In Search of Knowledge
By Dr. Muzaffar A. Shaikh.
[Dr. Muzaffar A. Shaikh is an Industrial Engineer. He has published, presented, prepared, or submitted over 72 articles in journals, proceedings, conferences and has written over 23 newspaper articles]
From a viewpoint of morality, mankind is in the deepest hole imaginable. Western society, which used to regard a number of social acts as immoral, now considers them as acceptable. Unfortunately, this change in the definition of morality has infiltrated the Muslim society as well. A key ingredient to stop the potential moral decay of Muslims is to first secure, practice, and disseminate the knowledge of Islam, and then transform this knowledge into academic education in permissible disciplines. Knowledge safeguards man from immoral and evil acts, and leads him to beneficially contribute to the society.
Allah (SWT) proclaims that He appointed man as His vicegerent or Khalifah. Through this appointment, He commands man to hold everything he possesses or acquires as Allah’s trust. Nothing in this world is self-created, or self-possessed. The source of all knowledge (ilm) is Allah. The fact that He taught Adam (may Allah’s peace be upon him), the first human being, everything he knew, clearly supports that all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that anyone possesses is a gift and trust from Allah. It must be preserved until death. In the sight of Allah, the value of knowledge is so great that His first revealed word of the Holy Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) was “Read.” Reading and writing are fundamental means to gaining and sharing knowledge.
“Proclaim! (Or Read!) in the name of your Lord and Cherisher, Who created – created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And your Lord is Most Bountiful – He Who taught (the use of) the Pen – Taught man that which he knew not.” (Al-Alaq, 96:1-5)
Qur’anic Decree and Sunnah
“And when you are told to rise up, rise up: Allah will raise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted (mystic) knowledge. And Allah is well-acquainted with all you do.” (Al-Mujadilah, 58:11)
The concept of knowledge in Islam begins with understanding the Faith (Iman). What is Iman? Who is the Creator? What are His attributes or Sifaat? What do His beautiful names or Asma-ul-Husnaa really mean? How can a man get close to Allah (Ta’alluq Billah?) Finding answers to these and other similar questions, putting them into practice, and sharing them with others, is how Islam defines knowledge. Allah (SWT) explains, “Is the one who is obedient to Allah, prostrating himself or standing (in prayer) during the hours of the night, fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the Mercy of the Lord (like the one who disbelieves)? Say: ‘are those who know equal to those who know not?’ It is only men of understanding who will remember.” (Az-Zumar, 39:9) Knowledge in Islam also has to do with comprehending the real meaning of the submission to the will of Allah. Mu'awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) related that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “upon a person whom Allah desires good, He bestows the knowledge of Faith.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Knowledge Chain via Three Practical Steps
The process of knowledge begins at an individual level. The individual imparts the knowledge to his immediate family, friends, and relatives. From here, the knowledge disseminates to the community. In a practical sense, three fundamental steps are involved in this knowledge chain – seeking, practicing and sharing. Pursuit of knowledge by each individual is the essential first step. Knowledge gained must also be practiced. One cannot simply keep knowledge to himself. It must also be shared and disseminated. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) practiced all aspects of knowledge fully throughout his life. He instructed companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) he knew. Companions, in turn, imparted this knowledge to Tabeyeen, who conveyed it to their children. This is how a strong chain of knowledge was built as it is seen today.
Through His mercy, Allah (SWT) has provided man ample guidance and signs in pursuit of knowledge. The Holy Qur’an is the foremost and fundamental source of knowledge for any one who wishes to pursue it. It answers the above questions in Allah’s own words. The decree prescribed in the Qur’an was practiced and preached by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), whose lifestyle and practices or Sunnah have been thoroughly and authentically documented by way of his biographies and authentic traditions. After the Qur’an, the Sunnah constitutes the second most important source of knowledge. It is up to a person to strive and struggle in obtaining the Islamic knowledge from primary to more advanced levels. Furthermore, in Islam, pursuit of knowledge is not limited to men, but women also have been instructed to seek it. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has been quoted as saying, “Seeking knowledge is the obligation of all Muslims (i.e., men and women).” (Sahih Jame As-Saghir and Shu’bul Iman in Baihaqi) Journeys taken in search of knowledge are considered as blessed in Islam. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) encouraged Muslims to seek knowledge even if it required to travel to distant places. “Whosoever goes on a journey to seeking knowledge, Allah (SWT) sets him on the path of Paradise.” (Tirmidhi)
Practice and implementation of all aspects of achieved knowledge are essential. A Muslim may study many books, and may possess vast knowledge of Islam, but if he does not transform his knowledge into practice, then not only does his knowledge have no value, but he may also be subjected to severe punishment. For example, a Muslim may know all about fasting (its virtues, rewards, punishments aspects, validation and invalidation, etc.), by way of thorough study of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. He may have even written articles and given lectures about fasting, but if he does not fast, barring sanctioned exceptions, all his knowledge is useless and he is punishable by Allah (SWT). Sayyid Qutb (may Allah’s mercy be upon him) writes in his book, Milestones:
This understanding – the understanding that instruction is for action – opened the doors to spiritual fulfillment and to knowledge. If they (companions) had read the Qur’an only for the sake of discussion, learning and information, these doors would not have opened…Indeed, this Qur’an does not open its treasures except to him who accepts it with this spirit: the spirit of knowledge with the intention of acting upon it. The Companions did not refer to the Noble Qur’an merely to increase their knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Rather, they turned to it to act on what they learned.
