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The Power of 'ilm

The sky is grey, stark white clouds look out of place. They begin to roll in until, gradually, they become one with the sky. The first droplet falls, then another, then another. Soon, the pitter-patter begins, light at first. A curtain forms and in the distance only the suggestion of a tree, the road, the flight of birds who couldn't quite make it out on time can be seen.

But within this beautiful chaos are two little hands held up against the rain.

'What are you doing, Ilma?' I ask my daughter. 'Come inside, you'll get wet!'

My daughter doesn't move from her position. Her body is well protected, hidden inside the garage. The flesh of her hands are all that's exposed to the cold droplets of rain. She turns her head at my words and smiles. 'Rabbi zidni 'ilma, Mama,' she says. 'I am making dova!'*

Despite the cold, despite the gloom, the grey, the shifting darkness, I see a ray of light. Warmth spreads all through my body. Those little words are treasures I'll keep locked up forever - a memory of this moment I never want to forget.

Rabbi zidni 'ilma
My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.

A small but powerful prayer. A prayer of knowledge.

And while this prayer in no way refers to my daughter, she thinks it's a special prayer just for her. It makes this moment all the more wholesome.

But the irony of this moment won't get lost to me, either. A few nights before, as I tucked her in bed and read her a 'pretend' story** about the Prophet Muhammad and his mi'raj - the journey from Masjid Al-Aqsa to the heavens - and how he met each previous prophet along the way, including Prophet Ibrahim, she suddenly burst into tears.

Perplexed, I asked: 'What's wrong, Ilma?'

'That's my brother Ibrahim's name!'

'It is,' I tell her. 'He was named so after the Prophet.'

'But I want to be Ibrahim, too!'

Containing my laughter at her beautiful innocence, I tried to explain: 'But your name is something special, too. It means knowledge. It means that you will grow up to be intelligent and get to know all of the things!'

Of course, no words could offer my poor daughter comfort.

This outburst of hers got me thinking the power of 'ilm and the importance of supplementing our knowledge with action. The first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad was 'Read!' This command was repeated several times until the following was revealed:

Read! In the Name of your Lord who created humans from a clinging clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the pen humanity what they knew not (Qur'an, 96:1-5).

This verse is a verse about knowledge, about God's grace to humankind. Our knowledge can come in three different forms: the mind (intellectual), the tongue (spoken), and the fingers (written). The last necessitates the first two, its importance stressed ('taught by the pen') and its command clear: the duty to record knowledge in writing. But our knowledge does not come from within ourselves. We may read and increase our capacity to know things, but Allah is the one who grants us understanding of what we learn and know.

Move not your tongue to make haste. It is for Us to collect it [knowledge] and give you the ability to recite it. And when We have recited it to you... Then it is for Us to make it clear to you (Qur'an 75: 16-19).

This is why some people may have knowledge yet do not exemplify this knowledge to others in speech or writing, or in their mannerisms, because they do not have an understanding of what they know to be able to relay it with ease and confidence.

But it also goes deeper than this. The Big Bad Wolf in the story of our lives (i.e. Satan) is often associated with disbelief. But this is not true. He is a believer; he knows God exists, he knows God's commands, he know what he must do to win God's favour. This knowledge is not lacking. His actions are what's lacking. He doesn't express his belief through action and is therefore considered a disbeliever. In the same sense that we can all pay lip service to being Muslim or Christian or Jewish or otherwise. That's easy. What's not is acting on our belief, proving that we truly are Muslim or Christian or Jewish or otherwise. If we don't, then what's the point? There is a saying that goes: 'Whoever acts according to what he knows, Allah will make him inherit knowledge that he did not know.'***

Having said this, knowledge is the cornerstone of faith. It is never too late to educate ourselves, to advance ourselves by seeking knowledge in whatever form it comes. Through knowledge, we are able to worship better, to bridge the gap between ourselves and Allah through his guidance, discipline ourselves and our hearts, and find true happiness.

After all, the only time the Prophet Muhammad was ever instructed to pray for an increase in anything was for an increase in knowledge. Ibn 'Uyaynah said: 'the Prophet did not cease increasing in knowledge until Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, took him.'****

Indeed, Allah says in the Qur'an:

رَّبِّ زِدْنِى عِلْ
Pray: 'My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.'

Until next time,

Mirela Cufurovic


*Dova: Bosnian for dua; a prayer.

**Pretend story: a story I recite without reading a book. Sometimes she loves for me to read from books, sometimes for me to make up a story without one in front of me. Which is hard, by the way!

***Will find the reference.

****Will find the reference.


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