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The Grand Goals of Islam in Seeking Knowledge

By: Muhammad Baqir Qarashi
It has acceded to science and its creative capability of developing, maturing, and achieving the social prosperity. It has also believed that any society that rejects science is reactionary and its mental powers and conceptual ties are weak. Such societies, according to the Islamic viewpoint, must leave the caravans of life and illumination.
The Prophet (s) said, “My nation’s expiry occurs when they disdain knowledge.”
Since its earliest stages, Islam declared war against ignorance and indolence. It has adopted positively the advocacy to knowledge and the florescence of the conceptual horizons. It has considered it as an essential element of forming the social, as well as the individual, lives and the motive behind the cultural, economical, and social renaissance of the nation. Finally, Islam has regarded the seeking of knowledge as one of the precepts and the most significant elements of constructing the society and designing the civilization.
The West claimed that Islam combats conceptions and eradicates the freedom of opinions and interdicts the seeking of knowledge. Pierre Lute refutes this opinion. He says, “We, the European, look at Islam as the religion of the conceptual gloom that prevents from enlightenment. We also suppose that Islam calls to extremity and poses many obstacles in the path of progression. First, this proves the Western people’s ultimate ignorance of the Prophet’s instructions. It is also regarded as an ignorance of the historical witnesses. Since its early centuries, Islam went on developing and proceeding in variant fields. We can realize the prompt elevation that the first caliphs did to Islam.”
We have not seen any accusal weaker and cheaper than the previous. A look to the factuality of this great religion will easily prove the falsity of such an accusal. Islam has cited the seeking of knowledge on the top of its precepts and projects. It has also alluded at the big differences between the educated and the ignorant and established amounts of professions and knowledge as the criteria of people’s variance and preference. Imam Ali (a), the pioneer of wisdom and objectivity on this earth, says, “People are evaluated according to what they master.”

Islam has paid a considerable attention to knowledge. It has acclaimed its elevation and considered it as an essential matter of the conceptual renaissance.
Knowledge in the Quran:
The Quran praises the merits of knowledge and the exaltation of the scholars’ statuses in more than one Verse. God says:
Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge in high degrees.
Say: Are those who know and those who do not know alike?
Ask the followers of the Reminder if you do not know.
Nay! These are clear communications in the breast of those who are granted knowledge.
Those of his servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah.
Besides, many Quranic texts indicate the great significance of knowledge and the virtues of the scholars who are the source of illumination and the root of conception on this earth.
Knowledge in Hadith:
The Prophet (s) said: “Seeking studies is a precept that is imposed upon every Muslim. God likes the seekers of knowledge.” “God prefers a single errand for seeking knowledge to the participation in one hundred battles.” “People of knowledge and jihad are the closest to the degree of prophecy.” “I advise the seekers of the worldly affairs to adhere to knowledge, and advise the seekers of the Hereafter to adhere to knowledge, and advise the seekers of both to adhere to knowledge.” “You should learn. Learning for God’s sake is a grace. Its study is a divine praise, and seeking for it is as same as struggling for God’s sake, and its pursue is worship, and its teaching is alms, and its publicity is offering to God.” “Seek knowledge even in China.*”
The reference books of hadith include many other sayings that expose the merits and status of knowledge. Those sayings incite people to proceed in the scientific fields and dismiss the ghosts of ignorance out of their society since it is the source of retardation and disintegration.
Imam Ali (a) says, “O people! You should realize that the perfection of the religion is seeking and applying knowledge. Seeking studies is more necessary than seeking livelihood. The Just, who will surely fulfill the promise, divides and secures the livelihood. Knowledge is stored at its people and you have been ordered of seeking it from its people. You should carry out.”
As he speaks with Kumeil bin Ziad, his student, about the merits of knowledge, Imam Ali (a) says, “O Kumeil! Knowledge is preferable to wealth, for it guards you while you guard wealth, which is reduced by expenditure and knowledge betters the almsgiving. The made of wealth vanishes with the vanishing of wealth. O Kumeil! The cognition of knowledge is an adopted creed with which God grants obedience in this life and remembrance after death. Knowledge is ruling while wealth is ruled. O Kumeil! The collectors of wealth are dead in their lives, and the scholars are as same as time in its persistence. Their essences are missed, but their exemplars are existing in hearts.”
