Islam is a religion that celebrates seeking knowledge as a virtue such that we may find many verses in the Quran that encourages us to exercise our intellect to think and ponder. One such is the verse:
وَسَخَّرَ لَكُم مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مِّنْهُ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth - all from Him. Indeed in that are signs for people who give thought.
(Surah Al-Jathiyah, 45:13)
The creation of humanity is raised above many other creations and one distinct feature is the ability to reflect, ponder and learn above our instinctive tendencies.
It is through knowledge do we raise from our baser selves to that which is pure and dignified. Al-Imam Az-Zarnuji mentioned in his book, Instruction of the Student: The Method of Learning, that knowledge is a means to achieve kindness and God-consciousness.
We are encouraged to continue to uplift ourselves with learning new skills and attain new knowledge. It is our tradition of knowledge that we continue to inquire, analyse and contemplate. We start by expanding our reading literature. We question respectfully and exercise critical thinking. We avoid unwavering fanaticism such as keeping an enclosed mind and being unwilling to explore the vast horizon of knowledge bestowed by Allah s.w.t.
However, our quest for knowledge should ultimately lead us to be more humble.
We should avoid intellectual arrogance by not thinking we know everything. Our beloved Prophet s.a.w. warned us against arrogance (kibr):
الْكِبْرُ بَطَرُ الْحَقِّ وَغَمْطُ النَّاسِ
Arrogance is disdaining the truth (out of self-conceit) and contempt for people.
Here are 3 reasons why you will look forward to seeking knowledge:
The act of seeking knowledge through the proper means by itself is a virtue. It entails many rewards for the seeker. In other words, one does not have to be an accomplished scholar to attain its rewards but by the sincere effort to learn. In a hadith, the Prophet s.a.w. said:
مَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَطْلُبُ فِيهِ عِلْمًا سَلَكَ اللَّهُ بِهِ طَرِيقًا مِنْ طُرُقِ الْجَنَّةِ وَإِنَّ الْمَلاَئِكَةَ لَتَضَعُ أَجْنِحَتَهَا رِضًا لِطَالِبِ الْعِلْمِ
Whoever takes a path in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to walk in one of the paths to Paradise. Indeed the angels will lower their wings in great pleasure with the one who seeks knowledge
(Sunan Abi Dawud)
On top of rewarding the virtuous act of seeking knowledge, Allah s.w.t. also acknowledges the bearers of knowledge. Those who have attained it are praised by Allah s.w.t. in the Quran with their ranks being raised.
يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
Allah will raise those who believe among you and those who were given knowledge, by many degrees. And Allah is All-Aware of what you do
(Surah Al-Mujadila, 58:11)
It is important to note that Allah s.w.t. is The One who raises and decreases the rank of a person. It is not allowed for us to look down on others and it is not up to us to think that our ranks have been raised above others just because we are on the path of learning. We are grateful for Allah’s blessings upon us. Truly Allah is All-knowing.
Although knowledge is attainable, we mustn’t delude ourselves into thinking that we are masters of our fate. Knowledge is a gift from Allah s.w.t. to those who are sincere in his pursuit and to whoever He wishes to give. In a hadith, Rasulullah s.a.w. mentioned to us how knowledge is given to a person whom Allah s.w.t. intends good:
مَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ بِهِ خَيْرًا يُفَقِّهْهُ فِي الدِّينِ
If Allah intends goodness for a person, He gives him the understanding of the religion
One of the merits of knowledge is that it will lead to other virtues, such as fear (in true awe) of Allah s.w.t. The more we attain knowledge, the more humble and virtuous a person would be. These are some of the rewards that have come into fruition from seeking knowledge. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ
It is those of His servants who have knowledge who stand in true awe of Allah. Indeed Allah is almighty, most forgiving
(Surah Fatir, 35:28)
Aside from the rewards that entail a person who seeks knowledge, it is important to equip ourselves with it due to the following reasons:
Al-Imam Al-Ghazali in his book Minhaj Ul-‘Abideen, tells us that in order for us to perform our acts of worship and to be safe from error, we must first know God before worshipping Him. How can we worship Him without knowing His Divine Names, Qualities and Essence?
He then continued saying that we must know what is necessary to perform from the religious duties and to know that which requires us to abstain from what is prohibited.
Afterwards, the same command of knowledge applies to the inner acts of worship that revolve around the matters of the heart. These are inner stations such as Tawakkul, Patience, Repentance and Sincerity. We must then also know and abstain from the opposite of the praiseworthy traits, such as Excessive Anger, Ostentation and Arrogance.
The mentioned points are our outer and inner states of worship that can be achieved with knowledge. A person then cannot separate knowledge from performing it (‘amal).
Aside from religious knowledge, we are also required to learn knowledge that coincides with our current conditions. For example, if we are pursuing business opportunities, it is necessary for us to learn business strategies and revenues to generate income.
Whoever partakes in the act of business must also learn what is prohibited in business transactions.
Imam Al-Zarnuji in his book added: “It has been said that knowledge of all matters that affects a person under all conditions holds a position similar to food: that no one can dispense it. While knowledge of matters that affect a person only on certain occasions holds a position equivalent to medicine.”
It is to live the present with knowledge. For example, learning sciences such as physics, biology or medicine, are encouraged within the religion in accordance with our current needs.
In fact, learning these sciences may even lead us to know The Creator. Allah s.w.t. mentioned in the Quran:
اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ وَمِنَ الْأَرْضِ مِثْلَهُنَّ يَتَنَزَّلُ الْأَمْرُ بَيْنَهُنَّ لِتَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَحَاطَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا
It is Allah who created the seven heavens and likewise for the earth. His command descends throughout them, so you may know that Allah is Most Capable of everything and that Allah certainly encompasses all things in His knowledge.
(Surah At-Talaq, 65:12)
More importantly, let us reflect upon the hadith of Rasulullah s.a.w. where he mentioned:
طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ
Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim (and Muslimah)
(Sunan Ibn Majah)
From this hadith, we can conclude that seeking knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim. Our life is a learning journey. Indeed it is impossible to learn all knowledge. What is necessary is for us to prioritise and learn our religion and that which comprises our current conditions as mentioned above.
We must also abstain from seeking knowledge that doesn’t bring benefit to us such as matters that are prohibited within the religion.
Not everyone is given the same capacity or opportunities to learn. However, it is our sincere effort to know and to seek that will be accounted for in sya Allah. May Allah s.w.t. forgive our shortcomings and bless us with guidance and beneficial knowledge.
And Allah knows best.