Receiving Education and Knowledge
Author: Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn at-Tabataba\'i
One of the praiseworthy intellectual attributes is to have knowledge. The virtue and superiority of a knowledgeable man over an ignorant person is absolutely clear.
Wisdom and knowledge distinguish a man from other animals. Other animals, with their particular characteristics, are endowed with invariable instincts in accordance with which they meet the needs of their lives. There is no scope for elevation and progress in the lives of animals and they cannot open up new gates to themselves and to others.
It is only man who augments his existing knowledge with new knowledge through his wisdom and attains a new value and splendor for his materialistic and spiritual life by discovering the laws of nature and metaphysics. It is only man who takes a deep look into the past periods and lays the foundation for his own future and the future of others.
More than all the new and old social systems of all religions and faiths, Islam encourages the people to acquire knowledge and learning. In order to establish a fundamental culture and civilization, Islam has made receiving the education as wajib upon every Muslim man and woman. Many orders have been handed down to us from the Holy Prophet (S) and religious leaders in this regard.
The Holy Prophet (S) states: \"Education is wajib upon every Muslim.\" In this hadith, knowledge is described in an absolute form and includes all branches of science. There is no exception even as far as women and men are concerned. Thus, the acquisition of knowledge and learning in Islam is not intended to apply only to a particular nature or type. On the contrary, the duty of acquiring knowledge is universal and all-embracing.
The Holy Prophet (S) also states: \"Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.\" Every religious precept has a specific time and for all of them maturity is a necessary condition: i.e., the person, for whom the religious principles are applicable, must have reached maturity. The religious precepts are not wajib upon a person unless he has reached maturity.
Some of the religious wajibat are no longer applicable during old age and at the time of weakness, but acquiring knowledge and learning is wajib for man since his birth until his death. In other words, acquiring knowledge is wajib at all the stages of man\'s life. On the basis of this principle, a Muslim should acquire knowledge all through his life and should add to his knowledge day by day. This hadith, too, has extended and generalized the time of this wajib obligation.
The Holy Prophet (S) also states: \"Go for seeking knowledge even if it may be in China (i.e., far away).\" Another hadith states: \"Knowledge is the most valuable thing that the believer has lost. He should go after it, even if he finds it in China (the farthest points in the world).\" According to this commandment, every Muslim is obliged to acquire knowledge even if long journeys are required for this purpose. Finally, he should endeavor to find at any cost what he has lost.
The Holy Prophet (S) also said in another hadih: \"knowledge is what a believer has lost. He must get it back from wherever he finds.\" However, in acquiring knowledge, the only condition is that it should be appropriate and beneficial to the societies.
Islam highly recommends man to know the secrets of creation and to think about the heavens, the earth, the human nature, the history of nations and peoples, and the works of former generations (philosophy, mathematics, natural sciences, etc). Also, learning moral and religious matters (ethics and Islamic laws) and different kinds of arts which shape man\'s life are highly encouraged and stressed by Islam.
Indeed, the importance of knowledge is so great from the viewpoint of the Holy Prophet (S) that in the Battle of Badr when the Muslims took a group of the unbelievers as captives, the Holy Prophet (S) ordered every captive to be released by paying exorbitant sums of money. Only a group of the captives, who were literate, became exempt from paying such money provided that each of them teaches ten Muslim youths to read and write.
Thus for the first time, adult schools (adult classes) were established in the world and this great honor was ascribed to the Muslims in the history of the world. Interestingly enough, once for all in the history of man, teaching knowledge was accepted instead of war-spoils by the order of the Holy Prophet (S). Neither before nor after that had anyone in the world witnessed a victorious commander except the teaching of children instead of ransom and war-spoils.
The Holy Prophet (S) went to those adult classes in person and took with him those who knew reading and writing. He asked them to test the children to find out how much progress they had made in their lessons and practice. The Holy Prophet (S) used to encourage more any child who was found more diligent in learning.
