Islam and the Acquisition of Knowledge
Hojjat al-Islam Hashmi Rafsanjani
Former President of Islamic Republic of Iran
Friday Prayer Sermon 14: (January 25, 1985)
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and Allah's peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah and upon his descendants, the infallible Imams. I take refuge with Allah (SWT) from the accursed Shaytan.
"...Allah will exalt those of you who believe and those who are given knowledge to high degrees..." (58.11)
We have discussed in regard to non-European races. The last part, the discussion was in relation to the cultural invasion of the West on the non-European world. We have mentioned that the attack on the ethics and bases of sound human nature was a part of the Western policies set against the Third World, and which is still continuing. We had another deliberation under the same part of the discussion about the prevention of scientific growth and keeping the people away from acquiring higher education and up-to-date techniques and know-how. The policy of the colonialist powers was to prevent the progress of those who were not European, and those who were not united with them. They do not want them to acquire self-reliance on their scientific, technical and industrial power as well as materialistic progress which is the weapon of the day. What was left unfinished in this discussion was its comparison with Islam. Today my khutbah is going to deal with a comparison between the approach of Islam in regard to dissemination of knowledge and culture and that of the Western world.
Islam and the Acquisition of Knowledge
Earlier, I made it clear that in terms of ethics, Islam desires all human beings to possess good morals and calls humanity to observe taqwa. It even calls the followers of other religions to taqwa and even the people who do not follow a Divine religion. Taqwa demands purity in deeds, thoughts, and behaviour for all people. This aspect has been discussed in detail. The last part of this discussion today is mostly in regard to knowledge and to how the revered Islam wants the development of knowledge all over the world. The comparison from this viewpoint is important because this principle is an honour for the modern world of Islam and particularly for our nation which is the founder of the new Islamic movement and which has planned to export the revolution. It can be very useful and beneficial in creating a high morale, lively spirit, and better activity in our youths.
All people, who study the history of modern sciences, who have expertise, and who deal with the matters justly, agree that the modern materialistic progress of the world, and the advancement of sciences and industries are the results of the efforts of Muslims in the past centuries. When the Europeans were struggling in the Middle Ages and when ignorance and barbarism dominated Europe, the torch of knowledge was held by the Muslims whose vanguards were the Arabs. So far as we have seen, wherever European orientalists have desired to deal with the matters justly, they have explicitly accepted that the Arabs, inspired by Islam, have held the torch of science, industry, and new techniques, and have taken it from the Arabian Peninsula to the entire world. They enlightened Europe, India, and China. The Muslims gathered and compiled the literature on ancient thoughts and sciences, which were about to be lost due to the tyrannies of the oppressors of the time. They translated ancient books. As the orientalists put it, Islam and the Arabs were like a mirror which reflected all ancient scientific developments within itself and then it reflected these to other parts of the world.
The Muslims, inspired by the Divine decrees, recovered and translated into Arabic the books from the devastated libraries of ancient civilizations of Egypt, Iran, Greece, India, China, and Rome and placed them at the disposal of this generation. This is the confession the Europeans themselves have made about Islam. This was accomplished at a juncture when the Europeans lived under the worst intellectual conditions. Most of the references I make in this discussion are from European writers, thereby using their own statements against themselves, and making these acceptable for us because they were not biased in this respect. The basis of this matter lies in the Islamic teachings. Islam is extremely sensitive towards the dissemination and acquisition of knowledge, and lays great emphasis on them both. In this regard, I will cite a few ahadith (traditions) so that the discussion would have a solid documentary basis; otherwise, these issues have been amply dealt with in the ordinary books available to you.
