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106) China (Seen) and the Pursuit of Knowledge

20 February 2016

  بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم   

اُطْلُبُوا الْعِلْمَ وَلَوْ بِالصِّيْن

 (Rasulullah SA Hadith)

Seek knowledge even if as far away as China

In the time of Imam Ali Zainul Aabideen SA, a group of people decided to travel to China from Madina to seek knowledge. Their well-intentioned but misled purpose was to follow – quite literally – Rasulullah’s SA Hadith, “pursue knowledge even if it is as far away as China”(utlubul ‘ilma wa law bis-seen) When a man named Behlul Dana heard of this group’s journey to China, he quickly went to place in the desert outside Madina from where he knew the group’s caravan would pass. When the caravan traveling to China approached Behlul, they found him sifting through the desert sand with a sieve. Curious about his behavior they asked him what he was doing. He replied, “I have lost my needle in my home, in Madina, and I am searching for it.” The caravan people said, “there is none as foolish as you, if you have lost your needle in Madina why are you searching in the desert?!”. Behlul retorted, “actually, there is none as foolish as you. Imam AS is in Madina and you are going to China for knowledge!”

Rasulullah’s SA Hadith encompasses many levels of meaning. Rasulullah himself said, “I was sent with profound words”  (bu'istu bi-jawami'il kalim). On one level, this Hadith underscores the importance of expending all possible efforts to seek knowledge – the travel to China nine hundred years ago was an arduous journey. A concerted effort is essential in seeking all knowledge, but especially the knowledge of Aale Mohammed.

There is also another level of meaning in this Hadith. The word used for China in Arabic is “seen.” This Arabic word also means, “something that is well protected.” Our Hudaat Kiraam have explained that in this Hadith, “seen” refers to the Imam’s heart (seenu in Dawat ni Zaban – sadr in Arabic). It is in this vein that Syedna Taher Saifuddin refers to this Hadith in his qasida, “Seek knowledge, O people, this knowledge, and work hard for it / Delve into its deeps, until you reach faraway China!” (qawmitlubul-‘ilma haazal-‘ilma wajtahidu / wa awghilu feehi hatta tablughus-seena). 

In a qasida, Syedna Qutbuddin TUS described Syedna Burhanuddin’s RA heart as “a sea of knowledge” (sadruhu bahru). Today, that sea of knowledge is in Syedna Qutbuddin’s heart. It is this knowledge that sustains Dawat and provides spiritual nourishment for our souls. Fortunate are those make an effort to seek knowledge from this sea.

May Allah Ta’ala grant us the strength to pursue knowledge – especially the knowledge of Aale Mohammed – till the ends of the worlds. May Allah Ta’ala give us the realization and value of the ‘ilm of Aale Mohammed in the heart of Dai-z-zaman. May we not search for needles in the desert!