“From that which is known, is that if a person wanted to get to a place, then it is imperative he knows the way to reach it, and if there are many ways, then he will search for the shortest and easiest way. Because of this, it is important for the student of knowledge to base his search for knowledge on principles and not to beat around in the darkness (of ignorance),
for he who is not well-versed in the principles is prevented from reaching his goal, as the poet says:
To proceed: Knowledge is a vast ocean,
(and) the seeker will never attain all of it.
However, in (learning) the principles there is ease…
…in attaining it, so take care and you will find a way.
Learn the rules and principles,
since he who does not is prevented from arriving at the goal.
So the principles are the knowledge,
and the issues are the branches,
just like the foundation of the tree and its branches. If the branches are not upon a firm foundation, they will wither and ultimately perish. However, what are the principles? Are they the authentic proofs? Or are they rules? Or are they both?
The principles are the proofs from the Qur’aan and the Sunnah
and the rules that are obtained by following and studying them.
These are from amongst the most important for the student of knowledge. For example, “hardship gives way to ease,”
and this is from the principles that are extracted from the Qur’aan and the Sunnah.
From the Qur’aan, Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta’aala) says:
“…and He has not laid upon you in religion any hardship”
And from the Sunnah, the saying of the Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to ‘Imraan ibn Husayn:
“Perform your prayer standing, and if you are unable to do so, then sitting down, and if you are unable to do so, then lying down on your side.”
And the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) also said:
“If I have ordered you to do something, then do that which you are able to do.”
If a thousand different issues were put forward for you to pass judgement upon, then it is possible for you to do so based upon this principle.
However, if you did not have knowledge of this principle, and a couple of issues were put forward to you, then they would both be a cause of difficulty for you.
So there are two ways to acquiring knowledge:
Firstly: That you take from reliable books,
and particularly those which have been written by scholars known for their knowledge and trustworthiness, and sound in their aqeedah – being free from any form of innovations and deviations.
It is imperative that the person, in taking knowledge from books, reaches the goal he set out for. However, in this there are two obstacles:
- The first obstacle: That the person requires a lot of time and tough endurance and great effort so that he reaches that which he is aiming for in his search for knowledge. Often, many people do not give importance to this obstacle, especially since they see they have wasted time without benefit. Therefore, laziness overcomes them and they become exhausted and bored such that they are unable to attain that which they set out for.
- The second obstacle: That he who takes his knowledge simply from books, then his knowledge is mostly weak. It is not built upon principles nor rules. As a result of this, we find he has many mistakes. This is because he does not possess any principles, nor any rules upon which he is able to build the different aspects of knowledge which are found in the Qur’aan and the Sunnah.
We find some people refer to a hadeeth which is not mentioned in the authentic books of hadeeth,
and this manner is contrary to that which is from the authentic principles dictated by the people of knowledge. Then he takes this hadeeth and bases his ‘aqeedah upon it. Without a doubt this is a mistake,
because the Qur’aan and the Sunnah have principles upon which the different aspects of knowledge are based. Therefore, it is imperative to refer these different aspects of knowledge to principles, so that if we find anything from them which is conflicting with these principles, such that it is not possible to arrive at a consensus, then we leave these different aspects of knowledge.
Secondly: From the ways to acquiring knowledge is that you take from a teacher who is reliable in his knowledge and religion;
and this is the fastest and most reliable manner for seeking knowledge.
As with the first approach, the student is open to deviation while he does not know,
either because of his lack of understanding or inadequate knowledge or other than these reasons.
As for the second approach, then here there is constructive discussion whilst taking knowledge and refuting (doubts) with the teacher.
With this, many doors of understanding, verification and methods of safeguarding the authentic statements and refuting the weak statements are opened for the student.
If the student was to combine the two approaches then this is more complete and perfect.
So the student of knowledge begins with that which is important then moves on in order of importance. He starts with the short texts of knowledge before moving on to the extended, full-length texts. He progresses from level to level, and does not progress to the next level until he is fully versed in the preceding level, such that his progression is sound and complete.”
From: The Book of Knowledge, by Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (rahimahullaah)