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The Islamic Viewpoint of Knowledge

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Ignorance is the inverse of Knowledge. It is to comprehend the reality of something as it is with complete conviction. Knowledge is the recognition of the proper places of things in the order of creation, which leads to gratitude for God’s elevated position as Creator in the order of being and existence. From the modern perspective, knowledge has been categorized into four fragments: Perception, Intellect, Intuition, and Revelation (Wahi).The perception which is commonly used by scientists, deals with the five senses and advances the physical study, and informs about the matter and its qualities. Likewise, Philosophers, Logicians, and Jurists use Intellect to solve the complications; Mystics and poets are blessed with the gift of Intuition. While, Revelation (Wahi) is the fundamental source of knowledge from an Islamic perspective, which is the direction via which Almighty Allah (SWT) sends down His guidance to his Messengers, and through them, to mankind. All of these approaches are sanctioned by Islam to be used for the welfare of humanity.

In Islam, knowledge is inextricably linked to belief. A Muslim needs to acquire knowledge of Almighty Allah (SWT), Prophets, and the Basic Islamic doctrines of Tawhid, Risalah, and Akhirah. Muslims believe that Almighty Allah (SWT) is the source of all knowledge. It is obligatory for all Muslims without gender discrimination to pursue knowledge, and Muslim societies must cultivate various branches of knowledge. It has been recorded that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim, and he who passes knowledge to those who do not deserve it is like one who puts a necklace of jewels, pearls, and gold around the neck of Swans”. (Ibn Majah: 224)

Teaching others is one of the good deeds that will help get great rewards even after death. Whoever leaves behind beneficial knowledge will get rewards as long as people are still getting benefits from his knowledge. (Al-Tirmidhi: 1376). Similarly, seeking knowledge is one of the things that will surely lead us to Paradise. The Prophet (Pbuh) said: “If anyone pursues a path in search of knowledge, Allah will thereby make easy for him a path to paradise; and he who is made slow by his actions will not be speeded by his genealogy. (Abu Dawud: 3643)

The learned Muslim scholars have traditionally classified knowledge into two major categories: Rational Knowledge (Ulum al-Aqliyyah), which comprise knowledge derived from man’s ability for thinking, sense perception, and observation. In other words, Rational Knowledge is the knowledge, based on reason and obtained via experience or intelligence, such as empirical techniques, history, logic, and philosophical investigation, and so on; and the Revealed Knowledge (Ulum al-Naqliyyah), which is the Ilm or religious knowledge as represented in the Qur’an and the Hadith. This traditional knowledge is derived from the authority (Allah) as revealed via the means of Prophets and is obtained via the study of religious manuscripts, preserved in the form of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW).

An eminent Muslim political thinker Al-Muawardi in his book entitled “Al-Ahkam al-Sultania wa al-Wilayat al-Diniyya” (The leadership and Politics) writes that four characteristics are essential for a Muslim leader: Knowledge, Piety, Justice, and Administration. Eminent British philosopher Bertrand Russell in his book entitled “Education and Social Order” writes that “tolerance is the first step towards learning”. True knowledge makes man tolerant, civilized, and sensible. Knowledge is the fundamental necessity for every position, whether it is that of a scientist, a ruler, a leader, or a jurist. The Islamic philosophy of education instructs man to be the master of matter and thought to serve humanity.

The Islamic Empire for more than one thousand years remained the most advanced civilization in the world. The main reason for this was that Islam stressed the importance and respect of learning, forbade destruction, cultivated respect for authority, discipline, and tolerance for other religions. The teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah inspired many Muslims to their accomplishments in science and medicine. Their zeal and enthusiasms for learning resulted in all essential Greek medical and scientific writings being translated into Arabic in Damascus, Cairo, Granada, and Baghdad were the centers of learning in the whole world. Arabic became the international language of learning and diplomacy. Public libraries, public hospitals, and universities were located in different cities in the Muslim World.

The Muslims became scientific innovators with originality and productivity. They were the ‘Great Torchbearers of International Scientific Research’. Muslim scientists, like Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Al-Khwarizmi (Algoritmi), Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), acquired great proficiency in various branches of learning, and languages. Their Philosophical, Scientific and Mathematical discoveries were used in European universities until the nineteenth century. The best and most eloquent praises of science came from the pens of Muslim scientists who considered their work to be acts of worship. The same motives led to the establishment of Al-Azhar in Egypt, Bayt al-Hikmah and Madrasah Nizamiyyah in Baghdad, the first leading universities in the world. They hit the “Source Ball of Knowledge” over the fence to Europe. In the words of Campbell, “the European medical system is Arabian not only in origin but also in its structure. The Arabs are the intellectual forbearers of the Europeans”.

In Islam, the notion of knowledge had a fundamental role in society that was unrivalled by other civilizations. All other areas of Muslim intellectual, social, and spiritual life were subordinated to it. Based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah, knowledge helps man to perceive the correct meaning or truth of the signs he observes. In Islam, information gained via education is required for religion and overall development. The Qur’an commands Muslims to seek to acquire knowledge and to disseminate it to those who do not have the opportunity to study it directly.

The dichotomy of Knowledge into secular and religious, and the relegation of the value of rational sciences, however, diminished the advancement of Muslims throughout the ages, dethroning them from a position of supremacy to one of subjection and ignominy. This has spurred contemporary Muslim scholars to endeavour for the Integration and Assimilation of Knowledge yet again, to restore the mutilation and maiming done by the segregation, and better educate Muslims to counter modern complications.

It is an irony that while Islam recommends Muslims to seek knowledge, the Muslim countries are categorized among the developing countries in the world. In many Muslim countries, the percentage of illiteracy is 25 % to 35%. Scientific research and education get a small portion of the GDP in many Muslim countries. So, there is a great deal of hope that the Muslim World will be able to restore the Islamic civilization’s greatness. Muslim countries owe it to themselves to make more development and to take a leading role in developing contemporary civilization. Indeed, Muslims should see scientific development as a religious obligation as well as a human responsibility.

Hussain, Khalid. (2021, November 8). The Islamic Viewpoint of Knowledge. Retrieved from https://www.risingkashmir.com/The-Islamic-Viewpoint-of-Knowledge-94819

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