Imam as-Sadiq (a) said, “Seek knowledge and attach tolerance and veneration to it.”
The Prophet’s progeny called and urged on seeking knowledge, educating, crystallizing the concepts, and adorning with awareness and ethics. This is quite evident through the numerous uninterrupted reports.

Masters of the Islamic conceptual movements could not hide the encouragement on seeking knowledge.
Abul-Aswed ad-Dueli said: Nothing is more powerful than knowledge. Kings are people’s rulers, and knowledge is the kings’ ruler.
Mussab bin az-Zubeir instructed his son: Seek knowledge. It is the beatitude of those lacking beatitude and the wealth of those lacking wealth.
Al-Ghezali said: Without scholars, people would have been like animals. Knowledge transfers them from savagery to humanity.
Al-Jahiz said: I do not seek knowledge for achieving a definite purpose and attaining a certain purport. I seek it for getting a thing the ignorance of which is unallowable, and the sane should never disdain.
Ibn abdil-Berr said: Seek knowledge, because it distinguishes the kings and enlivens the publics.

The purpose beyond seeking knowledge, from the Islamic viewpoint, is not attaining narrow material objectives or gaining personal earnings that are unrelated to the factuality of spirits and disciplining. Actually, the goals, we will refer to some hereinafter, are nobler and more elevated.
Activities of the seekers of knowledge should be purely intended for God’s sake, away from any material benefit. The oppressive efforts-- including the turmoil and the hard striving of continuous nights- that the students encounter for receiving knowledge should never be exerted for a worldly affair, which leads to nonsense. Such efforts must achieve a great triumph the resources of which should spread over the society as a whole. Nothing is more beneficial and widespread than working for God’s sake and satisfaction. The sect of Ikhwanus-safa has dedicated the goals of learning to the work for God’s sake. They said, “O brethren! You should realize that every item of knowledge or art that does not lead to the Hereafter will be a loss and an argument on the Resurrection Day.” Al-Ghezali also dedicated the processes of learning to this aspect. He said, “O youngster! Many are the nights that you have passed with seeking knowledge and scanning books, and you have abstained from sleep. I do not know your intendment. If it has been obtaining the concerns of this world, collecting its wreckages, and holding its positions and ostentation before the others, then woe is you! If your intendment is enlivening the Prophet’s practices, refining your ethics, and violating the bad-tending soul, then you will get many happy returns!”
The Prophet (s) repudiated all of the material intendments that are pursued by those faithless ones. He said, “He should find himself a place in the hell-fire that whoever seeks knowledge for disputing with the ill-minded and showing off before the scholars and attracting people’s attentions.” On this bright rule, Islam has encouraged people, by all means, on committing to knowledge. An Islamic educationist says, “The seekers of knowledge ought to dedicate their acts to God and the Hereafter. They ought to intend to eradicate ignorance of people, as well as themselves, enliven the religion, and perpetuate Islam. Knowledge is surely the only means of perpetuating Islam.”
The incentive of seeking studies should be spreading knowledge and God-fearing among people. Islam has urged groups on having religious erudition and rulings, and disposing them among people. God says:
Why should not then a company from every party from among them go forth that they may apply themselves to obtain understanding in religion?
The seeking of knowledge in Islam is significant only when it aims for disciplining people and raising their levels to take them away from the total sorts of irregularity and deviation. Such seekers of knowledge are definitely the prophets’ heirs and the masters of the pious and the virtuous.
In any event, the propagation of the Islamic doctrine, the introduction of the conventional rulings to people, habituating them to the noble morals, and taking them away from ill manners and vile moralities; these are the most important incentives of the religious teaching.
We may mention the creation of the social conscience and leading people to cooperation, heart purity, and spiritual fineness with the goals with which Islam has concerned. The development of the feeling of responsibility, the encouragement on the conceptual and scientific maturity, and the improvement of the general life for avoiding poverty, ailment, and ignorance; all these are included with the goals involved. The Islamic teaching has not been mere religious nor mere material. It has accommodated between the religious and the worldly affairs since it has prepared people to act positively in this world and the Hereafter. The holy Quran refers to this point. God says:
And seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode and do not neglect your portion of this world.
