And Say: “My Lord! Increase Me in Knowledge” – I

And Say: “My Lord! Increase Me in Knowledge” – I

Written by

KHALID QASMI

Published on

We often mention with pride, and truly so, that our great religion, Islam, has always encouraged knowledge. The very first revelation of the Holy Qur’an, to the Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be with him, was about reading and acquiring knowledge. “Read! In the name of your Lord Who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not.” (Surah Al-Alaq: 1-5)
Human beings, from Islamic viewpoint, are the vicegerents of Almighty Allah on earth. The Qur’an has made it clear that all that is in the heavens and on earth has been made subservient to human beings, whom Allah has endowed with the capacity to use their intellect to reflect upon things and express their ideas in speech and writing. (Surah Al-Rahman: 1-4)
The commandments of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sayings encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and study nature to see the Signs of the Creator, the Almighty Allah. They are required, according to Qur’an and Sunnah, to read, to think and to find out the mysteries of the world.
“Do they not look at the camels, how they are created? The heaven, how it was raised high? The mountains, how they were firmly set? And the earth, how it was spread out? So, keep on giving admonition, for you are an admonisher…” (Surah Al-Ghashiyah: 17-21)
“In the earth there are tracks side by side, gardens of grapes, cornfields and palm trees; growing out of single roots or otherwise. They are all watered with the same water, yet we make some of them excel others in taste. Surely, in this there are signs for people who use their common sense.” (Surah Ar-Rad: 4)
There are hundreds of other similar verses in the Qur’an that call upon Muslims to discover the mysteries of the universe and encourage human beings to understand and explore the laws of nature.
The sayings of the Messenger of Islam are also full of traditions highlighting the importance of knowledge. The Messenger is reported to have said:
“The search for knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim.” “He, who adores knowledge, adores God.” “Wisdom is the goal of all believers, acquire it from anywhere.” “Whoever wishes to have the benefit of this world let him acquire knowledge. Whoever wishes to have the benefit of the world hereafter let him acquire knowledge.” “Whoever goes in search of knowledge is in the path of Allah till he returns.”
The Qur’anic emphasis on the use of reason to study nature or any other part of Divine creation, in order to search for the Creator’s signs and to draw lessons for evaluation and development, along with the Holy Messenger’s exhortations to seek knowledge and wisdom from wherever possible, was instrumental in the spread of knowledge in the early periods of Islam. At that time, Muslims who had better understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah, travelled all over the world seeking knowledge and establishing fine institutions of learning throughout the Muslim world. Muslim scholars under the guidance of the Qur’an and Sunnah, produced excellent scientific and scholarly works that later became the fountainhead of research and knowledge in the west. During that golden Muslim era, centres of higher learning and development, institutes, libraries, teaching hospitals, science laboratories and observatories were common in Muslim cities like Medina, Damascus, Baghdad, Neshapore, Cairo, Qairawan, Cordoba, Toledo and Seville. Cordoba alone (in Muslim Spain) is said to be abode of 17 universities, 70 public libraries and hundreds of thousands of books for students. The extraordinary contributions by Muslim scholars such as Ibn Sina, al-Khawarzami, al-Razi, al-Zahrawi, al-Bayuni, Ibnal-Hytham, al-Idrisi, al-Kindi, Ibn Khaldun and hundreds of other Muslim scientists in the fields of science and knowledge is well known and well acknowledged even by the Orientalists and European scientists of modern era.
This brilliant scientific progress in the Muslim world was stifled by a variety of factors including invasion of Baghdad by the Mongols, the crusaders and the loss of Muslim Spain, resulting in destruction and demise of the renowned Muslim teaching and research centres. Later, the separation of Islamic, Shari’ah based studies from the education system of the natural science and technology also became an important factor for the lack of interest in, and subsequent demise of scientific education and progress.
The traumatic backwardness that the Muslim world is going through for the last two centuries in various fields of life in general, and in the fields of education, science and technology in particular has reached a very alarming and dangerous stage. The situation was best described by the famous Urdu couplet which said, pasti ka koi had se guzarna dekhe (let one see as how the backwardness goes beyond its limit).
Figures may help us comprehend the gravity of the situation. There are some 57 member countries of the (OIC), the organisation that represents Muslim countries in the world. The total number of existing universities in all these countries is no more than 500. This means that in term of availability of universities in the Muslim world, there is only one university for every three million Muslims. In comparison, there are 5758 universities in the US, 9500 in Japan, 900 in China, 350 universities along with 16000 independent professional colleges and institutes in India. The Jews in the entire world are only 14 million. While Muslims are believed to be around 1.4 billion. Thus, there are 100 Muslims for each Jew. However, in reality, Jews are 100 per cent more powerful than Muslims. During the last 105 years, 60 out of this 14 million Jews were able to receive Nobel prizes for extraordinary work in the field of research, science and literature, while 1.4 billion Muslim population produced only three Nobel prize winners apart from a few who won this prestigious awards for peace which is still elusive in Palestine and other Muslim countries. Even the prestigious King Faisal International Award, given away annually by the King Faisal International Foundation in Saudi Arabia, barely finds any Muslim candidate for its awards for medicine and science.
According to the UNDP, the literacy rate in western countries is around 90% and there are 15 western countries, which have achieved 100% literacy. As for the Muslim world, there is not a single Muslim country to achieve this 100% literacy. The literacy rate in densely populated Muslim countries is no more than 40%. Moreover, while 98% of educated population in western countries is reported to have completed the basic education, the ratio of those having finished basic education in Muslim countries is hardly 50%.
If we speak in terms of scholars, experts and scientists available in Muslim nations in comparison with other advanced countries, we find out that in Muslim countries there are 230 scholars and experts for every one million people, while in the US there are 4000 scholars and experts for every one million persons. While the rest of the world spends 5% of its GDP on research and development projects, the Arab and Muslim world spends a meagre 2% of its GDP on R&D. (to be continued)