* Saying, “I don’t know” *
One of the heaviest matters on the hearts of many people – particularly in an era which provides an unrestricted platform for everyone to voice their opinions – is the statement, “I don’t know”, “I don’t have an answer”, “I will look into it and get back to you”
Ibn Sarh said, وقد صار لا أدري عند أهل زماننا هذا عيبًا!
“The statement of ‘I don’t know’ in our times is now deemed embarrassing!”
Allahu akbar! This is what Ibn Sarh says about his community, bearing in mind that he passed away in 250AH, around 1200 years ago.
As for the Prophet (Peaceand blessings of Allaah be upon him), he was not afraid in the least in saying, “I do not know”. He once said,
مَا أَدْرِي تُبَّعٌ أَلَعِينًا كَانَ أَمْ لَا؟ وَمَا أَدْرِي ذُو الْقَرْنَيْنِ أَنَبِيًّا كَانَ أَمْ لَا؟ وَمَا أَدْرِي الْحُدُودَ كَفَّارَاتٌ لِأَهْلِهَا أَمْ لَا
“I do not know if Tubba’ was cursed or not. I do not know if Dhul Qarnayn was a prophet or not. I do not know if capital punishments cleanse a person from sins or not.”
(Narrated by Al-Bayhaqi)
This Prophetic mannerism and tremendous caution of our Prophet (PBUH) rubbed off immensely on his companions and those who came after them. Reflect on the following passages.
The companion Abu Bakr said,
أَيُّ سَمَاءٍ تُظِلُّنِي، وَأَيُّ أَرْضٍ تُقِلُّنِي؟ إِذَا أَنَا قُلْتُ فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ مَا لَا أَعْلَمُ
“Which sky will roof me and which earth will carry me if I was to speak with regards to the Qur’an without knowledge?!”
The companion Ibnu Mas’ood said, من أفتى الناس في كل ما يستفتونه فهو مجنون
“Whoever provides an answer to every question that’s posed to him is insane.”
In fact, ‘AbdurRahman Ibn Abi Layla said,
أدركتُ عشرين ومائة من الأنصار من أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، يُسأل أحدهم المسألة فيردها إلى هذا، وهذا إلى هذا، حتى ترجع إلى الأول منهم، ما منهم من أحد إلا ود أن أخاه كفاه الفتيا
“I met 120 companions from the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). One of them would be asked a question and so he would refer him to someone else and that someone would refer him to someone else till the question would return back to the first person! Each and every single one of them wished that his brother would spare him the burden of answering!”
When Imam Malik answered a questioner with, “I don’t know”, the questioner urged him to answer, saying: “It’s only a light matter”. This infuriated Malik. He said,
ليس في العلم شيء خفيف، ألم تسمع قوله جل ثناؤه: “إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلا ثَقِيلا”
“No aspect of knowledge is light!! Have you not read the verse where Allah said, ‘We shall send down to you a *heavy* word!’ (Surat Al-Muzammil)
Allahu Akbar ..
They were not afraid of exercising the Islamic practice of “I don’t know”, for they’d recognised that any answer is in fact a signature on behalf of Allah and His messenger. Thus, realise that every opinion of yours, lecture, post, comment that wasn’t the product of astute understanding and grounded knowledge on the matter is a forged signature.
Whether the matter pertains to segregation, niqaab, men’s/women’s role in society, the interpretation of Islamic texts or their likes, almost everyone seems to have an opinion to share. Just as Hisn Al-Asdi once said,
إن أحدكم ليفتي في المسألة، لو وردت على عمر بن الخطاب لجمع لها أهل بدر
“One of you issues verdicts on matters which, had they been presented to ‘Umar, he would have gathered the people of Badr for consultation!”
It is not necessary for you to have an opinion in every matter out there.
But even if you do have an opinion, it is not always necessary that you convey it.
But even if you do need to convey it, it is not always necessary that you do so to everyone.
But even if you do, it is not necessary for you to feel offended should you be corrected.
Beginning with the next impulse to comment without *absolute* surety, exercise the practice of “I don’t know.”