ADEQUATE KNOWLEDGE (ʿIlm) of Islam—which is to say, Heavenly Revelation—is, perhaps, the prime distinction of the successful dâʿî—and, no surprise, Allah commands that ʿilm should come first. Thus for actions and utterances to be right with Allah, they must be predicated on sound ʿilm. Allah states:
Know well, then, [O Prophet] that there is no God but the One God. So steadfastly seek much forgiveness for your sin, and for that of the believing men and the believing women. For Allah knows well, O people, your wakeful movement to and fro as you make your way in the world. And He knows well your abiding in private, at leisure and rest (Sûrat Mu ḥammad, 47:19).
Arguing from the above ayah, Imam Bukhârî assigned in his Ṣaḥîḥ a section he named “The Chapter on the Principle that ʿIlm Precedes Action (ʿAmal) and Utterances (Qawl).” In the ayah, Allah directs His Messenger ﷺ to first acquire ʿilm—Know well, then, that there is no God but Allah—thereafter, he is to act upon it (So seek much forgiveness for your sin). This signifies two things: That ʿilm ranks higher than ʿamal and qawl, and that ʿilm is a prerequisite for the soundness of the two.
So the ʿilm that is based on clear, authentic evidence (dalîl) from the Quran and the Sunnah is the sole guarantee of the dâʿî’s attainment to success. Allah instructs Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to proclaim the nature of his mission to the world saying: Say to them [O Prophet]: This is my way, I call to Allah based on clear [revealed] proof—I and whoever follows me.…” (Sûrat Yûsuf, 12:108).
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Da‘wah Without ‘Ilm Kills
It is reported that some Companions of the Prophet ﷺ told a fellow Companion with a head-wound that, in spite of his wound, he still must perform wuḍû’ instead of tayammum (dry ablution). When the trusting Companion acted on their fatwa, ruling, his wound festered and he died from it. When the Prophet ﷺ heard of the incident, he grew angry and exclaimed: “They killed him!”
In the Quran, Allah commends those who have ʿilm and He enumerates their merits as follows: How can those who know be equal to those who do not know? (Sûrat Al-Zumar, 39:9); and: God will raise up, by many degrees, those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge (Sûrat Al-Mujâdalah, 58:11).
In another place, Allah makes it clear that ʿilm is a guiding light for its bearer, both in the here-below and in the Hereafter: Is a dead person brought back to life by Us, and given light with which to walk among people, comparable to someone trapped in deep darkness who cannot escape? (Sûrat Al-Anʿâm, 6:122).
A Prophetic Summation
Paraphrasing this ayah, or sign-verse of the Quran, the Prophet ﷺ said: “If Allah wishes someone good, He makes him versed in fiqh (that is, the applied understanding of His Revealed Law).” In another ḥadîth, the Prophet ﷺ categorizes people in terms of their acquisition of ʿilm in three groups, and such is the last word on it:
The example of those who acquire and benefit from the ʿilm with which Allah sent me, and of those who insist on rejecting Allah’s Guidance, is that of a rain that falls on different kinds of land:
♦ One land is good. It accepts water and produces vegetation and grass in plenty.
♦ Another [land] is dry. It has a solid bed in which water pools so that people can utilize it.
♦ The third land is porous, neither retaining water nor producing vegetation (Bukhârî and Muslim).