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Importance of Seeking Knowledge in Islam

Syed Mujeebuddin Hussaini for Hyderabad Youth Mirror #

Islam is monotheistic religion that preaches oneness of Allah and its followers are informed of the same through numerous messengers appointed by Allah. The message to every nation was same, and laws alone were different suiting to the understanding of people of that time.

Four revealed books are known to us, while it is not exactly known to us how many were revealed. The Previous revelations and messages set a platform for the final revelation, the greatest of all books, Al Qur’an. A book which can be analyzed by any person in any part of the world, the Qur’an, the guidance and criterion for mankind.

Al Qur’an revealed to the last and final prophet Muhammad (saw) was send to people who would be able to comprehend the message given by Allah, which would stand the test of time and prove itself to be the ultimate source of guidance in every aspect of our lives.

Allah Almighty emphasizes the greatness of the Qur’an and its ability to pierce and soften the hearts of man, when He stated: “Had We sent down this Qur’an on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself and rending asunder by the fear of Allah. Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect.” [Qur’an 59:21]

If the Qur’an was to descend upon a mountain which could comprehend the message, it would crumble and split asunder by the fear of Allah despite its hardness and strength. Such a powerful Qur’an was revealed by Allah through the angel Jibraeel (Gabriel) upon the heart of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The very first verses revealed by Allah [Glorified and Exalted be He] were: “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists), Has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. Has taught man that which he knew not.” [Qur’an 96:1-5]

These very first verses bear witness to the immense importance of knowledge in Islam. These verses were revealed at a time when the majority of the people in Arabia were unlettered (but well-versed in literature). Indeed, Allah has honored mankind through knowledge, and Islam has given much emphasis and motivation to gain and excel in seeking knowledge.

Among the quotes of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) which encourage us to seek knowledge, are the following:

  • “Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim” [Ibn Maajah , Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 224)]
  • “The one who treads the path in search of knowledge, Allah would make that path easy, leading to Paradise for him” [Sahih Muslim]
  • “The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the oceans seek forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness).” [Riyad as-Salihin, The Book of Knowledge, Hadith 1388]

In his commentary of Riyad-us-Saliheen, Hafiz Salahuddin Yusuf comments regarding the previous hadith: “Alim (learned person) here means scholar of the Qur’an and Hadith, who adheres to Faraid and Sunnah and remains busy in learning and imparting knowledge…”

Modern Knowledge Disciplines & Islamic Viewpoint

The Qur’an is full of exhortations to learn ‘so that you may become wise’,. The Qur’an encourages man to attain various types of knowledge. Knowledge of physical, chemical, biological, geographical, historical, economical means of sciences, which makes man to travel and ponder over His creation.

As mentioned in the Qur’an: “We shall show them Our Signs in the horizon [external nature] and within themselves, so the Truth becomes clear to themis your Lord not a sufficient Witness over everything?” [41:53]

This knowledge is ‘scientific’ knowledge, for it is based on ‘observation by the ears and the eye’; yet this scientific knowledge is finally to ‘strike the heart’ and to kindle a perception in man which will transform his scientific and technological skills in accordance with moral perception that will, one hopes, be born in him.

Without this, scientific and technological knowledge could be dangerous, and in its critique of the materially prosperous Makkans, this Qur’an makes this very point: “They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware.” [30:7]

Empirical knowledge [or knowledge of modern disciplines] itself is of little benefit unless it awakens the inner perception of man as to his own situation, his responsibilities towards his Creator, his obligations, his risks and his destiny in the Hereafter:

“Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts.” [22:46]

History proves beyond any possibility of doubt that no religion has ever given a stimulus to scientific progress comparable to that of Islam. Muslims have laid foundations to many scientific disciplines, and discovered and invented numerous things in the Golden Age. Notable among those scholars are Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Khwarizmi, al-Biruni, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Al-Haytham (Alhazen), al-Jahiz, al-Idrisi, Ibn al-Nafis, Hunain ibn Ishaq, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi etc.

When they excelled in whatever fields they chose, Muslims set best examples for others and had considerable impact. In his speech in Cairo in 2009, US President Barack Obama praised Muslims for their scientific and intellectual contributions to humanity during Golden Age.

He said: “It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” It must be realized that it was the negligence of the Muslims, and their turning away from “ilm” that caused our present decay [in the academic field].

Islam had inspire many to seek knowledge, and it will continue to do for those who follow Islamic teachings. For a Muslim, the first and foremost goal in life is to please Allah (swt) and to live in accordance with His sacred law. Merely studying ought not to be an end in itself or for seeking material gain only; a Muslim ought to excel in his or her study in order to work for humanity.

Muslims need to recall the Golden History of Islam, a cherished asset of the Ummah. Then they must embark on a sacred journey once again to seek knowledge for the sake of humanity, to solve its varied contemporary problems. In this potent endeavor, the Qur’an alone can inspire, motivate, and congratulate them. Embrace it with your heart, and store it in your mind. Wake up, and keep going!

[The author is an Aeronautical Engineer based in Dubai. He promotes contribution of Muslims to science & technology through his “Signs & Science” exhibitions.]

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