Part 34

The great number of scholarly works is an obstacle to attaining scholarship

January 5, 2022

Among the things that are harmful to the human quest for knowledge and to the attainment of a thorough scholarship are the great number of works (available), the large variety in technical terminology (needed for purposes) of instruction, and the numerous (different) methods (used in those works). 1133

The student is required to have a ready knowledge of (all) that. Only then is he considered an accomplished scholar.

Thus, the student must know all the works, or most of them, and observe the methods used in them. 1134 His whole lifetime would not suffice to know all the literature that exists in a single discipline, (even) if he were to devote himself entirely to it. Thus, he must of necessity fall short of attaining scholarship.

For the Malikite school of jurisprudence, this (situation) may be exemplified, for instance, by the Mudawwanah, its legal commentaries, such as the books of Ibn Yunus, alLakhmi, and Ibn Bashir, and the notes and introductions (to it) 1135 Or (one may take) the sister work of the Mudawwanah, the ’ Utblyah and the work written on it (by Ibn Rushd under the title of) al-Bayan wa-t-tahsil; 1136 or the book of Ibn al-Hajib and the works written on it.

Furthermore, the student must be able to distinguish between the Qayrawani method (of the Malikite school) and the methods of Cordovan, Baghdadi, and Egyptian (Malikites) and those of their more recent successors.

He must know all that. Only then is a person considered able to give juridical decisions. All of (these things) are variations of one and the same subject.

The student is required to have a ready knowledge of all of them and to be able to distinguish between them. (Yet,) a whole lifetime could be spent on (but) one of them. If teachers and students were to restrict themselves to the school problems, (the task) would be much easier and (scholarly) instruction would be simple and easily accessible. However, this is an evil that cannot be cured, because it has become firmly ingrained through custom. In a way, it has become something natural, which cannot be moved or transformed.

Another example is Arabic philology. 1137 There is the Book of Sibawayh and all the literature on it; (there are) the methods of the Basrians, the Kufians, the Baghdadis, and, later on, the Spaniards; and (there are) the methods of the ancient and modern philologists, such as Ibn al-Hajib and Ibn Malik, and all the literature on that.

This (wealth of material) requires a great deal from the student. He could spend his (whole) life on less (material). No one would aspire to complete knowledge of it, though there are a few, rare exceptions (of men who have a complete knowledge of philology). For instance, we modern Maghribis have received the works of an Egyptian philologist whose name is Ibn Hisham.

The contents show that Ibn Hisham has completely mastered the habit of philology as it had not been mastered (before) save by Sibawayh, Ibn Jinni, and people of their class, so greatly developed is his philological habit and so comprehensive is his knowledge and experience as regards the principles and details of philology.

This proves that excellence (in scholarship) is not restricted to the ancients, 1138especially if (one considers) our remarks about the many obstacles (on the path to mastery of a science in modern times), which the great number of schools, methods, and works presents. No! “His excellence God bestows upon whomever He wants to.” 1139 (Ibn Hisham) is one of the rare wonders of the world. Otherwise, it is obvious that were the student to spend his entire lifetime on all these things, it would not be long enough for him to acquire, for instance, (a complete knowledge of) Arabic philology, which is (but) an instrument and means (for further studies). How, then, is it with the intended fruit (of study, the acquisition of thorough and comprehensive scholarship)? But “God guides whomever He wants to guide.” 114

35. The great number of brief handbooks (available) on scholarly subjects is detrimental to (the process of) instruction

Many 1141 recent scholars have turned to brief presentations of the methods and contents of the sciences. They want to know (the methods and contents), and they present them systematically in the form of brief programs for each science.

(These) brief handbooks express all the problems of a given discipline and the evidence for them in a few brief words that are full of meaning. This (procedure) is detrimental to good style and makes difficulties for the understanding.

Scholars often approach the main scholarly works on the various disciplines, which are very lengthy, intending to interpret 1142 and explain (them).

They abridge them, in order to make it easier (for students) to acquire expert knowledge of them. Such, for instance, was done by Ibn al-Hajib in jurisprudence and the principles of jurisprudence, 1143 by Ibn Malik in Arabic philology, 1144 by al-Khunaji in logic,1145 and so on.

This (procedure) has a corrupting influence upon the process of instruction and is detrimental to the attainment of scholarship. For it confuses the beginner by presenting the final results of a discipline to him before he is prepared for them. This is a bad method of instruction, as will be mentioned.1146

The procedure also involves a great deal of work for the student. He must study carefully the words of the abridgment, which are complicated to understand because they are crowded with ideas, and 1147 try to find out from them what the problems of (the given discipline) are. Thus, the texts of such brief handbooks are found to be difficult and complicated (to understand). A good deal of time must be spent on (the attempt to) understand them.

Moreover, after all these (difficulties), the (scholarly) habit that results from receiving instruction from brief handbooks, (even) when (such instruction) is at its best and is not accompanied by any flaw, is inferior to the habits resulting from (the study of) more extensive and lengthy works. The latter contain a great amount of repetition and lengthiness, but both are useful for the acquisition of a perfect habit.

