Often in life when one realises that they need to devote more attention and commit more resources to their spiritual and moral progression, they often search for certain pedagogical principles upon which they can base their activities and efforts upon.
Adab’s (Etiquette) Priority over Knowledge
One key principle which scholars of ethics have indicated to is that a person’s adab (etiquette) is by and large more important than their level of knowledge (ilm). On this basis what is all-important when a person reads the Quran for example is the extent of their humility and not their technical mastery of the intellectual sciences of the Quran.
This is consistent with the viewpoint that whilst being knowledgeable is a virtue, having knowledge is not an end in itself and is not a substitute for having presence of heart and attentiveness of the spiritual mind during worship.
Thus this principle gives rise to an ethos based on the idea that the objective of gaining knowledge is to refine a person’s etiquette with the Creator and with the created.
Having appreciated this, the question of ‘how does a person improve their etiquette’ arises. Scholars of ethics have highlighted that the key lies in a person being able to value things.
To illustrate the point, compare a person who is given a precious pearl and puts it straight into their pocket without a second thought with a person who, when gifted a pearl, humbly and gratefully inquires into:
- What they have been given,
- Why they have been given it,
- What have they done to deserve it,
- How they can repay the favour etc.
It is clear that the second recipient valued the gift far more, as reflected by their appreciative inquiry, and therefore is far more worthy of the bestowal.
The significance of increasing the quality of our acceptance of gifts is that this has a bearing upon the extent and nature of the future gifts that Allah will give us. Allah is the all-Wise (al-Hakeem) and so gives more to those who are more deserved of receiving additional gifts. Hence if we value what we have been in terms of knowledge, guidance, wealth etc. this will attract more blessing into our life. This corresponds with chapter 14 verse 7 of the Quran in which Allah assures us that:
If you are grateful I will add more (favours) unto you
as scholars of the Quran point out that the essence of gratitude (ayn as-shukr) is to value what has been given to us.
The connection between valuing a gift and one’s etiquette in relation to using that gift is that once we value something highly our treatment and usage of that gift will naturally improve.
Take for example a couple who have had difficulty conceiving a child. When Allah does bless them with a child they will treasure it much more because they know how low it feels to be without a child and how energising it is to have one.
What follows from this discussion is that we have to not take God’s gifts lightly and for granted and we have to value and appreciate them.
Contemplation: The Gateway to Spiritual Perception
We may ask through which internal faculty can we weigh gifts and appreciate the gravity of what we have been given to us?
In answer to this, man’s weighing scale is their intellect. Through contemplating over individual physical, material, emotional, intellectual, moral and spiritual gifts we can deliberate within the depths of our being upon issues such as:
- How would life be without this gift?
- What have I done to deserve this gift?
- Why has Allah been so generous to me?
- How have I utilised this gift thus far?
- How can I more appropriately utilise this gift?
Through deep and regular contemplation, God-willing we will be able to better value what we have been given, our state of consciousness when utilising them will be heightened and how we put our gifts to use will be significantly improved. This can open the door to a blessed life filled with the using of divine gifts for righteous purposes and the eschewing of turning divine gifts into instruments for sinning.
We pray to Allah that He inspires us to be people of constant contemplation over His divine signs and perpetual remembrance of Him and the endless flow of blessings that emanate from Him.