Maulāna Ashraf `Ali Thānvi rahmatullah alayh says that Hadhrat Maulana Gangohi rahmatullah alayh used to say after all his mujahadat, “I am nothing.” One time he took on oath saying “I am nothing.”
Two groups of people in the gathering started to argue whether the oath was valid or not. One party said that the oath is valid and surely the sheikh is nothing as he says. One of Maulana Gangohi rahmatullah alayh’s follower was astounded at this. If the Sheikh is Kamil (having achieved distinction and perfection in his field) then the oath is incorrect and invalid.
So I said to him that there are two types of Kamāl (perfection). One is attained (i.e the perfection which has already been acquired) and the other is expected (i.e the perfection which is hoped to be achieved). Maulana Gangohi rahmatullah alayh was kamil with regards to what he had already attained, while was nothing with regards to what he expected to achieve in future, and the oath was in the ambits of the later.
For example one who has studied Sharah Jāmī (a course book) will say that he is nothing in relation to all the books above Sharah Jāmī. At the same time in relation to Mīzān (an introductory level book) he will be an ‛ālim. *
Malfuzāt Hakīmul Ummat vol.26 pg. 124
* While the distinction of kamāl is normally understood in the lives of sufiyā’, Maulāna has given a beautiful example from the academia. Maulana has highlighted that such a perception can be employed to any field. The fact is that the progress can only manifest when the seeker of the field has such a perception. A sālik (traveler in path of tasawuf) will not struggle to proceed further in his quest if he thinks that he has already attained the kamāl. A student of knowledge will stop persevering if he thinks that he has already mastered a subject.
While Maulāna Thānvi rahmatullah alayh resolved the issue between the two parties arguing over the oath, the point worth learning from this malfūz is that even a giant like Maulana Gangohi rahmatullah alayh perceived himself as nothing. If that was the condition of the leaders of the field, then what level of self annihilation must we strive for to even taste a portion of that kamāl?
At the same time in the field of learning, a student must condition himself to the idea that he has not mastered the field. As soon as a student thinks he has perfected the knowledge of his field, he has reached the limits of that which he can achieve. No one gives honour to any scholar of any field who professes his own perfection. Mastery of a field is warranted when people of repute in that field attest to this mastery, even though one may profess to be an ignorant in that field.