The Prophet (s) stated, “The best of you are not those who neglected the worldly affairs for the Hereafter or the affairs of the Hereafter for the worldly. It is surely they who take from both.”
The propagation of the political conscience, the compaction of the social conceptions, and the expansion of the general mentalities before the public interests along with the supervision of the political affairs are in reach of the goals of the Islamic teachings. These are the very objects that are intended by the prophetic saying, “You all are wardens, and you all are responsible for your wards.”
Such a sort of conscience can be consummated in the Islamic society only when the conceptual and scientific life is affluent. The prevalence of ignorance induces a total destruction of such conscience. The menacing crises affecting the Islamic world in most of the life stages have been the direct results of the conceptual and social disintegration.
Knowledge achieves the nation’s attachment and unification, and eradicates dissidence and corruption. Muslims as a whole are one body gathered by the ties of faith that are more inherent than the ties of lineage. Virtuous spirits can be attainable through the publicity of the Islamic sciences and Muslims’ realizing the factuality of their great religion. The goals of the Islamic teaching are not devoted to religious affairs. They are comprehensive and comprising all of the sciences through which social and economic, as well as other, aspects develop. An educationist says, “Teaching -for Muslims- achieves four purposes- religious, social, material, and rational.”

The distinctive feature of Islam is the collective obligation of obtaining knowledge that systematizes the life. Obtaining the religious knowledge is an individual obligation upon Muslims by either extraction or pursuance. The excuses of the uneducated are inadmissible. The Prophet (s) said, “On the Resurrection day, the servants, who will excuse of ignorance, will be told that they should have learned.”
Al-Ghezali divided knowledge into two parts; one is collective and the other is individual. He said, “People has different opinions regarding knowledge that is imposed on Muslims. They were of twenty sects- each explained the obligation of knowledge according to its own opinions. Theologians estimated theology with which monotheism is realized. Jurists referred to jurisprudence with which people can recognize the precepts including the legal and illegal matters. Exegesists -of the holy Quran- and hadithists suppose that the knowledge of the Quranic and prophetic texts are obligatorily learned. Others suppose other opinions.”
Al-Qabisi assumes that it is obligatory upon boys to learn. He refers to the obligation of learning as his proof. The Quranic knowledge is also obligatory since it is necessary for performing the prayers correctly. Fathers are assigned to teach their sons the knowledge of the Quran and prayers. They may send them to the tutorials and pay for teachers. In case fathers are too poor to meet the costs of teaching, their relatives should pay them. Finally, teachers may teach the boys freely for God’s sake or receive their stipends from the public treasury. This hypothesis was highly considerable for jurists that issued the verdicts of the obligation of receiving knowledge on all of the Muslims.
As Ibn Wahab was attending the classes of Malik, the time of a prayer commenced. He prepared himself for performing it. “The lessons you have attended are not less obligatory than the prayer you are preparing for,” said Malik.
In any case, Islam has incited to obtain religious, and other, knowledges for achieving development and avoiding ignorance, which is the one and only source of retardation.
Compulsory Teaching:
According to the Islamic legislation, governments are responsible for playing a positive role in breaking the bonds of illiteracy and sparing no efforts for spreading science and knowledge among people.
Omar bin al-Khattab, once, asked a Bedouin whether he could recite the Quran. “Yes, I do,” said the man. “Well,” expressed Omar, “Recite the mother of the Book.” The Bedouin worded, “I do not know the daughter. How can I then recite the mother?”
Omar whipped and sent him to the tutorials. He could no longer tolerate; hence, he escaped.
Teaching is one of the life necessities. It is a significant element in the social progress and development. Therefore, Islam had made it a basic rule for the social structure and paid special attention to obtaining religious knowledge. Imam as-Sadiq said, “I wish I could lash our acquaintances on the heads for the sake of receiving knowledge.” He also said, “I do not want the youth to be in other than two states- either teaching or receiving knowledge. Otherwise, they will neglect. The negligent always misspend and then sin. I swear by Him who sent Mohammed with the right, the sinners’ fate will be the hell-fire.”
