In part 1 we stated that the number of sermons we sit in and religious learning engaged in must be equal to the growth we experience; if this is not the case, how can we better our learning experience from very traditional sermons?
In part 2, we took our first principle known as حُسن السئال نِصف العلم ‘A good question is half of the answer’, to not only encourage the asking of questions but what types of questions we must ask as well.
This next sermon will look at the purposes of sitting in the sermons, and what tools we may use to maximise our learning and application.
First, the Holy Qur’an tells us that not only should we seek knowledge, but seek it from Allah (swt) and with His approval. فَتَعَالَى اللَّهُ الْمَلِكُ الْحَقُّ وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضَىٰ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا “Supremely exalted is therefore Allah, the King, the Truth, and do not make haste with the Quran before its revelation is made complete to you and say: O my Lord! Increase me in knowledge” (20:114).
Numerous other supplications in addition to the Holy Qur’an also guide us to what else we should be seeking from this knowledge:
Imam Ali ibn al-Hussain Zain al-Abideen (a) prays: “[Oh Allah] Complete for us the illuminations of knowing you deeply” و اتمم لنا أنوار معرفتك. Elsewhere he begs, “Make it that I fulfil all that is obligated upon me” اللهم اقض عني كل ما الزمتنيه.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) asks for divine help in navigating those matters that may be muddied between true and false claims, asking: “O God! Show me the truth as the truth so I follow it, and falsehood as falsehood so I stay away from it; and let them not seem similar o me, for if this happens then I will follow my own desires without guidance from You” اللَّهُمَّ أَرِنِي الْحَق حَقًّا فَاَتِّبَعَهُ، وَأَرِنِي الْبَاطِلَ بَاطِلًا وفَاَجْتَنِبَهُ، وَلَا تَجْعَلْهُ عَلَيَّ مَتَشَابِهًا فَأَتَّبِعَ هَوَايَ بِغَيْرِ هُدىً مِنْكَ.
Collectively then, these supplications for learning teaches us the importance in asking for a deeper insight on how to distinguish falsities from truth. Sitting in sermons may become repetitive and devoid of the foundational attitudes needed in spiritual and intellectual learning, so it becomes more important than ever to learn how to pray for a better insight on knowledge.
Second, the narrations remind us that knowledge must be sought, and not found through personalities, famous speakers, or how good the sermon might make us feel. All these are transient and devoid of stability. This makes us wrangle with the question of our biases, and whether we attend the sermons of those whom we prefer to those whom challenge us; those who reaffirm my way of thinking or for seeking truth no matter whom it comes from.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) profoundly stated: “The one who enters this religion through men will exit through men just as they caused him to enter it. And whoever enters this religion through the Book of Allah and the Prophetic practise, mountains will move before he does [in his faith]” من دخل في هذا الدين بالرجال اخرجه منه الرجال كما ادخلوه فيه ، و من دخل فيه بالكتاب و السنة زالت الجبال قبل ان يزول.
Thirdly, the learning must be active and not passive. We forget so much because the sermon is long and the attention span is short. Sermons tend to be pedagogic and only make use of auditory learning, whilst in school and university we use visual and kinaesthetic tools of learning, where we engage in dialogue and sensory material. We urgently need to evolve our cultures of learning and formats of sermons lest our education system falls way behind.
The Prophet (s) said: “Write down knowledge before the departure of the scholars”, whilst Imam as-Sadiq (a) also said: “Write! For you will not remember until you write.”
We would never tolerate our children going to school or madressa without a pen and paper, but our culture in the sermons do not encourage the same. Indeed this is a hypocrisy and a requirement to review our values between secular and religious learning.