Transforming Knowledge into Practice

Transforming Knowledge into Practice
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Question: When we study the life of the Companions, we see that as soon as a Qur’anic verse was revealed, they would immediately begin to act upon the Divine command. We are, however, unable to put forth the same attitude. What would be the reasons for our inefficiency at putting our knowledge into practice, and how can this ideal be realized?

Answer: In order to implement what we know in practical life, first of all, knowledge must be saved from being rough and simple information; it needs to be transformed into “ilm,” in the sense of knowing a matter with its true nature and grasping that matter through consciousness and systematic thinking. Otherwise, if what we know does not amount to anything beyond superficial information, it will not yield any practical behavior, for it does not make an impression on the heart. In this respect, the first thing to do to turn knowledge into practical behavior is to try to reach true knowledge and, from there, to certainty in faith, with an insatiable and fervent desire to learn. In the Qur’an (Ta-Ha 20:114), God Almighty gives the command to His Noble Messenger (which can be interpreted as follows): “…say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’” Each and every one of us as the follower of the Prophet is then supposed be a fervent seeker of knowledge always trying to grow deeper in knowledge. For example, it is a religious obligation to recite the Qur’an. However, even if we commit the entire Qur’an into memory, if we do not make efforts to understand and delve deeper into it, we will fail to benefit from the treasures of the Qur’an, the eternal source of light. There are such meanings and inspirations to be derived through full concentration and sincere efforts that they cannot be attained in any other way.

Offering Gratitude for Knowledge

After the first phase of transforming information into true knowledge (ilm), there are other points to be taken into consideration. You may attain a magnificent profundity in theoretical knowledge and gain the certainty of knowledge (ilm al-yaqin), even to the degree of the certainty of vision (ayn al-yaqin). However, if you fail to implement such theoretical knowledge in practical life, then you will fail to recognize the truth of Divinity with the Divine Names, Attributes, and Qualities, and fail to be a loyal servant at God’s door. In addition, there is a glad tiding about the issue by the beloved Prophet, “Whoever acts upon what he knows, God lets him acquire what he does not know.”1 Accordingly, having a share from true knowledge requires acting upon what one knows. If God Almighty grants you a certain level of knowledge, you should strive to give gratitude for this blessing, without taking any personal pride in it. For example, if others perform forty units of Prayer a day, together with the Sunnah Prayers, you should think, “Having been honored with abundant Divine blessings, I should do as much as eighty units a day,” and thus ascend to the immensities of subjective responsibility.

Incidentally, I would like to relate a memory that is especially significant for me. In one of my visits to my late mother, she told me, “I read the Jawshan al-Kabir2 every day from beginning to end. Is there anything additional you would recommend for me to read?” This is a reflection of the spirit of someone asking for evermore and thus making continuous progress. A person honored with Divine blessings must turn to Him in due gratitude. The Prophet would pray until his blessed feet were swollen as narrated by his wife Aisha. Imam Al-Busiri expressed this in a poem, “I failed to follow the Practice of the Prophet who kept vigil until his feet were swollen at the Prayer.” On witnessing that, Aisha asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of God, although God has forgiven your (possible) past and future sins, why are you praying to the degree of tormenting yourself?” The Pride of Humanity gave the following answer to her, “Should I not be a thankful servant (in the face of such blessings of my Lord)?”3 There is a very important message here in terms of consciousness of being a servant: Every servant of God is obliged to offer thanksgivings to Him and praise the Almighty to the degree of the Divine blessings and favors bestowed upon him, and thus put his knowledge into practice in proportion to the profundity of his knowledge.