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) always emphasized the sharing of the knowledge with others. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “A learned person who is asked about something (about the religion,) and if he conceals it, such a person will be bridled on the Day of Judgment with a bridle of fire.” (Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi) Whenever, the Prophet (PBUH) would hear of a caravan of people arriving in Madinah, he would hasten in joining them and recite verses form the Holy Qur’an. Those among us upon whom Allah (SWT) has bestowed His mercy by giving us knowledge and wisdom must also share it with others.
The knowledge gained cannot be kept as a secret. While sharing it, however, utmost sincerity and honesty must be depicted. The purpose should be pure with the pleasure of Allah and progress of Islam in mind. If the purpose is to show off or to ridicule someone who does not know or knows less, then it becomes evil.
Knowledge in Islam is not meant for worldly laurels alone. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) related that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “He who does not acquire knowledge with the sole intention of seeking the pleasure of Allah, and does not impart it but for the (partly) gains of the world, would not smell the fragrance of Paradise on the Day of Judgment.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood quoted with sound chains, Ibn Majah) Unfortunately, today, the acquisition of academic and professional education is given a higher priority than the Islamic education. The motive behind all this is to become rich and famous, and live a luxurious life. Undoubtedly, everyone needs to gain knowledge and experience in various fields to make a permissible living. But, if the emphasis is completely on worldly gains, then such an act becomes sinful.
Today we observe that man has advanced to great heights in science and technology. He has gained knowledge enough to reach the moon, to explore what is on Mars, and to find answers to such complicated questions as: was there life on Jupiter’s moon, Europa?
Allah’s generosity and fairness transcend all human beings. He awards anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, the fruit of his hard work. These worldly accomplishments will become meaningless on the Last Day if they do not teach man how limited his own capabilities are, and by the same token, how unlimited is the Kingdom of Allah. Many contemporary Western scientists, while not recognizing the vastness of Allah’s kingdom, do recognize human limitations as they learn more about the Universe. Besides recognizing human limitations, a Muslim scientist attributes all discoveries and inventions to the Creator.
Allah (SWT) has given mankind the entire Universe to explore His signs. “Allah has made all things within the heaven and the earth as captives for man.” (Al-Jathiya, 45:13) Modern discoveries and inventions serve as signs from Allah to all to recognize Him as the sole Proprietor of the Universe. Historically, Muslims during and after the time of the Prophet (PBUH), understood clearly the Islamic definition of knowledge. Even hundreds of years after the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, Muslims continued to make discoveries and inventions using research guidelines from the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Muslims have contributed in many areas and disciplines of Arts and Sciences. Many of the technological advances, facilities, and developments in the West today, stem from original works of Muslims.
In the field of Astronomy, Muslims are credited with the invention of the pendulum and time-keeping, and with the concept of latitude and longitude. In the field of mathematics, two very commonly and universally used words, algebra and algorithm, find their roots in the Arabic language. In the field of medicine, Muslims used anesthesia and operating room concepts long before the West came to know about them. These are only a few examples of exemplary contributions of Muslims to modern society.
Plight of Today’s Muslims
History reveals that as long as Muslims held fast to the Rope of Allah, and considered the knowledge of Islam as the main driving factor towards pursuit of other knowledge, they made great contributions to the society at large. The plight of Muslims in the field of education today is disappointing by any measure. Muslims are among the lead educated communities in the world. The reason, of course, can partially be attributed to the lack of educational opportunities provided to Muslims in predominantly non-Muslim countries. However, the blame has to be shared by Muslims as well. Either educational priorities have been switched, or the Islamic education has been completely abandoned from many homes. The knowledge has been redefined as only the academic or professional education. Many Muslim parents consider it more important for their children to excel in academic fields as compared to the field of Islam. As a result, they place little or no emphasis on Islamic education from the beginning. Islamic education and practices are considered as “ancient” culture.
Acquiring academic and professional knowledge is legitimate and permissible in Islam as long as it complements Islamic knowledge. In fact, correct knowledge and its practice mandate a Muslim to pursue education in any discipline that can be beneficial to the society.
Knowledge of Islam is the key to success in this world and especially in the Hereafter. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) related that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “After the death of a person, his actions stop, except three things that he leaves behind: first continuous charity, second knowledge from which some benefit may be obtained, and then a virtuous son who prays for him.” (Muslim) The best gift parents and teachers can leave behind after they pass away is the knowledge of Islam they have taught to their children. When these children grow up, they can repeat the tradition of their parents and teachers. This way the link of Islamic knowledge becomes perpetual and continues until the Last Day. It is incumbent upon all elders to provide all means and resources possible for our children, from an early age, to gain and practice Islamic knowledge first, and then to lead them to academic knowledge. In turn, it is important for children and students to learn and work hard with utmost sincerity. Remaining steadfast to the cause of Allah, they must work hard, enthusiastically, and with respect for their teachers and parents.
For Muslim adults, who have not been able to study before for one reason or another, it is never too late. Allah (SWT) is Oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful. There are abundant opportunities and resources available everywhere. There are mosques and schools within short distances of living places throughout the United States where adults can benefit from a variety of resources.
Insha ‘Allah, if the whole Ummah gets involved, in all sincerity for the pleasure of Allah, it is not far off, that once again, Muslims can be at the helm of knowledge and lead the world.
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