Dr. Bilal A. Bhat & Intizar Ahmad
In a society where knowledge and religion in general and science in particular do not go hand in hand, it seems necessary to briefly describe the position of Islam vis-à-vis knowledge, Islam, in theory as well as in practice, has always promoted knowledge. The first and most fundamental obligation on Muslim is to acquire knowledge and secondly to practice and preach this knowledge. A person without knowledge is like someone walking along a track in complete darkness and there is every possibility that his/her steps will wander aside and he/she easily can be deceived by Iblis. There has never yet been a man in history who led a life of ease whose name is worth remembering (Theodore Roosevelt). One of the main purpose of acquiring knowledge is to gain the good of this world, not to destroy it through wastage, arrogance and in the reckless pursuit of higher standards of material comfort. When Sayyidina Adam (A.S) was created, Allah (S.A.WT) said to the angles to bow down. Everybody bowed down except Iblis. The reason Iblis refused to bow down was because he said that Prophet Adam (A.S) was made of clay and he was made from fire. How can fire bow to clay? The angles looked at it in a different way. They looked at the inside of Nabi Adam (A.S) because Allah (S.A.WT) gave knowledge to Nabi Adam (A.S). According to Holy Quran (2: 31-34), And he taught Adam (A.S) all the names, then presented them to the angles; Then He said: Tell me the names of those if you are right. They said: Glory be to thee! We have no knowledge but that which Thou hasn’t taught us; surely Thou art the knowing, the wise He said: O Adam (A.S)! Inform them of their names. Then when he had informed them of their names. He said: Did I not say to you that I surely know what is ghaib in the heavens and the earth and (that) I know what you manifest and what you hide? And when we said to the angles: Make obeisance to Adam (A.S) they did obeisance but Iblis (did it not). He refused and he was proud and he was one of the unbelievers. It is important to think that man has been created by Allah with some special purpose. According to Holy Quran, Certainly we have created man in the best stature (Sura At-Teen). It is for that reason man is entitled to be honoured and respected among all creation. In another place Holy Quran says, Does man think that he is to be left aimlessly? (Sura Al-Qiyamah). From these verses of the Holy Quran, we can easily understand that there is a purpose behind life and creation. Holy Quran is filled with verses inviting man to use his intellect (mind, intelligence), to ponder (think deeply), to think and to know. To Muslims, the goal of human life is to discover the truth. Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) says, seek knowledge from cradle to the grave, and verily (truly) the man of knowledge are the inheritors of the Prophets, and seek knowledge even as far as China (meaning, seek knowledge wherever it may be found) also traveling to gain knowledge is worship. These ideas have echoed throughout the history of Islam and encouraged Muslims to seek knowledge wherever it might be found. Islam tells us that the creation of the universe saw the first man in the very form of Adam (A.S) whom Allah handed over the valuable burden of Trust, subduing the universe to him and honouring him to be the deputy on Earth. Scientists claim to say that man as we know today went through many stages to reach the present stage that we are now on the basis of theories and conjecture, stringing probability and unfounded ideas. Theories that cannot be proven are believed not upon fact but upon the fallable word put forward by scientists. Humans are left finally to believe in either the fallable theories of man or the word of Allah. In men intellect and comprehension vary, Muslims recognize this human factor; accept the word of Allah with or without proof. To seek knowledge is a sacred duty, it is obligatory on every Muslim. Investment in the field of education is the best investment one can make, because it eventually leads to intellectual property i.e., intangible property, which no one can steal or destroy. According to many scholars there are two important types of knowledge i.e., Religious knowledge and secular knowledge. Secular for this day to day dwelling and religious for the smooth life on earth and hereafter. In the Western world the main purpose of education is to provide for the