Knowledge or Wealth

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رَضِيْنَا بِقِسْمَةِ الجَبَّارِ فِيْنَا

لَنَا عِلْمٌ وَ لِلجُهَّالِ مَالٌ

فَإِنَّ المَالَ يَفْنٰى عَنْ قَرِيْبٍ

وَ إِنَّ العِلْمَ يَبْقٰى لاَ يَزَالُ

“I am pleased with the distribution made by Allah سبحانه و تعالى among us
For us is knowledge and for the ignorant is wealth
For indeed wealth will shortly perish
Whilst knowledge will remain forever, never to perish”

[Ali ibn Abi Talib رضي الله عنه]

Whilst reading, I came across this amazing piece of poetry attributed to Hadhrat Ali رضي الله عنه in which there are many lessons to be learnt.

One can easily understand the gist of the poetry in which preference is given to knowledge over wealth and the reason being is that knowledge never perishes and therefore is of true value whilst wealth will ultimately perish.

However, when attention is paid to the wordings there are many lessons to be learnt:

Wealth vs. Knowledge

In Islam, there are many narrations which mention the superiority of the poor over those that are rich. This is due to the fact that a person who has more wealth will be subjected to more questioning in regards to the manner in which he spent that wealth and therefore more care and caution is required for the wealthy individual.

Nevertheless, wealth and knowledge are not mutually exclusive in Islam and neither is the rich person destined for hell or invariably inferior to the poor person. This is found from the principal teachings of Islam as well as from the Sahaba رضي الله عنهم from whom many were wealthy, Hadhrat Khadija رضي الله عنها being one example.

A rich person, who spends their money wisely and in the path of Islam will receive the reward of their deeds without any prejudice. Such a person is able to fulfill his financial obligations in regards to his worldly matters and also his religious matters. However, the temptations and that money brings is immense and therefore based on the majority scenario the Ahadith are mentioned.

The rich can also be knowledgeable so why compare knowledge to wealth?

Here we can look at the comparison in two manners. Firstly, during the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم, the majority of those who accepted Islam were the poor and destitute. This is highlighted in the commentary of Surah Kahf, and other chapters, when the chieftains of Makkah requested the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم to distance himself from the poor and hold an exclusive gathering for them. Upon this request Allah سبحانه و تعالى revealed the verses:

وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ

And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His pleasure.

[Surah Kahf – 18:28]

In the same manner, the Sahaba رضي الله عنهم would dedicate themselves to the religion by forsaking the world and all its pleasures. They would survive and rely on the bare necessities of life and devote themselves to the seeking of knowledge and companionship of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم. Some of these Sahaba رضي الله عنهم came to be known as the أصحاب صفه (Ashab-e Suffah).

So, there is, undeniably, a very close link to the seeking knowledge and the disregard of wealth and worldly luxuries. This is evident from the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم to our current time including many examples of our pious predecessors رحمهم الله.

The second outlook is that the profession of religion and those who walk upon this path have a clear disregard for the wealth of this world. Undoubtedly, there is a need for sufficient wealth so that one may survive in this دار الأسباب (world of mediums). However, a person who has dedicated himself to the acquisition and spreading of Islamic knowledge is more concerned with his connection to Allah سبحانه و تعالى and His pleasure.

Therefore, as the poetry mentions, the one who has been given knowledge regards it as the most valuable commodity; the value of which is recognised by those who have made knowledge their objective.

Wealth Will Perish Shortly

Hadhrat Ali كرم الله وجهه has compared knowledge and wealth in its durability. The nature of wealth is that it changes hand and is subject to decrease and perish. It’s value is temporary and declining and therefore it’s owner only benefits from the wealth in short period.

At the same time, the span of time of wealth is restricted to that of the duration of this world. The riches of this world will be of no benefit to man in the Hereafter and it is a clear notion that this world is a temporary abode and is short-lived. More so, each individual’s world is limited to his life, once a person dies his world comes to an end.

Therefore, the luxuries and riches of this world are temporary and very limited.

Knowledge is Eternal

As for knowledge, the poetry can be taken in its literal sense meaning that the knowledge a person acquires will remain with him, even in the Hereafter. Therefore, the knowledge that a person acquires will benefit him in both the worlds.

Alternatively, the benefit and rewards that one derives from religious knowledge will be a source of salvation for him in the Hereafter. Therefore, the benefit of knowledge is eternal and will result to a person acquiring paradise through its blessings.

Conclusion

It goes without saying that this poetry is in regards to the benefits, blessings and privileges of the person of knowledge. It does not necessarily mean that all those who are involved in acquiring wealth are ignorant. Knowledge and wealth are not mutually exclusive though it is very challenging to be prudent in monetary matters.

The ignorant are those who are deprived of religious knowledge; that knowledge which is essential for their day-to-day worship.

Therefore, a person can be wealthy as well as be a person of knowledge, in which case he will acquire multiple blessings in the form of rewards for correctly spending his wealth.

May Allah سبحانه و تعالى give us all the inclination, ability and zeal to seek knowledge and to remain in the company of the pious. Aameen.