Seeking Knowledge

True Knowledge

Ten years ago, while in pharmacy school, I gave a quick presentation about the use of Over the Counter (OTC) smoking cessation products. It was an exercise in counseling patients on what is available in the market without a prescription to help them quit smoking. It was a very well put together presentation that garnered my classmates’ applause. But the best part about it, according to my classmates, was the fact that everyone could see the outline of the pack of cigarettes in my front pocket. I was a smoker you see, yet I stood up in front of everyone and preached about the best way to help one quit this harmful habit and lead a healthy life.

Allah says in Surat Al-Jum`ah:

The example of those who were entrusted with the Torah and then did not take it on is like that of a donkey who carries volumes [of books]. (Qur’an, 62:5)

In this verse, Allah (swt) talks about the Jews who did not utilize the knowledge given to them in the Torah nor did they apply it to their lives. He likens them to a donkey that carries on its back volumes of books; however, regardless of the knowledge these books contain, the donkey cannot make use of nor implement that knowledge in its life. Although this specific verse refers to the example of the Jews denying what was contained in their books about the coming of Prophet Mohammed ﷺ (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his message, we need to look at the greater message. The moral of this ayah is that mere possession of knowledge is not enough. We must implement knowledge in all aspects of our life or else it is, and we are, rendered useless. Simply put, when I gave that presentation, I was like a donkey. I had all the knowledge of the harms of smoking, how to best quit smoking and what help there is for me, yet I did not benefit from that knowledge. As one poet puts it:

كالعيس في البيداء يقتلها الظمأ و المـــــاء فوق ظهورها محمـول

Like camels in the desert dying of thirst/while it carries the water right on its back

The same can be said about knowing that prayer is the essential foundation of Islam but not praying, or having verses of the Qur’an memorized but not understanding what they mean. Please don’t get me wrong. The idea is not for every one of us to become a scholar of Islamic theology or jurisprudence or to become experts in every field of information; the idea is to understand and implement the knowledge that we do have in our lives. So let us ask ourselves, how many of us truly practice our knowledge? How many of us truly understand what it means to profess, five times a day, the Lordship of Allah? How many of us truly understand and implement the meanings of two verses that most of us have memorized?

“So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.”
(Qur’an, 99:7-8)

About the author

A. Elasmar

A. Elasmar

A. Elasmar is of Palestinian decent and was raised in Qatar. He earned a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree and is currently an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice. A. Elasmar is active in his local masjid, helps organize a halaqa, and gives Friday Khutbahs. He is also active in da`wah and is a guest lecturer for a World Religions class. His former pseudonym for this website was Nomad78.


  • MashaAllah, a very timeless piece of wisdom! Most of us are struggling in this arena. May Allah SWT help us succeed and draw closer to Him, InshaAllah.

  • Understanding the Quran is necessary, but memorizing it should take precedence over understanding it. What I am trying to say here is someone who intends to become a hafidh should start memorizing immediately and should not wait till he or she learns to understand the language of Quran first. Memorizing the Quran was the first step that every great scholar of Islam took. And to be honest, someone who has love for the book of Allah and then starts memorizing it, it incredibly softens the heart. Such is the power of the book of Allah that even if someone does not understand it, simply reciting it can cause tears to fall from eyes.

    Therefore, I personally encourage people to regularly recite Quran first, whether they understand it. Most Muslim now days do not even read a single page of Quran a day. And some of them, when advised to read comes up with the excuse that reading would not make much difference since they do not understand the language of Quran. To them, I say, “Recite the Quran first, listen to it, and do them regularly, if you truly want to break this vicious cycle.”

    • Your comment makes sense in light of the fact that as a person grows older, his brain shifts focus from memorization to analysis. An old saying goes, “Memorizing something in youth is like engraving on stone; memorizing something in old age is like engraving on water.”
      I think we can all agree that practicing the Qur’an in our 24/7 daily lives takes precedence over memorizing it. But maybe memorizing it first and then understanding and contemplating on the meaning can help us practice it?

      • I think were looking at this as too much of a one dimensional process. You can memorize and understand at the same time. I know a brother who listened to the tafseer of Surah Hujurat, and as he listened to it, he started memorizing it. Understanding and memorizing go hand in hand. They should not be separated.

        However, before we even mentioning that, I think its important for us to realize something about the Quran, that the Quran is not a book of information but rather a book of transformation. It was designed for us to read, contemplate, and act upon. Although reciting the Quran without knowing it does in fact impact the heart of the believer, wallahi, nothing compares to actually understanding it. Every scholar can attest to that fact. Even the English translation doesn’t do justice to the nuances that exist from the Arabic language. As Imam Suhaib said, its like playing Atari versus PS3.

        We should remember that understanding is the most important thing. Not to say that we should forsake memorizing, especially when you are young. We should encourage the youngins to memorize the Quran. But we should always keep in mind that the Quran was meant to transform people. It is a transformative text.

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