Importance of Learning in the Quran

Islam attaches great importance to knowledge, learning and education. When the Quran began to be revealed, the first word of its first verse was ‘iqra’, that is, read. Education is thus the starting point of every human activity.

A scholar (alim) is accorded great respect in the Hadith. According to a Hadith, the ink of the pen of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr. The reason being that a martyr is engaged in the task of defence, while an alim (scholar) builds up individuals and nations along positive lines. In this way he bestows a real life upon the world.

The Quran repeatedly asks us to observe the earth and the heavens. This instills in man a desire to learn natural science. 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.”

For instance, there is a tradition that one who treads a path in search of knowledge has his way paved to paradise by God as a reward for this noble deed. (Bukhari, Muslim)

In a tradition recorded by Tirmidhi, angels in heaven, fish in the water and ants in their dwellings pray for the well-being of a seeker of knowledge.

In another hadith the Prophet of Islam observed that those who learned virtue and taught it to others were the best among humankind. (Al-Bayhaqi).

How great is the importance attached to learning in Islam can be understood from an event in the life of the Prophet. At the battle of Badr, in which the Prophet gained a victory over his opponents, seventy men from the enemy ranks were taken prisoner. These prisoners of war were literate people. In order to benefit from their education, the Prophet declared that if each prisoner taught ten Medinan children how to read and write, it 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 with all non-Muslim teachers. Furthermore, they were all war prisoners. There was the risk that after their release they would again create problems for Islam and Muslims. This Sunnah of the Prophet shows that education is to be received whatever the risk involved.

Women were not kept away from educational activities. Starting with the Prophet’s own household, Muslim families provided equal opportunities to the female members of the family to learn to grow and play a constructive role in the progress and development of society at large. A large number of learned women are mentioned in history as authorities on various Islamic sciences such as hadith, Islamic jurisprudence, seerah of the Prophet, commentary on the Quran, etc. The Prophet’s own wife, Aishah, imparted the knowledge and wisdom she received from the first educator, the Prophet himself, for almost half a century. She narrated more than two thousand traditions of the Prophet, and according to the Muslim jurists, these are the source of two thirds of the Islamic laws relating to social, political and cultural issues.

Islam attaches such great importance to learning that the Quran has this to say:

“It is the men of knowledge who can truly realise God.” (35:28)

Scholars are considered to be like angels (3:18), in view of their potential for discovering the oneness and the glory of the Creator. To inculcate this importance of knowledge in the minds of the believers, the Prophet once observed that “the worship of a learned man is a thousand times better than that of the ignorant worshipper.” By way of encouraging reflection on the universe and nature in order to explore divine glories, the Prophet is reported to have said: “An hour of reflection is better than a hundred years of worship without reflection.” (Al-Bayhaqi).

It was this interrelatedness of knowledge and worship that made the early Muslims seek and impart knowledge wholeheartedly and religiously.

According to Islamic ideology, a Muslim is supposed on the one hand, to seek knowledge for the pleasure of his Lord and for on the other. The better promotion of the welfare of humankind. In other words, the motto of education in Islam would be acquisition of knowledge for the sake of serving God and His creatures. That is why from the very beginning almost equal attention has been paid to the learning of both the religious sciences and the worldly or secular sciences.

On the one hand, Islam places great emphasis on learning, and on the other, all those factors which are necessary to make progress in learning have been provided by God. One of these special factors is the freedom to conduct research.

For example, once the Prophet passed by an oasis where he found the farmers, who were date planters at work. When he asked what they were doing, he was told that they were pollinating the clusters of dates in order to produce a better yield. The Prophet expressed his disapproval of this process. Knowing this, the farmers immediately stopped it. But later on the Prophet was told that due to lack of proper pollination the yield had been very low as compared to the previous years. On hearing this, the Prophet replied. “You know your worldly matters better.” (Sahih Bukhari) In other words, experiment and observation should be the final criteria in such worldly matters.

In this way, the Prophet of Islam separated scientific research from religion. This meant that in the world of nature man must enjoy full opportunities to conduct free research and adopt the conclusions arrived at. Placing such great emphasis on knowledge resulted in the awakening of a great desire for knowledge among the Muslims. This process began in Makkah, then it reached Madinah and Damascus, later finding its centre in Baghdad. Ultimately, it entered Spain. Spain flourished, making extraordinary progress in various academic and scientific disciplines. This flood of scientific progress entered Europe and ultimately resulted in the modern scientific age.

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