You heard the Qur'anic ayah I recited at the beginning of this khutbah. We have numerous ahadith about learning and teaching the sciences. I am pointing it out because here the discussion is about the total prevention of acquiring advanced sciences by people, which was imposed by the Europeans, Westerners, and the colonialists on the nonEuropean countries. These ahadith are from the infallible Imams (A) and many of our Imams (A) have made statements to this effect, e.g., the hadith:
"For every thing there is zakat (statutory Islamic levy used for Muslims' welfare) and the zakat of knowledge is that it should be imparted to those who deserve and are capable to receive the knowledge." And this is a basic principle. Just as a Muslim is bound to pay zakat for all Divine gifts and blessings which he enjoys, he is bound to pay zakat for the knowledge he obtains. The zakat for this is to teach others whatever he has learnt. If one keeps his knowledge to himself and does not teach it to others, he has committed an oppression and has opposed zakat. Another hadith states: "Whoever gains knowledge and performs his deeds according to that, and also teaches others will be recognized as an accepted and dignified person in the kingdom of heaven and the system of creation." With respect to the following holy ayah, which is normally interpreted with regard to property:
"And who spend out of what We have given them (42:38); "
We have ahadith to support that this infaq (charity or donation in the cause of Allah (SWT) also includes knowledge. That is to say, "whatever they have learnt they must disseminate in the world."
Elsewhere it has been stated in a hadith: "Whoever hides his knowledge from others will have such a situation in the Divine creation that everything, even fish in the seas and birds in the skies, will curse him." This is with regard to people who preclude the dissemination of knowledge and who hide it from others.'
Yet another hadith states: "Whoever hides a knowledge beneficial to the people and prevents its dissemination among the people, Allah (SWT) will insert the reins of fire in his mouth on the Judgment Day and will beat him with the reins having a fire-head." Such ahadith are so many that we could compile voluminous books. These ahadith are also amply available in our books, e.g., one can refer to `Allamah Majlisi's book entitled "Biharul-Anwar". The steps taken by Prophet Muhammad (SA), Imams (A), and other religious dignitaries for dissemination of knowledge, the importance of teaching others, of not hiding knowledge from others, and of not obstructing others from receiving education, etc., have been made quite clear in Islam. The Muslims have performed this duty quite well. You have certainly heard that we are bound to go wherever there is knowledge and are bound to acquire it. The Muslims acted according to this principle and founded the new civilization. They prevented the obliteration of the works of the `ulama' of the past. Europe has always been enjoying this sumptuous feast offered by the Muslims. Now see how they are treating the Muslims.
I will point out some examples to serve as a document for those who at present want to be acquainted with Islam. All our Muslims know these issues. Today we have new listeners and there are people who have lately decided to hear the call of Islam. Such people should see what difference exists between Islam and the policies of the Western colonial governments, and how Islam will treat other nations. There are numerous people who have written about the world of Islam and its civilization. Among them are the German, viz, Adam Metz, Will Durant, Gustav Lubun, Jurji Zaydan. Their works are available in the libraries. Other researchers have also written books on this subject which have not been translated. On the whole, these matters are not new which I have discovered, or these matters do not need new proofs.
This is a subject on which books are already available in the libraries. I recommend to those who want to learn about Islam to refer to these books. If you want to know about Islam, you must be familiarized with the difference between the policies of Islam and those of Europe towards other nations and races.
Muslims - The Pioneers of Knowledge and Technology in the Past
Gustav Lubun was a renowned physician, philosopher, sociologist, and a priest. He was a French orientalist who passed away about 50 years ago. He has written a famous book entitled: "The Islamic and Arab Civilization" which has been published several times. Whoever wants to know the difference between the policies of Islam towards other races and those of the global arrogance now dominating the world may find it out by reading this book.
In the book, he writes: "When the Muslims were the pioneers of science and technology in the world and held the torch of civilization, our situation in Europe was such that the worst form of barbarism ruled over us. When the Muslim libraries and schools of higher education in Spain enrolled students from all over the world, our scientific centres in the heart of Europe were inside forts where the self-made chants and idle talks of our monks were taught. When one of our high priests, who had learnt certain things, wanted to teach in Europe, the biased Christian men said that Satan had overcome him and that he was deviating the people from the path of God. They campaigned against him." The same writer then states:
"During the reign of the second ruler in Andalusia -a great Islamic figure - when a library was established with 600,000 books, not even a proper library could be found all over Europe. And when we set to work four hundred years later, the wise Charles of France, with all the effort he exerted, could only gather 900 volumes of books from all over Europe to set up a library in Paris and keep them there." This is the situation of Europe and Islam in the tenth and eleventh centuries. I have noted down some of the comments of this writer and will cite them from the tribune of the Friday Prayers for our brothers and sisters to hear and know that when we speak of export of the revolution, it is not an innovation (bid`ah). Islam is based on this principle, and it is our right to do such a thing.
