“And so those who were given knowledge may know that it is the truth from your Lord and [therefore] believe in it, and their hearts humbly submit to it. And indeed is Allah the Guide of those who have believed to a straight path.” [Qur’an; 22:54]
“So high [above all] is Allah , the Sovereign, the Truth. And, [O Muhammad], do not hasten with [recitation of] the Qur’an before its revelation is completed to you, and say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.”” [Qur’an; 20:114]
“…Are those who know equal to those who do not know?…” [Qur’an; 39:9]
“…Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge…” [Qur’an; 35:28]
Narrated Anas bin Malik: that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Whoever goes out seeking knowledge, then he is in Allah’s cause until he returns.” [Jami at-Tirmidi]
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to say, “O Allah! Grant me benefit in what you have taught me, and teach me useful knowledge and provide me with knowledge that will benefit me.” [Nasa’i and Al-Hakim]
Ibn ‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) reported:
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Envy is justified in regard to two types of persons only: a man whom Allah has given knowledge of the Qur’an, and so he recites it during the night and during the day; and a man whom Allah has given wealth and so he spends from it during the night and during the day.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
“If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, the inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars.” [Abu Dawud]
“And whoever follows a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise. No people gather together in one of the Houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that sakeenah (tranquility) descends upon them, and mercy envelops them, and the angels surround them.” [40 Hadith Nawawi]
“For whomever Allah wants good, he gives him understanding in the religion.” [Tirmidhi]
“He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, Allah will make the path of Jannah easy to him. The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the oceans seek forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness). The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who bequeath neither dinar nor dirham but only that of knowledge; and he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.” [Abu Dawud and At- Tirmidhi]
“Ask Allah for beneficial knowledge and seek refuge with Allah from knowledge that is of no benefit.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
“This world is cursed and what is in it is cursed, except the remembrance of Allah (dhikr) and what is conducive to that, or one who has knowledge or who acquires knowledge.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “May Allah beautify a man who hears a saying of mine, so he understands it, remembers it, and conveys it. Perhaps he carries the Fiqh to one who has more understanding than him. There are three with which the heart of a Muslim shall not be deceived. Sincerity in deeds for Allah, giving nasihah to the a’immah of Muslims, and sticking to the jama’ah. For indeed the call is protected from behind them.” [Tirmidhi]
Sayings of the Companions and Early Scholars
“The rank of the learned is seven hundred times more than that of the believers, and between the two ranks is the distance of five hundred years’ journey.” [Ibn Abbas]
“The ink of the learned will be weighed against the blood of the martyrs and will be found to be heavier than the blood of martyrs.” [Hasan al-Basri]
“Discussing knowledge for a portion of the night is dearer to me than spending the night in prayer.” [Ibn Abbas]
“Acquire knowledge because its acquisition is fear of Allah, its pursuit is worship, its study is praise, seeking it is jihad, teaching it to him who does not know is charity and imparting it to those who are worthy is meritorious. It is the travel companion, the companion in solitude, the guide to religion, the comforter in happiness and misfortune, the close friend of a stranger and beacon to the path of Paradise. Through it Allah exalts a nation and makes them leaders and guides of good. Seeing them, others also become guides to good, and people follow them. The angels urge them to work. Everything, dry and fresh, seeks forgiveness for them. Even the fish and vermin of the sea, the beasts and cattle of the land, and the sky and its stars seek forgiveness for them. Knowledge gives life to dead hearts, is the light of the eyes in darkness and gives strength to bodies after removing weakness. By it a man reaches the rank of the pious. Thinking of it is like fasting, and studying it is like prayer. By it Allah is obeyed and worshipped, warning is given, the unity of Allah is understood, blood ties are maintained and lawful and unlawful things are known.” [Muadh ibn Jabal]
Knowledge is precious and sought after because it is an avenue to earning success in this world and the next. It is the means for avoiding harm and seeking good. It is the root by which one is able to earn the fruit of the pleasure of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).
Knowledge heals and governs the heart and soul. It is necessary to basically know the right and the wrong, their implications, and the significance of ‘the right’ and degradation of ‘the wrong’.
