Keys to Knowledge

Imam Al-Shafi’i was one of the four great Sunni Imams whose contributions to the fundamentals of jurisprudence (fiqh) left a legacy that led to the formation of Shafi’i school of fiqh.

A theologian, writer, and scholar, Imam Al-Shafi’i had learned under some of the greatest scholars of his time. In his advice to those seeking knowledge, Imam Al-Shafi’i mentioned 6 things that every student needs to obtain knowledge. It is narrated that the conversation unfolded like this:

Ibn Abi Hatim said: “I heard Al Muzni saying that it was said to Ash Shafiee: ‘How about your crave for knowledge?’ He said: “I will hear a word that I never knew before, and my organs would love what they were hearing.” It was said: “How about your keenness for it?” He said: “The keenness of a greedy and stingy man in achieving his pleasure for wealth.” It was said, “How about your seeking for it? He said: “The seeking of a woman with one child for her lost son.” He said:

  أَخِي لَنْ تَنَالَ العِلْمَ إِلاَّ بِسِتَّةٍ

My brother, you cannot gain knowledge except with six;


سَأُنْبِيكَ عَنْ مَجْمُوعِهَا بِبَيَانِ

I will inform you of them altogether with explanation;


 ذَكَاءٌ وَحِرْصٌ وَاجْتِهَادٌ وَبُلْغَةٌ

Intellect/smartness, desire, effort, and sustenance;


وَصُحْبَةُ أُسْتَاذٍ وَطُولُ زَمَانٍ

A teacher [as] companionship, and lengthy time.

New Words


Statement or explanation

Subsistence or sustenance

Period or time

Acquire, attain,
or gain


Hardworking, effort, or pain

Length or long

Not or never

Inform, state,
or convey

Desire, aspiration or wish

Teacher, lecturer,
or master



Intellect, insight or understanding

Company or fellowship

The 6 Keys to Knowledge

Imam Al-Shafi’i stated that every student needs six things for obtaining good knowledge:

1. Intellect or understanding
Intellect is the ability of the mind to think, reason, and understand objectively. The extent of knowledge we are capable of understanding is a gift from Allah.

2. Desire
The one who has a desire to reach a noble goal will naturally become a seeker of knowledge. Having desire, or knowing your “why”, will fuel your ambition to seek books, lessons, memorization, teaching, and authoring to satiate fulfil the goal one desires.

3. Effort
A student of knowledge is hardworking. He should be committed to consistent study, strive hard to seek knowledge, and not be overcome by laziness or overtly occupied by frivolous activities that bring no benefit. It was said that Imam An Nawawi studied twelve different pieces of knowledge daily and adapted his body to accommodate his study schedule. He ate little and did not sleep on his side for two years but would sleep in a sitting position.

4. Sustenance
This refers to a person having continual means of sustenance, even if it’s small, to sustain himself and his knowledge. Sustenance gives one the means to invest in the books, classes, materials, transport, and other relevant items needed to gather knowledge. Likewise, sustenance provides shelter, food, clothes and other means of survival for the student. If sustenance is not available, it may take away the desire for knowledge. It was said, “Knowledge will not give you its part until you give him your full attention.”

5. The companionship of a teacher
A seeker of knowledge seeks the companionship of a teacher and guide who is an expert in the field of knowledge the student wishes to seek. A teacher will be able to guide the student to learn the right things and avoid what is not needed, so the student can achieve his goals in the most optimal manner.

6. A long period of time
Knowledge is vast. Every seeker must be prepared to have patience and put in the time needed to become knowledgeable in any field.

Seek the Knowledge of Quranic Arabic

Anyone who seeks to understand the Quran directly in Arabic will need these six keys of knowledge. Take the first step to learn new Arabic vocabulary with our Arabic Unlocked App, designed to make it easy and fun for even the busiest person to consistently learn the Arabic language.

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