Is the hadith: “The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets” authentic? If so, what does it mean?
by Faraz Rabbani
Abu al-Darda’ (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Related byTirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others] Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Zayla`i, Ibn Hajar, and others seemed it sound (hasan) or rigorously authentic (sahih)]
When Fudayl ibn Iyad (Allah be pleased with him) heard this hadith, he commented, “The people of spiritual wisdom (hukama’) are the inheritors of the prophets,” [Ibn Nu`aym, Hilyat al-Awliya, 8.92] explaining the nature of knowledge that is ultimately sought.
Imam al-Ayni (Allah have mercy on him) explained in his commentary on Sahih al-Bakhari, Umdat al-Qari (2.39) that this hadith is inspired from the words of Allah Most High, “Then We gave the Scripture as inheritance unto those whom We elected of Our servants.” [Qur’an, 35.32]
The knowledge possessed by these scholars is the knowledge deemed beneficial (al-`ilm al-nafi`) by Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). This knowledge was defined by Imam Ghazali as being, “Knowledge of the way to Allah Most High and the next life.”
It is not just information: rather, it is the way of transforming oneself outwardly and inwardly, in order to become true slaves of Allah, on the path of His Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him).
This is the “deep understanding in religion” that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) praised when he said, “Whomever Allah wishes well for He gives deep understanding (fiqh) in religion.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
This deep understanding (fiqh) was defined by Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) when he said, “Fiqh is to know one’s self: what is for it and against it.” Deep understanding of religion encompasses all three dimensions of the religion: beliefs (iman), outword actions (islam), and, most importantly, spiritual excellence (ihsan).
The person who possesses this knowledge is one deserving of being called a true scholar (faqih). A true scholar is defined as being, “A person of knowledge (`ilm) who acted (`amal) on their knowledge, so Allah bequeathed them knowledge of what they didn’t know.”
Everyone who acts on their knowledge has a share of this understanding (fiqh), and of Prophetic inheritance. The one realized in this knowledge is a true inheritor (warith) of the Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk).
A sure sign of having this knowledge & inheritance is that one upholds excellence of character, as the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The weightiest thing on the Scales on the Day of Judgment is good character.” [Abu Dawud] And he said, “The believers most perfect in faith are those best in character, and the best of you are those best to their spouses.” [Tirmidhi]
The best of good character is restraint and forbearance (hilm), for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Forbearance (hilm) is the best of character.” The most beautiful of character and conduct was the character and conduct of the Beloved Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him & his folk).
True inheritors of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reflect some of this excellence and beauty in their character and conduct. This character emanates from making Allah one’s true concern; being conscious of Allah; and true love for Allah.
The Pinnacle of Beneficial Knowledge
The pinnacle of beneficial, consequential knowledge is experiential knowledge and love of Allah, for Allah Most High said, “And those who believe are overflowing in their love of Allah.” [Qur’an, 2.165].
As Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi explains in “The Centrality of Love in Islam” (Islamica Magazine, Fall 2003),
“Love is the central emotion in Islam. Without it there would be no motive to expend effort in worshipping God, acquiring knowledge, increasing in virtue, or benefiting others. Neither would there be any motive to strive for excellence in all these endeavours.
“Current Muslim failures are undoubtedly due to the majority having forgotten that the God they worship requests nothing less than excellence in everything they do. That the love of God be supreme in one’s heart is a prerequisite for sincere tawhid.”
Shaykh Zaid Shakir translated an excellent work by Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, The Heirs of the Prophets (Starlatch Press.
May Allah grant us beneficial knowledge, and the success to act upon it as He loves, so that we become of those who love Him and whom He loves.