Allah says:

ولا تكونوا كالذين قالوا سمعنا وهم لا يسمعون إن شر الدواب عند الله الصم البكم الذين لا يعقلون
And be not like those who say: “We have heard,” but they hear not.

Imam al-Qurtubi said in his Tafsir:

كاليهود أو المنافقين أو المشركين . وهو من سماع الأذن . وهم لا يسمعون أي لا يتدبرون ما سمعوا ، ولا يفكرون فيه ، فهم بمنزلة من لم يسمع وأعرض عن الحق

Like the Jews or the Hypocrites or the Polytheists. And it is the hearing of the ears and they do not listen, i.e. they do not ponder about what they hear and do not reflect on it. They are in the position of the one who did not hear or the one who turned away from the religion [Tafsir al-Qurtubi]

So listening implies pondering/reflecting upon what is being said so that one can act upon it. Whereas hearing is simply hearing the speech/sounds with the faculties of the ears. A person who hears does not benefit from the speech.

The Prophet sallahu alayhi wa salam dispraised hearing speech, but not digesting the material. He said sallahu alayhi wa salam:

وَيْلٌ لأَقْمَاعِ الْقَوْلِ

Woe to the funnels of speech (i.e. the ears).

[Saheeh Adab Mufrad no. 293]

Shaikh al-Albani rahimahullah said in the footnote:

“It is the plural of (قمع) like (ضلع). It is a vessel which is placed at the heads of openings to fill it with liquids from drinks and oils. He resembled the listening of those who listen to speech, but who are not aware of it, do not preserve it, (and) do not act upon it, like a funnel which is not aware of anything which is emptied in it. So it is as if it passes him metaphorically, just as the drinks pass the funnel in crossing”

[Saheeh Adab al-Mufrad pg. 110]

Hafidh Ibn Rajab rahimahullah said:

وفسر أقماع القول بمن كانت أذناه كالقمع لما يسمع من الحكمة والموعظة الحسنة ، فإذا دخل شيء من ذلك في أذنه خرج في الأخرى ، ولم ينتفع بشيء مما سمع

“It was explained as the one whose ears are like a funnel. When he hears the wisdom (the Sunnah) and good admonishment. So if something of that enters his ear it comes out the other. He does not benefit anything from what he has heard”

[Jami’ Uloom wal-Hikam]

So this is what is mentioned regarding training ourselves to be active listeners and benefiting from the lessons and the tapes of the Scholars/students of knowledge. We do not just want to run through our playlists mindlessly, but benefit from that which we hear, by acting upon it. Allah, the Exalted says:

الذين يستمعون القول فيتبعون أحسنه

Those who listen to the Word [good advice La ilaha ill-Allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah) and Islamic Monotheism, etc.] and follow the best thereof


Imam al-Qurtubi rahimahullah said:

وقيل : يستمعون القرآن وأقوال الرسول فيتبعون أحسنه أي : محكمه فيعملون به

It was said: they listen to the Quran and the Statements of the Messenger sallahu alayhi wa salam and follow the best thereof: that is: the entirely clear verses. So they act upon it

[Tafisr Qurtubi]

Hafidh Ibn Kathir rahimahullah said:

يفهمونه ويعملون بما فيه

They understand it and act upon what is in it

And Allah Knows Best

Translated by

Faisal Ibn Abdul Qaadir Ibn Hassan
Abu Sulaymaan