The Difference between the Elders and the Youth in Knowledge

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Allah said:

يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ

Allah raises those among you who believe and have attained knowledge.[Al-Mujadalah:11]

Allah said:

وَقُلْ رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا

And say my Lord increase me in knowledge.[Taha: 114]

The Prophet [] said

مَنْ يُرِدْ اللَّهُ بِهِ خَيْرًا يُفَقِّهْهُ فِي الدِّينِ

Whoever Allah intends good for He grants him a comprehension of Islam.

Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said: The comprehension of Islam refers to the ability to understand Allah’s commands and His prohibitions.[1]

These two verses from the Quran along with the hadith establish that anyone who possesses knowledge about the Quran and Sunnah is blessed. Being blessed with knowledge and following the path of the Salaf is a favor Allah grants to those He wills. It isn’t restricted to age, race, color, ethnicity or region. Some people today believe otherwise. They believe that Arabs are the most knowledgeable about Islam, or look at their scholars from their region as superior to others, and even in those who are older than some to be dominating in all fields of study in Islam. All of these opinions are false and deceitful. The most deceitful of these is probably the call to sticking to the elders. Sticking to elders is a correct slogan, but the way it’s being circulated is wrong. To correctly understand the catchphrase, “Sticking to the Elders”, the word elder needs to be defined. This definition must cover who the elders are, what makes one an elder in knowledge, what separates the elders from the youth, and more. In this article, we’ll take a glimpse at the difference between the seniors/elders vs. the youth in knowledge.

  • Who are the Elders and seniors?

عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: ” الْبَرَكَةُ مَعَ أَكَابِرِكُمِ “،

The blessings lie in remaining close to the seniors[2]

This hadith mentions the advice of the Prophet about clinging close to those who are senior. In another narration, the Prophet [] added

 كَبِّرْ كَبِّرْ

“The elders, the elders.” i.e let your elder speak.

 In a hadith narrated about choosing an Imam He [] said: Straighten the rows and give precedence to your elders in leading the prayer, Sunnah, and Hijra.[3]

The Prophet [] said: The blessings lie in remaining close to the seniors.”

Imam As-Sanan’I said: the seniors in this hadith refer to the scholars because they have earned that status as learned men. Therefore it’s a must to show them respect and acknowledge their position. What’s more, the seniors can refer to those who hold high positions, although they might be young in age. Ibn Hajr said this hadith encourages us to seek blessings in all issues and affairs by returning to those who are senior.[4]

Imam As-Sana’I words point to the issue that seniors are of two types and isn’t only restricted to those who are our elders in age; as some people today misconstrue. Sheikh Suleiman Ar-Ruhayli said: There are two types of elders; those who are senior in their knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah; although they are young in age.

  • The seniors in knowledge: this refers to those who possess knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah; yet are young in age; so the blessings from Allah are found by sticking close to them. Whenever you find a scholar that knows the Quran, the Sunnah and the methodology of the Salaf, then recognize that he’s a senior. These categories of scholars are those who the blessings of Allah lie with. Everyone who calls to the Quran and the Sunnah truthfully by the methodology of the Salaf is considered a senior. Then the seniors in a category are ranked based on their ages and knowledge.
  • Those who are senior in age; this implies those who are old in age; even though they aren’t knowledgeable. There are still blessings in accompanying them as well. It is good in being in their company; because if they lack knowledge of Islam, they have wisdom from life experiences. [5]

There are many examples that can be derived from the Sunnah and life stories of the Salaf that establish the senior in knowledge isn’t restricted to those who are our seniors in age;

  • Major Scholars who died before passing the age of 40


  • Mu’ath ibn Jabal. He died at the age of 36. He was sent by the Prophet [] to judge and rule and give Dawah in Yemen.
  • Ibn At-Taymi. Imam Ath-Thahabi said he was a young man who was role model and an Imam.
  • Umar ibn Abdul Aziz died at 40 years old and was an Imam and Hafith of the Sunnah.
  • Yahya ibn Abbad died at the age 36.
  • Ibn Qawwam As-Sunnah died at the age of the 36 and was considered in his era as the most knowledgeable of the Arabic language.
  • Saifudeen Al-Maqdasi died at the age of 29 and Ibn Rajab mentioned that he was leading Jurist of his era.
  • Ibn Munthiri died at the age of 30 and left behind many valuable books.
  • Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Mekki died at the age of 34 and was mentioned by many scholars as being an Imam.[6]
  • Al-Hafith Abdul Hadi
  • Al-Hafith Al-Hakami died at the age of 35
  • Abdus Salam Al-Burjis died at the age of 38. May Allah accept all of their good deeds and forgive them of their sins

Today the western societies consider their elders 60+ years of age, so for that reason, I’ll mention several senior scholars who died before the age of 50

  • Major scholars who died before the age of 50


  • Imam An-Nawawi (45)
  • Al-Qassimi(49)
  • Ibn Shuhana (42)
  • Raslan Al-Bulqini (47)
  • Ahmed ibn Nasir Al-Bulqini (42)
  • Badrudeen Az-Zarkashi (49)
  • Ibn Saja’ (49)
  • Ghalib ibn Abdur Rahman Al-Qurtubi (41) and many others. May Allah have mercy on them all.[7]

There were scholars in the past who reached high levels in the religion before the age of 30, which few have even achieved today in their 50’s,60’s or even older. These scholars were allowed to teach, issue religious verdicts, and even placed as judges.

