Ignorance is a blameworthy state, while seeking knowledge is praised. I don’t doubt or deny this, but sometimes witnessing the great schisms between better Muslims than I, I start to take comfort from my ignorance. I cannot call myself a Salafi, a Sufi, a Traditionalist. I am none of these things, for my knowledge is meagre, my learning scant.
My knowledge of the deen covers how to pray, a few verses of the Qur’an, how to fast, what is halal and what haram, and a few characteristics of neighbourliness. To be complacent in one’s ignorance is a trait condemned in our deen, so when I say what I say it carries no authority: it is purely the defence mechanism of one who just now finds the ranting of the learned a blow to the soul and his iman.
In my ignorance I am a literalist about the words of God and His Messenger, peace be upon him. I do not have at my disposal scholarly texts, fatwas and commentaries that place conditions and clauses upon those words. Thus when I read that our Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘The Merciful One shows mercy to those who are themselves merciful to others; so show mercy to whatever is on earth, then He who is in heaven will show mercy to you,’ I take it to mean what it says. Because I do not possess texts that explain that such mercy is restrained when dealing with Salafis or Sufis, I understand that I should be merciful to everyone I meet regardless. For the brevity of my learning, for the literalism of my learning, here I say Alhamdulilah.
Alhamdulilah that my learning does not extend far beyond lessons like these: he who truly believes in God and the Last Day should speak good or keep silent; fear God wherever you are, following an evil deed with a good deed so that you blot it out, being well-behaved towards people; beware of envy, for envy devours good deeds like fire devours firewood; the strong man is not the one who is strong in wrestling, but the one who controls himself in anger.
Alhamdulilah, for in my ignorance of refutations and conditional clauses, these words prevent me from commenting on the fate of fellow Muslims, from pronouncing on the faith of whole communities of believers. Alhamdulilah that I am unversed in learning that would allow me—so easily—to make light of Prophetic guidance, disregarding the sunnah because my opponent is a Salafi, a Sufi, a Traditionalist. For isn’t our sunnah having good manners, restraining our tongues, showing mercy to our brethren and our neighbours? I don’t limit it to this; I just note that they seem to be the most neglected.
A few days ago I felt the need to recommence my journey of faith, to take my shahada anew and set out to chase after the mantle of piety. It was a noble aim—I don’t deny that—but pondering on my evident failure so far, I suddenly find myself almost content with my state. This is not a good place in which to find myself, for my state is poor indeed, but that contentment does not come from nowhere; it is the result of witnessing great schisms amongst those much more learned than I. I have read words over the last few days that crippled my iman. What saved me was my simple, literalist faith. Words like these from the Qur’an:
Serve God, and do not join any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer and what your right hands possess: for God does not love the arrogant, the boastful.
It is true that ignorance is a blameworthy state and that seeking knowledge is praised. All of the above is not intended as justification for my ignorance. It is just a note to those more learned than I that your actions have consequences. While you engage in your battles, the lesser of us draw back repulsed. And so, perhaps, the ignorant masses grow.