WHAT MADE ME esteem knowledge so? Here’s one experience.
I beheld a group of people who distracted themselves from learning on the pretext that they had instead dedicated themselves to Allah’s worship. The result? They failed to attain to the practical realities of their stated goals.
In this regard, a report has reached us of a man from the early generations who said to another: “O Abû Al-Walîd (that is, Father of Al-Walîd), if it be that you are, indeed, Father of Al-Walîd.”
Now, he said this by way of caution, for Abû Al-Walîd did not, in fact, have children [The Arabs accord a kunya, honorific, like ‘Father of So-and-So,’ as a title of respect to the individual, whether or not one actually has a child.]
So the man addressed his companion thus because he wanted to retain his piety by ensuring his own truthfulness in all circumstances. Obviously, he considered calling someone—who was, in fact father to no one—“Father of So and So” an untruthful act. That is why when he addressed the man whose kunya was ‘Abû Al-Walîd,’ he appended the statement: “if it be that you are, indeed, Father of Al-Walîd,” so he would be truthful.
Were this pious man actually learned, he would have known that the Prophet ﷺ addressed his Companion Ṣuḥayb Al-Rûmî by way of this kunya: “O Abâ Ya ḥya!” [though Ṣuḥayb had no son named Ya ḥyâ]. Also, the Prophet ﷺ famously used to address one boy with the playful rhyme:
O Abâ ʿUmayr! Ma faʿala Al-Nughayr. [O Abû ʿUmayr! What hath wrought your bird, Al-Nughayr? The Prophet ﷺ put forth this lighthearted couplet to this child to show affection toward him.]
Now, an ascetic once said: “It was said to me one day: ‘Drink from this milk!’ I said, ‘It will harm me.’ Awhile later I was standing at the Kaʿbah praying to Allah, and spoke these words to my Lord: ‘O Allah! You surely know that never have I associated partners with you, even for the blink of an eye.’ Then I heard a voice call out to me from thin air: ‘Not even on the day of the milk?’”
If, indeed, this account is true, it may have been a reminder to the man. Yet, the Prophet ﷺ said:
The food that I ate on the day of Khaybar comes back and hurts me until now.
[The point of this account is that the ascetic man is exaggerating his sense of guilt about the fact that he feared that the drinking of the particular milk he was offered would hurt him, and so he rejected it. But later, he was “reminded” that the only power for benefit or harm is with Allah. Thus he felt he had associated another power with that of Allah’s exclusive power in saying that the milk had the power to harm him.
Ibn Al-Jawzî’s point is that this account of this ascetic’s piety contradicts the statement of the Prophet ﷺ, as mentioned above. It also contradicts one’s using of one’s own reason and common sense, especially when it comes to avoiding a food that one has cause to believe might harm him. Common sense tells us that when a person says: “This milk will harm me,” it means that he perceives that the impairment will be caused by the reaction of his body after his drinking of the milk, not that the milk has power in and of itself to bring that person harm.
In this way, Ibn Al-Jawzî is seeking to teach his reader that one should never sacrifice knowledge at the expense of supererogatory worship.]
And Allah knows best.