Man is Created to Know – Islam on Knowledge

Islam is the religion of knowledge and the Muslim ummah (community) should always be a community of learning and reading. It should be a knowledge community.

Knowledge in Muslim societies should be a yardstick for ascertaining the extent of the people’s affiliation with Islam, as well as an integral part of a wellbeing index that could serve as a benchmark of excellent policies and practices.

Knowledge should also be at the heart of a comprehensive and discernable quality culture of Muslims. It should represent the thrust of each and every Muslim civilizational course and agenda, performing as their alpha and omega.

Knowledge is not only to denote the potency of Islamic civilization, but also its light, soul and identity. It is to be the latter’s most prominent and proficient feature, most coveted and most invested in.

Consequently, ignorance, false knowledge, lethargy and deliberate mediocrity are to be viewed as scourges and be avoided at all costs. Relentless intellectual, spiritual and cultural wars are to be waged on all fronts against such civilizational inadequacies.

Such would be one of the noblest acts of worship. Yet, it would signify an act of a “holy war” (jihad), and those who wage it, making appropriate sacrifices for the purpose, would warrant the title of true mujahids (those who struggle for the sake of Allah and Islam, or those who are engaged in jihad). They would likewise be able to secure of the rewards reserved for jihad as one of the fundamental religious obligations, the highest of which is martyrdom.

This is significant especially nowadays when a great many Muslims are poor, divided and busy conspiring against and fighting each other. Many are still illiterate and Muslim educational systems are nowhere near the standards espoused either by Islam or the progressive world.

As a result, Muslim earlier enormous contributions to the evolution of the global society and civilization are increasingly regarded as a footnote to human history. While to most observers, the current events and affairs in the Muslims world do not even merit to be placed on the map of the crucial global cultural and civilizational developments.

Having been producers through the ages, Muslims quickly became consumers. From being leaders, they turned into followers. From being light, guidance and hope providers, they became despondent and hopeless. From being main protagonists in, and contributors to the realms of epistemology, culture and civilization, they became ignorant, disoriented and uncultured.

Instead of being chief promoters and backers of human goodness, virtue and dignity, many Muslims are proving one of their main obstacles, so much so that there is a danger that if things are not mended soon, they may gradually turn into humankind’s serious liability.

Islam on Knowledge

Islam is so concerned about knowledge, as an instrument and source of self-actualization, along with civilizational vitality, that it could be freely described as the religion of knowledge, just as genuine Muslims should be recognized as the people of erudition and wisdom, and authentic Islamic civilization as one of enlightenment and scholarly sophistication and refinement.

According to the Islamic message, man is created to know. He is to be an ever cognizant and knowledgeable being, and as such, to function as Allah’s honorable vicegerent on earth.

In Islam, the concepts of worship and knowledge are closely interrelated. They complement each other in such a way that no appropriate worship is possible without knowledge and no thorough knowledge is attainable without worship. In fact, they are almost synonymous with each other.

In the Holy Quran, the total number of verses (ayat) in which the word ‘ilm (knowledge) or its derivatives and associated words are used is 704. The means and aids of knowledge such as book, pen, ink, etc. amount to almost the same number.

When Almighty Allah created Adam, the first man and prophet on earth, He taught him the names of everything (2:31), that is, the meanings, purposes, characteristics and functions of all things and man’s potential relationships with them. That was almost certainly prior to any prescribed religious injunctions, and even any divine prophetic revelations to Adam, for the proper understanding and application of the latter are dictated by the former.

Moreover, the first verse (ayah) of the Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad enjoined reading, which is the threshold of knowledge (Al-‘Alaq, 1). It stands to reason that the heavenly proclamation to Prophet Muhammad: {Read! In the Name of your Lord Who has created (all that exists)} (Al-‘Alaq, 1), was similar both in effect and vivacity to Allah’s direct teaching of Adam the names and attributes of all things. To some extent, it was as dramatic as the former, too.

While there might have been a period of time that separated Adam’s learning of the names of everything, and the guiding as well as educating prophetic revelations that came to him, Prophet Muhammad was instructed to read and explore concurrently the signs (ayat) revealed to him directly from Allah in the holy Quran, and the signs (ayat) that had been “revealed” through created things, events and experiences, and as much in the smallest and most insignificant as in the grandest and most consequential.

