By Sikandar Azam
Seeking knowledge makes us human in the real sense. It differentiates us from other living beings. This is why Islam promotes the idea of learning, asking questions, thinking and reflecting on the world around. The Qur’ān repeatedly awakens the conscience of the reader: afala tatafakkarun (don’t you think?), afala ta’qilun (don’t you use your wits?), wa fi anfusikum, afala tubshirun (and in yourselves, don’t you see?), afala yatadabbarun al-Qur’ān (do they not then reflect on the Qur’ān?). This process of reflection, using our wits, watching the universe and seeing in our own physical structure, etc. is part of seeking knowledge. It helps us strive to better our life.
The very first revelation of the Qur’ān contains the word Iqra (read or proclaim) and the use of pen. “Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created – Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) the pen, Taught man that which he knew not.” (The Qur’ān – 96:1-5)
Knowledge helps us uphold justice. Only those who have knowledge care for upholding justice. The Qur’ān (3:18) indicates: “There is no god but He: That is the witness of Allah, His angels, and those endued with knowledge, standing firm on justice. There is no god but He, the Exalted in Power, the Wise.” This verse enjoins us to learn and obtain knowledge to truly understand the Greatness and Oneness of Allah – which will eventually help us stand firm on the path of righteousness, justice and peace.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ has also enjoined us to seek knowledge. Anas ibn Malik relates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah) In another hadith, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: “Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise. People do not gather in the houses of Allah, reciting the book of Allah and studying it together, but that tranquillity will descend upon them, mercy will cover them, angels will surround them, and Allah will mention them to those near him.” (Sahih Muslim)
The fact is that whatever the Messenger of Allah ﷺ has taught us is right from God Himself. The Qur’ān (4:113) makes it abundantly clear: “Allah has sent down to you the Book and wisdom, and He has taught you what you did not know, and great is Allah’s grace upon you.”
Abu Umamah relates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “You must acquire this knowledge before it is taken away, and its taking away means that it will be lifted up.” He joined his middle finger and the one that next to the thumb like this, and said: “The scholar and the seeker of knowledge will share the reward, and there is no good in the rest of the people.” (Ibn Majah)
Thus seeking knowledge is an obligation; there is no escape from it, for it promises success here in this world as well as in the life to come.