Islamic Studies

Islam and Knowledge

In today’s ever changing world of scientific and technological advancement, the world is divided into two distinct categories. The first category of nations we may call advanced or developed nations. This category is characterized by a flourishing economy, industry, science and medicine. The second category we can call the underdeveloped nations. This category is characterized by a weak industry, low income, low education standards, and high illiteracy rates. It is well known that the vast majority of the 40+ Muslim countries fall under the underdeveloped category. So one might be hasty when making the correlation and infer that their religion has something to do with this. This is a completely false assumption and the purpose of this article is to show the importance Islam gives to knowledge and its propagation.

It is well known that the pre-Islam Arabs were very strong in eloquent linguistics as an oral tradition, yet still there were very few among them who were literate. It was through the Prophethood of Muhammad (May the Peace of God be Upon Him) that the Arabs became a people of civilization. His Prophethood brought institutionalized law, a court system, schools, human rights, and fought all social vices. This in turn led to a vast empire known for its just rule and advancements in science, math, and medicine. This is well known to anyone who has heard of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ar-Razi, Abu Al-Qasim (Abulcasis), Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), and many others we see as references in science, math, and medical textbooks. This article is an attempt to prove that it was their religion which previously thrust Muslims into the forefront in the world of arts and sciences. Accordingly, it is only a lack of understanding and/or practice of Islam which has led Muslims to their current state of weakness.
Starting from the very beginning of Muhammad’s (pbuh) Prophethood, we see that the first verses which were revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) were-

Read in the name of your Lord who created everything. He creates a human being from a blastocyst. Read! And (know that) your Lord is the most generous one who taught man to use the pen. He taught man that which he did not know.”(Qur’an 96:1-5)

It is well known that after a battle between the Muslims of Medina and the Polytheists of Makkah that the Prophet (pbuh) made a condition that he would release any POW who would teach 10 Muslims to read. The Prophet (pbuh) himself was sent by God as a teacher of wisdom, character, law and theology. It is well known in Islamic law that anything the Prophet (pbuh) commanded us to do becomes binding and is considered an act of worship if done with the intention of pleasing God. One of these obligations was for all Muslims; men, women, young, old, master, and slave to seek knowledge-

“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon all Muslims.”(Albani 3913)

God Almighty teaches us the importance of knowledge, education and critical analysis throughout the Qur’an. Anyone who has read through the Qur’an can’t help but notice hundreds of verses challenging one to ponder over the universe and the many signs of God’s existence as well as to take account of their current lifestyle in spiritual retrospect. We read throughout the Qur’an rhetorical questions asked after a point is made like; Why don’t they contemplate, Why don’t they reason, Why don’t you think, Don’t you see, etc… The Almighty teaches us one of the best supplications-

“And say, O My Lord increase me in knowledge”(Qur’an 20:114)
God Almighty tells us of the eminence and nobility He confers upon the people of knowledge-

“God elevates the status of people of faith as well as those who have attained knowledge in degrees (above the others).”(Qur’an 58:11)

The Prophet (pbuh) expounds upon this meaning by teaching us that knowledge is even preferred over worship and that true piety cannot be reached unless the worship and obedience that you engage in is based upon pure knowledge of God, His message and the reality in which we live-

“The precedence of knowledge is higher than that of worship and the best way to practice Islam is to refrain from sin and foolishness.”(At-Targheeb 3/24)

We are taught that seeking a thorough education is in itself a way to heaven and a means of salvation and that spending time seeking knowledge is beloved to the angels who invoke Almighty God on their behalf. The Prophet (pbuh) said-

“Whoever sets out on path in search for knowledge, accordingly God will make him or her a path to Heaven. The Angels are filled with compassion for the seeker of knowledge. Indeed everyone in the heavens and the Earth will supplicate that God forgive the seeker of knowledge. Surely the precedence of the scholar over the worshipper is as to the clarity of the full moon in the night over the other stars and planets”(Abu Dawood 3641)

It is also well known that envy and jealousy in Islam is in most cases considered a sin. The Prophet (pbuh) taught us that it is acceptable to be jealous of two types of people. Of course this jealousy is based in respect and is not from the wicked envy that leads people to dislike the one they envy or try to create problems for them seeking to decrease their stature.

“There are two cases in which you may be jealous of one another. The first is someone who God has provided wealth and he spent it in good causes until almost going broke. The second is someone who God blessed with wisdom and they judged according to it and taught it to others.”(Bukhari 73)

History testifies that the political successors of the Prophet (pbuh) who were his closest companions throughout his Prophethood continued in this Islamic campaign for knowledge. It was the second successor to the Prophet, Umar Ibn al-Khattab who said-

“Seek knowledge and teach it to others. Learn with knowledge a calm composure and serenity. Be humble toward your teacher and your student.”

It was Ali ibn Abi talib the beloved son in law of the Prophet and fourth leader of the Islamic state (pbuh) who said,

“Knowledge is better than wealth. Knowledge keeps and protects you while you keep and protect your wealth. Knowledge is a ruling authority while wealth is something which is ruled over.”

