“All set for the lecture tomorrow?” I casually asked a friend over a WhatsApp chat.

“Should I be going?” she inquired in return.

Consequently, I reasoned: “Well, half of the city seems to be overwhelmed with the idea of attending the lecture tomorrow. I assumed you would be going, too.”

“I respect the speaker enough to not treat him as a celebrity.”

It took me some time to figure out what she meant by this statement. I had never imagined this could be a reason for not being a part of an event. It was not just any event. It was a mega event. Everyone in the city, some even from the neighbouring cities, had been waiting for months for the scholar’s visit. People had been cautious about acquiring their tickets well on time, so that they did not miss out on this great opportunity to see the scholar ‘live’, right before their eyes. His popularity had grown tremendously over the past few years. YouTube videos of the scholar’s lectures were shared over the internet numerous times by avid viewers. He had followers in hundreds of thousands on Facebook and Twitter. Why would someone deny oneself the opportunity of a lifetime, so to say? Moreover, in Islam, we are taught to put in our best of efforts to acquire knowledge. Isn’t this contrary to the teaching of Islam, if we miss out on the chance to be in the company of the learned?

Only a day had passed by after the event, and I had my answers. This was when comments from all directions started pouring in: “Wow! Did you look at him? He looks so much younger and more handsome than what we see in his videos!” “I can’t believe this; he has a green tinge to his eyes… never noticed that before.” “His wife is so lucky to have a husband like him.” “I wish I could take a selfie with him and share it on social media.” And on and on and on… It was crystal clear that the discussion on the speaker himself out-weighted the discussion related to the content of his speech. Unfortunately, it seemed that his words fell on deaf ears, as the attendees could recall more of what they saw than what they heard. The focus was the speaker and not the speech.

This incident helped me contemplate on an important issue that is generally overlooked in all the mayhem – the importance of intention behind any act that we perform. The prime motivation in performing any deed should be the attainment of the pleasure of Allah (swt). Somehow, the reactions reflected otherwise.

Why do we attend public lectures?

Unfortunately, today, we have lost the balance in our lives. There is an ocean of knowledge all around us, waves upon waves to smoothly navigate our boat to the final destination. Still, our boat seems to be wobbling, almost sinking. Why? Because our deeds are contrary to the knowledge we have acquired. Attending gatherings of knowledge and jumping from one lecture to another has become more of a fashion we keep up with in our worldly trends and a way to declare self-righteousness rather than a means to attain salvation in the hereafter.

There happened to be an Imam who would deliver a Khutbah every Friday at a local Masjid. Once, the attendees at the Masjid realized that the Imam had delivered the same Khutbah as that of last Friday – exactly the same topic word by word. Though disappointed, they kept quiet. The following week, he repeated it again. This time, some of the men got together and decided to speak to the Imam and express their disappointment at having to hear the same Khutbah over and over. Upon patiently hearing the attendee’s plea, the Imam said: “I am aware that it has been three weeks that I have continuously delivered the same message to you all. But I would like to know: have you implemented all that I have taught you?” The men looked at each other and sheepishly replied in the negative. The Imam looked at them intently and asked: “Why should I teach you something new when you have not implemented that which you have knowledge of?”

It is well-known from the example of the Sahabahs that they would learn ten Ayaat from the Quran, memorize them, and would not move ahead until they applied what they had learnt. Abdullah Ibn Umar (rtam) took fourteen years just to complete Surah Al-Baqarah. The Sahabahs learnt with the intention to please Allah (swt) and to follow the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (sa). It was this purity of intention that led them to perform deeds that were most beloved to Allah (swt) and His Messenger (sa).

The focus, when attending a particular lecture, should not be on the speaker but rather on the content of the speech. Our presence at a lecture should not be as a fan of the scholar; rather, it should be as a seeker of knowledge. The quest for knowledge should not be for the sake of entertainment; it should be for enlightenment. The truth is that we are being unfair to ourselves when we restrict our pathways of knowledge to just a couple of well-known speakers. It must be understood that there are many who have more knowledge and wisdom than the most popular ones. To truly grab the essence of ‘the message’, one needs to search deep into the depths of the oceans. An academic and a writer Tariq Ramadan said: “You don’t have to like a speaker or scholar to learn from them. Humble yourself and really listen.”

It is a slippery slope to idolize personalities. Our attraction towards one particular scholar can lead us to blindly follow whatever he preaches. This can be detrimental to our beliefs. Taking down notes and later doing some research on one’s own can help focus on the content and gain a better understanding of the subject at hand, respectively. Just because a speaker is eloquent does not mean he is flawless. We are all humans, and we all tend to make mistakes. It is our responsibility as students of knowledge to be careful about whom we are acquiring our Deen from.

The bottom-line is that Islam is a Deen of balance. The people of knowledge are to be respected for their acquisition of knowledge and for conveying it to the masses. Having said that, the focus of our admiration should be the knowledge they impart and their efforts in this path rather than their outward appearance.