Prophetic Teacher Training: the Believer and the Palm Tree
ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) reported that Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“‘There is a tree amongst trees, the leaves of which do not wither and that is like a Muslim; tell me which that [tree] can be?’ The people began to think of the trees of the forest.” ʿAbdullāh (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said: “I thought that it could be the date-palm tree, but I felt hesitant [to say that]. They [the Companions] then said: ‘Allāh’s Messenger, [kindly] tell us which that can be?’ Thereupon he said: ‘It is the date-palm tree.’ I made a mention of that to ʿUmar, whereupon he said: ‘Had you said that it meant the date-palm tree, this statement of yours [would have been dearer to me] than such and such things.’”
The above narration is of immense benefit to us Muslims today. It offers a wealth of knowledge and sheds light on how to be a teacher, a student, a parent, a child, and even a believer.
In this narration it is evident that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would employ interactive means when teaching his companions; he did not restrict methods of teaching to sermons alone. It is also important that the teacher, or murabbī, strives to ensure the listener engages in the learning process to the best of one’s ability. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) asked questions, stimulating the companions’ intellect, and allowed them the opportunity to exercise their knowledge. As for the students, this narration highlights how they should not view their attendance to be a ritual act of worship alone, but rather, they should be mentally present, engaged and prepared to contribute.
Old age is not a prerequisite for knowledge. In this narration, we see that Ibn ʿUmar was aware of the answer despite the fact that there were older companions amongst him. It is undeniable, though, that the older one becomes, the more knowledge and wisdom a person will gain. However, knowledge is primarily gained by the grace of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) regardless of age or even intellectual ability. Imām al Subki (raḥimahu Allāhu) said,
“Knowledge is difficult to attain and cannot be attained through comfort. However, not everyone’s disposition readily accepts it. In fact, there are some people who spend their entire lives [seeking it], yet do not attain anything of knowledge. Whereas there are others who have been granted it within a short space of time, and that is from the grace of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) that He gives to whomsoever He wishes.”
This does not mean that our efforts to attain knowledge will go in vain; rather, it means that we should depend on Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) to grant us knowledge more than we depend on our own efforts. In an era where we lack this type of awareness, and in a time where people fail to acknowledge the true source of all goodness, it is vital we all remember this point.
With this in mind, though we may have attained knowledge, our comportment amongst our group is equally as important. Ibn ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) displayed a great deal of respect in front the older companions. He felt awkward to speak in the presence of those who generally had more knowledge and wisdom. In one version of this narration, Ibn ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) mentioned that he was only 10 years old when he was present in the gathering. Easy access to technology in this era means that it is very easy for us to voice our opinions on matters to large audiences no matter how flawed or shabby our points may be. In the past though, it was generally the learned that would publically espouse views regarding the religion. It would do well for the youth in our day and age to observe more restraint when speaking about complex matters pertaining to the religion. They are often comprehensive, and require scholarly insight. As such, it is advisable to leave those matters to the people of knowledge and experience.
We also learn an interesting aspect about the relationship Ibn ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) had with his father ʿUmar b. al Khaṭṭāb (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu). We can see that Ibn ʿUmar was comfortable to discuss matters of the religion with his father. This teaches us, as parents, to make sure that our children also feel comfortable to discuss religious matters with us without feeling that they are being preached to. Through this, inshāAllāh, a love, and a healthy curiosity of the religion will be nurtured, as opposed to a frustration with the rigidity of constant lecturing.
ʿUmar b. al Khaṭṭāb (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) expressed his desire for his son to have spoken his mind at that moment. A parent should wish well for their children in religious matters before they wish well for them in worldly matters. Sadly, for many, worldly concerns for our children, that is, with regards to wealth and status, take precedence over religious affairs. The dunyā’ was evidently insignificant in the eyes of ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) as for his son to express a matter of knowledge was more beloved to him than to possess red camels (according to one narration), which was considered to be from the most valuable forms of wealth to the Arabs at that time.
ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) encouraged his son to have voiced his opinion. Having a sense of shame or shyness is a positive quality to have, generally speaking. However, in the field of learning a person should not be so shy to the extent that they do not ask questions or attend gatherings of knowledge. On a similar note, pride is also an obstacle to learning. Mujāhid (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said,
“A shy and arrogant person cannot attain knowledge.”
Likewise, ʿĀ’ishah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) said,
“How good were the women of the Anṣār! For they did not let shyness keep them from understanding their religion properly.”
How the date-palm tree resembles the believer
The date-palm tree is extremely strong and steadfast in the face of strong winds and hurricanes. Likewise, the believer is also steadfast during trials and tribulations. Without doubt, life will be full of trials for the righteous and this is the decree of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā).
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.”
Therefore, the troubling times ahead for the Muslims should not scare or weaken us, as it is a golden opportunity to unite together to prove our faith to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Musʿab b. Saʿd narrated from his father that a man said,
“O Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)! Which of the people is tried most severely?” He said: “The Prophets, then those nearest to them, then those nearest to them. A man is tried according to his religion; if he is firm in his religion, then his trials are more severe, and if he is frail in his religion, then he is tried according to the strength of his religion. The servant shall continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sins.”
The date-palm tree is beneficial to all whether the tree is alive or dead. When it is alive it provides fruit and sustenance to the people, and when it no longer bears any fruit, its wood, leaves and branches are used for a variety of purposes. The believer likewise is beneficial to others. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“The most beloved people to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) are those who are most beneficial to people and the most beloved deed to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is to make another believer happy or to relieve him from distress or to pay back a loan on his behalf or to remove his hunger. Indeed, for me to walk with a brother and see to his needs is more beloved to me than to perform the spiritual seclusion in this mosque (i.e. the Prophet’s (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) mosque) for an entire month…”
The believer is also beneficial to others after his death. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
“When a man dies all his good deeds come to an end except three: On-going charity (Ṣadaqah Jāriyah), beneficial knowledge and a righteous son who prays for him.”
Finally, the believer and the date palm share similarities in their nature and outward appearance. The date-palm tree is pleasing to look at and produces succulent dates. The believer should also exhibit a charming appearance both physically and through his conduct and speech. When stones are thrown at the date-palm tree, it sends down its finest part: its fruit. Likewise, when abuse is hurled against a believer, he responds in the best of ways.
May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) grant us all the ability to emulate the honourable companions and grant us the positive qualities mentioned throughout this article.
And Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) knows best.
Notes: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 2811  Fatāwā Ibn al Subki, 1/449  Al Bukhārī.  Al-Qur’ān, 29:2-3  Al Tirmidhi  Al Muʿjam al Kabīr – al Ṭabarāni.  Muslim