Lessons from the Isra wa ‘l-Mi’raj: Experience vs. Expertise / Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Some points of benefit from the Isra story as narrated by al-Bukhari:

عن أنس بن مالك عن مالك بن صعصعة – رضى الله عنهما – أن نبى الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – حدثهم عن ليلة أسرى به… ثُمَّ فُرِضَتْ عَلَىَّ الصَّلَوَاتُ خَمْسِينَ صَلاَةً كُلَّ يَوْمٍ . فَرَجَعْتُ فَمَرَرْتُ عَلَى مُوسَى ، فَقَالَ بِمَا أُمِرْتَ قَالَ أُمِرْتُ بِخَمْسِينَ صَلاَةً كُلَّ يَوْمٍ . قَالَ إِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ لاَ تَسْتَطِيعُ خَمْسِينَ صَلاَةً كُلَّ يَوْمٍ ، وَإِنِّى وَاللَّهِ قَدْ جَرَّبْتُ النَّاسَ قَبْلَكَ ، وَعَالَجْتُ بَنِى إِسْرَائِيلَ أَشَدَّ الْمُعَالَجَةِ ، فَارْجِعْ إِلَى رَبِّكَ فَاسْأَلْهُ التَّخْفِيفَ لأُمَّتِكَ . فَرَجَعْتُ ، فَوَضَعَ عَنِّى عَشْرًا ، فَرَجَعْتُ إِلَى مُوسَى فَقَالَ مِثْلَهُ ، فَرَجَعْتُ فَوَضَعَ عَنِّى عَشْرًا ، فَرَجَعْتُ إِلَى مُوسَى فَقَالَ مِثْلَهُ ، فَرَجَعْتُ فَوَضَعَ عَنِّى عَشْرًا ، فَرَجَعْتُ إِلَى مُوسَى فَقَالَ مِثْلَهُ ، فَرَجَعْتُ فَأُمِرْتُ بِعَشْرِ صَلَوَاتٍ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ ، فَرَجَعْتُ فَقَالَ مِثْلَهُ ، فَرَجَعْتُ فَأُمِرْتُ بِخَمْسِ صَلَوَاتٍ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ ، فَرَجَعْتُ إِلَى مُوسَى ، فَقَالَ بِمَا أُمِرْتَ قُلْتُ أُمِرْتُ بِخَمْسِ صَلَوَاتٍ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ . قَالَ إِنَّ أُمَّتَكَ لاَ تَسْتَطِيعُ خَمْسَ صَلَوَاتٍ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ ، وَإِنِّى قَدْ جَرَّبْتُ النَّاسَ قَبْلَكَ ، وَعَالَجْتُ بَنِى إِسْرَائِيلَ أَشَدَّ الْمُعَالَجَةِ ، فَارْجِعْ إِلَى رَبِّكَ فَاسْأَلْهُ التَّخْفِيفَ لأُمَّتِكَ . قَالَ سَأَلْتُ رَبِّى حَتَّى اسْتَحْيَيْتُ

Bukhari (3887) narrates from Anas ibn Malik from Malik ibn Sa’sa’ah that the Prophet of Allah informed them of the night he was taken to the heavens…

“…then prayer was ordained on me; fifty prayers in one day. I then left and passed by Moses, who said to me: ‘What were you ordered?’

I said ‘fifty prayers a day’.

He said ‘Your nation will not be able to do fifty prayers in one day, and I swear by God that I have tested the people before you and dealt with the Children of Israel in the most difficult of situations; go back to your Lord and ask him to lighten your nation’s load.’ …

I then went back and was ordered to perform five prayers every day. I went back to Moses who said ‘What were you commanded?’

I said ‘Five prayers every day’

He said ‘Your nation will not be able to do five prayers a day; I have tested the people before you and dealt with the Children of Israel in the most difficult of situations; go back to your Lord and ask him to lighten your nation’s load.’

He (i.e. the Prophet Muhammad) said ‘I have asked my Lord and now feel shy to do so anymore’…

Several points can be taken from the above quote, such as the following:

  • A difference must be made between knowledge and wisdom, experience and expertise. Just as we know that the Prophet Muhammad was the most knowledgeable of God’s creation, his knowledge and status did not compare to Moses’ wisdom and expertise in dealing with people.
    Therefore at times even though a person may have knowledge of a certain field, subject, or area, this theoretical knowledge does not necessarily grant him wisdom in the same.
  • Anyone blessed with gaining knowledge, and specifically being awarded the opportunity to study and learn that which his predecessors were not able to, has an example here in the humility of the Prophet in dealing with Moses. The Prophet, being the same man who said “…I am the Leader of Mankind, I do not say this out of pride…” still recognized the value of the expertise and wisdom of Moses in dealing with people.
    So can not allow knowledge to become a source of pride, and recognized that even those that do not have his level of ‘knowledge’ still can contribute with their wisdom. This is an important lesson for those new to community work and activism.
  • In Moses’ statements we have a good example for those with wisdom and expertise; even though he possessed both of these, he made God’s rule the absolute criterion for the applicability of that expertise and wisdom.

To sum up:

  • Knowledge cannot be misconstrued for wisdom, nor can experience for expertise
  • Wisdom and expertise have value, but ultimately are regulated by higher principled authority
  • A balance must be struck between the two for correct and viable actions to be acted on a larger scale.

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