On Convincing the Self of Ignorance

Answered by Sayyidi al-Ḥabīb `Umar bin Hafīẓ (may Allāh preserve him and benefit us by him).

How can I convince myself that I am ignorant when I have studied fiqh and hadith?

How much fiqh have you studied? A quarter of it, half of it, all of it? How much hadīth have you studied? A quarter of it, a fifth of it, a tenth of it? You are ignorant even of the subjects you have studied. Even the very hadīths that you have studied contain vast oceans of meanings of which you are ignorant.

Furthermore you have responsibilities concerning the knowledge which you do possess (which is nothing in relation to that of which you are ignorant). Your foremost responsibility is to perfect your action according to your knowledge. One form of acting according to your knowledge is to learn of your ignorance. The more someone increases in knowledge the more they increase in knowledge of their own ignorance. Allāh said to the most knowledgeable person in His creation of Him, His secrets and His attributes:

Say: “O my Lord increase me in knowledge!”1

He also said to the Angels:

“Inform Me of the names of these if you are truthful.”

They replied:

Transcendent are You! We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Truly You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”2

The Prophet (may Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said:

“The one who thinks he has knowledge is ignorant.”

The role of knowledge is to teach us our own ignorance. The more we increase in knowledge which is sound and beneficial the more we increase in knowledge of our own ignorance. Over all endued with knowledge is the All-Knowing3 The knowledge of all the creation comes under: You have only been given a small amount of knowledge.4 If you add to your knowledge the knowledge of the scholars of your time and those that came before you and those that will come after you it is still a small amount of knowledge. That which we are in ignorance of is greater than that which we know. So what knowledge do you really possess?

May Allah grant us good etiquette (adab) with Him.

 —

1Ta Ha 20:114

2Al-Baqarah, 2:31-32

3Yūsuf, 12:76

4Al-Isrā’, 17:85