teachers and educators receive many questions by their students, many of them give short answers or limited answers to the questions asked which means, they don’t extend their answer to include comments or further explanation. yet, the satisfactory answer is not a limited answer most of the times, at some situations, the teachers need to add more to the expected answer to clarify related points or strengthen important information for the inquirer. this is especially needed if the inquirer is ignorant about the things he asked bout, or not familiar with the subject. these are some examples from the sunnah (prophetic teachings):
a- putting into consideration the ignorance of the inquirer
1- abu huraira related that a man asked the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) "o messenger of allah, we sail on the ocean and we carry only a little water. if we use it for ablution, we will have to go thirsty. may we use sea water for ablution?" the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) said: "its (the sea) water is pure and its dead (animals) are lawful (i.e., they can be eaten without any prescribed slaughtering)." [sahih al-bukhari] al-rafai said: when the prophet (peace be upon him) noticed the suspicion of the asker about the purity of the seas’ water, he (pbuh) added to the answer a statement that also clarifies the ruling of eating animals or fish found dead in the oceans and seas. iban al-arabi said: one of the best qualities of a fatwa is to express more points to give satisfactory complete answer. this is valuable to the knowledge-seeker and anyone present while the question was answered. the prophet (peace be upon him) felt that who does not know the ruling concerning ablution by the sea waters, might not know the ruling about eating its dead animals. this is why he (pbuh) added this ruling to further clarify for the listener what he needs to know and more of what would benefit him. so, this shows the wisdom of the prophet (pbuh) in adding another ruling that would be of great benefit for the asker when he sails. as ibn arabi said, who asks about the ruling of seas water purity for ablution is probably unaware of the ruling concerning eating its dead animals such as fish and all kinds of sea creatures.
2- abi jurri al-hujaymi said: “i saw a man whom people follow his orders, anything he says they would follow it. i said, who is he? they said, he is the messenger of allah (peace be upon him). i said, alayka assalam ‘upon you be peace’ (two times). he (pbuh) said: don’t say alayka assalam ‘upon you be peace’ because it is the greeting for the dead. say assalmo alayk ‘peace be upon you’. i asked him, are you the messenger of allah? he (pbuh): i am the messenger of allah. if you call on allah when you are harmed, he (swt) will relieve you and lift the harm. if you have a drought in your land and you call on him [for rain], he (swt) will grow its plants for you. if you were in uninhabited land or desert [unoccupied land] then you lost your camel and you call on him (swt), he will return it for you. i said: advise me. he (pbuh) said: don’t cuss people out….”
in the hadith, it is clear that the inquirer is unfamiliar or ignorant about some basic points. first, he said ‘i saw a man’ this proves that it was the first time for him to see the prophet (peace be upon him). second, he said alayka assalam ‘upon you be peace’. the greeting of islam ‘asslamo alaykom’ is well-known by the companions and all muslims because it is used on a daily basis. when the prophet (peace be upon him) noticed the things that the asker is not familiar with, he directed him first to say the right greeting ‘assalamo alaykom’ because he said it vice versa, namely the greeting for the dead when we visit their graves. then he (pbuh) explained to him how we should turn to almighty allah in every difficult situation we experience. so, supplication should only be to the creator. in the hadith, this is a very good lesson for the muslim which is clear in how the prophet (peace be upon him) educated the bedouin about the creator because only he (swt) can harm or benefit people. he said this to him to show that he, the messenger (pbuh), does not have any control over the benefit or harm of the people. almighty allah is the one who creates people, so he is the one who has power on them. this way, the prophet (peace be upon him) directed the bedouin to what is best for man, namely to seek allah’s help and call on him when he in calamity or prosperity.
b- narrated abdullah ibn omar: a man asked, "o allah's apostle! what kind of clothes should a mihrim wear?" allah's apostle replied, "he should not wear a shirt, a turban, trousers, a headcloak or leather socks except if he can find no slippers, he then may wear leather socks after cutting off what might cover the ankles. and he should not wear clothes which are scented with saffron or wars (kinds of perfumes)" imam al-nawawi said: scholars said the method of answering the inquirer is so eloquent because what pilgrims should not wear while in a state of ihram is limited in number, this is why the prophet (peace be upon him) stated the kind of clothes they cannot wear. as for what is permitted for a mihrim, it is unlimited so it is big in number this is why he (peace be upon him) said "he should not wear…", so logically the unmentioned items are all permitted for a mihrim, but because they are many and unlimited he (pbuh) did not mention them, they can be known from the context of the hadith. ibn daqiq al-eid said: what we can learn from the hadith is that the prophet (pbuh) gave a satisfactory answer to the inquirer. he gave him the information he wants and this is what counts, yet there might be minor change to add some additional information, so the answer does not have to be typical to what is asked, rather it should be informative.
2- according to ibn abbas narration, “the people asked the prophet, peace and blessings of allah be upon him, about the crescent moons.” the following verse was then revealed, “they ask you about the crescent moons, say, ‘they are determinants of time and pilgrimage.’ “by them they know the limit of their debts, the waiting period of their [divorced] women, and the timing of their pilgrimage.’ ” (al-baqrah: 189) allah has created them for timing of muslims’ fasting, breakfasting, their deeds of worship, pilgrimage and waiting period of their [divorced] women, etc.
ibn al-qayyem said: they asked him when crescents start small then they gradually increase and illuminate until they complete the course of time for the people, they are their determinants of time to make it easy for them to work on their businesses, travels and also for the timing of their fifth pillar of islam, namely pilgrimage. if they asked about the reason for them, they were given detailed better information of what they asked for. if they asked out of wisdom, they were given a very proper answer.
1) evaluating the inquirer and any additional information he might need to know. in the first example, the inquirer did not know a certain ruling that some might be familiar with and some might not. the prophet (peace be upon him) answered his question and added another ruling that would benefit the inquirer as he does not know about it, and it is related to his question. if he does not know the first ruling of whether it is permissible to do ablution using seas waters, most probably he does not know about the ruling whether it is permissible to eat dead animals of the seas and oceans.
in the second example, the question of the bedouin reflects his ignorance about many islamic matters. he said the greeting of islam in a wrong way, which is something most people would not do because the greeting is so common among people. this is why the prophet (peace be upon him) dealt with him according to his level of knowledge concerning islam. first, he (pbuh) answered his question then he told him the basic and most important teaching of islam, which is to worship allah and turn to him (swt) in every matter, in goodness and badness, in poverty and richness, in freedom and in exile. he (pbuh) taught him about his lord.
2) the answer to the inquirer’s question might be relatively different than what he asked for, yet it is more valuable, logical and satisfactory. in the hadith when the inquirer asked the prophet (peace be upon him) about what to wear when he is in a state of ihram. the things he can wear are many and countless, so the teacher of humanity prophet muhammad (pbuh) answered him with what is more logic and important, which is what he should not wear and anything else is permitted to be worn, apart from the things the prophet (pbuh) mentioned. in the next hadith, they asked the prophet (pbuh) about the nature of crescents and how it is created, he (pbuh) answered them with what is more valuable and important for them to know, not how they are created, rather what values and functions of crescents for them.
3) evaluating the nature or mentality of the inquirer and guessing other things he might need is not applicable to each and every inquirer or knowledge-seeker. this is left to the evaluation of teachers, only them can decide about what their asker might also need to know.
4) making use of students’ answers in establishing certain meanings or clarifying new rulings, etc.