Imam al-Ghazali and the Signs of the ‘Ulama – 9 -12

The ninth distinguishing characteristic of the ‘ulama al-akhirah is that, under all conditions, they should wear a true expression of being inspired with the fear of Allah Most High. His greatness, magnificence and fear should manifest from their every gesture — from the style of their dress, from their personal habits, from their speech and even from their silence. A mere look at such an ‘alim’s face will inspire one with the remembrance of Allah Most High. Calmness, serenity, modesty, and humbleness should have become his manner. He abstains from idle or meaningless talk, and his manner of speaking is natural and unassuming, as this is born of pride and haughtiness, and indicates a lack of fear of Allah Most High. Sayyiduna ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Acquire knowledge, and acquire calmness, proper poise and gentleness for knowledge; behave modestly with those from whom you learn, and let those who learn from you be humble with you. Do not become one of the tyrannical ‘ulama for your knowledge cannot be based on ignorance.”

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The best of my Ummah are those who in public look happy thinking of the infinite mercy of Allah Most High, but in private weep and cry for fear of His punishment. They are bodily on earth, but their hearts are absorbed in the heavens.” Someone asked the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), “Which is the best act of virtue?” He replied, “Abstaining from what is unlawful and keeping your tongue occupied continuously with the dhikr of Allah Most High.” Someone asked, “Who is the best companion?” He replied, “He who warns you of negligence in good deeds and aides you in performing them.” Someone asked, “Who is a bad companion?” The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied, “The one who does not warn you when you are negligent in your good actions, nor helps you when you want to do them.” Someone asked, “Who is the greatest ‘alim?” He replied, “The one who lives in greatest fear of Allah Most High.” Someone asked, “With whom should we associate most frequently?” He replied, “Those who inspire you with the dhikr of Allah Most High.”

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “The carefree person in the life Hereafter will be the one who remained concerned in this life; the one who will laugh the most in the Hereafter will be he who wept most in this life (for fear of Allah Most High).”

The tenth distinguishing feature of the virtuous ‘ulama is that they are more concerned about those regulations of Islamic law which pertain to religious practices; to what is lawful and unlawful. That is to say, they are interested in actions that it is obligatory to perform and are very keen to know things that are necessary to avoid. Similarly, they are very particular in learning about things that may undo any virtue (for example things which make Salah invalid, the virtues of using a miswak etc.). They do not indulge in discussions relating to abstruse branches of knowledge for the sake of being regarded as a research scholar, a sage or great philosopher.

The eleventh distinguishing characteristic of a virtuous ‘alim is that he has studied, with deep insight, various branches of knowledge. He does not accept the opinions of others, for we are bound to follow the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and seek guidance from his sayings alone. We follow the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) simply because they closely observed and followed the ways of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Since following the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is of fundamental value, a true ‘alim should be very particular about collecting the hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and should make them the object of his serious consideration.

The twelfth distinguishing feature of the ‘ulama al-akhirah is that they are strict and stringent in their avoidance of bid’ah. Something becoming a common practice does not means that the thing is a reliable religious practice, for true religion consists in following the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). It should be seen what the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) did in such matters. Hence, it is imperative to undertake a thorough study of the ways and manners of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and to remain deeply involved in this.

Hasan al-Basri (may Allah mercy him) said: “Two types of person are innovators and they have introduced two kinds of innovations in Islam: [1] He who thinks Islam is that which he understands, and only he who agrees with him will attain paradise, and [2] he who lives a life of comfort and worships the world, he likes those who struggle to achieve worldly things and dislikes those who do not try to earn worldly wealth. Leave both of them alone for the hellfire. As for him whom Allah Most High has protected from these people, he is following the footsteps of the pious predecessors. He has adopted their manners and practices. It is they who will be generously rewarded in the hereafter by Allah Most High.”

Sayyiduna ‘Abd Allah Ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Yours is the age in which desires are restrained by (religious) knowledge; a time will soon come when knowledge will be subservient to desires.” Meaning people will try to justify whatever pleases their fancy with their knowledge.

Some Divines said, “During the times of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them)Satan sent forth his detachments to all four corners of the world. They roamed the world and came back, disheartened and exhausted. Satan asked, ‘How did you fare?’ They said, ‘These people (the Companions) worry us. We cannot affect them in any way; we are in great difficulty because of them.’ Satan said, ‘Don’t worry. These people are the Companions of their Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)influencing them is difficult. Soon, you will have people who will do what you desire.’ Then, once again, Satan sent forth his detachments in all directions during the times of the Followers (Tabi’in)Satan’s disciples again came back, worn out and cast down. When he asked them how they fared, they said, ‘They annoyed us; they are a strange people. During the day, we do succeed to a certain extent in tempting them. But as soon as the evening falls, they repent of their sins so sincerely that all our labours are lost.’ Satan again said, ‘Don’t worry. A time is soon coming when people will behave in a manner most pleasing to you. They will follow their own desires, taking them to be a religious duty. They will not think of repentance; they will rather give religious sanction to their irreligiousness.’ After some time, Satan introduced into Islam such innovations, which were accepted as a part of religion. How could they possibly repent from such sins when they believed themselves to be on the right path?”

This is a brief account of the twelve distinguishing characteristics of the virtuous ‘ulama that have been thoroughly discussed by Imam al-Ghazali (may Allah mercy him)The ‘ulama should, therefore, particularly fear the Day of Reckoning because their reckoning will be severe and they have a greater responsibility. The Day of Resurrection, the day on which this reckoning will take place, is a difficult day. May Allah Most Highin His Infinite bounty and mercy, protect us all from the severity of that day.


  1. Sufis who placed their trust (tawakkul) in Allah Most High (editor). []
  2. The word mawlana is used explicitly by Imam al-Ghazali in the Arabic of Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din. Sayyiduna Anas’ (may Allah be pleased with him) usage of the word to describe a man of learning is an early precedent for its use in this context (editor)