Friday, January 16, 2009

The Smell and Taste of Knowledge

Have you ever caught a whiff of something that smelled really tasty? Maybe walking down the mall past a Cinnabon store, or early in the morning while your mom cooks breakfast? Maybe a coworker's lunch while you're fasting? It can be frustrating at times, to be able to smell something you know you can't taste, especially when it smells so delicious that it makes your mouth start to water.

A few weeks ago I asked a person of some knowledge a question about Arabic grammar--and to be quite honest, I didn't understand his answer. I felt like I could smell it but not taste it. I kind of knew what it would take to try to understand it--I vaguely remembered hearing the terms before, although I couldn't quit reconstruct their meanings in order, in step with his explanation. But I did really want to understand. I felt like it was right there in front of me and I just couldn't grasp it. Like some sweet-smelling food that I just couldn't taste.

I think many Muslims are this way--that their experience with knowledge is only at that level where they are exposed to it. They can smell it, for instance, and get the gist of what it's about, but they don't really comprehend it. They can't taste it, chew it, and digest it--so they aren't able to really benefit from it.

But the more knowledge a person acquires, the more he is able to grasp. I've heard an example, about a book describing chess strategies were given to two groups of people, one being expert chess players, the others not knowing anything about chess. Now you might think that the second group, which has the most to learn regarding chess, would benefit the most. But really, it's the expert chess players who benefit most because they are able to understand what the book is talking about and apply the strategies described therein. Whereas the novices had no background to help them understand the material in the first place.

So when people take the path to acquire knowledge (and here I mean specifically knowledge about Islam), they start filling in the gaps little by little, and when they are presented with something new they can do more than just smell it. They can taste it. And they can chew it--by chew it, I mean they can think it over, ponder and reflect on what they have just been exposed to. And then they can digest it--and by digest it, I mean that they can take that knowledge and benefit from it, the same way that food nourishes the body. So they aren't just smelling it, they are actually able to benefit from it.

On the other hand, I think the average Muslim who goes to Jumu'ah khutbahs, and goes to conferences and seminars, really only gets to smell the knowledge. He can tell it's there, and he can appreciate it at a somewhat superficial level--and it can either attract him or repel him.

And then there are some people who have a little more knowledge who are able to taste it--and sometimes, you know what? I think they spit it out, and decide they don't want to benefit from it. And sometimes they will take it and reflect on it. They will consider it from all possible angles and perspectives, and try to grasp the fullest possible meaning of it. And then it can nourish them, spiritually, as they are able to completely digest and benefit from it.

So I could smell that knowledge, the answer to that Arabic grammar question. And I really want to taste it, instead! I want to reflect on it, and I want to benefit from it.

Oh my Lord, increase me in knowledge! And oh my Lord, let it benefit me.


Anonymous said...

Masha'Allah very insightful and appealing post. And ameeeen to all ur prayers :-)


Why is it that I m the first one to comment on ur posts? Just wondering .... :D

Amoola said...

Ameen :)