Etiquette towards the teacher

Boat-on-river-delta-sketch

By Mufti Yaseen Shaikh
10 Rabi II 1437 | 21 January 2016

قَالَ لَهُ ۥ مُوسَىٰ هَلۡ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَىٰٓ أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمۡتَ رُشۡدً۬ا

Musa said to him, ‘May I follow you, on the footing that you teach me something of the (Higher) Truth which you have been taught?’1

Under this particular verse in Surah al-Kahf, Imam Fakhruddin Razi2 (may Allah have mercy upon him) writes,

You must know that Musa (peace be upon him) upheld many etiquettes and depths of compassion when requesting to learn under Khidr (peace be upon him).

هل أتبعك

He made himself a subordinate of, and subservient to Khidr, because he said, ‘Can I follow you?’

He sought the permission of Khidr for the realisation of this subservience. He is saying, ‘Do you give me the permission to make myself subservient to you’? This is a great expression and exaggeration in humility.

علي أن تعلمن

He said, ‘On the footing that you teach me’. This is an acknowledgement and confession of one’s lack of knowledge, and of the teacher’s knowledge.

من ما علمت

He said, ‘Of that which you have been taught’. The word ‘of’ is partitive. He sought from Khidr teachings of some of that which Allah had taught him (Khidr). This is also an expression of humility. It is as if he said, ‘I am not seeking from you that you make me your equivalent in knowledge, rather I am seeking that you give me a part of the knowledge you have’, just as a beggar seeks only a portion of the wealth of the rich, and not all of it.

He said, ‘which you have been taught’, an acknowledgement that Allah has taught that knowledge to Khidr (it is not self-taught).

رشدا

He said, ‘of the truth’, thus he was seeking from him guidance. Guidance is a matter if not achieved, one is led to misguidance. (He sought beneficial knowledge).

He said, ‘that you teach me of what you were taught’. This means he is asking Khidr to treat him the same as he was treated by Allah. It is an indication that your favour upon me by teaching me is like Allah’s favour upon you when he taught you. That is why it is said, ‘I am the slave of anyone from whom I learn a letter’.

Following a teacher

Following (subservience) means to do like the one being followed. It means to abide by the same practice the teacher abides by. This teaches that at the beginning stages, the seeker must always comply, not argue, or raise objections’.

‘May I follow you’, means following him absolutely, in all matters, not restricted to some matters besides others.

Khidr (peace be upon him) knew Musa (peace be upon him) was the Prophet of the people of Israel, who received the Torah, was spoken to by Allah directly, and selected for many powerful miracles. Despite all of these honourable and elevated attributes, he came with such pearls of humility. This shows that he came seeking knowledge with the greatest humility, which was fitting, because the one who has more knowledge, also knows more about its fortune. So his search for it is also more intense, and his etiquette towards those who possess the knowledge is also greater and complete.

In the sequence ‘May I follow you on the footing that thou teach me something’, he first made himself his subordinate/subservient, then requested he teach him. So, he started with khidmah (service), which is the first stage of pursuit, then the second stage, seeking knowledge from him.

He only sought knowledge from him; he had no other motives such as wealth or position.

———

[1] al-Kahf, verse 66

[2] Born in 543 A.H., died in 606 A.H.- He was born in Rayy, originally from Tabristan, had traveled to Khwarzam and Khurasan. He was a champion of the Ash’ari tradition in theology, a Shafi’i in Fiqh, influenced heavily by Al-Ghazali. He wrote the famous Tafseer known as Al-Tafsir al-Kabir)