Cultivation OF Knowledge
Among all the religions of the world, Islam stands alone when it lays down the law in the words of the Hadith:
"The cultivation of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim man and Muslim woman."
It might be significant to point out here that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) was born in a country of illiterates among whom the urge for the cultivation of knowledge was virtually non-existent. The Arabs of those days were not only steeped in ignorance and barbarism but were actually proud of being so. They used to say that the highest pursuit was the pursuit of the sword and the pursuit of knowledge was meant only for the lower class of people. And this darkness and ignorance prevailed not only in Arabia but all over the world. The lights of learning which the ancient civilisations of China, India, Greece and Rome had kindled in the past had been extinguished by the time Islam came. But it is noteworthy that in that age of universal darkness and in that country of illiterates the first message which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) received from God for communication to humanity was the message which spoke of the light of knowledge and the power of the pen. The subsequent teachings in the Holy Qur'aan concerning the cultivation of knowledge in general and investigation of the physical phenomena in particular form a land-mark in human history. These teachings of the Qur'aan gave to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) the role of the inaugurator and founder of the modern scientific era and brought into being a community which unearthed all the ancient wisdom from the debris of antiquity. The Holy Qur'aan has laid down the one contained in the following Prophetic Saying:
"The ink of Servants of God who can be genuinely godly and among all the praises of the cultivation of knowledge there is perhaps no praise higher than the principle that it is only the men of learning from amongst the ancient to convince me. My adherence to the Islamic Faith is thus the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr."
Combined with this Hadith there is another which runs as follows:
"The superiority of the scholar over him who (merely) practices formal devotions to God is like any superiority over my humblest follower."
One of the prayers which Muslims have been enjoined continuously to repeat is to be found in the Holy Qur'aan in the following words:
"Oh Lord! Increase me in knowledge."
Education in Islam has been conceived not merely the specialised business of the few but as a universal pursuit and obligation. Consequently Islam has made it the duty of the state to institute free and compulsory education for all and to promote through state aid and patronage the cause of the advancement of knowledge. And while the non-Islamic civilisations were one and all victims of narrow-mindedness and parochialism, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him) laid down the law once for all:
"All knowledge is the lost property of the believer. He should take hold of it wherever he finds it."
In another Hadith the Holy Prophet has exhorted the Muslims to
"Seek knowledge even though it was to be found in China."
As we all know the Chinese wisdom of those days had not even the slightest trace of Islam. It was a purely non-Muslim heritage. The Holy Prophet's exhortations in this behalf brings into broad relief two vital principles:
- All knowledge should be considered common heritage of humanity, which means that it is not correct to style knowledge as Arab, Indian or Chinese.
- A Muslim should be open-minded and large-hearted in the domain of knowledge. He should taste every piece of knowledge that comes in his way and accept the truth wherever he finds it without prejudice.
The emphasis which Islam has laid on the cultivation of knowledge has been
highlighted in the following Hadith:
"Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave."
This means that the Islamic concept of the cultivation of knowledge is not the same which the modern Muslim youth has generally adopted. They join the educational institutions mostly for obtaining degrees with a view to get material benefits and not for the sake of the intellectual culture and for advancing the cause of knowledge. In this they are committing a sin against humanity, and the consequence of all this is that in spite of being the followers of Islam in the general sense, Muslim scholars of today have become barren in the sense that they are making little contribution to human knowledge.