The period of youth represents power, determination, diligence, and hard working. It is the phase in which powers are perfect and tendencies are ready; therefore, all of the abilities should be spent on knowledge, personal disciplining, and excellence.
Stipend of Teaching:
Jurists had various opinions regarding the permissibility of the teachers’ receiving stipends. Some disallowed while others legalized. Each had their own arguments recorded in the books of jurisprudence. The unanimous fact is that the virtuous and the religious teachers refused to receive wages for teaching. They offered their efforts to God’s sake and the Hereafter. They understood that the process of teaching is God’s guidance; therefore, it is unfit to take wages for it since the prophets did not ask for wages. Ad-Dehak bin Muzahim and Abdullah bin al-Harith, for instance, refused to receive wages for the teaching they had provided for children. Moreover, they forbore from accepting the presents offered by their pupils’ fathers. Once, Abdurrahman as-Salami, who was teaching in Kufa Mosque, refused a present offered by one of his pupils’ father, and wrote to him, “We do not teach the Quran for wages.”
Hajji Khalifa says, “The purpose beyond the publicity of knowledge is not securing the life affairs. It is purposed for showing facts and disciplining moralities. Those who receive knowledge for obtaining a profession are not scholars. They are semi-scholars. The Eastern master scholars referred to this point. When they are informed of the establishment of schools in Baghdad, they held consolation ceremonies for the knowledge. They said, “The masters of elevated concerns and dignified personalities were engaged in knowledge intending to attain honor and perfection. They become the scholars of useful knowledge and personalities. The lowly and the lazy come to knowledge when stipends began to be received for teaching.”
People spent big riches for obtaining knowledge for purposes other than improving their livelihood. Abu Bakr an-Nisapuri said, “I spend one hundred thousand dirhams for obtaining the knowledge of hadith by which I benefited no single dirham.” With the development of the Islamic state and the scientific movement during the Abbasid reign, knowledge became a path taken for reaching the ruling regimes and securing a good livelihood. Since then, stipends were received for teaching. Ibn Khuldoun said, “Knowledge became one of the professions. The extremists took it as a way of gaining leading positions; therefore, individuals other than its real people took this position to change it into a profession. The wealthy and the officials disdained knowledge.”
The grand religious universities of Najaf and Qum are still practicing the free education since all of the knowledges given there are free and offered to God’s sake exclusively.
Age of Teaching:
Islam has noticed all of the aspects originating the prosperity of education and teaching. One of these aspects was the age of teaching that is defined according to children’s mental maturity. It is the seventh year of age. Imam as-Sadiq, the pioneer of the Islamic mental and scientific movement, is reported to say, “A child should play for seven years, and learn at schools for other seven years, and acquire legal and illegal questions for other seven years.” He also said, “Let your son play for seven years and be disciplined for other seven years. He will then thrive lest he will be valueless.”
Islam had declared this fact before the modern studies of psychology of teaching that decided the seventh year as the age of acquiring teachings. UNESCO also affirmed this matter within the educational regulations. Children who join school before this age may undergo lethargy, suffering, and cessation of the mental maturity. Unfortunately, numerous fathers send their sons to schools before attaining this age. An educationist says, “One of the painful states in this age is the drastic competition for acquiring knowledge to the degree that parents often forget that their sons, who have limited mental and physical potentials and specific tendencies and desires, should enjoy their childhood. They hurried in taking their sons to schools before attaining the five or six-year-old, and deem excessive six years of primary school. They try to reduce the period by fatiguing their sons in special tutorials that exhaust their powers and incapacitate their mental maturity.”
Al-Abdari says, “The virtuous ancestors used to send their seven-year-old sons to the tutorials since they are asked to teach their sons the ritual prayers and good manners and traits in this age. Now, children are joining schools in an early age. Teachers should beware of teaching such children the principals of reading lest they are exhausted physically and mentally. As a matter of fact, fathers are sending their sons to school in an early age for getting rid of their home troubles, not teaching them.”
