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Islam – The Religion of Knowledge and Wisdom

“Islam – The Religion of Knowledge and Wisdom”

Al-Azhar Magazine - September 1971

The Holy Quran itself bore testimony to the supreme value of Knowledge and learning in the first verses revealed to the Prophet:

ٱقۡرَأۡ بِٱسۡمِ رَبِّكَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ (١) خَلَقَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ مِنۡ عَلَقٍ (٢) ٱقۡرَأۡ وَرَبُّكَ ٱلۡأَكۡرَمُ (٣) ٱلَّذِى عَلَّمَ بِٱلۡقَلَمِ (٤) عَلَّمَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ مَا لَمۡ يَعۡلَمۡ (٥)

It means: “Read: In the name of thy Lord Who created; Created man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who taught by the pen, Taught man that which he know not.” (96: 1-5)

The Prophet preached of the value of knowledge in the following words: “Acquire knowledge, because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord performs an act of piety; who speaks of it, praises the Lord; who seeks it, adores God; who dispenses instruction in it bestows alms; and who imparts it to its fitting objects, performs an act of devotion to God”.

Commenting on the above mentioned first verses of the Quran, Imam Zamakhsari says: “God taught human beings that which they did not know, and this testifies to the greatness of His beneficence, for He has given to His servants knowledge of that which they did not know. And He has brought them out of the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge, and made them aware of the inestimable blessings of the knowledge of writing for great benefits accrue there from which God alone compassed; and without the knowledge of writing no other knowledge could be comprehended…” (The Spirit of Islam Part-II).

With the spirit of knowledge and wisdom Islam carried its followers forward on a wave of progress, and enabled them to achieve a high degree of intellectual and material development. Up to the time of the Islamic dispensation the Arab world, which restricted within the peninsula of Arabia, had shown no signs of intellectual growth. Science and literature possessed no victories. Poetry, oratory and some astrology formed the favorite interests of the pre-islamic Arabs.

But the devotion of the Prophet to knowledge and sciences gave a new impulse to the awakened energies of the people. He announced the importance of knowledge and wisdom in the field of the spiritual and material progress of mankind. He would often say: “The ink if the scholar is more holy than the bloods of the martyr”. And “He who travels in search of knowledge, to him God shows the way to paradise; knowledge enables its possessor to distinguish what is forbidden from what is not; it lights the way to heaven”.

The teachings of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet raised within few years of the dawning of Islam, the Arabian peninsula as the centre of attraction abroad. The nucleus of of educational and cultural scat emerged in Medina from the spirit of Islam grew soon into educational and scientific centers and universities at Baghdad, Cordova, Cairo etc. These centers fulfilled the true tenor of the statements of the Prophet: “With knowledge, the servant God rises to the heights of goodness and to a noble position associates with sovereigns in this world and attains to the perfection of happiness in the next”. The high spirit of seeking knowledge cultivated by the preaching of the Prophet impelled his disciples to seek for knowledge, in all walks of Life and to travel in search of it.

The early disciples of the Prophet realized the spirit of his teachings and grasped the meaning of his words. The gentle and calm teachings instilled in the life of them a great desire of knowledge. Thus a real renaissance in all branches of knowledge, took place in the Muslim World. From the time of its birth in the seventh century upto the end of the 17th, the Muslim world was animated by a scientific and literary spirit equal in force and energy to that which animates Europe and America of this century. That spirit carried the Muslims forward on the path of a great nation founded on the basis of science and human civilization. Referring to the role of Islam in spreading sciences, philosophy and arts, though the institutions of Muslim Scholar Ameer Ali writes:   “Travelling in search of knowledge was according to the percept of the Prophet a pious duty. From every part of the globe students and scholars flocked to cordova, to Bagdad and to Cairo to listen to the words of the Saracenic sages. Even Christians from remote corners of Europe attended Muslim colleges. Men who became in after-life the heads of the Christian church , acquired their scholarship from Islamic teachers. The rise of cairo under al-Muiz-li-din-illah added a spirit of rivalry to patronage of learning on the part of the Caliphs of the Houses of Abbas and Fathima.

Al-Muiz was the Mamun of the west the Meccans of Muslims Africa, which then embraced the whole of the continent from the eastern confines of Egypt to the shores of the Atlantic and the borders of the Sahara. During the reign of Al-Muiz and his first three successors, the arts and the sciences flourished under the special and loving protection of the sovereigns. The free university of Cairo, the Dar-ul-Hikmat-Scientific Institute established by Al-Muiz, “anticipated Bacons ideal with a fact”. The IdrisidesAl-Fez, and the Moorish sovereigns in Spain outvied each other in the cultivation of arts and letters.