When there is little repetition, an inferior habit is the result. This is the case with the abridgments. The intention was to make it easy for students to acquire expert knowledge (of scholarly subjects), but the result is that it has become (more) difficult for them, because they are prevented from acquiring useful and firmly established habits.

Those whom God guides, no one can lead astray, and “those whom God leads astray have no one to guide them.” 114856. The right attitude in scientific instruction and toward the method of giving such instruction. 1149

The teaching of scientific subjects to students is effective only when it proceeds gradually and little by little.

At first, (the teacher) presents (the student) with the principal problems within each chapter of a given discipline. He acquaints him with them by commenting on them in a summary fashion. In the course of doing so, he observes the student’s intellectual potential and his preparedness for understanding the material that will come his way until the end of the discipline under consideration (is reached).

In the process, (the student) acquires the habit of the - science (he studies). However, that habit will be an approximate 1151 and weak one. The most it can do is to enable the student to understand the discipline (he studies) and to know its problems.

(The teacher,) then, leads (the student) back over the discipline a second time. He gives him instruction in it on a higher level. He no longer gives a summary but full commentaries and explanations. He mentions to him the existing differences of opinion and the form these differences take all the way through to the end of the discipline under consideration. Thus, the student’s (scholarly) habit is improved.

Then, (the teacher) leads (the student) back again, now that he is solidly grounded. He leaves nothing (that is) complicated, vague, or obscure, unexplained. He bares all the secrets (of the discipline) to him. As a result, the student, when he finishes with the discipline, has acquired the habit of it.

This is the effective method of instruction. As one can see, it requires a threefold repetition. Some students can get through it with less than that, depending on their natural dispositions and qualifications.

Many of the current teachers are ignorant of this effective method of instruction. They begin their instruction by confronting the student with obscure scientific problems. They require him to concentrate on solving them. They think that that is experienced and correct teaching, and they make it the task of the student to comprehend and know such things. In actual fact, they (merely) confuse him by exposing him to the final results of a discipline at the beginning (of his studies) and before he is prepared to understand them. Preparedness for and receptivity to scientific knowledge and understanding grow gradually. At the beginning, the student is completely unable to understand any but a very few (points).

(His understanding is) only approximate and general and (can be achieved only) with the help of pictures (muthul) derived from sensual perception. His preparedness, then, keeps growing gradually and little by little when he faces the problems of the discipline under consideration and has them repeated (to him) and advances from approximate understanding of them to a complete, higher knowledge. Thus the habit of preparedness and, eventually, that of attainment materialize in the student, until he has a comprehensive knowledge of the problems of the discipline (he studies). But if a student is exposed to the final results at the beginning, while he is still unable to understand and comprehend (anything) and is still far from being prepared to (understand), his mind is not acute enough to (grasp them). He gets the impression that scholarship is difficult and becomes loath to occupy himself with it. He constantly dodges and avoids it. That is the result ofpoor instruction, and nothing else.

The teacher should not ask more from a student than that he understand the book he is engaged in studying, in accordance with his class (age group) 1153 and his receptivity to instruction, whether he is at the start or at the end (of his studies).

The teacher should not bring in problems other than those found in that particular book, until the student knows the whole (book) from beginning to end, is acquainted with its purpose, and has gained a habit from it, which he then can apply to other books.

When the student has acquired (the scholarly) habit in one discipline, he is prepared for learning all the others. He also has become interested in looking for more and in advancing to higher (learning). Thus, he eventually acquires a complete mastery of scholarship.

But if one confuses a student, he will be unable to understand (anything). He becomes indolent. He stops thinking. He despairs of becilning a scholar and avoids scholarship and instruction.

It is also necessary (for the teacher) to avoid prolonging the period of instruction in a single discipline or book, by breaks in the sessions and long intervals between them. This causes (the student) to forget and disrupts the nexus between the different problems (of the discipline being studied).

The result of such interruptions is that attainment of the (scholarly) habit becomes difficult. If the first and last things of a discipline are present in the mind and prevent the effects of forgetfulness, the (scholarly) habit is more easily acquired, more firmly established, and closer to becoming a (true) coloring. For habits are acquired by continuous and repeated activity. When one forgets to act, one forgets the habit that results from that particular action.

A good and necessary method and approach in instruction is not to expose the student to two disciplines at the same time. 1156 Otherwise, he will rarely master one of them, since he has to divide his attention and is diverted from each of them by his attempt to understand the other. Thus, he will consider both of them obscure and difficult, and be unsuccessful in both.

But if the (student’s) mind is free to study the subject that he is out (to study) and can restrict himself to it, that (fact) often makes it simpler (for the student) to learn (the subject in question).

