2. “When seeking knowledge
“Read! In the Name of your Lord, who created (all that exists); created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous” (Qur’an 96:1-3).
The above verses from the Holy Qur’an are the first verses revealed to our beloved Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings be upon him). The very first word and command sent by Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (the Exalted and Glorified)—“Read!”—signifies the importance of mankind attaining knowledge. Long before these powerful verses were sent down, the Prophet (saws) would seclude himself for days at a time, reflecting upon many questions of existence—the human condition, the meaning of life, creation, and the purpose of man, society and nations.
The Prophet (saws) sought the truth; he was in search of answers, of the Light. In his quest for the truth, he maintained his good character, holding fast to his sincerity, humility, and unrelenting love and devotion to the one true God.
The Prophet’s quest (saws) was answered with a revelation—a mercy to all of mankind—a message that would resurrect humanity from the depths of darkness and ignorance into the age of enlightenment, delivered by the noblest soul, the greatest man ever created. Throughout this process, the Prophet (saws) never relented, and ensured that his heart was sound.
This sound heart was an embodiment of his humility, untainted by the darkness of arrogance. The Prophet (saws) reported Allah (swt) saying, “Pride is My cloak and greatness My robe, and he who competes with Me in respect of either of them I shall cast into Hell-fire” (Hadith Qudsi 19). How does this admonition guide mankind in its attainment of knowledge?
Arrogance, a disease of the heart, can poison one’s intentions with a false sense of security in one’s own wisdom. Using personal whims and desires to evaluate attainment of knowledge can only lead to an ignorant rejection of the knowledge sought. Hence, arrogance can deceive a heart to be foolishly critical, thus impatient to attain that which is only acquired through patience.
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “…those in whose hearts is a disease, and the Disbelievers, may say: ‘What [does] Allah intend by this example?’” (74:31). This verse shows that constant questioning, or rather criticism, as a means for rejecting the truth, is a direct result of a diseased heart. Such a state causes one to easily refuse truth at which point the heart is doomed to skepticism and falsehood; the hardened heart leads only to misery and loss. This is because, while the heart has reached the truth, it has failed to use it for its very purpose, salvation.
The thought of what kind of knowledge will be useful both in this life and in the Hereafter is overwhelming. One of the most essential types of knowledge is that which pertains to Islam.
While seemingly obvious, Islamic education is often the most neglected subject with Muslims seeking to expand their knowledge. However, gaining Islamic knowledge not only helps earn the pleasure of Allah (swt), but it also provides guides by which to live life.
Furthermore, just as the Prophet (saws) studied the sirah (lives) of the prophets that came before him, learning his struggles to establish Islam provides Muslims with a reaffirmation of faith. Allah (swt) tells Prophet Muhammad (saws) in the Qur’an, “And all that We relate to you of the news of the Messengers is in order that We may make strong and firm your heart thereby” (11:120).
However, it should be understood that Islam does not require that Muslims only educate themselves in subjects pertaining directly to Islam. On the contrary, the humanities and the sciences should be treated with great consideration as an integral part of faith. Comprehension in these spheres strengthens conviction and belief. Such understanding allows us to appreciate more deeply the countless blessings of Allah (swt) that are often taken for granted.
Nonetheless, while Muslims should strive to be well informed in every field, they should be equally wary of knowledge that will serve no purpose. Therefore, in the pursuit of knowledge, it is essential that we seek only that which will bring us closer Allah (swt).
When a Muslim has the proper intentions, that is his deeds are only for sake of Allah (swt), acquiring knowledge can be extremely beneficial in the purification of his heart. The Prophet (saws) was reported to have said, “Knowledge is worship” (Musnad Ahmed ibn Hanbal). Since worship in itself is a means of curing the heart of its ailments, knowledge also aids in healing the afflictions of the heart. Moreover, when one is freed from threats to a sound heart, such as impure intentions or a lack of sincerity, one is then able to focus on the beauty of obtaining knowledge.
A renowned Muslim scholar, Imam Shafi`e once said, “There is nothing more sacred after the fundamental obligations of faith than searching for knowledge” (Kitab al-Um). Therefore, while these fundamental obligations of faith are necessary for the cleansing of a Muslim’s heart, the acquisition of knowledge in the sincere attempt to please Allah (swt) is a valuable supplement to this process of purification. Such devotion to learning for Allah’s (swt) sake ultimately leads to increased humility, which is one of the most admirable qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (saws).
Imam Shafi`e also said, “Whenever I set myself the task to learn, I realize how little I know and the more I learn, the more I realize how ignorant I am” (Diwan as-Shafi`e). When a Muslim is seeking knowledge for the sake of Allah (swt), with every increase in knowledge, he decreases in arrogance. Such a result is inevitable however, as human knowledge in itself is limited—thus how can one maintain his arrogance when faced with such a reality?
Since only Allah (swt) is the All-Knowing, then one can only humble one’s self to His Greatness. This heightened humility can be seen almost as a shortcut to discovering one’s heart because when a Muslim breaks free of arrogance, he is then able to cure his heart of disease. The subsequent reward is a Muslim’s heightened closeness with Allah (swt). The humility that results from expanding one’s knowledge also leads to a heightened fear of Him. Allah (swt) says, “It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah” (Qur’an 35:28). The scholars—the most knowledgeable of people—fear Allah (swt) the most as they are aware of just how much they do not know and are humbled by their own ignorance.
As we embark on this never-ending path of knowledge, we ask Allah (swt) to purify our hearts with sincerity and humility. Through this purification, may our iman (faith) increase, and may we take this knowledge and turn it into action, for as Hasan al-Basri, radi Allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Iman is neither formal conformity nor vain expectation; it is what settles in the heart and is confirmed by action” (Al-Musannaf 11:22). Ameen. ̹