Islamiat Notes Knowledge and its Islamic Concept Lecture No. 10

Lecture No. 10

Topic:           knowledge and its Islamic Concept

Definition Of  Knowledge 

According to religious terminology and usage in Qur’an and Hadith, knowledge is only that which Allah has sent down through His Prophets for the guidance of mankind.
The Intention behind Seeking Knowledge
            By Allah’s permission we should already have some idea of how important it is to seek knowledge of our religion, and feel motivated into doing so because of the many excellent rewards and virtues attached to this deed. But before actually seeking and acquiring this knowledge we must find out the intentions behind it, the reasons why a Muslim must gain knowledge of his religion.
            Every deed and saying has behind it an intention, but for the Muslim, every intention must be correct, since the Messenger of Allah, informed us: "Actions are judged by intentions and every man shall have that which he intended"
(1) The correct intention is as important as the action itself. It is certainly more difficult to achieve as the scholars of the past - our Pious Predecessors - used to say: "Nothing is harder for me to handle than the intention, for it overwhelms me."
(2) One of them also said: "Learn the intention, for it is more serious than the action."
(3) The Correct Intentions the intention behind all our actions should be to earn the pleasure of Allah, and seeking knowledge is no exception. We know that this noble action has attached to it many rewards as the Messenger of Allah informed us that for the seeker of knowledge "...angels accord welcome and whatever is in the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the water seek forgiveness... and that Allah - the Most High - directs him to tread a path from the paths of paradise."
 (4) This, then, should be at least one reason for gaining knowledge, to acquire for oneself these great blessings, both in this world and the Hereafter.

            Another benefit of seeking knowledge of Islam is that it will, by the permission of Allah, remove ignorance about the religion from amongst our selves. A Muslim cannot remain in a state of doubt and confusion about how to worship Allah, because this will prevent him from worshipping Allah correctly. However, acquiring knowledge of this will eradicate the ignorance.
Imam al-Aajurree (d. 360H)said:
            "worship is not possible without knowledge, so seeking knowledge is compulsory and ignorance is not a good state for the believer to be in, so he seeks knowledge to remove ignorance from himself and to be able to worship Allah in the way Allah has commanded".
            And it is only when one has removed ignorance from oneself that one can help lift the veil of ignorance that also prevents others from the true worship of their Lord.
            Also acquiring sound knowledge of Islam enables one to counter the attacks upon it from disbelievers and innovators and all others whose wish is to either destroy or corrupt it. So equipped with certain knowledge one can be in a better position to defend the religion.
            There are then, certain reasons behind seeking and acquiring knowledge: wanting the rewards and excellence attached to it, wanting to remove ignorance from oneself and others about Islam in order to worship. Allah properly and being able to defend the religion.
Warnings from the Prophet (S.A.W)
            Many actions can be and are done for the purely worldly gains, to seek personal gain or benefit. As we know, this should not be the reason behind the actions and sayings of a Muslim. To seek the pleasure and reward of Allah should be our sole aim. To make this is easier for us, the Messenger of Allah, (S.A.W), warned us against doing actions for other than the sake of Allah and specifically against seeking and acquiring knowledge for the wrong reasons, with incorrect intentions.
            He, (S.A.W), said: "Whosoever learns knowledge by which is to be sought the Face of Allah, but he does not do so except to goal of this world, he will not smell the odor of Paradise on the Day of Resurrection."
In another narration the Prophet warned us by saying: "Do not learn the knowledge to amaze/stupefy by it the scholars, nor to delight against the foolish by it, nor to possess the gatherings by it. Whosoever does so, then the Fire, the Fire?"
These two Hadith are extremely clear in their warnings against acquiring knowledge with other than the correct intention. Knowledge of Islam is sought to teach our selves and others, but most importantly to act upon as Allah, the Highest, revealed:

 "It is only those who have knowledge amongst His slaves that fear Allah." [35:28].
             And as some of the scholars of the past used to say: "Knowledge is not narrating much, but knowledge is fear of Allah."
It should not be sought for reasons of fame or status, which are goals of this world. We should be fearful of not falling into this category, since as the Hadith state the consequences are severe - Hellfire.
We must therefore constantly check our intentions to ensure sincerity and purity of action, especially those in the forefront of da’wah, calling people to Islam; since it is easier for intentions to become tainted whilst standing in front of an audience or group of people. Shaitaan is also constantly at work trying to ruin our good deeds in whichever way he can.
            So let us be careful and anxious about why we are seeking knowledge of Islam and ask Allah to save us from being included with the likes of the first to be judged by Him on the Day of Judgment, about whom the Prophet, (S.A.W), warned us: "...So the first to be summoned will be a man who learned knowledge and taught it and read the Qur’an. He will come with it and favors to him will be made known to him and he will recognize it. It will be said: What have you done by it? ‘He will say: ‘I studied the knowledge and taught it and recited for You the Qur’an. It will be said:
‘You have lied. Rather you studied the knowledge so that it would be said of you: ‘a scholar’ and you recited the Qur’an so it would be said of you: ‘a recite.’ And that was said. Then he will be commanded and would be dragged on his face until he is thrown into the Fire..."
May Allah - the One free from all imperfections - protect us from this.