Gustav Lubun states: "The service rendered by the Muslims for the acquisition of knowledge has been astonishing. Not a single other group of people could be found to have precedence over them. Whatever city they got hold of, the Muslims immediately set up institutes and mosques therein. They built mosques to reform the ideas and morality of the people. To elevate the people's level of understanding, they built schools." Just compare these actions of Muslims with the behaviour of the so-called civilized Europeans and Americans, who claim to be the pioneers of civilization and whose abominable signs and perpetuation of savagery and barbarism can now be seen all around the world. The famine of Africa, the misery of south America, the affliction imposed on the Third World are due to this spirit of opposition to science, teaching, and learning assumed by global arrogance outside Europe.
All orientalists accept that for about 600 years, the European universities were run with the help of the books taken from the Muslims and the Arabs. Translation of books by Abu `Ali ibn Sina, Abu Ar-Rayhan al-Biruni, Ibn Rushd, and other Iranian philosophers have been the part of the curricula of high ranking European universities till recently. These are the confessions of the Europeans themselves. This is the Islamic spirit and the approach of Islam towards them. And that is their approach to other nations and peoples. Even in the course of the crusades when they came to plunder Palestine and the Middle East, they, apart from anything else, took away with them educational achievements and sciences from the Muslims. This was the situation of the world of Islam to propagate culture, arts, sciences, and techniques, as well as the fields of learning which they gave to the Europeans.
Everyone can read the book entitled: "The Heritage of Islam" which has been divided into 13 separate chapters written by 13 orientalists, to see that they have taken from the Muslims the main clues, bases and roots of many fields of knowledge, which have reached their climax in today's world. Of course, not all of these were the innovations of the Muslims. Some of them were taken by the Muslims from other ancient civilizations and were revived. When Islam was spreading in the region and when it became dominant in Iran, many of the scholars who had escaped from Greece and Rome and who lived in exile in Iran took refuge under the banner of Islam and helped the dissemination of the sciences under the auspices of Islam. Prejudice, in the form that now exists in Europe and prevents scientific development, did not exist at all in any form in the Islamic world. Martyr Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari, in the book entitled: "Mutual Services of Iran and Islam", relates a story which exemplifies the approach of Islam towards other peoples and races. He writes as below:
"In the early years of the 2nd century A.H., i.e., about one hundred years after the spread of Islam, Hisham ibn Abdil-Malik went to Kufah and met with one of its scholars. He asked him about the fuqaha' of Islamic lands and he gave some answers. Hisham asked: "Who is the faqih (Islamic jurisprudent) of Madinah?" and he replied: "Nafi`." He asked; "Is Nafi` an Arab or a non-Arab?" He answered: "He is not an Arab (Banu Umayyah showed a prejudice in favour of the Arabs but this was non-Islamic): He is from among the mawali (non-Arabs)."He asked: "Who is the faqih of Makkah?" He said; "`Ata' ibn Abi Riyah." Again he asked: "Is he an Arab or not?" He answered: "He is not an Arab." "Who is the faqih of Yemen?" He said; "Tawus ibn Kaysan. " When asked whether he is an Arab, he said: "No,: He asked: "Who is the faqih of Al-Yamamah?" He replied: "Yahya ibn Abi Kuthayr, and he is also not an Arab." "Faqih of Damascus is Makhul and is a non-Arab too." "Faqih of the Arabian Peninsula is a person called Maymun and faqih of Khurasan is a person called Ad-Dahhak ibn Muzahim. Faqih of Basrah is Hasan ibn Sirin." For whomsoever he asked, he answered that they were non-Arabs. When he asked about the name of the faqih of Kufah, he said the faqih is Ibrahim AnNakha`i and is an Arab. Hisham said: "I was dying of grief, and if you had not mentioned an Arab, I would have given my life."
See, only about one hundred years had passed from the emergence of Islam, yet fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) which was the best form of learning at that time, and the fiqaha' who were eminent, were "mawali " or non-Arabs', that is to say, these were the people who had come from other races, who had studied, and had reached this status. Such is the approach of Islam.