Laziness, sloth, and cessation of mental maturity are within the disadvantages of sending the early children to schools.
Islam has referred to another nonesuch matter that is the necessity of feeding the children with religious spirits so that the atheistic ideologies will not affect. Imam Ali said, “Teach your sons useful knowledge so that the atheists will not overcome them.”
The children’s minds are the most fertile for receiving the religious advocacy and embracing the virtues and guidance of Islam. The children’s religious advocacy purifies their souls against deviation and aberrance, and guides to a brighter future.
Children are the recipients of every idea. Imam Ali says, “The like of the juveniles’ minds is the vacant land that receives whatever is seeded.” This fact should be utilized for directing the children to the virtuous bearing of honesty and good manners. Unfortunately, the educators and fathers have shown shortage in this regard. They did not immunize their sons against the lethal diseases, such as existentialism and the like, that gushed into the Muslim countries and affected many individuals. Such individuals went on imitating the fashions and styles of the aimless and the corruption of the existentialists. They have lost all of the criteria of human values and distinction between good and evil.
Categories of Sciences:
Islam has ordered of plunging into all of the classes of sciences especially those achieving social and mental growth. Furthermore, it is obligatory upon Muslims to receive some sciences such as medicine, pharmacology, and other industrial sciences and arts. Modern sciences and specialization are given an exclusive intention for their being the bases of people’s development and renaissance. The Islamic world has collapsed and been rent asunder because of ignorance and the conceptual slowdown in industries, and falling behind the developed countries that built their civilization on the grounds of science and arts. All these made the Islamic homeland the target of the imperialists who hurried for usurping its riches and economic resources.
Islam has not restricted science to certain categories, but it urged on using all of its categories and arts. The imams, who are the Prophet’s heirs and the repositories of his wisdom and secrets, have cleft the portals of most of sciences. They tackled the various classes of mental and reported science through their lectures and theses. They recorded their attendance in jurisprudence, hadithology, Quranic exegeses, medicine, and chemistry et al. Imam As-Sadiq grasped the grand portion of the crystallization of mental life and the expansion of science scopes that contributed in constructing the Islamic civilization. Sayyid Mir Ali al-Hindi says, “It is quite acceptable to state that the sciences of that time helped in unlocking the restricted mentalities. Philosophic discussions became public all over the Islamic world. It is worthy mentioning that the chief of this movement was the grandson of Ali bin abi Talib, known as Imam Jafar whose nickname was As-Sadiq. He enjoyed expansive mental horizons and intellectual far-thee-well. He had full and complete familiarity with the sciences of his age. He was surely the founder of the well-versed philosophic schools in Islam. His classes were not dedicated to those who became, later on, founders and masters of the sects, but they were attended by the grand philosophers and the students of philosophy all over the Islamic state.”
Mohammed Sadiq Nashat says, “The house of Jafar as-Sadiq was a university decorated permanently with the grand masters of hadith, exegesis, wisdom, and theology. The number of the attendants was attaining two thousand in most times. It could reach four thousand all are famed scholars.”
The main topic of the previous exposition is to prove that Islam has constituted the conceptual life on the bases of enlightenment and development of the general, not specific, classes of knowledge. Al-Aqqad says, “Islamic science is too comprehensive to leave any topic. It is more significant than teaching how to perform the ritual precepts. It is surely the best worship by which man is led to the Lord’s secrets of creation as well as the personal and surrounding facts.”
Islam has concentrated on the necessity of acquiring religious teachings and Shariite rulings since they regulate the social relations and achieve the equanimity of personal behavior and manners. At any rate, such teachings include transactions such as contracts, pledges, blood money, and doctrinal provisions besides the rituals. They also involve social, political, and economic affairs in addition to those related to ethics and moralities.

Sorcery causes terrible damages to the society since it attracts people to fables and false matters and believing in illusions and mirages. From this cause, Islam has banned the teaching and learning of sorcery, and likened it to atheism and polytheism. The Prophet said, “The sorcerers are atheists.” “He is converting to atheism that whoever learns any amount of sorcery, unless he repents.” “Three classes of people will not be in the Paradise- the drunkards, the sorcerers, and the violators of relations of kinship.”
