‘Manqul” means transmitted sciences. It includes knowledge which is understood through study and by going back to the founder of the science and his/her followers through a recognised chain of transmission. It includes religious science, for example, ‘Ilm Al-Hadith, the Science of The Hadith”
(Source: Egyptology: The Missing Millenium by Okasha El-Daly, 2005, pp. 111, UCL Press)
The Qur’anic and hadith texts on the virtues and excellences of knowledge are numerous, and need not be listed here, for they are not the subject of disagreement. Those who so desire may peruse them in the appropriate references. What is, however, sometimes overlooked, is that knowledge is taken first and foremost from the scholars; books alone are not sufficient to make a person a scholar. The scholars say, “Knowledge may not be taken from a Suhufi (‘journalist – one who studied only from books) nor the Qur’an from a mushafi (one who learned to recite the Qur’an on his own, without a teacher).”
1. Evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah
Allah sent the Qur’an – a book – with a Messenger – a teacher, to explain its contents. “And We have sent down to you the Reminder in order that you might explain to people what has been sent down to them.” [Qur’an] The story of the Sahabi who misinterpreted the verse about the black and white threads of dawn is well known. And, according to a narration in Sunan Ibn Majah, the Prophet criticized those Companions who, based on the outward meaning of the Qur’an, gave the fatal fatwa that tayammum is not permissible for one who has water, even if he fears the water will harm him. It is reported that he said, “Could they not have asked, since they did not know? The only remedy for incompetence is asking.”
Also indicating that knowledge is obtained from the scholars, rather than merely from reading, is the hadith, “Allah will not take way this knowledge by lifting it out of the hearts of people; but He will take away knowledge by taking away the scholars.” [RiyaD al-SaliHeen] And, similarly, the hadith, “Whoever was asked about [some] knowledge, but concealed it, will be bridled, on the Day of Resurrection, with a bridle of fire.” [Ibn Majah]. Why should he be afflicted with this severe punishment if the questioner could just as easily go to a book and read?
2. Statements of the Mujtahid Imams
If we turn next to the statements of the Imams, we see the same attitude reflected:
Someone told Imam Abu Hanifah, “In the mosque there is a circle (Halaqah) in which the people are looking at fiqh.” He asked, “Do they have a head (i.e. a teacher)?” The man replied, “No.” The Imam said, “These will never gain knowledge of fiqh.” [Reported by al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi, through his isnad, in “al-Faqeeh wal-Mutafaqqih” ]
Imam al-Awza`i said, “This knowledge remained <`azeez> (rare, or distinguished) as long as it remained in the hearts of men. Then, when it was transferred to books, unsuited people took it.” [Reported by al-Darimi in the introduction to his “Sunan,” and by al-Bayhaqi in “al-Madkhal. “]
Imam Malik was asked, “Can knowledge be taken from a man who has not [to his credit any] seeking [of knowledge] nor sitting [with scholars]?” He said, “No.” [Reported by al-Suyuti in “Is`af al-Mubatta’]
Imam al-Shafi`i said, “Whoever takes knowledge from books loses the regulations. ” (man akhadha al-`ilma min al-kutubi Dayya`a al-aHkaama). [Reported by al-Nawawi in the introduction to “al-Majmu`”]
`Abdullah, the son of Imam Ahmad, said, “My father said : ‘Knowledge is only that in which one says : So-and-so told us . . . . And, al-Mansur asked my father to discuss [something] with Ibn Abi Du’ad, but he turned his face away, saying, ‘How can I discuss with someone whom I have not seen at the door of a single scholar?!‘” [Reported by Qadi `Iyad in “al-Ilma`”]
3. Statements of Latter Scholars
The scholars of later times reiterated this concept.
Ibn Rushd [The grand father]. said, “In the early age, knowledge was in the hearts of men, and therafter, it was transcribed onto the skins of animals, but the keys to it remained in the hearts of men.” [Quoted by al-Shatibi in “al-Muwafaqat” ]
Imam al-Shatibi discusses in his “al-Muwafaqat” the methodology of acquiring knowledge. He mentions the two possible means : learning from scholars, and reading from books, and then comments that although the latter is theoretically a possibility, it turns out in practice that a teacher is indispensable. He observes that among the benefits of a teacher are acquiring his good character traits, in addition to his academic expertise and guidance. He cites the example of (I omit here the name of a famous scholar) who was criticized by scholars for his lack of etiquette and respect, which were a consequence of his not having stayed with any of his shaykhs for a prolonged period such as to benefit from his character. He also mentions that reading books can be beneficial only if one is aware of the bases and terminologies of the science in question, (and this knowledge itself must be taken from the scholars orally).
What role do books play in traditional Islamic education?
Muslims in the second and third Islamic centuries recognized that codifying sacred knowledge and recording it in books was critical for preserving the guidance of the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace). Subsequent generations of scholars built on what earlier generations had written, and today’s treasure of refined and intricate books are a testament to the quality of Islamic scholarship.
Books have, however, always played an auxiliary role in the transmission of sacred knowledge. Without a teacher to explain the technical terminology and fine points in the books of particular religious disciplines, the door of understanding will normally remain closed to students. The great Andalusian Maliki scholar of legal methodology and philosophy, Shatibi, summarized the role of books and teachers, saying,
Among the most beneficial ways of [gaining] sacred knowledge that takes one to the limits of mastery is acquiring it from those of its people who are completely and perfectly realized in it … People have differed whether it is possible to acquire sacred knowledge without a teacher. Although we admit that it is theoretically possible, what is actually the case in normal affairs is that teachers are indispensable. This is generally agreed upon, although people differ regarding certain details …People’s agreement that this is what actually happens and that it is conventionally necessary is enough to establish that it is not possible to do without [a teacher].
They have said that sacred knowledge used to be in the breasts of people, after which it came to reside in books and its keys were placed in the hands of people. This implies that it is absolutely necessary to attain it from people, for there is no way to attain it aside from [books and people].
The religious basis for this is the rigorously authenticated hadith, “Verily, God does not take away sacred knowledge by plucking it out of people, but He takes it away by taking away those who possess it.” If the matter is such, then there can be no doubt that people are its keys (al-Muwafaqat, 1.92, Beirut: Dar al-Ma`rifa, ed. Darraz).