Even one of the historians writes: \"A woman named \"Al-Shifa\',\" who had learned reading and writing during the \"period of ignorance,\" used to go to the house of the Holy Prophet (S) and teach the wives of the Holy Prophet (S) how to read and write. For this reason, she was appreciated, encouraged, and rewarded by the Holy Prophet (S).\"
The Value and Importance of a Student from the Viewpoint of Islam
The importance of endeavor in attaining any objective equals the objective itself. Since every man, with his Allah given nature, considers the importance of knowledge in the human world higher than anything else, the value of one who seeks knowledge will be the highest of all. Since the religion of Islam is established on the basis of man\'s nature, it undoubtedly attaches the highest value to students. The Holy Prophet (S) stated: \"He who is engaged in acquiring knowledge is loved by Allah.\"
Although jihad (Islamic war) is one of the pillars of Islam and if the Holy Prophet (S) or any of the infallible Imams (as) issues the order for war, all Muslims must take part in it, those who are engaged in learning Islamic sciences and theology are exempt from this duty. At all times, a sufficient number of Muslims must engage themselves in studying at Islamic education centers.
The Almighty Allah states: \"And it does not beseem the believers that they should go forth all together; why should not then a section from every group from among them go forth that they may apply themselves to obtain understanding in religion, and that they may warn their people when they come back to them that they may be cautious (9:122)?\"
The Importance of a Teacher and an Instructor
The teacher is a warm and luminous centre who gets strength from the light of knowledge in order to eradicate ignorance and illiteracy in the whole world. It is the teacher who makes the blind-hearted and the ignorant clear-sighted and wise and takes them, with the assistance of the luminous torch of knowledge and education, to the holy valley and the heaven of prosperity.
For this reason, respect for teachers is essential and obedience towards them is obligatory in the religion of Islam. Teachers are considered the holiest and the most exalted individuals in the human society. Regarding the great and deserving status of teachers, it suffices to say that Amir al-Mu\'minin, \'Ali (as) states: \"He who taught me a word has indeed made me his slave.\"
These wise words are very valuable in paying respect to the status of teachers.
Also, Amir al-Mu\'minin (as) states: \"The people are divided into three groups: the first group consists of the \'ulama\' of Islam; the second one consists of those who acquire knowledge for the salvation of themselves and others; and the third one consists of those who lack knowledge and wisdom. These (people constituting the third group) people are like flies that sit on the head and face of animals and fly in different directions with the blow of each wind (or fly in any direction from which they smell bad odor of filth)\".
Paying Respect to the Learned Men
While describing about the high status and value of knowledge and the dignity of the learned men, the Holy Qur\'an states: \"...Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge, in high degrees...(58:11).\"
The value of scholars is so great to the Prophet (S) of Islam that he stated: \"The death of a tribe is easier and less detrimental than the death of a scholar.\" Similarly, the Almighty Allah also states in another verse: \"...Are those who know and those who do not know alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful (39:9).\"
Thus the alim (Islamic scholar) and the ignorant are never alike. A learned and wise man has obvious superiority over anyone who lacks knowledge. The conclusion drawn from this Qur\'anic verse indicates that in the view of the Qur\'an the term \'knowledge\' does not exclusively apply to Islamic knowledge, rather it covers anything which gives man insight and enlightenment and helps him in his worldly and heavenly affairs.
Regarding the superiority of scholars over the worshippers of Allah and the devout people, the following has been related from al-\'Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as): \"A scholar who puts his knowledge into use is superior to seventy thousand worshippers and has preference over them.\"
The Prophet (S) of Islam believes that the status of personality of a man is determined by his knowledge. The Holy Prophet (S) states: \"The most learned man is one who adds to his own knowledge by deriving benefit from the knowledge of others. The value of man is determined by his knowledge. Thus, the more knowledgeable a man is, the more valuable he is, and also the less knowledgeable a man is, the less valuable he is.\"
The Duties of Teachers and Students
The Holy Qur\'an considers knowledge and learning as man\'s true life, because in the absence of knowledge, man would not have been different from an inanimate object and a deceased person.
Therefore, a student should consider his teacher as a focus of life from whom he gradually receives details of his actual life.
For this reason, he should owe his life to the teacher and should not fall short of respecting him. He must not show stubbornness in receiving lessons from the teacher even if they are accompanied with harshness. The student must respect his teacher in his presence or absence and during his lifetime and after his death.
Similarly, the teacher should also feel responsible for the life of his students. He must not be tired nor must he take rest as long as he has not led his students to the status of live and honorable men. The teacher should not get disappointed if at times the students do not exercise proper care to receiving his teachings. He must encourage and reward his students if they progress in their education. The teacher must never depress the morale of his students by his words and deeds.