Narrated in Shaykh Al-Mufid’s Al-Amali, Imam Ali (a) highlights the importance of knowledge and learning to his companion, Kumail ibn Ziyad Al-Nakha’ee. In his advice, the Imam (a) reproaches those who misuse knowledge or are misled from its pursuit by worldly pleasures.
Once I was with Amirul Mu’mineen in the mosque of Kufa, and when we completed our late evening prayers (i.e. Isha), he took me by his hands and came out of the mosque. He did not say a word till we arrived at the rear part of Kufa. As he entered the desert, he heaved a sigh and said:
“O Kumail, no doubt these hearts (i.e. minds) are containers, and the best of them are those who retain most. Remember from me what I say; people are of three categories: the learned men (of piety), the students on the path of salvation, and (the third one) the riffraff of the society, following every croak of the crows, bending as the wind blows; never benefiting from the light of knowledge, nor finding a refuge with a strong supporter.
O Kumail, knowledge is better than wealth; for knowledge guards you, while you have to guard wealth; and wealth is diminished when spent, while knowledge grows and increases when put in use.
O Kumail, to have liking and affinity for a learned man is the best way to entrench ones faith in Allah, it enables one to be obedient to Him during lifetime, and to be praiseworthy after one has died.
O Kumail, dividend from wealth disappears with its loss, O Kumail, the hoarders of wealth have died, while the learned men exist for ever; their bodies have disappeared but their teachings and wisdom are ingrained in the hearts.”
And then pointing to his chest, he said: “Here is well-grounded, plentiful knowledge; I wish it had true recipients and adherents, I would have imparted it.
But, unfortunately, some unscrupulous men of understanding have tried to misuse it, using religion as a weapon to earn the worldly gain, and seeking undue power by divine authority over Allah’s creatures, abusing His bounties which He bestowed upon them. So the feeble-minded people accepted them as reliable; or took them as compliant with (divine) wisdom, discarding the true guardians of truth. (The truth is that) such people (who they have adopted as their guides) have no insight into its ramifications; with the result that with the slightest confusion, doubt enters their minds. Neither of them could be the true carrier of knowledge.
And then there are those with insatiable lust, easily misled by the pleasures of flesh, or enticed by accumulating wealth, not at all among those who care for religion. They very much resemble the grazing cattle. Thus, knowledge dies with the death of such carriers.
Yet, the earth is never devoid of either a manifest divine power, or the one in concealment, ensuring that His clear signs are not lost. Surely, with those fewer people of enormous import, Allah protects His proof, till they succeed to transmit it further to their likes, and plant it deep in their hearts. They are the ones overwhelmed by the (true) knowledge of certitude, and have made it easy for themselves to tread on the path which men in luxury found difficult. They derive pleasure and enjoyment from things which repel the ignorant. Though they live on earth with their bodies, their souls hang onto the higher plane. They are the (true) representatives of Allah on His earth, and the ones who invite (people) to His religion.
Alas! How keen I am to have sight of them! And I seek forgiveness from Allah for me and for you all.”
Then he [i.e. ‘Ali (a)] withdrew his hand from mine and said: “You may leave when you like.”
Source: Al-Amali, the Dictations of Shaykh Al-Mufid