Ibn Al-Mubaarak (r) said, "Mukhlid Ibn al-Husayn once said to me,
'We are more in need of acquiring Adab than learning Hadith'.
This highlights that knowledge alone is insufficient to build a sound and balanced Islamic personality. Imaam Zakariya al-Anbari once said:
'Knowledge without Adab is like fire without wood, and Adab without knowledge is like a spirit without a body'.
So, vast amounts of knowledge and severe lack in Adab, means a person is little more than a donkey laden with books. What use are the books to that donkey without being able to read? Similarly, what use is knowledge to a Muslim, without the practical mannerisms and etiquettes that really define us as Muslims?
Traditionally, Adab was not taught but acquired and embodied between interactions between people. It has been narrated that Imaam Ahmed (رحمة الله عليه) would have had up to 5000 attendees at his gatherings, maybe 500 would write and learn; the rest (4500) would simply learn from his actions, his Adab. This has such importance that we learn by what we see, whether that is good or bad, hence it is essential that we teach only that which is good, as the bad habits are perhaps the easier to acquire.
Looking at other classical examples from our pious 'Ulema - the mother of Imaam Maalik (رحمة الله عليه) would place an 'Imaamah (turban) on his head and send him to his teacher Rabi'ah ibn Abdur-rahman (nicknamed: Rabi'ah Ar-Rai'), to learn first from his manners, his Adab and then his knowledge. Indeed the Deen of Islaam is itself manners, where anyone that surpasses you in manners, is better than you in deen (Ibn al-Qayyim). Aboo Hurairah (رضى الله عنه) narrated, that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
"I have not been sent as a Messenger, except to perfect character (Akhlaaq)"
He also said that:
"The nearest of you to me on the Day of Judgement will be the one who is best in character." (Saheeh Al-Bukhaari)
All the books of Hadith have chapters on Adab. For example:
1. Muwatta': Imaam Malik: The book of good behaviour
2. Sahih al-Bukhari: The book of manners
3. Sahih Muslim: The book of dutifulness, ties of kinship and manners.
4. Sunan Abi Dawud: The book of manners
5. Sunan At Tirmidhi: The book of manners, and the book of dutifulness and ties of kinship.
6. Sunan Ibn Majah: Chapters on Manners.
The book Al-Adab Al Mufrad was separated by Imaam Al-Bukhaari (رحمة الله عليه) because he was aware of its great importance in everyday living. When we talk about Adab we must first begin with our Adab with Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) in terms of Akhlaaq, sincerity, actions, avoiding Shirk etc. We must qualify our respect for Allaah (سبحانه وتعالى) and His attributes, His signs, His Symbols (the Qur'aan, the Masãjid and everything connected to Him). Then we must purify and qualify our Adab with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). In quantifying, Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) tells us in the Qur'aan that in His (صلى الله عليه وسلم) manners and style, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was a perfect example:
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلى خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
"Truly, you have the best of manners"
(Quran, Al-Qalam: Verse 4)
It has been narrated by many 'Ulema that if parents give any inheritance, there is no greater inheritance than Adab. Al-Walid ibn Numayr said that he heard his father say:
"They used to say, 'Righteousness is (a gift) from Allah, but Adab (right conduct) is from the parents".
In this sense however, Adab holds such importance that the actions of a believer are rendered null and void if they lack manners. In pointing out the status of Adab in comparison to actions, Imaam al-Qarafi said:
"You should know that a little of good manners is better than a lot of good actions".
Ruwaym the righteous scholar told his son:
"Oh my son, make your deeds salt and your manners flour".
So much like the "perfect dough", many good manners with a few good deeds are better by far than many good deeds with a few good manners.