I once was contemplating the great scientific efforts that the first generations of Muslim ancestors are known for. I was extremely surprised at the strength of memorization they possessed and at their great ability to retrieve information and derive conclusions.
I started searching for the reasons behind these exceptional abilities. And one important aspect immediately caught my attention: the extreme seriousness they learned and taught with. The student vows himself to learning from a very early age. He has no time for lawful or any other kind of playing. He has no time for life’s worries and responsibilities except for what is necessary. He disassociates himself from this life’s pleasures, clears his heart from everything worldly and goes wholeheartedly into seeking for Knowledge.
If we look in depth into Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s life, we find the best lessons and examples in it. Imam Ahmad said, “I wanted to go early to study circles. My mother would hold my clothes from me and say, “not until the people wake up and make A than for salah.”
Qutaibah Ibn Sa’id described Imam Ahmad’s sincerity in seeking knowledge. He said, “Ahmad ibn Hanbal used to go with Waki’ after they performed salatul Ishaa at night. He would stand by the door and Waki’ would teach him. One night, Waki’ stood by the door and said, “O’ Abu Abdullah, Would you like me to talk to you about Abu Sufian’s speeches?” Ahmad then replied, “Yes, tell me.” And they stood, talking, until the servant came and said, “The sun is going to come out soon.”
Imam Ahmad’s study circles were full of glorification and obedience of Allah, which gave him extra peace and dignity. His student Imam Abu Dawud, who knew him well said, “I met around 200 scholars none of whom were like ibn Hanbal. He was not involved in anything worldly like many others, but if there was discussion about knowledge, he spoke.”
For this earnestness, the scholars used to value and honor Imam Ahmad. Khalaf ibn Salem said, “We were in Yazeed ibn Harun’s gathering and Yazeed joked with his guests. Ahmad ibn Hanbal cleared his throat. Yazeed hit his forehead with his hand and said, “You should have told me that Ahmad is here, I wouldn’t have made the joke.”
This desire and endurance in seeking knowledge has made Imam Ahmad one of the best in memorizing the hadeeth. Imam Abu Zur’ah ar-Razy once told Abdullah Ibn Ahmad, “Did you know that your father knew of one million hadeeth?” “How do you know?” Abdullah asked. Abu Zur’ah replied, “I studied with him and counted after him.”
When we look at the first generations of our scholars, we find many similar examples. But let us contemplate our current situation in seeking knowledge. It makes one amazed. It is like sliding down from the top of a high mountain to the bottom of a deep valley. Look here and there. Do you see anything resembling or coming close to those giants? What are the worries and hopes of today’s students? How many things have we been lenient about-until leniency became our trait?
Who has the patience and endurance to study and research and hunt in the books without stopping or becoming bored? Who has the patience and ability to stay up long nights thinking and deriving?
Knowledge is a vast sea with spaced out boundaries and deep bottoms. Only the powerful can sail through it. A person will not reach its concealed pearls and hidden treasures before, first, standing on its nearby shore. Yehya ibn Abi Katheer was right in saying, “Knowledge cannot be gained by resting.”
Ahmad as Swayyan