Practical Reason

At this point, it is possible to mention a consideration in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Kant states that God cannot be known through theoretical reason and that knowledge of God can only be attained through practical deeds. If this can be realized, in other words, if theoretical knowledge is efficiently put into practice, believers can feel a profound knowledge of God inside of them and consequently feel a deep love for Him—to such a degree that they will be saved from the gloom of this world and be seized by an intense yearning for reunion with God, craving, “Reunion with You O God, reunion!” Bediüzzaman mentions faith in God as the essence of worship. Knowledge of God comes after this faith in God, then comes love of God, and then spiritual pleasure, which is granted as an extra Divine favor. When such a spiritual pleasure is experienced, we will naturally feel an irresistible flood of eagerness to see the true source of beauties, given that all beauties are merely faint shadows of the Divine Essence. If we do not feel such eagerness in our inner worlds, then we have not passed through this process and are still wandering outside. I do not mean to push anyone to hopelessness; however, we need to know that this is the result of the course we have taken. In this respect, let me reiterate that no matter how much you delve in theory, you are doomed to not make any progress but stay where you are as long as you fail to further rise to the level of practice. If you start practicing, but this time fail to deepen in the meaning of that practice and to acquire knowledge of God, you will not make further progress, unable to go beyond mechanical forms—to such a degree that you will view worship as if it were a daily chore; you do the relevant acts but fail to attain knowledge of God, and unable to feel love for Him, and savor spiritual pleasure. Those who do not implement their theoretical knowledge in practical life are likened to “a donkey carrying a load of books” in the Qur’an (al-Jumua 62:5). One needs to avoid from falling into such a situation, so that knowledge does not become a burden on the back. Otherwise, his or her knowledge will be useless. At this point, we can benefit from the power of prayer at putting knowledge into practice, as the beloved Prophet did by saying, “O God, I seek refuge in You from the knowledge that is not beneficial…”4

Broader Horizons through Reading Circles

Although it is commendable for individual believers to carry out reading, thinking, research, to scrutinize things and phenomena, to reflect upon the relationship between human, universe, and God, it will be a means for much different blessings to attend a gathering of faithful ones who cherish considerations and thoughts in this direction and benefit from that blessed atmosphere. Somebody who steps into such an atmosphere will unite with the other individuals in the group together and they will journey toward different horizons with this special connection among them, pervaded by the same spiritual hue (insibagh). As it is revealed in the Qur’anic verse, “God’s Hand is over their hands” (al-Fath 48:10). Also, the Messenger of God stated, “God’s hand (of support) is with the community,”5 and drew attention to importance of being included in a group. In another case, the Prophet emphasized the danger of being alone by stating that a stray sheep is to be devoured by wolves. Accordingly, one who acts against collective consciousness, who leaves the circle, and who does not fall into step with the group is doomed to be devoured by wolves. Therefore, we must try to be included in a righteous circle against all odds, support one another at that, and avoid acting individually. However, a very important point to be careful about here is to keep our gatherings or circles free from useless talk and amusements, and to benefit from them in the name of deepening in knowledge and spirituality, without even wasting a second. Unfortunately, we do not present the required sensitivity to do this. It is such a pity that even when we come together in the name of religion, faith, and serving for God, we sometimes talk about irrelevant matters that are of no benefit to our worldly or otherworldly life, or we adopt lighthearted attitudes, which lead people to heedlessness. In my opinion, a true believer must try to lead a disciplined life as was once lived truly in Sufi lodges. In an authenticated narration, it is reported that the Pride of Humanity laughed to the degree of chuckling only three times in his entire lifetime.6 As it is known, his blessed face was always smiling, but he never gave up being serious. That blessed person had such a manner that His consciousness of the omnipresence of God was reflected in his entire being. And one could not help but remember God Almighty upon seeing the Prophet’s state, manners, and even the depth of his looks.

In a nutshell, we must try to benefit efficiently from all the assemblies, all of our gatherings and the circles we attend in the name of reviving the horizons of our heart and spirit, in order to be well-equipped in knowledge and then implement it in our lives, thus making it very spirit and way of our lives in the true sense. If we wish to walk on the straight path, without any collisions and straying, all of our feelings, thoughts, senses, conversations, and discussions need to be straight; they need to be oriented toward becoming deeper and richer on the horizons of the heart and spirit.

1. Abu Nuaym, Hilyat, 10/15
2. A voluminous prayer book compiled by Bediüzzaman, including the Jawshan prayer, which consists of one hundred parts, transmitted from the Prophet 
3. Sahih al-Bukhari, Tahajjud, 16
4. Sahih Muslim, Dhikr, 73

5. Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Fitan, 7
6. Sahih al-Bukhari, Tafsir as-Surah (39), 2

This text is the translation of Bilginin Amele Dönüşmesi