We know very well that scientifically we are also animals just like any other creature. If you were asked to distinguish humans from other creatures, what would you say? Would you prefer intellect and the ability to think? Animals can also do that. Would you suggest “power”? Definitely not, because animals may have more power than us humans. You may be thinking about “wealth”? But what about the poor? They are also humans. Whatever idea comes to your mind about this question, may not satisfy you except only one thing, and that is “Knowledge”.
When Allah Almighty declared before the angels about the creation of the human, they asked Allah, “Will You place in it someone who will spread corruption there and shed blood while we glorify Your praises and proclaim Your holiness?” Allah responded, “I know what you do not know.” (البقرة:30) We see that afterward when Allah Almighty created Adam عليه السلام and taught him the names of all things, He presented those names to the Angels and said: “Tell me the names of these if what you say is true. They replied, “Glory be to You! We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. You are truly the All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
Now the question is what made Adam عليه السلام superior to Angels? Wasn’t it knowledge? So, human history begins with a great standard of knowledge.
Man has been called worse than animals as Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
أولئك كالأنعام بل هم أضل أولئك هم الغافلون
They are like cattle. In fact, they are even less guided! Such ˹people˺ are ˹entirely˺ heedless.
The history of Islam begins with the word “اقرأ” i.e. “read” (O Prophet)! As it is mentioned in the Hadith of Sahih Bukhari (Hadith No. 3) that once the Holy Prophet ﷺ was in the cave of Hira when the angel Jibril عليه السلام came to him and asked him to read. The Holy Prophet ﷺ replied: “I don’t know how to read”. The angel caught him and pressed him so hard that he ﷺ could not bear any more. The angel then released him and again asked him to read and he replied: “I don’t know how to read”. Thereupon he caught him for the third time and pressed him, and then released him and said: “Read in the name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists), created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous.” (العلق: 1-3)
From this, we can say the beginning of Islam itself was from the beginning of knowledge.
Islam exhorts its believers to acquire knowledge at every stage of life. It doesn’t matter if you are a child, a teenager, a young person, or an old one. The acquisition of knowledge is the death of ignorance. That is why the virtue of acquiring knowledge is so great in Islam. As Allah Almighty said in the Holy Quran:
قُلۡ هَلۡ یَسۡتَوِی ٱلَّذِینَ یَعۡلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِینَ لَا یَعۡلَمُونَ
Say, O Prophet, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?”
وَمَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَلْتَمِسُ فِيهِ عِلْمًا سَهَّلَ اللَّهُ لَهُ بِهِ طَرِيقًا إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ
And he who treads the path in search of knowledge, Allah would make that path easy, leading to Paradise for him
(Sahih Muslim: 2699)
The Holy Prophet ﷺ mentioned the word “علما” which means to acquire a little knowledge. Then what will be your position when you memorize the Qur’an and Hadith and spend your whole life in acquiring this knowledge?
We see the best example of the beloved Prophet Mosa (Moses) عليه السلام when Allah Almighty sent him to Pharaoh, who had declared himself a lord, to go to him and purify him by giving him his teachings.
It was a great trial for Moses to go before the tyrant ruler of the time and reject his religion and teach him the Oneness of Allah. So he prayed to Allah Almighty that:
رَبِّ ٱشۡرَحۡ لِی صَدۡرِی وَیَسِّرۡ لِیۤ أَمۡرِی وَٱحۡلُلۡ عُقۡدَةࣰ مِّن لِّسَانِی یَفۡقَهُوا۟ قَوۡلِی
“My Lord! Uplift my heart for me, make my task easy, and remove the impediment from my tongue so people may understand my speech”
So, through this supplication, we come to know that Knowledge is essential for a great important task, and openness of heart and mind is essential for it.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was also recommended by Allah to say this supplication:
رب زدني علما
“My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.
We see that the greatest and the best personalities of this world (The Messengers عليهم السلام) prayed to Allah for knowledge. Allah accepted their prayer and that is why they became popular in this world and in the hereafter. Can a wise man compare these beings with an ignorant man? Definitely, not.
There is another aspect that Islam disaproves of, that is you should not talk about something that you are not knowledgable about. As Allah says in the Holy Quran:
وَلَا تَقۡفُ مَا لَیۡسَ لَكَ بِهِۦ عِلۡمٌۚ إِنَّ ٱلسَّمۡعَ وَٱلۡبَصَرَ وَٱلۡفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُو۟لَـٰۤىِٕكَ كَانَ عَنۡهُ مَسۡـُٔولࣰا
Do not follow what you have no ˹sure˺ knowledge of. Indeed, all will be called to account for ˹their˺ hearing, sight, and intellect.
It’s highly prohibited to talk about what you have no knowledge of, but if you have it, then Allah raises your status among the people in this World and in the hereafter as well. As Allah says:
یَرۡفَعِ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ مِنكُمۡ وَٱلَّذِینَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلۡعِلۡمَ دَرَجَـٰتࣲ
Allah will elevate those of you who are faithful, and ˹raise˺ those gifted with knowledge in rank.
Knowledge is such a thing that when a person dies, nothing is of any use to him except three things. One of them is knowledge. As the Messenger of Allah said:
“ إِذَا مَاتَ الإِنْسَانُ انْقَطَعَ عَنْهُ عَمَلُهُ إِلاَّ مِنْ ثَلاَثَةٍ إِلاَّ مِنْ صَدَقَةٍ جَارِيَةٍ أَوْ عِلْمٍ يُنْتَفَعُ بِهِ أَوْ وَلَدٍ صَالِحٍ يَدْعُو لَهُ ”.
When a man dies, his acts come to an end, but three, recurring charity, or knowledge (by which people) benefit, or a pious son, who prays for him (for the deceased).
(صحيح مسلم: 1631)
Therefore, those who acquire knowledge are highly respected in the light of Islam. Of course, these people also deserve congratulations because the survival of religion and the nation depends on these people.
It’s clear that learning is important and has even been stressed by Islam but which knowledge is to be acquired and why?
As to what should be learned, there is no definitive answer. Any sort of knowledge would be appreciated. It doesn’t have to be about religion, you can learn about science, philosophy, or general life skills! The opportunities are endless. No matter what you learn it will serve as a personal treasure for life.
So how do we go about acquiring this knowledge? Through reading! One of the best ways. Make a habit of reading. Whether it be fiction or non-fiction. It’s true that non-fiction may offer more to learn but it doesn’t mean fiction is for entertainment only. Fiction too can help by improving vocabulary, articulation, imagination, and more.
So make a change in your lifestyle today! Pick up a book in your free time and expand your horizons.