Muhammad was asked to read at once the revealed book, al-Quran al-tadwini, and the book of creation, or the ontological “qur’an”, al-qur’an al-takwini.

Those operational parallels between the first and final Messenger of Allah to mankind signify a sign of a pattern that was applicable to all prophets and their prophet-hood missions.

Apart from the revealed knowledge and wisdom, they were also given by different means and through different ways the knowledge of all other existential things, which was indispensable for the successful articulation and implementation of the former.

That is perhaps one of the meanings of hikmah (wisdom), which is often mentioned in the Quran as an endowment granted to prophets along with revealed holy books and other forms of revelation.

Hikmah is similarly referred to as a special divine gift conferred on some special individuals, who were not prophets. Accordingly, such individuals were known as possessing special insights into the meanings and qualities of things, and they knew how best to deal with them.

They possessed remarkable knowledge, experiences and good judgments. In short, they were wise.

In Islam, furthermore, knowledge comes before action (Muhammad, 19). While knowledge without action is wrong and insufficient, action without knowledge is dangerous and deluding. Speaking without knowledge is proscribed in equal measure.

When Allah created man, He provided him with the tools for seeking knowledge, namely, hearing (ears), sight (eyes) and reason, or intellect (hearts) (Al-Sajdah, 9).

It is noteworthy that in the last verse – just as it is the case with all other Quranic verses wherein Allah speaks about the tools for knowledge acquisition in man — the sense of hearing (al-sam’) is mentioned in the singular form, whereas the sense of sight and reason, or intellect, are mentioned in the plural form, al-absar and al-af’idah respectively.

That would mean — among other possible interpretations — that there is only one source from which man is to receive the divine revealed knowledge, addressing the people’s essential concerns, such as guidance, worship, faith, ethics, morality, life orientation, mission and purpose.

That source is the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah, which are to be listened to only and about which there should be no disagreements whatsoever. Hence, the hearing sense has been mentioned in the singular form.

Allah said, for example:

It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision; if anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger he is indeed on a clearly wrong path (Al-Ahzab, 36).

However, when it comes to people’s understanding, interpretation and application of the revealed knowledge in the variables of time and space, it is then that many aspects of the assignment will be affected – justifiably or otherwise – and some aspects more and others less. It is then that different ways in which the people “see”, “perceive” and “comprehend” different things will come to the fore.

It is thus rightly said that applying and living Islam as a comprehensive code of life denote striking a delicate balance between the physical and metaphysical, the permanent or immutable and impermanent, pure religious and pure mundane, and extremely dynamic and less so, worlds or tiers of existence. Thus, the sense of sight and reason, or intellect, have been alluded to in the plural form.

According to a Quranic verse, the inhabitants of Hell (Jahannam) will affirm:

…Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we would not have been among the dwellers of the blazing Fire (Al-Mulk, 10).

This means that the dwellers of Hell were not granted forgiveness, and thus, salvation from the Fire, because they neither believed – perhaps, in addition, associating some other beings with Almighty Allah — nor were they Allah’s faithful and obedient servants.

The reason for that repugnant status of theirs was twofold: they did not listen to their prophets and the revealed knowledge given to them, nor did they use their intelligence aright, in which case they would have been guided to the necessity as well as reasonability of following the prophets and their life patterns. They realized that truth only in the Hereafter when it became too little, too late.

This verse by no means implies that the revealed knowledge and reason, or intellect, are on a par with each other, representing two separate avenues to the actualization of the truth, as some extreme rationalists would like to depict it.

Rather, the only way to the difficult goal of grasping and following the ultimate truth is the revealed knowledge supported unconditionally by ‘aql (reason, or intellect). The furthermost role of ‘aql is to rationalize the need to follow the revealed knowledge, to rationalize many of its dimensions, and to unreservedly support as well as conform to it by continuously playing second fiddle to it.

Next, the righteous scholars occupy a very special position in Islam. They are the heirs of the prophets. Their superiority over the devout, but ignorant, is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars (Sunan Abi Dawud).

Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon all Muslims. The Prophet said:

If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, the inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man (Sunan Abi Dawud).

A person should never feel that he has enough knowledge:

And say: ‘My Lord! Increase me in knowledge’ (Ta Ha, 114).


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