The honourable Imam, `Ali ibn Abi Talib (A) has cited interesting stories about prejudices which at times could be seen in certain figures during the early days of Islam towards the Arabs and the non-Arabs. He opposes these attitudes and does not allow knowledge, art, and technique to be at the service of a particular race, and does not allow science which is of the Divine blessings to be limited to this narrow framework, so that humanity would be oppressed. There might also be an ontological meaning behind the ahadith citing that if a person hides the knowledge, (he has learned), even the fish in the sea will curse him. That is to say, hiding knowledge is an oppressive action on even the sea-animals and also on the living things in the sky, like birds.
The knowledge and sciences will develop in free environment, if these are not monopolized and they are placed at the service of all people. There are great talents among deprived peoples, and if the gateway of science and techniques is opened to them, they will elevate the level of sciences and these talents will blossom. The worst oppression which global arrogance now inflicts on humanity is to try to stifle those sensitive areas in the way of the advancement of sciences. The vital world industries have "blind spots" which are not placed at the disposal of the Third World countries. When one considers the atomic industry, he realizes that in manufacturing heavy water or rich uranium, there is a "blind point", the key to which is either in Washington, France, or Moscow, etc. When one pursues the electronic industries, one realizes that at its advanced levels there is a "blind spot" whose key they are not willing to give to others.
Export of the Revolution Is Possible by Confronting the World with Scientific, Industrial, and Technological Competences
When we consider the oppression now being committed against Africa, and the sufferings being endured by its peoples, we see that these are the results of the dirty deeds and criminal acts committed by the Europeans during the last century.
Gur Uzli was a very satanic British figure who was appointed in this region in the last century, and later was the British ambassador to Iran. When he was deputed to Russia, he wrote a letter to Britain (Historians have noted that he was an architect of the British Foreign policy, of which there were only three architects and he was one of them) indicating that: "If India is to be kept under the British rule (at that time the aim was to keep India under the British rule), my proposal is to keep the Indians in ignorance and barbarism." See the plan is to keep the people of a colony in ignorance and barbarism to safeguard their rule over the colony. Now compare this with the deeds of the pioneers of Islam's scientific movement who enlightened Europe. Now these Europeans have turned that enlightenment to bullets against us. The difference between the two schools of thought becomes manifest here.
Through this grand Islamic movement which we have now founded, we hope to fulfill our Islamic mission by consolidating our (movement's) foundation and making our situation suitable for the work, that is to say, by gathering learned people here and setting up strong scientific centres. Then we would be able to implement the Islamic mission and offer help to the backward nations. We believe that the export of the revolution would be possible in realistic terms, when we can confront the world with powerful scientific, technical, and industrial competences and when we would be able to present to the world our beliefs alongside the scientific services that we can render. Of course, this will be accomplished provided that scholars who will gather here will be committed, pious, and truly human.
We do not deem that knowledge is exclusive to the religious people. All people can become scholars, and we know that there is no bias in this regard in Islam. We can obtain knowledge through the expertise of anyone. It is our duty to respect the scholars of any part of the world, and of any ideology if no corruption is manifested by them. This has been and continues to be the policy of Islam.
Commitment and Taqwa - The Main Criteria In the Field of Knowledge according to the Policy of Islam
I have already mentioned that Islam has respected and valued those books of ancient idolaters which had scientific value. Our scientific policy should be like this. We should honour scholars, scientists, and technical experts and we should respect their views. But taqwa and commitment should serve as the pivot for our science, for our scientific movement, and for Islam's future paths for which Iran can serve as a centre to pave their way, because having knowledge is one thing, while having knowledge coupled with ethical and human virtue and justice to place it at the service of the world and humanity is another thing.
The knowledge was at one time in the hands of the Muslims who illuminated the world by its dissemination, but today it is in the hands of the Westerners. You see how they use the knowledge, know-how and expertise as a tool to commit oppression and what dirty deeds they perform through it.
As a consequence, along with our own sciences, we need pious, committed, humanistic, virtue-seeking scientists possessed of correct Islamic and humanitarian ethics. All praise is due to Allah (SWT), we are laying down foundations with this objective in view at our universities, in our scientific centres, and in our research centres. We hope that one day Tehran University, which is now witnessing this multitudinous gathering of people for Salatul-Jumu`ah (Jumu`ah Prayer), would witness a massive wave of learned, revolutionary, committed, and religious scholars who would be at the service of humanity with the torch of knowledge in their hands.