Some knowledge is personally obligatory on all Muslims (fard ayn), such as the fundamental beliefs. Some of the fard ayn knowledge is obligatory for Muslims in particular situations, such knowledge of how to perform Hajj for someone who intends to set out on Hajj. Some knowledge is obligatory on some of the community (fard kifaya), such as knowing the theoretical rulings regarding the recitation of Qur’an (the science of Tajweed) or even knowledge of medicine. There is also knowledge that is offensive to seek, such as learning about sorcery or astrology.
It was narrated from Umm Salamah that when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) performed the Subh (morning prayer), while he said the salam, he would say:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ عِلْمًا نَافِعًا وَرِزْقًا طَيِّبًا وَعَمَلاً مُتَقَبَّلاً
‘Allahumma inni as’aluka ‘ilman nafi’an, wa rizqan tayyiban, wa ‘amalan mutaqabbalan (O Allah, I ask You for beneficial knowledge, goodly provision and acceptable deeds).’” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
Knowledge is to be pursued from cradle to grave. One never stops learning if he intends to be successful in both worlds. Yet it must be sought purely for the sake of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) rather than for rank or fame.
The Arabic word for knowledge is ilm. This word is more commonly used to refer to the knowledge relating to the religion of Allah.
As Ibn Al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) says :
“Reflect on the wisdom of the Gentle, the Omniscient, when he endowed man with such knowledge as he may need for optimal life in this world and in the hereafter; while He withheld from man knowledge that he does not need, and which there is no harm in missing. He greatly facilitated the means of acquiring the required knowledge; the more that was required, the more did He facilitate its acquisition. He bestowed on man knowledge of and recognition of his Creator, Maker, Originator, the Almighty Lord – the way to such knowledge has been greatly smoothed. There is nothing in the branches of knowledge that compares with this in importance nor with its obviousness to the mind and innate nature; no branch of knowledge has as many ways and proofs as this knowledge, nothing is equal in obviousness and clarity – all that your eye sees, all that your ear hears, all that your mind thinks of, all that occurs to you, and all that any of your senses perceive, is a proof of the Lord.”
He also says:
“Knowledge is to transfer the image of a given thing and establish it in the heart. And action is to transfer the theoretical image from the heart and establish it in the world. Therefore if one, which is established in the heart corresponds to the reality, then it is true knowledge.
It is often true that some images that have no real existence remain within oneself, and the person who has adopted it in himself takes it to be true knowledge, whereas it has no reality. The knowledge of most people is of this kind.
There are two kinds that conform with reality: the first one is used to accomplish the perfection of the self by understanding and knowing it, and that is done through knowing Allah, His Names, Attributes, Actions, Books, Commands and what He has forbidden.
The second one cannot make us perfect, and that is the knowledge that is not important, and therefore does not benefit when it is learned. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to seek refuge with Allah from the knowledge that is not beneficial. And this is the case with most good knowledge, such as astronomy, its stages, the number of its stars, its quantities, and the knowledge of the number of mountains, their colour, their measurements, and so on.
Therefore the honour of knowledge depends on its content and the level of its necessity, and surely that is nothing else except knowing Allah and everything related to Him.
The flaw of knowledge is when it is not in conformity with Allah’s will, what He loves and which pleases Him. That is when knowledge becomes corrupted. The corruption of knowledge occurs when people believe that something is lawful and pleases Allah, but in reality is not the case, or to believe that it makes the person becomes closer to Allah even if it does not.
The corruption of one’s intention is when deeds are not done for the sake of Allah and the Hereafter, but done for the sake of this worldly life. There is no way to be safe from these two flaws concerning knowledge and deeds, except by learning that which the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) brought from Allah the Almighty concerning knowledge, learning, seeking Allah’s Countenance and the Hereafter along with the subject of intention and will. Furthermore, faith and certainty bring about beneficial knowledge and good will, and both of them cause faith and increase it. Hence it becomes clear that the deviation of the majority of people from faith is due to their deviation from beneficial knowledge and good will. And faith cannot be completed unless it is learnt from the light of Prophethood, by cleansing the will from blemishes of vain desires and the will of the man.