economic prosperity. Majority of the Muslims today feel that a true Muslim must have Islamic as well as secular education, what is now known as “Integrated Education”. Prophet (S.A.W) said, the position of only two persons is enviable; the person whom Allah (S.A.WT) bestowed wealth empowering him to spend it in the way of righteousness, and the person whom Allah (S.A.WT) gave wisdom with which he adjudges and which he teaches to others. True knowledge enables the possessor to distinguish right and wrong; it sustains us in adversity, it is a weapon against enemies and ornament among friends. As a true Muslims we believe the knowledge of Quran and Sunnah guides a man in this world as well as in the next. Prophet (S.A.W) said, Attainment of knowledge is a must for every Muslim. All men by nature desire knowledge (Aristotle). Holy Prophet (S.A.W) said, it is better to teach knowledge one hour in the night than to pray all night. Islam is very deeply concerned with the welfare of human society and the family is considered to be the cornerstone for building the right society. The parents has a special role, mentioned by Holy Prophet (S.A.W) one who is given by Allah, a child, should give it a beautiful name, should give him or her good education and training and when he or she attains puberty, they should see to it that he or she is married. If the parents does not arrange their marriage after puberty, and the boy or girl is involved in sin, the responsibility of that sin will lie with the parents (Mishkat Sharief page 271). Children’s are our future which lies in our hands, whoever neglects learning in youth, loses the past and is dead for the future. No individual is a human being in the proper sense until he has been properly educated as education makes man a right thinker and a correct decision-maker. When the Holy Quran began to be revealed, the first word of its verse was “Iqra” that is, “Read” or seek knowledge or Educate yourselves or Be educated. Education is thus the starting point of every successful human activity. Quran says, Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know ? (Sura Al-zumr, ayah 9). In other place, Allah grants wisdom to whom He pleases and to whom wisdom is granted indeed he receives an overflowing benefit (Sura Al-Baqarah, ayah 269). The very great importance attached to learning in Islam is illustrated by an event in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). At the battle of Badr, seventy literate enemies were taken as prisoner. In order to benefit from their erudition, the Prophet (S.A.W) declared that if each prisoner taught ten Medinan children how to read and write, that would serve as his ransom and he would be set free. This was the first school established by Prophet (S.A.W) by himself in the history of Islam. It is important to note that it was no matter to him that all its teachers were non-Muslims, all were prisoners of war, and all were likely to create problems again for Islam and Muslims once they were released from the prison. This Sunnah of the Prophet (S.A.W) showed that whatever the risk involved, education was paramount. Islam encourages research activities in the field of Science and Technology right from the beginning. This can be explained by a simple illustration by an incident which took place after the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) had migrated from Mecca to Medina. There he saw some people atop the date palms pollinating them. Since dates were not grown in Mecca the Prophet (S.A.W) had to ask what these people were doing to the trees. He (S.A.W) thereupon forbade them to do this, and the following year it was observed that date crop was very poor as compared to the previous year. When the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) asked the reason, he (S.A.W) was told that the yield depended on pollination. He (S.A.W) then told the date-growers to resume this practice, admitting that they knew more about “worldly matters” than he (S.A.W) did. In this way Prophet (S.A.W) separated practical matters from religion, thus paving the way for the free conduct of research throughout the world of nature and adoption of conclusions based thereon. The Quranic words tafakkur and taskheer respectively refer to science and technology. The Arabs benefited greatly from the Greeks and other cultures. They eagerly translated this classical knowledge in philosophy, Medicine, Mathematics and Science into Arabic.