Muslims Contribution to Science
            Islam urges people to read and learn on every occasion. The verses of the Qur'an command, advice, warn, and encourage people to observe the phenomena of nature, the succession of day and night, the movements of stars, the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies. Muslims are urged to look into everything in the universe, to travel, investigate, explore and understand them, the better to appreciate and be thankful for all the wonders and beauty of God's creations. The first revelation to Muhammad (S.A.W) showed how much Islam cares about knowledge.

 "Read, in the name of your Lord, Who created...?” [96:1]
            Learning is obligatory for both men and women. Moreover, education is not restricted to religious issues; it includes all fields of knowledge, including biology, physics, and technology. Scholars have the highest status in Islam, second only to that accorded to Prophets.
           Almost from the very beginnings of the Islamic state Muslims began to study and to master a number of fields of so-called secular learning, beginning with linguistics and architecture, but very quickly extending to mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, medicine, chemistry and philosophy. They translated and synthesized the known works of the ancient world, from Greece, Persia, India, even China.
           Before long they were criticizing, improving and expanding on that knowledge. Centuries before the European Renaissance there were Muslim "Renaissance" men, men who were simultaneously explorers, scientists, philosophers, physicians and poets, like Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Umar Khayyam, and others.

            Muslims have always had a special interest in astronomy. The moon and the sun are of vital importance in the daily life of every Muslim. By the moon, Muslims determine the beginning and the end of the months in their lunar calendar. By the sun the Muslims calculate the times for prayer and fasting.
           It is also by means of astronomy that Muslims can determine the precise direction of the Kiblah, to face the Ka'bah in Makkah, during prayer. The most precise solar calendar, superior to the Julian, is the Jilali, devised under the supervision of Umar Khayyam.
The Qur'an contains many references to astronomy.
           "The heavens and the earth were ordered rightly, and were made subservient to man, including the sun, the moon, the stars, and day and night. Every heavenly body moves in an orbit assigned to it by God and never digresses, making the universe an orderly cosmos whose life and existence, diminution and expansion, are totally determined by the Creator." [Qur'an 30:22]
           These references, and the injunctions to learn, inspired the early Muslim scholars to study the heavens. They integrated the earlier works of the Indians, Persians and Greeks into a new synthesis. Ptolemy's Almagest (the title as we know it is Arabic) was translated, studied and criticized. Many new stars were discovered, as we see in their Arabic names - Algol, Deneb, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran.
Astronomical tables were compiled, among them the Toledan tables, which were used by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Kepler. Also compiled were almanacs - another Arabic term. Other terms from Arabic are zenith, nadir, albedo, azimuth.
            Muslim astronomers were the first to establish observatories, like the one built at Mugharah by Hulagu, the son of Genghis Khan, in Persia, and they invented instruments such as the quadrant and astrolabe, which led to advances not only in astronomy but in oceanic navigation, contributing to the European age of exploration.

            Muslim scholars paid great attention to geography. In fact, the Muslims' great concern for geography originated with their religion. The Qur'an encourages people to travel throughout the earth to see God's signs and patterns every where. Islam also requires each Muslim to have at least enough knowledge of geography to know the direction of the Kiblah (the position of the Ka'bah in Makkah) in order to pray five times a day.
            Muslims were also used to taking long journeys to conduct trade as well as to make the Hajj and spread their religion. The far-flung Islamic empire enabled scholar-explorers to compile large amounts of geographical and climatic information from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
            Among the most famous names in the field of geography, even in the West, are Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Batuta, renowned for their written accounts of their extensive explorations. In 1166, Al-Idrisi, the well-known Muslim scholar who served the Sicilian court, produced very accurate maps, including a world map with all the continents and their mountains, rivers and famous cities. Al-Muqdishi was the first geographer to produce accurate maps in color.
            It was, moreover, with the help of Muslim navigators and their inventions that Magellan was able to traverse the Cape of Good Hope, and Da Gama and Columbus had Muslim navigators on board their ships.