His knowledge would then be adopted from the light of inspiration, his seeking of Allah’s Countenance and the Hereafter. Therefore this would be the best person in terms of knowledge and action, and he would be among the leaders who give guidance under Allah’s Command and among the successors of His Messenger in his nation.”
“The religious scholars who prefer and love this worldly life shall surely speak other than the truth concerning their judgments and religious verdicts. Verily the judgments of Allah usually contradict the desires of people, especially the rulers and those who follow their whims, as their aims cannot be attained except by opposing the truth.
Accordingly if the ruler and religious scholar seek position and power and follow their desires, indeed they will not be able to fulfill their aims except by deviating from the truth, especially if there is doubtful matter involved. The doubtful matter will agree with the desires of man, and vanity will prevail. As a result, righteousness will disappear, and truth will vanish.”
A Brief Reflection on the First Five Verses of Surah Al-Alaq
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ ﴿١﴾ خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ ﴿٢﴾ اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ ﴿٣﴾ الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ ﴿٤﴾ عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ﴿٥﴾
“Read! In the name of your Lord, Who created. He created man from a clinging substance. Read! and your Lord is the Most Generous. He Who taught by the Pen. He taught man what he did not know.” [Qur’an; 96:1-5]
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent many centuries after Prophet Isa (peace be upon him) at a time when there was no other prophet or messenger. One might assume that the first message to be conveyed would be regarding avoiding polytheism, worshipping Allah alone, and to leave sin and corruption. Although these things are emphasized in Islam, the first message that came down was that of reading. Education is the key to all reform and development.
“Read in the Name of your Lord, who created“: Reading and seeking knowledge (ilm) can be effective only if it is in the name of Allah (ism). When ilm is linked with ism, it leads to truth and righteousness. If, however, ilm is only for the sake of the ilm itself or for seeking employment or influence, then it can lead to harm. When we read in the name of Allah, we acknowledge that He is the source of all knowledge and that everything we have and gain is from Him. We ought to learn with devotion to Him and with pure intentions.
“He created man from a clinging substance.“: Through knowledge we get to know of our humble beginnings and how all our faculties, senses, and abilities were bestowed on us by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). The more knowledge we acquire, the more humble we ought to become.
“Read! and your Lord is the Most Generous.“: The word “Al-Akram” is the superlative of the word “Kareem” which means noble, generous, and kind. We ought to read and become most grateful to our Lord’s kindness and generosity. Our education should make us noble people, not wicked people. True knowledge generates goodness and nobility.
“He Who taught by the Pen.”: The pen is a great gift of Allah to the human being. The pen is used to convey and acquire knowledge. Use the pen, but with the constant recognition that it is a gift from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and ought to be used with care. It must be treated as a trust from Allah in human hands.
“He taught man what he did not know.“: Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has taught us what we did not know and could never have known without Him informing us.
These are basic principles of Islamic theory and methodology of education. Islam emphasizes the knowledge that leads to faith and good character. This knowledge is called “al-ilm an-nafi'”; it is to learn the good things in order to benefit from them and also to be aware of the harmful things in order to avoid them. Knowing the good things but not practising them or knowing the bad and not refraining from them means the person does not posses “al-ilm an-nafi'”.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is reported to have said, “Ask Allah for beneficial knowledge and seek refuge with Allah from knowledge that is of no benefit.” [Ibn Majah]
He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught us to supplicate:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لاَ يَنْفَعُ وَقَلْبٍ لاَ يَخْشَعُ وَدُعَاءٍ لاَ يُسْمَعُ وَنَفْسٍ لاَ تَشْبَعُ .اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ هَؤُلاَءِ الأَرْبَعِ
“O Allah, I seek refuge with You from knowledge that is of no benefit, a heart that is not humble, a supplication that is not heard and a soul that is not satisfied. O Allah, I seek refuge with You from these four.” [Sunan An-Nasa’i]
Today we find an explosion of knowledge and an overload of information, yet a lack of connection with The Creator, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). It has become more difficult to discriminate between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, virtue and vice.
Therefore it is important to revive the Islamic methodology of combining ilm with ism, using knowledge to draw closer to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) in order to derive true benefit for ourselves and our communities.
Further Reading & Information