You, 1157 student, should realize that I am here giving you useful (hints) for your study. If you accept them and follow them assiduously, you will find a great and noble treasure. As an introduction that will help you to understand these (hints), I shall tell you the following:

Man’s ability to think is a special natural gift which God created exactly as He created all His other creations. It is an action and motion 1158 in the soul by means of a power (located) in the middle cavity of the brain. 1159 At times, thinking means the beginning of orderly and well-arranged human actions. At other times, it means the beginning of the knowledge of something that had not been available before.

The (ability to think) is directed toward some objective whose two extremes 1160 it has perceived (tasawwur), and (now) it desires to affirm or deny it. In almost no time, it recognizes the middle term which combines the two (extremes), if (the objective) is uniform. Or, it goes on to obtain another middle term, if (the objective) is manifold. It thus finds its objective.

It is in this way that the ability to think, by which man is distinguished from all the other animals, works. Now, the craft of logic is (knowledge of the) way in which the natural abilityto think and speculate operates. Logic describes it, so that correct operation can be distinguished from erroneous. To be right, though, is in the essence of the ability to think.

However, in very rare cases, it is affected by error. This comes from perceiving (tasawwur) the two extremes in forms other than are properly theirs, as the result of confusion in the order and arrangement of the propositions from which the conclusion is drawn. Logic helps to avoid such traps. Thus, 1161 it is a technical procedure which parallels (man’s) natural ability to think and conforms to the way in which it functions.

Since it is a technical procedure, it can be dispensed with in most cases. Therefore, one finds that many of the world’s most excellent thinkers have achieved scholarly results without employing the craft of logic, especially when their intention was sincere and they entrusted themselves to the mercy of God, which is the greatest help (anyone may hope to find).

They proceeded with the aid of the natural ability to think at its best, and this (ability), as it was created by God, permitted them by (its very) nature to find the middle term and knowledge of their objective.

Besides the technical procedure called logic, the (process of) study involves another introductory (discipline), namely, the knowledge of words and the way in which they indicate ideas in the mind by deriving them from what the forms (of the letters) say, in the case of writing, and from what the tongue - speech - says in the case of spoken utterances. 1162 You, the student, must pass through all these veils, in order to reach (the state where you can) think about your objective.

First, there is the way in which writing indicates spoken words. 1163 This is the easiest part of it. Then, there is the way in which the spoken words indicate the ideas one is seeking. Further, there are the rules for arranging the ideas in their proper molds, as they are known from the craft of logic, in order to (be able to) make deductions. Then, there are those ideas in the mind that are abstract and (used) as nets with which one goes hunting for the (desired) objective with the help of one’s natural ability to think (and) entrusting oneself to the mercy and generosity of God.1164

Not everyone is able to pass through all these stages quickly and to cut through all these veils easily during the (process of) instruction. 1165 Disputes often cause the mind to stop at the veils of words. Disturbing quarrels and doubts cause it to fall into the nets of argument, so that the mind is prevented from attaining its objective. Rarely do more than a few (individuals), who are guided by God, succeed in extricating themselves from this abyss.

If you are afflicted by such (difficulties) and hampered in your understanding (of the problems) by misgivings or disturbing doubts in your mind, cast them of ! Discard the veils of words and the obstacles of doubt!

Leave all the technical procedures and take refuge in the realm of the natural ability to think given to you by nature! Let your speculation roam in it and let your mind freely delve in it, according to whatever you desire (to obtain) from it! Set foot in the places where the greatest thinkers before you did! Entrust yourself to God’s aid, as in His mercy He aided them and taught them what they did not know! 1166

If you do that, God’s helpful light will shine upon you and show you your objective. Inspiration will indicate (to you) the middle term which God made a natural requirement of the (process of) thinking, as we have stated. 1167

At that particular moment, return with (the middle term) to the molds and forms (to be used) for the arguments, dip it into them, and give it its due of the technical norm (of logic)! Then, clothe it with the forms of words and bring it forth into the world of spoken utterances, firmly girt and soundly constructed!Verbal disputes and doubts concerning the distinction between right and wrong logical evidence are all technical and conventional matters.

Their numerous aspects are all alike or similar, because of their conventional and technical character. If they stop you, (you 1168 will not be able) to distinguish the truth in them, for the truth becomes distinguishable only if it exists by nature. All the doubts and uncertainties will remain. The veils will cover the objective sought and prevent the thinker from attaining it.

That has been the case with most recent thinkers, especially with those who formerly spoke a language other than Arabic, which was a mental handicap, 1169 or those who were enamored with logic and partial to it. 1170

They believe that logic is a natural means for the perception of the truth. They become confused when doubts and misgivings arise concerning the evidence, and they are scarcely able to free themselves from (such doubts).

As a matter of fact, the natural means for the perception of the truth is, as we have stated, (man’s natural ability to think, when it is free from all imaginings and when the thinker entrusts himself to the mercy of God. Logic merely describes the process of thinking and mostly parallels it. Take that into consideration and ask for God’s mercy when you have difficulty in understanding problems! Then, the divine light will shine upon you and give you the right inspiration.