Muhammad bin Idrees 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 the Shafi’i school of fiqh. Since his youth, Imam Al-Shafi’i displayed the habits of a dedicated student and exceptional learner.
Imam Al-Shafi’i said: “I was raised as an orphan by my mom. She was poor and did not have anything to give the teacher. But the teacher was pleased to have me succeed him if he was promoted. After I finished the memorization of the Quran, I used to enter the masjid to listen to the scholars, memorize hadith and religious verdicts. Our house was in the Khayf area in Makkah. I would search for a shiny bone especially shoulder bones and write my lessons from hadith and religious verdicts on it. We had an old jar and whenever the bone is filled up, I put it in that jar.”
العِلْمُ صَيْدٌ وَالكِتَابَةُ قَيْدُهُ
Knowledge is a hunt and writing is its shackle
قَيِّدْ صُيُودَكَ بِالحِبَالِ الوَاثِقَةِ
Tie your game with ropes [that are] assured
فَمِنَ الحَمَاقَةِ أَنْ تَصِيدَ غَزَالَةً
From the (act of) stupidity is to hunt a gazelle
وَتَتْرُكَهَا بَيْنَ الخَلاَئِقِ طَالِقَةً
and leave it among mankind liberated
Hunt or Game
Ropes or Cords
Reliable, Assured or Certain.
Foolishness, Stupid or Idiot
Ignore, Neglect or Drop
Among or Amidst
Creation, Mankind or People
Released, Liberated, Divorced, Freed.
Habits of an Exceptional Learner
In this poem, Imam Al-Shafi’i was speaking to seekers of knowledge. He was reminding students to write down what they learn and that this should be one of the habits they do to create immersive learning. Here, Imam Al-Shafi’i described seeking knowledge like hunting deer, while writing the knowledge is like the shackle to tie the deer we catch.
He further describes the rope as an “assured rope”, meaning we must tie what we catch with a thick rope so we don’t lose it. Thus, after struggling and working hard to acquire knowledge, we should not leave it to be forgotten but rather write it down to keep it in our records.
The one who acquires knowledge and loses it is described as someone who hunts a dear and then leaves it unchained amongst people to move freely and escape. Imam Al-Shafi’i further describes this to be a foolish act.
Tie Your Camel
A similar message to this poem can be found in the hadith of a man who came to the Prophet ﷺ with his camel.
أَنَسَ بْنَ مَالِكٍ، يَقُولُ قَالَ رَجُلٌ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَعْقِلُهَا وَأَتَوَكَّلُ أَوْ أُطْلِقُهَا وَأَتَوَكَّلُ قَالَ “اعْقِلْهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ”.Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2517
Anas bin Malik narrated that a man said: “O Messenger of Allah! Shall I tie it and rely (upon Allah), or leave it loose and rely (upon Allah)?” He said: “Tie it and rely (upon Allah).”
Every Muslim should remember that the knowledge and wisdom he or she has gained is a favour from Allah SWT. The Quran reaffirms this:
يُؤْتِي الْحِكْمَةَ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُؤْتَ الْحِكْمَةَ فَقَدْ أُوتِيَ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِHe gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding.
Thus, it is upon every believer to search for knowledge and wisdom in order to acquire the truth. Once one obtains this precious knowledge with the permission of Allah, they should not leave it to be forgotten or ignore it out of negligence. Rather, knowledge should be valued and kept.
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