The Role of Islam in Spread of Knowledge
Al-Azhar Magazine June 1968
The first of the Quran to be revealed-verses 1-5 of the Surah ‘Al-Alaq’-itself bore testimony to the supreme value of knowledge and learning. Commenting on the meanings of these verses, Imam Zamakshari explains: ‘God taught human beings that which they do 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. He has brought them out of the darkness of ignorance to light of knowledge, and made them aware of the knowledge of writing for great benefits accrue there from which God alone compassioned; and without the knowledge of writing no other knowledge could be comprehend nor the sciences placed with bounds, nor the history of the ancients be acquired and their sayings be recorded, nor the revealed books written; and if that knowledge did not exist, the affairs of them life could not be regulated’.
Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) preached of the value of knowledge. His devotion to knowledge and science distinguishes him from all other prophets and reformers of the world. He preached: “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 art of devotion to God. Knowledge enables its possessor to distinguish what is forbidden from what is not; it lights the way to heaven; It is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when bereft of friend; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is ornament in the company of friends; it serves as an armor against our enemies. With knowledge, the servant of God rises to the heights of goodness and o noble position, associates with sovereigns in this world and attains to the perfection of happiness in the next world”.
The teachings of Islam gave a new impulse to the awakened energies of the Arabs Poetry, Oratory and judicial astrology formed the favorite objects of pursuit among the pre-Islamic Arab world. The prophet cultivated among them a holy spirit of knowledge and learning. He would often say the ink of the scholar was more holy than the blood of the martyr. And he repeatedly impressed on his disciples the necessity of seeking for knowledge, and he taught them that he who leaves his home in search of knowledge to him God shows the way to paradise. Even within his lifetime was formed the nucleus of an educational institution with all branches of knowledge. This nucleus in after years grew into great universities and educational centers at Baghdad, Cairo and Cordova. In spite of the upheaval during the periods of early Caliphs, science and literature were by no means neglected in the metropolises of Muslim world. It is reported that Imam Ali, and his cousin Ibn Abbas gave public lectures on mathematics, history, poetry and grammar; whilst other companions of the Prophet taught the arts of recitation and elocution etc. Some of them gave lessons even in calligraphy, which was an invaluable branch of knowledge in that time.
Naturally such sentiments on part of the Prophet and the disciples gave rise to a desire for learning. The practice of religion, the conservation of a devotional spirit, and the special cultivation of those branches of learning which were of practical value in the battle of everyday life, were the primary objects of the Muslim’s attention. With the percepts of the Prophet to light their path, they kept in view the development of humanity and devoted themselves to the cultivation of science and learning in all its branches. From ‘Medina’ a stream of unusual intellectual activity flowed to distant places.
It was towards the close of the Omeyyade Rule that several Muslim thinkers came into prominence whose lectures on many subjects then upper most in the minds of people attracted great attentions. Their ideas and conceptions molded the thoughts of succeeding generations. It was in the second century, however, that the literally and scientific activity of the Muslims commenced in the earnest and the chief impulse to this was given by the settlement of the Arab towns. The Arabs had carried with them into distant regions unexampled intellectual activities. Under the Abbaside period we find Muslims the repositories of the knowledge of the world. Every part of the globe is ransacked by the agents of the Caliphs for the hoarded wealth of antiquity; these are brought to the capital and laid before n admiring and appreciating public. Schools and academies spring up in every direction; public libraries are established in every city free to every commoner; the great philosophers of the ancient world are studied. The rulers themselves participated in literary meetings and philosophical discussions. Every city sought to outrival the other in the cultivation of arts and science. From every part of the globe students and scholars flocked to ‘Baghdad’, to ‘Cairo’ and to ‘Cordova’ in search of knowledge, and to listen to the words of the Arab sages!