  • Considered major Scholars and reference points in Islam before the age of 30


  • Imam Ash-Shafa’I was allowed to give Fatwa by the other scholars of his era at the age of 15.
  • Majdudeen ibn Taymiyyah authored a book at the age of 16 which caused his teachers to realize he was a major scholar.
  • Muhammad ibnul Hussain As-Saawi Ash-Shafa’I was allowed to give verdicts at the age of 18
  • Shaykhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah was advised to author books give verdicts and issue Fatawa before the age of 20
  • Imam Ash-Shawkani was a judge in San’a at the age of 20.

May Allah be pleased with their work and service to His religion and accept it from them.

The history examples previously cited establish proof that being a senior isn’t always restricted to those who are senior in age with knowledge. Moreover, these historical facts coincide with the words of the Prophet []

“‏ نَضَّرَ اللَّهُ عَبْدًا سَمِعَ مَقَالَتِي فَوَعَاهَا ثُمَّ بَلَّغَهَا عَنِّي فَرُبَّ حَامِلِ فِقْهٍ غَيْرِ فَقِيهٍ وَرُبَّ حَامِلِ فِقْهٍ إِلَى مَنْ هُوَ أَفْقَهُ مِنْهُ ‏”‏ ‏.‏

‘May Allah cause to flourish a slave (of His) who hears my words and understands them, then he conveys them from me. There are those who have knowledge but no understanding, and there may be those who convey knowledge to those who may have more understanding of it than they do.'”[8]

  • Seniors can at times be less knowledgeable than those younger than them

The Prophet said: There are those who have knowledge but no understanding, and there may be those who convey knowledge to those who may have more understanding of it than they do

Ash-Shiekh Abdur Rahman Al-Mubarkpuri said:

There are those who have knowledge..” refers to those who know and understand the hadith’s intended meaning and are able to extract verdicts from it.

“but no understanding…” this refers to people who are unable to derive verdicts from the sources.

and there may be those who convey knowledge to those who may have more understanding of it than they do.” He has comprehension but conveys the evidence to someone else who has a better understanding than he does.

In short; as Imam Al-Ayni said: A person might possess knowledge but the one who he conveys it to is more knowledgeable than him.[9]

  • The Elders used to benefit by learning from their youth.

There’s a chapter that the scholars of hadith collected in their hadith terminology books called, “رواية الأكابر عن الأصاغر: The Elders who narrated on the Youth.

There were those who were senior in age, rank or both together that narrated from those who were less than them in age, rank or both. A perfect example of this is found in the hadith from the Prophet[] which he narrated from Tameem Ad-Dari about the Dajjal. Other examples are the narrations of Mua’wiyah ibn Abi Sufyan from Malik ibn Yukhmir, and Abdullah ibn Abbass, Abdullah ibn Umar, and Ibn Amr who all narrated from Ka’b ibn Al-Ahbar.[10]

This chapter establishes the evidence the elders in knowledge and age can learn a thing or two from those who are younger than them in age, but more knowledgeable than them in a certain area.

  • The word,”Youth”, doesn’t always refer to those young in age.

The Prophet [] said

إن من أشراط الساعة أن يلتمس العلم عند الأصاغر

From among the signs of the hour is knowledge will be taken from the youth.[11]

The word youth “الأصاغر”, refers to Ahlul bidah and not those young in age. Imam At-Tabarani mentioned that the youth in this hadith refers to innovators based on a narration he collected in al- Kabir. The Prophet [] said: The People will always remain upon piety as long as they take knowledge from the Prophet’s companions and their elders. However, if they begin to learn from the youth then they’ll be destroyed.[12]

Shiekh Muhammad Bazmoul said: The word “As-Saghir”, is a nickname for Ahlul Bida’h, eventhough they might be senior in age and the word, “Al-Akabir”, refers to the people of the sunnah who tread the path of the Salaf .

It’s been reported that Umar ibn Al-Khattab said: “I’ve come to realize when people face destruction. It’s when they take knowledge from the youth and turn away from the elders. Whenever education comes from elders and the youth follow then everyone is guided.[13]

Abdullah ibn Al-Mubark said : The word As-Saghir refers to the innovators.[14]

The word As-Saghir has been interpreted by Salaf to refer to Ahl Bid’a, but some have said it refers to those who have no knowledge. Imam Al-Uthaymeen was on the opinion that the word As-Saghir, applied to those who were young in an age without knowledge; as they wouldn’t have experience and wisdom to handle life’s occurrences[15]

It’s important here to understand that the seniors, or as some put it the elders, isn’t and hasn’t been restricted to those who have been teaching for an ample amount of time, or those who are now grey haired, and going bald etc, but rather the elders and seniors are those who carry knowledge of the Quran, the Sunnah and invite to the way of the Salaf.

The people of the Sunnah invite people to cling close the senior scholars and those elders in an age in order to benefit from their experience and to honor them.

Prepared by,

Abu Aaliyah Abdullah ibn Dwight Battle

Doha, Qatar 1439H©

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[1] Fatawa Al-Kubara 6/171

[2]  Sahih Ibn Hibban 1912

[4] At-Tanweer by ImamAs-Sana’ni vol 4/pg5867


[6] Scholars who died before reaching the age of 45 by Dr. Ali Al-Umran

[7] ibid

[8] At-Tirmithi [2658] and others and graded as being hasan

[9] Awnul Ma’bude vol9/551

[10] Refer to Ba-ithul Hatheeth by Al-Hafith ibn Kathir vol 2/pg 531

[11] At-Tabarni in Kabir vol16/219 graded as being sahih by imam Al-Albani in Saheehah #695

[12] Musabeehut Tanwir vol1/388

[13] Al-Faqeehah al-Mutafaqeeh 2/158

[14] Al-Mutala wal usul by Sheikh Muhammad Bazmoul vol 2/367

[15] Explanation of Ra’qiq from Sahih AlBukahri

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