by Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid
Allah Ta`ala says on the tongues of His prophets:
ﻭَﻣَﺎ ﻋَﻠَﻴْﻨَﺎ ﺇِﻟَّﺎ ﺑَﻠَﺎﻍٌ ﻣُﺒِﻴْﻦٌ
“…and the only obligation upon us is to deliver a clear message.”
It has been related by at-Tirmidhi, and al-Haakim verified its soundness that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said:
“Whoever is asked about some knowledge and he conceals it, Allah will bridle him with a bridle of fire on the Day of Judgment.”
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abd’r-Rahman said in his Tuhfat’l-Ahwadhi about the meaning of the above tradition:
“His saying: ‘Whoever is asked about some knowledge’, means knowledge which the one questioning is in need of in the affairs of his religion. This includes all of the sciences of the individual obligations, such as: determining pure water, purification, prayer, alms, fasting, pilgrimage, marriage, etc, as well as the prohibitions.
His saying: ‘and he conceals it’, means by failing to answer, or by neglecting to put it in writing. This supports the idea that recording religious knowledge using diverse media is a collective obligation for the Umma and an individual obligation for the scholars.
His saying: ‘Allah will bridle him’, means a bridle will be entered into his mouth because the mouth is the conduit of knowledge and speech.”
Thus, the punishment is not only physical and corporeal, it is also symbolic. However the punishment in the Hereafter will be horrendous because this individual would have spent his/her entire life learning knowledge; and on the Day of Judgment when their knowledge will best benefit them; their mouths will be sealed and shut with a bridle of fire.
Imam at-Taybi said:
“The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace makes that which is placed in the mouth from fire to resemble a bridle placed in the mouth of a beast of burden. This meaning suffices since the scholar was content to bridle himself with silence. He also makes the person resemble an animal that has been subjugated and prevented from reaching his objectives in what he desires. The reason for this is that the affair of the scholars is to invite humanity to the truth.”
This is the profession of the scholar and religious jurists who inherit this role from the Prophets, upon them be peace. When professionals abandon their professions then the harmony and well-being of society is thrown off balance. In western societies learning is associated with something marketable. In the learned circles of Islamic Africa, learning was an act of worship, and service to Allah, humanity and existence.
Ibn Hajr said: “One of the objectives in learning knowledge is in order to disseminate it and bring advantage to humanity. However, concealing knowledge negates this pure purpose and makes the person cut off from the appearance of the scholars and wise men.”
In a sense, this is an argument that education in a society should be free from elementary, secondary to tertiary. By unfettering learning from the markets, it allows those who have received learning to research, discover, develop and teach others for the benefit and advantage of humanity and the environment and not as if knowledge were a commodity. In another sense, making learning a marketable commodity where it can only be attained by those who can afford it, can be considered a form of concealment of knowledge as well.
The legal judgments that can be extracted from this prophetic tradition are both restricted
(muqayyid) and general (`aam) and allow for the emergence of legal differences among the jurists. These differences emerge around the meaning of the key word in the above prophetic tradition – KNOWLEDGE.
The meaning of the prophetic tradition is general if you define knowledge as those sciences which are an obligation upon every individual to learn. In that case whoever conceals this knowledge when asked has acted unjustly with his/her learning and has acted unjustly towards those from whom he/she concealed this knowledge.
This was corroborated by Imam as-Sayyid who said:
“This prophetic tradition refers to the knowledge that is necessary to learn, like teaching the disbelievers the reality of Islam, the methodology of the prayer; as well as giving legal decisions in what is permissible and prohibited. Thus, in these affairs it is incumbent to give an answer, but not in the science considered superogatory and those sciences not essentially necessary.”
As-Sayyid clearly shows that there is a level of knowledge which should be concealed, at least from those undeserving of it, in intellectual capacity or in moral/ethical capacity. It is for this reason that one of my teachers in Martial Arts informed me at the outset, as he was informed by his teacher before him:
“If you use this art to harm another, act unjustly or oppress others, then I will kill you.”
It is the same principle that I apply when taking new MARTIAL ARTS students as well. That is an extreme example, nevertheless, it indicates that there are some sciences and levels of knowledge which must be concealed and only transmitted to those who are deserving of it intellectually, morally or spiritually.
However, all sciences which are of general benefit to the whole of humanity and the environments in which we live, then those sciences should never be concealed from the people. In fact, soe Muslim jurists believe that it becomes an obligation for the society as a whole, a collective to archive, preserve, conserve and inter-generationally transmit certain sciences to the people.
This is verified by what was related in the Saheeh of al-Bukhari, that Umar ibn Abd’l-`Azeez wrote to Abu Bakr ibn Hizaam:
“Examine what is with you from the prophetic traditions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and transcribe them; for I fear the elimination of knowledge and the loss of the scholars.”
The elimination of knowledge and the loss of the scholars, if you will recall, are both among the seventy-two signs of the End of Time. Yet, we have an Amir al-Mu’mineen, legislating or giving an executive order for his officials to develop the industry designed to protect the society from these Signs.
Clearly, the transmission of the prophetic traditions and their recordings were seen as a societal obligation, and not to do so could be seen as a form of concealing a necessary message.
Like the Martial Arts, which should never be taught to brigands, rogues, or criminals, there are many other sciences which should be concealed and only taught to those who have the intellectual and moral capacity to understand and use them. Some of these sciences are elemental such as medicine, the science of disposal, astronomy, engineering; while others are spiritual and can only be given to those who are spiritually prepared.
An example of this is what Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir Dan Tafa said in his al-`Uhuud wa’l-Mawaathiq:
“I have taken and oath and covenant not to invite anyone from the people to what I have learned from the philosophical and elemental sciences; even though I took these sciences in a sound manner, rejecting from that what is in these sciences of errors. Along with that, I will not teach these sciences to anyone in order that they may not be led astray; and errors will thus revert back to me, may Allah protect me. On the contrary, I will invite them to sound legitimate knowledge, the Qur’an, the Sunna, jurisprudence and spiritual purification.”
Later in the same text Shaykh Dan Tafa said:
“I have taken an oath and covenant to keep secret what is with me from the sciences of the spiritual realities and secrets and to conceal my works regarding these. This is because these sciences are an exalted class of sciences for the spiritually elite and are only designated for those who are spiritually prepared from among the People of Allah.”
This form of concealment of knowledge is obligatory in one sense, highly recommended in one sense, reprehensible in one sense, and forbidden in another. It is obligatory to conceal this knowledge from those who are diametrically opposed to it. It is highly recommended to conceal it from those are not of its People. It is reprehensible to conceal it from its People. It is forbidden to conceal it from those sages and believers who deserve it.
al-Uhuud wa ‘l-Mawaatheeq – the Book of Oaths and Covenants by Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir Dan Tafa