“Wisdom is the lost prop¬erty of the believer, he should take it even if finds it in the mouth of a mushrik.” (Prophet Muhamad, peace be upon him)
They built great universities and libraries upon the knowledge of Greece, China, Africa and shared this knowledge throughout the Islamic world. The knowledge created during this period of history was a source for the later achievements in Europe. The Cardova University had 4 lakh books, Baghdad University had also 4 lakh books, Tripolis (Syria) had 3 lakh books, library at Ray had 4 hundred camel loads of books when Europe was held in a “Dark age”, the Islamic Empires established a “Golden Age” of learning, science, art and architecture. Infact, the period from the 8th to the 12th century C.E. was the period of Islamic glory. The Muslim world has given many innovations that we take forgranted in daily life like, Coffee, Pin-Hole Camera, Chess, Parachute, Shampoo, Refinement, Shaft, Metals Armor, Pointed Arch, Surgery, Windmill, Soup, Pay Cheques, Earth is in spherical shape, Rocket and Torpedo, Gardens etc. Uptil so far, we have been recounting the achelons of past. This is not enough. Let us do justice and confess that after 1350 C.E. started a period of Muslim decadence in science and Muslim states today are not as influential or as powerful as they used to be in the past. Muslim inventions were from a time when Muslims were very powerful, sadly overtime and for historical reasons they have lost a lot of that power. Truly speaking in the last 700 years Muslim scientists have not made any significant contribution in the field of science and technology. Only two Muslim scientists i.e., Abdul Salam (Pakistan, 1979) and Ahmed Zewail (Iran, 1999) have won Noble Prize (in Physics and Chemistry) so far. In the list of top 50 scientific break-throughs of 2007 not a single noteworthy breakthrough was included in any of the worlds 56 Muslim nations, encompassing more than 1-billion people. Muslim countries contribute less than 2 % of the worlds scientific literature. In a survey by the Times of London, just two Muslim universities ranked among the top 200 universities worldwide. The Ulema are not only the religious heirs of the Prophets but also the heir of the Prophets in the political affairs of the Muslim community. Thus in the true spirit of Islam, the religious leaders should be well qualified, charactered and always looking after the welfare of the people. They should guide Muslims in proper way, not just issuing futwas for their personal benefits. Modern education system, print and other media no doubt hit the Ulema hard. They should recall the great work of Muslim scholars to face the present challenges. Muslim scholars calculated the angle of the ecliptic; measured the size of the Earth; calculated the precession of the equinoxes; explained, in the field of optics and physics, such phenomena as refraction of light, gravity, capillary attraction, and twilight; and developed observatories for the empirical study of heavenly bodies. They made advances in the uses of drugs, herbs, and foods for medication; established hospitals with a system of interns and externs; discovered causes of certain diseases and developed correct diagnoses of them; proposed new concepts of hygiene; made use of anesthetics in surgery with newly innovated surgical tools; and introduced the science of dissection in anatomy. Muslims furthered the scientific breeding of horses and cattle; found new ways of grafting to produce new types of flowers and fruits; introduced new concepts of irrigation, fertilization, and soil cultivation; and improved upon the science of navigation. In the area of chemistry, they led to the discovery of such substances as potash, alcohol, nitrate of silver, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and mercury chloride. In fact Muslim scientists contributed in every field of research. It is encouraging that Islam is spreading rapidly in England, Italy, Canada, France, Albania etc. and hundreds of new mosques and Islamic learning centers are coming up in the west. It is expected in next 200 years the European society would almost entirely accept Islam as the only religion. The question that now rises is whether the candle of learning that burnt so brightly, with such a clear light and dazzling luminosity in Baghdad, Cairo and Cardova, a thousand years ago has extinguished forever. Can we resurrect our phoenix of science? Is it possible to revitalize our scientific enterprise? Can we foresee ourselves once again occupying the vanguard of science and technology? We should not loose courage as recently US President Donald Trump has named a Muslim American, Moncef Mohamed Slaoui, to head a fast-track programme called for finding a vaccine for Covid-19. let us relight the torch of learning that burnt thousand years ago once again under the guidance of Quran and Sunnah. Prophet (PBUH) empha¬sized the importance of seeking knowl¬edge in different ways: (a) Time: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” (b) Place: “Seek knowledge even if it is far as China.” (c) Gender: “Seeking of knowledge is a duty of every Muslim” (d) Source: “Wisdom is the lost prop¬erty of the believer, he should take it even if finds it in the mouth of a mushrik.” Conclusively, the take away message in the article is that Islam promotes education, particularly girls’ education. Had it not been so, the world would not have witnessed the transformation of a society plunged in anarchy and hegemony into one enlightened with critical thinkers and scholars, all in the span of twenty-three years. May Allah give us strength to behave and act just as He likes us to do and be pleased with us. Rabbi Zidnee Ilma (O Lord, increase us in knowledge). Aameen!
(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics for “Kashmir Horizon” exclusively. Views are their own, [email protected] )