Those who practice this art are ruled as apostates since it is an instrument of demolishing and deviation and a source of frivolity and sedition. A number of naïve, simple, and ordinary people accepted sorcery completely; hence, they used to act upon the words and directions of sorcerers for revealing what they ignore. For instance, people seek the help of sorcerers for revealing the perpetrator of a murder. In many cases, sorcerers accuse innocent persons, arouse sedition, and disorder in the society.
Astrology causes to believe in the influence of the planets in the events and independent impression in composing and establishing certain occurrences. It also indicates the planets’ managing and founding this cosmos. This will certainly lead to denial of God’s existence and His relinquishing in the earthly affairs after creation of these stars. Islam has warned against learning or believing in astrology. The Prophet said, “He whoever believes in wording of astronomers or fortune-teller is denying what has been revealed to Mohammed.”
As Imam Ali was about to begin his journey, an astronomer said, “If you choose this very time for traveling you will not win your intendment. This is the astrology.” The Imam gazed at him and said, “Do you claim you lead to the very hour that discharges the evil and the one that brings about the vile? Believing in you is belying the Quran and disdaining God’s help in obtaining the wish and evading the abominated. O People! Beware of learning astronomy except in cases of direction. Astronomy leads to fortune telling. Fortune-tellers are the like of sorcerers. Sorcerers are the like of atheists. Atheists will be in the hell-fire.”
This is the logic of Islam aiming at believing in God and engaging all of the events to His will and determination. Stars have nothing to do with events except those regarding climate, lunar and sonar eclipses and the like. Those predictions do not confront the religion and its factuality and guidance.
Those banned sciences cripple the conceptual movement, deaden the cognizance and enliven believing in delusions and fables.

Women had a good share of teaching in Islam
Islam has not dedicated teaching to men. As a matter of fact, women had a good share of teaching. Islam has aroused the spirit of knowledge among women of Muhajirs and Ansar* and encouraged them on learning reading and writing in addition to religious affairs. Al-Bukhari records that women asked the Prophet to assign a day on which he might meet and teach them and the Prophet did. Al-Belathiri counts the ladies who were teachers of writing and reading among whom were Hafsa the Prophet’s wife, Ummukulthoum bint Awaba and Aisha bint Sa’d who said, “My father taught me reading and writing.” Easa bin Miskin used to gather his sons and nieces for teaching reading and writing.
Al-Jahiz affirms, “Women should not be taught writing and poetry. They should learn the Quran, especially sura of Nur.” Al-Qabisi banned women’s learning to avoid depravity. He said, “It is more secure for women to evade learning reading.”
In fact, such opinions lack scientific genuineness and resist the Islamic spirit and guidance. Islam has persistently used all methods and powers for eradicating ignorance and illiteracy, and regarded the acquisition of knowledge as an individual right of every male and female. It has also burdened the governments of arranging equal opportunities of obtaining knowledge apart from race, nationality, and social class. It has declared that every human being should enjoy the right of the expansive participation in the scientific and conceptual activities.
The Islamic mission is based upon knowledge and believing in its being an important element of social progress of individuals and communities since it is not devoted to men exclusively. Women, whose roles in establishing the humane society and life prosperity and maturity have been distinctively and highly praised and estimated in Islam, are also included because they form the basic ground upon which family structure is built. How is it acceptable that Islam that gave women unprecedented respect and granted them as much as possible rights in scopes of general, as well as individual, relations with governments and societies has prevented them from obtaining knowledge, which is the guide to social and conceptual maturity and progress?
It is impossible for women to attain and rank of elevation and perfection unless they construct their lives on bases of knowledge and religion. It is yes that Islam banned women from mixed learning and warned against grooming since these matters push them into depths of disintegration and corruption and nullify their chastity and dignity. Islam aims for preserving women’s dignity and protecting them against slipping in humble levels. Women should be the mistresses of their class, and should manage and supervise the education and guidance of their likes for being active members in this life.

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