Damaging Words: “I Don’t Know”

From Adam to Muhammad, upon both them be peace, and from Muhammad sallalahu alayhi wasalam to the end of times, there is one element that remains and will remain at the core of the message that they came with. What is it? Knowledge (‘ilm).

If we look through the rich history of ‘ilm that Islam brings to the table, we’re often left in awe at the complete magnificence of those and men and women who carried it. Subhanallah, they were true giants that shook the earth forever. They left an imprint upon the future generations until the Day of Judgement and we ask Allah to make their final abode the highest of Paradise.

However, as amazing as they were, as knowledgeable and intelligent as they were, they were also just as humble. They understood that ‘ilm was an ocean which could never be fully understood nor fully grasped. As knowledgeable as they may become, there would always remain areas which were left unexplored or areas that they were not equipped to swim into. They deeply understood the lesson Allah teaches in Surah Kahf through the story of Musa and Khidr and through the following verse:

قُل لَّوْ كَانَ الْبَحْرُ مِدَادًا لِّكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّي لَنَفِدَ الْبَحْرُ قَبْلَ أَن تَنفَدَ كَلِمَاتُ رَبِّي وَلَوْ جِئْنَا بِمِثْلِهِ مَدَدًا

Say, “If the sea were ink for [writing] the words of my Lord, the sea would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like of it as a supplement.”

Thus, they willingly would humble themselves to Allah knowing they were limited in comparison to the knowledge that was available; and thus they were a people who wouldn’t hesitate  saying those three, supposedly damaging words: “I Don’t Know”.

In today’s day and age, it almost feels as if saying, “I don’t know” brings about a blemish on ones credibility; as if  people expect you to know everything. This perception is flawed and corrupt from its core because now what ends up happening is to avoid looking supposedly unintelligent, we start making up answers to questions. What does this cause? A wide-spread confusion of what is truly right and wrong amongst an entire community. This is dangerous.

Allah tells us about the incident between Musa and Khidr (read here, v.60-82) and at the core of the story is the following lesson:

Allah endows knowledge to whoever He wills. You may have some knowledge, but there is definitely someone who has more knowledge than you, and above that person is another person who has more knowledge than him, and above all of them is Allah who is al-Aleem, the All-knowing, the owner and possessor of all knowledge.

I came across an article on this topic a while back and I wanted to share a quote that really stuck out to me:

Being stupid means avoiding thinking by jumping to conclusions. Jumping to a conclusion is like quitting a game: you lose by default. That’s why saying “I don’t know” is usually smart, because it’s refusing to jump to a conclusion

You may want to read that above quote again, I know I had to a few times to truly internalize it. Point being, the smart one amongst us is the one who has enough courage to say “I don’t know”. So next time you’re put in a situation to answer when you may not really know, just say “I don’t know” and take the opportunity to learn about it.

May Allah rectify our affairs and make me and you amongst the humble slaves. Ameen!

P.S. I’m working on a Khateeb Training workshop with Sh. Musleh Khan and other experienced trainers! If you’re a current or aspiring khateeb, check out the workshop details by visiting www.khateebtrainer.com

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