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Al-Ilbīrī on Seeking Knowledge

Seeking Knowledge

Seeking KnowledgeAbū Isḥāq al-Ilbīrī (d. 459 H/ 1067 AD) was a great scholar and poet who lived in Granada in Al-Andalus (Modern day Spain). It’s amazing that his poems are still widely read and memorised today by students and lovers of knowledge, even after more than 900 years. This really is a testament to the value and wisdom they contain.

The Premise

al-Ilbīrī’s poems are known for inspiring students to remain steadfast on the path of knowledge and not be distracted by the Dunya. He often strikes comparisons between the lofty status of knowledge and its fruits and the pleasures of the Dunya. We must also keep in mind that, Al-Andalus was the height of the Muslim civilisation in terms of worldly grandeur and wealth. The muslims were distracted by luxury.

This particular poem was a reply to a man he refers to as ‘Abu Bakr’. We know that this man criticised al-Ilbīrī. He says so in the poem. But instead of returning the attack, he says, what you have mentioned is the least of my faults. And then he chooses to return the criticism by advising this man, and calling him towards what benefits him.

The Poem

These are a few selected lines from the poem:

تَفُتُّ فُؤادَكَ الأَيّامُ فَتّا***وَتَنحِتُ جِسمَكَ الساعاتُ نَحتا

وَتَدعوكَ المَنونُ دُعاءَ صِدقٍ***أَلا يا صاحِ أَنتَ أُريدُ أَنتا


The days take their toll on your heart***And the hours carve away at your body

And death calls you with a true calling***O you my friend, yes you I mean!


Your stay here is not forever. Time is taking its toll on your body. And every day you are losing a bit of it. And death is waiting for you. صاحِ here is short for صاحب.أَبا

أَبا بَكرٍ دَعَوتُكَ لَو أَجَبتا***إِلى ما فيهِ حَظُّكَ إِن عَقَلتا

إِلى عِلمٍ تَكونُ بِهِ إِماماً***مُطاعاً إِن نَهَيتَ وَإِن أَمَرتا


O Abu Bakr! I call you if you would answer!***To that which is beneficial for you, if you discerned

To knowledge, with which you will be a leader***Obeyed, when you prohibit and when you command


هُوَ العَضبُ المُهَنَّدُ لَيسَ يَنبو***تُصيبُ بِهِ مَقاتِلَ ضَرَبتا

وَكَنزاً لا تَخافُ عَلَيهِ لِصّاً***خَفيفَ الحَملِ يوجَدُ حَيثُ كُنتا

يَزيدُ بِكَثرَةِ الإِنفاقِ مِنهُ***وَينقُصُ أَن بِهِ كَفّاً شَدَدتا


It is (like) the Indian Sword that never misses***Hitting the dangerous targets when you strike

And a treasure you don’t have to fear the thieves over***Light to carry, present (with you) wherever you are

(It) increases the more you spend it***And decreases if you restrain you hands (from spending it)

جَعَلتَ المالَ فَوقَ العِلمِ جَهلاً***لَعَمرُكَ في القَضيَّةِ ماعَدَلتا

وَبَينَهُما بِنَصِّ الوَحيِ بَونٌ***سَتَعلَمُهُ إِذا طَهَ قَرَأتا

لَئِن رَفَعَ الغَنيُّ لِواءَ مالٍ***لَأَنتَ لِواءَ عِلمِكَ قَد رَفَعتا


You have placed wealth over knowledge out of ignorance***I swear you not done justice in the matter

And between the two is by the text of the Revelation a clear separation***You will know it if you read ‘Ta-Ha’

If the rich man raises the banner of wealth***You have raised the banner of knowledge


In Surah Ta-Ha Allah commands the Prophet ﷺ :

وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا

‘..And say: O my Lord, Increase me in Knowledge’ [Ta-Ha: 144]

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