            Seeking knowledge is obligatory in Islam for every Muslim, man and woman. The main sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's traditions), encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and be scholars, since this is the best way for people to know Allah (God), to appreciate His wondrous creations and be thankful for them.
            Muslims were therefore eager to seek knowledge, both religious and secular, and within a few years of Prophet Muhammad's mission, a great civilization sprang up and flourished. The outcome is shown in the spread of Islamic universities; Al-Zaytunah in Tunis, and Al-Azhar in Cairo go back more than1,000 years and are the oldest existing universities in the world. Indeed, they were the models for the first European universities, such as Bologna, Heidelberg, and the Sorbonne. Even the familiar academic cap and gown originated at Al-Azhar University.
            Muslims made great advances in many different fields, such as geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture, linguistics and astronomy. Algebra and the Arabic numerals were introduced to the world by Muslim scholars. The astrolabe, the quadrant, and other navigational devices and maps were developed by Muslim scholars and played an important role in world progress, most notably in Europe's age of exploration.
            Muslim scholars studied the ancient civilizations from Greece and Rome to China and India. The works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid and others were translated into Arabic. Muslim scholars and scientists then added their own creative ideas, discoveries and inventions, and finally transmitted this new knowledge to Europe, leading directly to the Renaissance. Many scientific and medical treatises, having been translated into Latin, were standard text and reference books as late as the 17th and 18th centuries.

It is interesting to note that Islam so strongly urges mankind to study and explore the universe. For example, the Holy Qur'an states:

            "We (Allah) will show you (mankind) Our signs/patterns in the horizons/universe and in yourselves until you are convinced that the revelation is the truth." [Qur'an, 41:53]
            This invitation to explore and search made Muslims interested in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and the other sciences, and they had a very clear and firm understanding of the correspondences among geometry, mathematics, and astronomy. The Muslims invented the symbol for zero (The word "cipher" comes from Arabic sifr), and they organized the numbers into the decimal system - base 10. Additionally, they invented the symbol to express an unknown quantity, i.e. variables like x.
            The first great Muslim mathematician, Al-Khawarizmi, invented the subject of algebra (al-Jabr), which was further developed by others, most notably Umar Khayyam. Al-Khawarizmi's work, in Latin translation, brought the Arabic numerals along with the mathematics to Europe, through Spain. The word "algorithm" is derived from his name.
            Muslim mathematicians excelled also in geometry, as can be seen in their graphic arts, and it was the great Al-Biruni (who excelled also in the fields of natural history, even geology and mineralogy) who established trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics. Other Muslim mathematicians made significant progress in number theory.

            In Islam, the human body is a source of appreciation, as it is created by Almighty Allah (God). How it functions, how to keep it clean and safe, how to prevent diseases from attacking it or cure those diseases, have been important issues for Muslims.

            Prophet Muhammad himself urged people to "take medicines for your diseases", as people at that time were reluctant to do so. He also said, "God created no illness, but established for it a cure, except for old age. When the antidote is applied, the patient will recover with the permission of God."
            This was strong motivation to encourage Muslim scientists to explore, develop, and apply empirical laws. Much attention was given to medicine and public health care. The first hospital was built in Baghdad in 706 AC. The Muslims also used camel caravans as mobile hospitals, which moved from place to place.
            Since the religion did not forbid it, Muslim scholars used human cadavers to study anatomy and physiology and to help their students understand how the body functions. This empirical study enabled surgery to develop very quickly.
            Al-Razi, known in the West as Rhazes, the famous physician and scientist, (d. 932) was one of the greatest physicians in the world in the Middle Ages. He stressed empirical observation and clinical medicine and was unrivaled as a diagnostician. He also wrote a treatise on hygiene in hospitals.

Khalaf Abul-Qasim Al-Zahrawi was a very famous surgeon in the eleventh century, known in Europe for his work, Concession (Kitab al-Tasrif).
            Ibn Sina (d. 1037), better known to the West as Avicenna, was perhaps the greatest physician until the modern era. His famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb, remained a standard textbook even in Europe, for over 700 years. Ibn Sina's work is still studied and built upon in the East.
            Other significant contributions were made in pharmacology, such as Ibn Sina's Kitab al-Shifa' (Book of Healing), and in public health. Every major city in the Islamic world had a number of excellent hospitals, some of them teaching hospitals, and many of them were specialized for particular diseases, including mental and emotional. The Ottomans were particularly noted for their building of hospitals and for the high level of hygiene practiced in them.

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