The field of education, covering ethics, religion, skills and general knowledge, is a very broad and very vital one. The importance of learning in enabling the individual to put his potentials to optimal use is self¬-evident. Without education, the training of the human minds is incomplete. No individual is a human being in the proper sense until he has been educated.
Education makes man a right thinker and a correct decision-maker. It achieves this by bringing him knowledge from the external world, teaching him to reason, and acquainting him with past history, so that he may be a better judge of the present. Without education, man, as it were, is shut up in a windowless room. With education, he finds himself in a room with all its windows open to the outside world.
This is why Islam attaches such great importance to knowledge and education. The Qur’an, it should be noted repeatedly asks us to observe the earth and heavens. This instills in man the desire to learn natural science. When the Qur’an began to be revealed, the first word of its first verse was ‘Iqra!’ that is, ‘Read.’ Education is thus the starting point of every successful human activity.
All the books of hadith have a chapter on knowledge (ilm). In Sahih Bukhari, there is a chapter entitled, “The virtue of one who acquires ilm (learning) and imparts it to others.” In the hadith, the scholar is accorded great respect. According to one tradition, the ink of a scholar’s pen is more precious than the blood of a martyr, the reason being that while a martyr is engaged in the task of defense, an alim (scholar) builds individuals and nations along positive lines. In this way, he bestows upon the world a real life treasure.
The very great importance attached to learning in Islam is illustrated by an event in the life of the Prophet. At the battle of Badr, in which the Prophet was victorious, seventy of his enemies were taken prisoner. Now these captives were all literate people. So, in order to benefit from their education, the Prophet 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 in the history of Islam, established by the Prophet himself. It was of 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. This Sunnah of the Prophet showed that whatever the risk involved, education was paramount.