The Islamic state was known for its system of organized schools of the sciences and it was the first known for encouraging comprehensive knowledge of religious and scientific subjects before specializing in a certain field. For this reason we see that many Islamic scholars wrote books in theology, Islamic legal theory, Qur’anic exegesis, Hadith verification as well as grammar, literature, mathematics, medicine, logic and philosophy. It is well known that algebra and the first detailed explanation of the use of zero was introduced by Al-Khwarizmi and that modern medicine is heavily based upon the works and ethics of Muslim physicians and surgeons. Any keen observer of history knows that by far Islam flourished as a refined culture and civilization for over a millennium.
It wasn’t until the last few centuries of the Ottoman rule that the leadership became idle and the Muslims became ignorant and unproductive for the first time since before being Muslims. Since the downfall of the Islamic state in 1924 and the decline of colonialism, we see that dictatorships and military ran regimes have dominated the Muslim world. This leadership has been most concerned about glorifying itself and a period of neglect has engulfed the Muslim world. This neglect has led to mass ignorance which is the root to most problems in the Muslim world. Without a doubt, the answer to many of the major problems in the Middle East lies in their returning to a just sincere form of leadership that realizes that it is the people and their achievements that make a nation and not its ruler. We see in the Muslims’ scriptures as well as in their history that they will only be a successful people if they are well grounded in a solid balance of religious and worldly knowledge.


About the author

John (Yahya) Ederer

Imam John Yahya Ederer left a life of spiritual decadence and embraced Islam in 1998. In 2002, he accepted a scholarship offer from the Islamic American University in Michigan and spent 6 years travelling the Muslim world studying with prominent scholars. He attained an associates with IAU, a certification of mastery of the Arabic sciences from the ministry of education in Egypt, a diploma in Islamic Studies from the Cordoba Institute in Kuwait and a license with one of the highest chains of transmission in Qur’an memorization and recitation. He served as the Religious Director of the Islamic Foundation of South Florida for two years and now lives with his wife and two children in Charlotte, North Carolina where he serves as Imam of the Muslim American Society. He currently sits on the clergy board of one of the largest interfaith coalitions in Mecklenburg Ministries and is a board member of the Shamrock Drive Development Association.

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  • AOA Brother John,
    Let me tell you an interesting thing. Few days someone said the same about Muslims and here you go, you answered it in such a detail. I am really impressed to see it. Please allow me to re publish it on my blog with proper credits to the orignal author and the blog of brother Suhaib.

  • WAS Akh M Junaid,
    This article was for anyone who may benefit from it and the intetnion in writing it was for Da’wa. There is no copyright

  • I am impressed with the historic depth of your knowledge of Islam. I am considered and consider myself very liberal. That does not mean that I accept any deviation and diversity of Islam. It simply means that I am tolerant of all who pretend or attempt to find common ground in faith and philosophy. I can tolerate the fundamentalist and the rationalist, as well as the essentialist.

    The first error I see in understanding Islam is in the idea of knowledge. Knowledge implies fact and there is the rub. Fact can be factual of actual. A fact is such that the positive does not logically exclude the negative or vice versa. Thus, if one says that it is a fact that the God exists, it is just as logical to say that God does not exist, or that no God exists. If, however, one knows that the being of God is Truth (Al Haq), it cannot be possible that God does not exist.

    There is non-factual, but no non-truth. A fact is is a matter that could be true or not true, though is always true. All that is true is true from all time. There was never a time when it was true that I would not exist and there will never come a time when it will be true that I did not exist at the time that I do. But, were I never born, I could never exist as a person. It is not illogical to use the subjunctive conditional, ‘…if I were not.’

    Truth is a matter that is true and could not be not true. On the ordinary level, it is not possible to brand a mathematical truth as a fact. It is not possible to conceive that 2 plus 2 equals five. On the higher level, it is not possible to conceive that God does not exist. Thus knowledge is of at least two kinds. Matters of fact accepted as fact that may not be true, and matters of fact believed to be fact, that may not be true. Another distinction is that fact is time anchored with a beginning and an end in time, or a point of existence in time. Allah is not time dependent. That means that there could never be a time when Allah was not, and will never be a time when Allah is not. Allah is over and above time and all other being. The being of Allah is everywhere in time and place and nothing is hidden or inaccessible to Allah. So any concept of God as a fact violates the being of God, though may not violate the logic of the fact. As a matter of fact, it it true that God is, or it it true that God is not. But, as Truth, God is. When we try to describe or limit God, we misunderstand the message of the Prophet (PBUH) and our own language. Christians and others seek God in Heaven, or Paradise after their own death, but not here and now, which violates the essence of Islam. They fear punishment or reward in the hereafter, but not here and now, or here before. Those of us whose potential is not realized, were punished here before. We who are realized as human beings, are blessed. And we who fail in the here and now, are punished in the hereafter, but only in the minds of men.

    Are you truly blind, or do you pretend by your name to be without sight? Let not the Light that is Truth of Allah blind you, or the darkness of ignorance deprive you of your sight. True knowledge is not Truth itself. Seek knowledge for its own sake, but seek Allah for the sake of Truth. Salaam! Peace be upon you.

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