“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”
Compiled By: Syed Ali Shahbaz
Islam attaches so much importance to knowledge that it considers its acquisition to be among the superior acts of a Muslim. The first revelation that dawned upon Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) started with the word “Iqra”, which means “read”.
God repeats the word “read” in the third ayah of the same surah then says that He the Almighty has taught mankind; taught what mankind knew not. God then focuses on the importance of the pen in the acquisition and spread of knowledge. Thus it is knowledge that opens up the path of prosperity and perfection for mankind, and with knowledge a person becomes capable of charting out his course for a better future, as per his inclinations. Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) always encouraged Muslims to acquire knowledge as is clear by his famous statement: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”
Following the capture of several prisoners by Muslims in the victory they achieved in the Battle of Badr that was imposed by the Arab infidels of Mecca, the Messenger of Mercy said any captive who can teach reading and writing to at least 10 persons will be freed without any ransom. This is a clear testimony to the special attention of Islam and the Prophet to knowledge and literacy. The Prophet took into consideration all branches of knowledge, as he encouraged his companions to learn other languages, such as Syriac which was widely spoken in the Levant in those days.
Another famous Hadith of the Prophet says: “Seek knowledge even if it is in China”. This statement actually refers to the efforts a Muslim ought to make even if it requires travelling a great distance in order to acquire knowledge, in view of the fact that in those days the distance between the Arabian Peninsula and China was not something that could be easily covered by the primitive means of transport such as camels and horses, or ships, if one was ready to brave the dangers of the mighty ocean. As a matter of fact, this and similar hadith from the Prophet encouraged Muslims to acquire knowledge by travelling to the furthest parts of the world. Soon Muslims embarked on translation of scientific works into Arabic from Greek, Syriac, Pahlavi, Latin, Sanskrit, Coptic, and Chinese, thereby creating the most glorious civilization in human.
In Islam there is no separation between science and religion, which are considered complimentary to each other. In the Madrasah, which could mean both the seminary and academy, experimental sciences like physics, astronomy, archeology, medicine and mathematics were taught along with the holy Qur’an, Islamic jurisprudence, and theology. Libraries were attached to the Madrasahs and other centres of learning at a time when Christian Europe was immersed in ages of darkness due to the wrong approach of the Church to science and knowledge, to the extent that any philosophical or scientific theory that contradicted the official viewpoint of the Church was denounced as apostasy and the scholar burned alive on the stake. Islam thus appeared as a shaft of light to the world over a millennium and four centuries ago, and it changed all concepts about knowledge. The Words of God Almighty in the holy Qur’an are the finest proofs in this regard, while Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) set the practical precedent to enlighten minds and souls. For instance, he said, knowledge is so vast that it cannot be enumerated, and thus we have to strive to explore its different realms for acquiring what is considered the best. This means that knowledge is not limited to any specific field, and the more knowledgeable a person becomes the better cognizance of God he acquires. Islam stresses acquisition of useful knowledge, that is the science that brings benefit for mankind whether material or spiritual.
In Ayah 11 of Surah Mujadilah, the holy Qur’an emphasizing the importance of knowledge and its degrees says: “Allah will raise those of you who have faith and those who have been given knowledge in rank”
The term rank or degree, which has been used without determining any specific level, indicates the vastness of the field. In expounding this ayah the Prophet told his loyal companion, Abu Zar Ghaffari, that the knowledgeable persons are endeared by God, the Prophets and the angels, since no one likes knowledge except the felicitous; hence the seeker of knowledge will be in a blissful situation on the Day of Resurrection. And whoever leaves his house to open a window of knowledge, God Almighty will grant him the reward of the martyr of Badr; paradise will be his reward and he will not die until he drinks from fountain of Kowsar, eats from fruit of Paradise and will be a companion of Khizr. Another hadith from Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) says that on the Day of Judgement when a seeker of knowledge and a pious worshipper come across the Bridge of Siraat, the pious worshipper will be asked to enter paradise and see the reward of his worship, but the seeker of knowledge will be told to stay for a while and seek intercession with God for anyone of the sinner he likes, for; his intercession will be accepted. Another hadith says that on the Day of Resurrection, three groups will empowered by God to seek intercession for others, that is, the Prophets, the knowledgeable persons and the martyrs.
In Ayah 9 of Surah Zumar, God says: “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?”
As pointed out by the exegetes of the holy Qur’an, the term “those who know” refers to the proper cognizance of God that leads towards perfection, while the term “who do not know” refers to persons who have failed develop this cognition, although they may have acquired wealth and property which are useful only the for transient life of the mortal world. Among the famous sayings of the Prophet is that it is incumbent on every Muslim man and woman to seek knowledge. This is indicative of Islam’s importance in removing ignorance from the society, as well as the spirit of equality since there is no gender discrimination in Islam considering knowledge. Thus it is the duty of every faithful Muslim man or woman to acquire knowledge so as to rid oneself of ignorance and superstition. In short, as is evident by the Ayahs of the holy Qur’an, God has invited human beings to acquire knowledge and explore the mysteries of the world of creation.