come of them!

What will happen?

Education has no age limit. But look, Islam has imposed an order. Every day, five times a day, we gather. Every evening we gather. The Muslim, if a sincere Muslim, comes to prayers every evening and every morning.

Decade by decade, we shall learn the Noble Qur’an, that is, paragraph by paragraph. “Paragraph” is Greek, and I do not want to use the term. “Graph” means writing. The name of this in the Noble Qur’an is ‘ashr—i.e., “decade.”

They learn it decade by decade. That is how one learns it. If I learn one page, what will happen? It goes by like eating bread and cheese. It goes by like drinking fruit juice. It’s easy. I teach it to my children and also to my wife. 

 “Come, wife. I do not want anything from you now. I do not want you to prepare food or to perform chores. Sit here, come before me, and gather the children. During the day, do whatever work you want; I won’t interfere in that. When I come home, I say we shall sit, and we shall learn the Qur’an. That is what we’ll do.

Section by section, we shall learn the Qur’an. Page by page shall we learn the advice of the Messenger of Allah. We shall teach our wives what we know. We shall teach it to our children.

The most beneficent activity, the activity that breaks the Devil’s back, is to teach knowledge.

Who is the Devil?

The Devil is a creature who would seduce all of us. He is a creature who would derail all of us, overturn the train. He wants to destroy the hereafter of all of us. He is working to land us in Hell. He is trying to confuse us, deceive us, and have us commit sin. It is the pious scholar who breaks the Devil’s back. Because of that, we shall work to raise our children as pious scholars and to learn knowledge ourselves.  

May Allah on High have you attain the benefits of this world and the hereafter! May He make you great and lucky in both this world and the next! May He grant us sight of His face in Heaven.

May You be praised! There is no knowledge except what You have taught us. It is You Who are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. May our Lord, the Lord of Power, be praised above all they describe! And greetings to all the prophets and the messengers and the worshippers altogether! And praised be the Lord of All Beings!

* This talk was given in Osnabrück, Germany, on 24 March 1997.

1. Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-Umal, tahqiq: Safwat al-Saqqa, Beirut, 1985, v. 10, p. 171.

2. Pbuh is the standard abbreviation for “May the peace and blessings (of Allah) be upon him!”

3. Ad-Dailami, al-Firdaws bi Ma’suri’l-Hitab, Beirut, 1986, v. 4, p. 48.

4. Such individuals, who included such well-known companions as Abu Hurairah, Salman the Persian (Salman al-Farisi), and Bilal al-Habashi, stayed in the arbor next to the mosque of the Messenger to learn the Qur’an, reading, writing, and religious knowledge.

5. The Qiblah is the direction of prayers for Muslims, an orientation towards the Kaaba in Mecca.

6. Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-Umal, v. 12, hadith no. 34744.

7. ‘Ayn is the eighteenth letter of the Arabic alphabet and is the first letter of the Arabic word ‘ashr, meaning a decade of verses (i.e., a group of ten verses or so).

Article “The Importance of Knowledge” Professor M. Es'ad Coşan