Knowledge acquisition: Islamic perspective


It said: “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 knew not” (The Quran 96: 1-5).

In the chronology of revelation, therefore, the very first word of the Quranic message was: ‘Read!’ It is also not a coincidence that apart from the word ‘read,’ the Quran further used, in the aforementioned verses, the other two related words: ‘taught’ and ‘pen.’

The great importance which the Quran attaches to reading, learning, writing and teaching is thus quite undeniable.

Prophet Mohammad himself made the acquisition of knowledge obligatory for every Muslim, male or female.

In one tradition (or hadith), he exhorts his followers to go out in search of knowledge even if they had to go as far away as China for it. Yet another tradition reports the Prophet as assuring his companions that the search for knowledge would be expiation for one’s sins.

Indeed, the Prophet’s mosque at Madina was not merely a place of worship. In addition to performing prayer, the believers assembled there to learn and benefit from the wisdom of the Prophet, and to seek elucidation of Quranic verses from him.

In his absence, his distinguished companions conveyed what they had heard from him.
On one occasion, when Mohammad entered the mosque well before the prayer time, he found two groups present.

One group was busy in worship, with some of its members reading the Quran and others engrossed in supplications.

The second group was busy learning how to read and write and discussing Islam and its application in their daily lives.

It is pertinent here that the Prophet, after considering both groups, said: “Both are engaged in useful pursuits. But I am a teacher. I shall join the group assembled to learn.”

So saying, he sat with the group of students.

The Battle of Badr, where the Prophet led a Muslim band of just 313 men in defence against a strong Makkan force of around a 1,000, is well-celebrated as the first battle of consequence in the annals of Muslim history.

Significantly, however, some Makkan prisoners captured in this battle were released without ransom by the Prophet on condition that each would teach at least ten Muslim children how to read and write.

Through this, and through similar acts of far-sightedness, the Prophet’s concern for the education of the Muslims’ children remains a model for succeeding generations of his followers to emulate.

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