34. The great number of scholarly works (available) is
an obstacle on the path to attaining scholarship.
It should be known that among the things that are harmful to the human quest for knowledge and to the attainment of a thorough scholarship are the great number of works (available), the large variety in technical terminology (needed for purposes) of instruction, and the numerous (different) methods (used in those works).1133 The student is required to have a ready knowledge of (all) that. Only then is he considered an accomplished scholar.
. Thus, the student must know all the (works), or most of them, and observe the methods used in them. 1134 His whole lifetime would not suffice to know all the literature that exists in a single discipline, (even) if he were to devote himself entirely to it. Thus, he must of necessity fall short of attaining scholarship.
For the Malikite school of jurisprudence, this (situation) may be exemplified, for instance, by the Mudawwanah, its legal commentaries, such as the books of Ibn Yunus, alLakhmi, and Ibn Bashir, and the notes and introductions (to it) 1135 Or (one may take) the sister work of the Mudawwanah, the ' Utblyah and the work written on it (by Ibn Rushd under the title of) al-Bayan wa-t-tahsil; 1136 or the book of Ibn al-Hajib and the works written on it. Furthermore, the student must be able to distinguish between the Qayrawani method (of the Malikite school) and the methods of Cordovan, Baghdadi, and Egyptian (Malikites) and those of their more recent successors. He must know all that. Only then is a person considered able to give juridical decisions.
All of (these things) are variations of one and the same subject. The student is required to have a ready knowledge of all of them and to be able to distinguish between them. (Yet,) a whole lifetime could be spent on (but) one of them. If teachers and students were to restrict themselves to the school problems, (the task) would be much easier and (scholarly) instruction would be simple and easily accessible. However, this is an evil that cannot be cured, because it has become firmly ingrained through custom. In a way, it has become something natural, which cannot be moved or transformed.
Another example is Arabic philology.1137 There is the Book of Sibawayh and all the literature on it; (there are) the methods of the Basrians, the Kufians, the Baghdadis, and, later on, the Spaniards; and (there are) the methods of the ancient and modern philologists, such as Ibn al-Hajib and Ibn Malik, and all the literature on that. This (wealth of material) requires a great deal from the student. He could spend his (whole) life on less (material). No one would aspire to complete knowledge of it, though there are a few, rare exceptions (of men who have a complete knowledge of philology). For instance, we modern Maghribis have received the works of an Egyptian philologist whose name is Ibn Hisham. The contents show that Ibn Hisham has completely mastered the habit of philology as it had not been mastered (before) save by Sibawayh, Ibn Jinni, and people of their class, so greatly developed is his philological habit and so comprehensive is his knowledge and experience as regards the principles and details of philology. This proves that excellence (in scholarship) is not restricted to the ancients, 1138 especially if (one considers) our remarks about the many obstacles (on the path to mastery of a science in modern times), which the great number of schools, methods, and works presents. No! "His excellence God bestows upon whomever He wants to." 1139 (Ibn Hisham) is one of the rare wonders of the world. Otherwise, it is obvious that were the student to spend his entire lifetime on all these things, it would not be long enough for him to acquire, for instance, (a complete knowledge of) Arabic philology, which is (but) an instrument and means (for further studies). How, then, is it with the intended fruit (of study, the acquisition of thorough and comprehensive scholarship)? But "God guides whomever He wants to guide." 1140