Not being afraid of saying “I don’t know”

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

This still resonates within me from the first time i heard it several years ago when i watched Steve jobs addressing the Standford university student graduation ceremony. i remember hearing this and tying it to the saying of the prophet (saw) where he said to the nearest meaning “you should speak to the level of the people when you are giving dawah and tableegh”. (paraphrased). This is why we find many of the hadiths in simple, clear and to-the-point address. Although the blessed prophet (saw) is the most knowledgeable in all fields, he (saw) nonetheless uses the language through which his audience, (mostly normal, unlettered people) can relate to. The prophet (saw) was an exception in many respects. Even his simple words and examples can be both understood by the learned in the society and the layman. However, since we have been instructed to use the language of the people we should be wise enough to avoid words which will not only confuse people but become a barrier for them to understand what you mean.
Unfortunately, many of ulema use such high scholarly jargon that only a few, if any understand. It defeats the objective of a persons address if the speech or the talk he gives, goes above the head of the people and they do not completely understand it at all! They fail to try to translate their knowledge into simple words which everyone can understand. Amongst the special abilities of the prophet (saw), this was one of the things, which when (saw) addressed the companions, was able to translate his oceans of knowledge and Marifah of Allah, into simple words so that every one can understand. Using examples were required to further illustrate his (saw) knowledge.
You may have wondered why this blog is simple, and basic in terms of the linguistic prose. In line with what i have mentioned above i am trying to bring this into reality. Using the language of the people, in ways and means which can be understood. I am trying to avoid using where possible, fancy words and difficult linguistic jargon to explain a matter where a simple word will be suffice to do the same. Many times people try to show off, when they either give a speech, write, or speak. Showing the people of how much knowledge they have. It is unfortunate that our learned people especially the ulema use such high level words and speak above the intellectual capabilities of the general public when most of the people do not understand, nor have the deep knowledge they have. The knowledgeable people of the world i.e the doctors, the scientist, the experts, where possible use simple words and examples when and where possible. Secondly, they are not shy to say “i don’t know” on a matter, a filed of knowledge, they have no knowledge of. It is a sign of a person’s knowledge, being able to translate ones knowledge in a given field and bring it down or up according to the level of your audience. Whilst being able to admit, to the fact of not knowing something when you have no knowledge of it. Socrates, the father of western thought and philosophy would often say “all i know is that i know nothing”. Yet, he is credited with having found the idea of democracy and freedom of rights.


We find people in the Indian sub – continent very shy of this, especially our ulema. It seems as though they fear that their status quo will be damaged if they were to admit or own up to something they don’t know of. As my shaykh often says, it seems everyone in the Indian sub continent is either an alim (scholar) or a doctor. Any problem you have whether religious or worldly, they are willing to give you fatwas and solutions for your remedies. Half of Knowledge is admitting you don’t know, when and if you don’t know something. Do not try to make up answers or trying to please people on your false accounts. remember, status and honour does not come from people but from Allah. So don’t be afraid of saying i don’t know to a thing which you don’t. The famous story of imam shafi is a great lesson for us, in which a man came to him with 40 questions out of which he only answered 4 or 5. The man was dumbfounded when imam shafi said i dont know to the rest of 35 questions which he wanted answered. He said “o imam, what will people say when they hear that the imam of the time said i dont know to 35 questions related to Islāmic rulings. How can i respond to them”. He replied, “tell them that imam shafi said i dont know”. The moral of the story for us is, although he was the most knowledgeable of his time, he was not afraid to admit to something he had no knowledge of. Status, honour, dignity etc, are the assets of Allah, he grants it to those he wishes. No human can grant these. How can a dead thing give you anything? similarly the creation is dead, only surviving because of Allah. So look for the living being and not the dead. The only living being is Allah.

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2 comments

  1. Salaam aleykum

    Great post! It’s important to know our own limits and to not be ashamed of admitting it. We should care more about the truth than what people will think if we say “I don’t know”… very good reminder.

    By the way, what does “tableegh” mean?

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