From the shores of the Atlantic eastward to the Indian Ocean, far away even to the pacific, resounded the voice of philosophy and learning, under Muslim guidance and Muslim inspiration. And when the House of Abbas lost its grasp on the empire of the East , the chiefs who held the reins of government in the tracts which at one time where under the undivided temporal sway of the Caliphs, extended the same protection to science and literature as the Pentiffs from when they still derived their little to sovereignty .

This glorious period lasted, in spite of the triumph of patristicism and its unconcealed jealousy towards scientific and philosophical pursuits, until the fall of Baghdad before Tartaric hordes. But the wild savages who overturned the Caliphate and destroyed civilization, as soon as they adopted Islam became ardentprotectors of learning!

What was the condition of learning and science in Christendom at this epoch? Under Constantine and his orthodox successors the Aesclepions were closed for ever; the public libraries established by the liberality of the pagan emperors were dispersed or destroyed; learning was “branded as magic or punished as treason”; and philosophy and science were exterminated.

The ecclesiastical hatred against human learning had found expression in the patristic maxim “Ignorance is the mother of devotion” and Pope Gregory the great founder of ecclesiastical supremacy, give effect to this obscurantist dogma by expelling from Rome all scientific studies and burning the Palatine Library founded by Augustus Caesar. He forbade the study of ancient writers of Greece and Rome. He introduced and sanctified the mythological Christianity which continued for centuries the predominating creed of Europe, with its worship of relics and the remains of saints. Science and literature were placed under the ban by orthodox Christianity, and they succeeded in emancipating themselves only when Free Thought had broken down the barriers raised by orthodoxy against the progress of the human mind.

Abdullah Al-Mamun has been deservedly styled the Augustus of the Arabs. “He was not ignorant that they are the elect of God, his best and most useful servants, whose lives are devoted to the improvement of their rational faculties, that the teachers of wisdom are the Luminaries and legislators of the world.

Mamn was followed by a brilliant succession of princes who continued his work. Under him his successors, the principal distinguishing feature of the school of Baghdad was true and strongly marked scientific spirit, which dominated over all its achievements. The deductive method, hitherto proudly regarded as the invention and sole monopoly of modern Europe, was perfectly understood by the Muslims.

“Marching from the known to the unknown, the school of Bagdad rendered to itself on exact account of the phenomena for the purpose of rising from the effect to the cause, accepting only what had been demonstrated by experience; such were the principles taught by the (Muslims) masters. “The Arabs in the contrary, continues the author we are quoting, “were in the possession of that fecund method which was to become long afterwards, in the hands of the moderns, the instrument of their most beautiful discoveries”.

Volumes would be required to enumerate the host of scientific and learned men who flourished about this epoch, all of whom have, in some way or other left their mark in the history of progress.

In order to give information of a general character relating to the Muslim contribution to the various branches of sciences and arts, we have to understand the general attitude of Islam is a comprehensive concept of life. It is not a religion merely describing the relations between man and his creator.

The Holy Quran give expression again and again to the quest for the well being of this world and in the Hereafter. It teaches mankind to pray: “…Our Lord! Give unto us in this world that which is best and the hereafter that which is best…) (28/77)

It is quest for the well being which attracts man to study and learn, in order to profit by all that exists in the universe, and to be grateful to God. The Holy Quran says: “He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth” (2:29)

The Quran urges men not only to go on exploration but also for new discoveries as the Holy Quran says: “…Say: travel in the land and see the nature of end of those who were before you”. (30:42)

And: “…Who meditate over the creation of the heavens and the earth”. And says: “Our Lord! Thou created not this in vain”. (3:191). It is not surprising if Muslims had the good luck of developing new sciences, arts and culture.

As the Quran has repeatedly urged to meditate over the creation of the universe, and to study how the heavens and the earth have been made subservient to man, there has never been a conflict between faith and reason in Islam. Thus it is that the muslims began very early an over progressive and serious study of chemistry, physics, zoology, mathematics and medical science. Muslims continued their work in the service of sciences and arts until misfortunes afflicted their principle intellectual centers in the east and in the west.

Once a civilization declines, due to calamities of wholesale massacres, the burning of the libraries with their hundreds and thousands of books, and occupation of intellectual centers by barbarians it takes several centuries of time as well as numerous resources before one can make up the distance.

“Lo! Allah changes not the condition of a folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts.” (13:11)