Knowledge and Wisdom: Islamic Viewpoint
We begin our first lesson with Knowledge and Wisdom, which is the first and original pillar of human distinctions and specialties.
In the very first revelation to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) we read, Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is Most Honourable, Who taught to write with the pen, taught man what he knew not.
Also at the beginning of Surah Rahman we read, The Beneficent God, taught the Quran. He created man, taught him the mode of expression.
In these two verses, first attention has been drawn to the grant of Ilm (Knowledge) and then to Khilqat (creation) of man.
Also in many verses of this kind, wise people have been addressed with inspiration like, And He it is who has made the stars for you that you might follow the right way thereby in the darkness of the land and the sea; truly We have made plain the communications for a people who know.
In another verse He says, And He it is who has brought you into being from a single soul, then there is for you a resting-place, and a depository; indeed we have made plain the communications for a people who understand.
Also He says about Adam the Father of mankind, And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; then He said: Tell me the names of those if you are right.
It is not out of place here to remember that as a rule of Arabic grammar if before a noun there comes Al, it denotes a common category. On this ground it can be said that God taught all the sciences/knowledge to Adam. Then He orders the angels to bow before Adam and whosoever does not bow respectfully is being regarded as one of the unbelievers.
In Islam, upgradation of stages is reserved for Mo-mineen and the learned. Therefore He says, Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge, in high degrees; and Allah is aware of what you do.
In another verse, it is said about the one who is wise, He grants wisdom to whom He pleases, and whoever is granted wisdom, he indeed is given a great good and none but men of understanding mind.
The word Hikmat (wisdom) has been defined in many ways, like knowing and being acquainted with the secrets of the world, Awareness of the Truths about of Quran, Reaching to the truth through word and deed and Knowing Allah. Each one of these meanings has, in it, a deep meaning and wisdom for man and it is through piety and strenuous efforts that man has raised himself to the heights of intellect. Moreover, fear of Allah is reserved for the wise, Those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah.
Yet in another Ayat the aim behind creation of the skies and the earth and everything between them is mentioned, Allah is He Who created seven heavens, and of the earth the like of them; the decree continues to descend among them, that you may know
Obviously the meaning of this Ilm (knowledge) is the ability of knowing God and this knowledge has no end. Allah asks His Messenger, (who knows more than all other creation) to pray,
O my Lord! Increase me in knowledge.
Here we mention some sayings of the Masoomeen (a.s.) regarding the importance of knowledge and wisdom.
A – Amirul Mo-mineen Ali (a.s.) was once asked about Khair (Good). He said, Good is not that you have more wealth and children. Good is that your knowledge increases.
Kumail says, Amirul Mo-mineen (a.s.) held my hand and took me out of the town. When we reached wilderness he took a deep breath and said, O Kumail! These hearts are the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The best of heart are those that provide room for more knowledge and wisdom. Remember forever what I tell you.
There are three kinds of people: First – One who knows the Lord; Second: A student of the path of salvation and truth; and third – a group like flies who follow every voice; and who are dragged in any direction the wind blows.
O Kumail! Knowledge is better than money and property. Knowledge is your security and you have to guard wealth. Money and possessions decrease by using but knowledge increases with its dispersion.
O Kumail! Knowledge is the only faith of man and man must always follow it. Every man must, during his lifetime, adopt a way of obedience and must leave after his death a good remembrance. Knowledge is the ruler while money is the ruled.
O Kumail, the possessors of wealth and treasures have vanished but the wise and the learned are living. The learned are alive till the world exists. Their bodies have disappeared but their high examples exist in the hearts of people.
Then pointing to his chest said: Here is the abundance of knowledge and wisdom. I wish I could find bearers for it.
B – Amirul Mo-mineen (a.s.) narrates from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), that he said, In Qiyamat the blood of the martyrs will be weighed against the ink and writings of the learned and finally the ink of the learned will be held heavier than the blood of the martyrs.
C – It is narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.), On the Day of Judgement Almighty Allah will call the learned and the worshipper. Then He would tell the Aabid to proceed to Paradise but the Aalim would be asked to wait and intercede for those whom he had taught.
D – Imam Baqir (a.s.) says: The value of one learned man who has benefited the society is more than the worship of seventy thousand worshippers.
E – Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: One Rakat of prayer of Aalim is more valuable then seventy thousand Rakats of an Aabid.
G – It has been recorded from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) that, The superiority of a learned man over a worshipper is like that of the full moon over other stars.
H – It is reported that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) once addressed Ali (a.s.), The sleep of a learned man is better than a thousand Rakats Namaz of a worshippers. O Ali! No poverty is harder than ignorance and no worship can equal contemplation.
I – The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said: For the devil, the existence of one Faqeeh (jurisprudent) is more intolerable than the existence of a thousand worshippers.
J – Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.) says, Had people known what benefit learning gives, they would have run after it even if it required the blood of hearts and diving deep into oceans. It is to convey that they would try to learn unto the time of their death.
K – The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) is reported to have said, The loss of running after an affair without learning about it is more than its benefit.
L – Imam Sadiq (a.s.) is reported to have said, Working without knowledge is like travelling off the road. The more a blind man walks the more he gets away from his path.
Verses and traditions regarding knowledge are so many that it is impossible for us to include all of them here. Yet it should not also be forgotten that no other school of thought has given so much importance to knowledge except Islam. So much so that Islam has made it almost obligatory for a Muslim. We read in traditions: Learning knowledge is compulsory under every circumstance.
Question: Is obtaining knowledge obligatory? In case it is obligatory is it Kifaai or Ainee? That is, is it compulsory for some or for each and everyone in the society?
Answer: The great jurisprudents of Islam are of the opinion that obtaining Ilm is waajib-e-Ainee so far as it refers to the matters of belief like the principles of religion and those practical affairs without which duties cannot be fulfilled; and that beyond it, it is Waajib-e-Kifaai. But a group of jurisprudents think it is absolutely compulsory even in that case for those who can afford to obtain knowledge.
Encouragement for the learned
Islam has encouraged learning. Great religious leaders have always actively inspired scholars giving them preference over all others. Hence, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), during the war of Muslims against Romans, gave the standard to a youth named Usama bin Zaid and ordered that entire army to follow him.
Also when a group from Bani Hashim was sitting near Imam Sadiq (a.s.) in a grand gathering, Hishaam bin Hakam who was then a youth arrived. The Imam got up to greet him, pulled him toward him, kissed his lips and seated him beside him. This happening displeased all the elders sitting there. Imam said, “Don’t you know that this young man had, during a discussion, put Amr bin Ubaid (who was a great Sunni scholar) to shame to such an extent that Amr said: So long as this youth is present in the class I will not talk?”