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Allah (SWT) said: “O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge.” (Qur’an 20: 114)

The very first word in Islam is the word “Read” (Qur’an 96:1), a very important and valuable word in education and training. This is the very first command given to Prophet Muhammad (SAW), a man who did not know how to read but who afterward rose up to the pinnacle of educatedness and wisdom. It is this first word that spurred him to show people the importance of knowledge and skills in life.

“Read! In the name of your Lord and Cherisher.” (Qur’an 96: 1) is a command directed not only to the Prophet but also to all Muslims. The word is not merely an instruction or motivation but a command. Hence, the Prophet followed it and became successful in his mission. The word “Read” is a symbol of educatedness. The word is an all-important active verb, a word of action in education and training. It is a command that should be followed devotedly and forthrightly by every Muslim “in the name of your Lord and Cherisher” to sustain and promote work, expertise, and personal development and progress.

Education is essential for high growth and good life. It imbues the ardent student with the right values and develops him with upright character, and makes him contribute to his community and nation effectively. Indeed, in Islam, investment in education for children is a requirement; it is an inherent Islamic obligation. The progress and success of a country depend on how well its people are nurtured, educated, trained, and developed, and how well they utilize their talent, creativity, and expertise in their respective jobs. In short, as a Muslim, you should adhere to the command of Allah to “Read”, that is, learn as much as you can and as long as you live, and righteously use the knowledge and skills that you acquire.

In the Qur’an there is also a chapter called “Pen”, an instrument used for writing. Even when people use computers to type or process words for reading and communication, the pen, a symbol of educatedness, would still be used and carried by people to jot down notes and memos and for putting down signatures on documents and agreements.

When Allah Himself has directed people to read and write, it becomes inexcusable for a believer in Him to remain uneducated or semi-educated. A Muslim should therefore have the motivation to be educated and wise so as to live in peace and harmony with respect and dignity. This is the deep meaning of happiness and success in Islam.

Knowledge is important and valuable. It opens the doors of progress in any field. How our Prophet values knowledge can be seen from an incident in early Islam. Our Prophet told the enemies after the Battle of Badr that they could redeem their people taken prisoners by the Muslims provided they teach 10 Muslim children to read and write for each prisoner to be redeemed.

Knowledge is of two categories, but they are closely linked in Islam. The religious knowledge that you should or have received in your childhood is concerned with Fardhu ‘Ain (Personal obligation) like the daily prayers and the Ramadhan fast. Fardhu ‘Ain supports the structure of a Muslim’s life and makes him aware of the Hereafter and the need to live righteously on this earth to prepare for the Hereafter.

Dardhu Kifayah (worldly sciences), which also means communal obligation, is vital for one’s living on earth. It is a dynamic concept that aims to ensure that the Muslim is equipped adequately with all the things necessary to make him live comfortably and productively. These worldly sciences are referred to for convenience as “secular” subjects, taught in schools help to develop the mind and intellect. Applying these sciences correctly will surely make our stand as Muslims more wholesome.

In Islam, both Fardhu ‘Ain and Fardhu Kifayah are equally important. Therefore, they are not separate entities but joined together with a strong link because of the fact that both categories of knowledge come from one source – Allah. Both are meant for your own good and for the good of the Muslim ummah, your country, and the world. You should strike a balance between your spiritual needs and your material needs. The Prophet said: “The most correct concern of a true believer is he who pays attention to matters of this world and to the matters pertaining to the Hereafter.”

The importance of the quest for knowledge is a theme that runs right through the Qur’an. Many chapters of the Qur’an praise men of knowledge. For example, Allah declares: “Say: Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?” (Qur’an 39:9). This comparison is meant to encourage and motivate people to acquire knowledge and skills and to excel and keep on excelling in them.

Encouraging people to acquire knowledge was always on the lips of the Prophet. He said: “Go and acquire knowledge even if it is in China.” This advice has three features in it: China was considered a far away land from Arabia in those days. It was more culturally advanced than many other countries and totally non-Muslim as Islam had not spread to China yet at that time. Thus, what the advice was meant to convey is that the Muslim should obtain knowledge and training even if the place is far away from his home and the knowledge is available only to non-Muslims. Knowledge has no boundary or nationality; it is from Allah. Allah gives knowledge to anyone who seeks it. Therefore, a Muslim can seek knowledge from anyone and from anywhere.

(To be continued)

by Shaikh A. Kadir

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