- 1. Sincerity
- 2. Acting on what they know
- 3. Ritual purity & good appearance
- 4. Having a pleasant demeanour
- 5. Inquiring about, and concern for absent students
- 6. Confession to not knowing
- 7. True knowledge bears humility
- 8. Treating all students fairly
- 9. Utmost care in how the lessons are taught
- 10. Swift correction of mistakes
Teaching is a noble profession, however to be an effective teacher requires diligence, professionalism and patience. Regarding the etiquette of the teacher, Shaheed Al Thaani presents key guidelines to make their teaching most effective. What follows is some excerpts from his master-piece “Desire of the Aspirant” (Muniatil Mureed). It is suggested that any person in the position of imparting knowledge, religious or otherwise, endeavour to follow these guidelines and then observe how easily their efforts come to fruition.
Before any initiative, a person must first carefully look inside himself to ensure that all efforts in teaching and learning are solely for the sake of God and not for any worldly reason.
Shaheed Al Thaani says: For verily the most common motivation for men, especially when beginning to search for knowledge, is desire for rank, wealth, pleasure, renown, the taste of authority, the joy of leading others, and the kindling of praise and acclaim. Perhaps Satan will dress them with that and say to them:
“Your purpose is to spread God’s religion and to defend His shariah that His messenger (s) has laid down”
‘ … so, let the servant be harsh in his investigation and observation of himself for these subtle indications, for if he is not then he will unwittingly become a follower of Satan’
2. Acting on what they know
It is abhorred by God that a person preaches that which he himself does not put into practice. The main reason why Prophets (s) were so effective in their preaching is because their actions were in full synchrony with their words. Shaheed says:
As for the teachers, their admonitions will have no effect on the hearts of their students if they don’t practice what they preach. While the goal for the one who is wise is action, that of one who is ignorant is narration.
Imam Sadiq (as):
“Verily the admonition of a scholar who does not act upon his knowledge runs off people’s hearts as rain runs off rocks”
‘Perhaps it is for this reason that Allah (SWT) says: “Successful is he who purifies it (nafs)”, rather than: “Successful is he who learns how to purify it, writes it down and teaches it to people ” …….’
At this point we remember a story where the Holy Prophet (saw) advised a young boy against eating many dates only after he himself (saw) had stopped eating them.
3. Ritual purity & good appearance
They (teachers) do not attend class except that they are pure (muttahir) from ritual impurities, clean and perfumed in body and garments, wearing their smartest clothes. They intend by that to exalt knowledge and to please their colleagues and angels attending the class, especially if the class is in a Masjid. This has been encouraged for everyone, therefore, it is even more important for the teacher and the student.
4. Having a pleasant demeanour
‘The teacher must not act haughtily with the students, rather he should be flexible and humble with them. God says in the Holy Qur’an:
…and lower your wing to the faithful who follow you (26:215)
Thus, the teacher must perfect his manners with his students even more than he does with other people. This means displaying kindness to them when they meet; friendliness and cheerful; displaying his happiness and affection toward them; making known his warmth and camaraderie; and sincerity in his knowledge and rank to the extent that he is able.
The teacher should be to the student like a doctor to a patient. As much as the former desires the latter’s health, then let him act accordingly. For verily remedying a spiritual sickness is even more powerful than remedying a physical one.
5. Inquiring about, and concern for absent students
If a student or attendee of the study group is absent more than usual, the teacher should enquire about his circumstances and the reason for his absence. If there is no news regarding him then he should send someone to ask after him or visit his home himself, the latter being preferable as it was the practice of the Messenger of God (S) with his companions.
It was the holy Prophets’ (s) etiquette that if one of them was ill, he (S) would go to see him; if one was grief-stricken, he would console him; if one was travelling without his family and dependents, he would ask about them and see to their needs as much as possible.
6. Confession to not knowing
And this is one of the most important manners for the teacher – if he is asked about something he does not know, or during the lesson something comes up that is he not familiar with, then he should say, ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I haven’t researched that’, or ‘I do not understand this’ or ‘ I will go and revise about this’.
He should not detest this as it is a sign of a scholar’s learning that he says about what he doesn’t know, ‘I don’t know, and God knows best’
And from Imam Baqir (as):
‘Say whatever you know. Whatever you do not know (then) say: ‘God knows best’. Verily a man who rushes to produce a verse of the Quran will fall further than the distance between the heavens and the earth’
7. True knowledge bears humility
Shaheed mentions the following story about a very eminent and respected scholar and mystic, Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli.
“One day we performed Dhuhr and ‘Asr public prayers led by Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli in Sa’adat Seminary. After Dhuhr prayer, I asked him if my family and I could consult with him, and he unhesitatingly set a time and respectfully told us to meet him the next morning at ten o’clock.
The next morning, we went to him at the set time. He opened the door himself and led us to the living room. It was a simple and small, but a quiet and peaceful house which was a sign of his internal purity.
Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli sat at the door. Having gained his permission, I started speaking; after thanking him, I asked him,
‘What is the secret of your success?’
Having bent his head silently for some time, he answered,
‘I have not succeeded; however, the secret of others’ success was their love for God and His friends.’
He also added, ‘The more knowledgeable we are, the more grateful we should be. If we consider ourselves superior to others, we in fact amass ignorance. When our humility increases proportional to our increased knowledge, the very knowledge has manifested’
8. Treating all students fairly
The teacher should not display preference amongst students when they are equal in age, merit or religiosity, for if he does so this may lead to resentment and disaffection’
On the other hand, if some students are more accomplished than others, then he may display his respect and preference to them while making clear the reasons for this extra respect, for this will encourage others to seek those admirable qualities for themselves.
9. Utmost care in how the lessons are taught
The teacher should strive to make the lesson understandable in the easiest way possible, using the clearest terms possible, at a leisurely pace, clarifying, explaining and prioritising what must be presented first, delaying what should be presented later; imparting the fundamental principles upon which the lesson is based.
He should not mention doubts about the religion in his class and then delay the answer to them until a later lesson. Rather, they should both (doubts and answers) be mentioned together or withheld together, especially in a public place, in which case the doubt would remain in their minds unanswered, making it a cause for discord’
‘The teacher should conclude the lesson by mentioning some subtleties, wisdoms, admonitions and words to purify the hearts of the students, so that they leave the class in a state of God-fearing, humility and sincerity. This is because a purely academic lesson encourages a feeling of power in the heart, which may lead to its hardening, so let the teacher in every moment impel the student toward his own welfare, and pay attention to his moral perfection, as there is nothing more virtuous than this situation
10. Swift correction of mistakes
If while teaching he says something or, in response to a question, gives an answer that he thought to be correct and becomes aware that it is not, then he should make known his error before those attending his class have dispersed. Neither embarrassment nor any other feeling should prevent him from this, as the lower self (al-nafs al-ammarah bil-su’) will encourage him to delay this until a later time; this is self-deception and Satan’s attempt to misguide him
We pray to Allah (SWT) to inspire us to become dedicated teachers and to empower us with the necessary tools to positively influence our students in His way.
Dr. Sheikh Mohamedali Shomali has elaborated upon this book in over 30 series of lectures that are available on Youtube.
This book can also be purchased in Australia from Shiabooks Australia