The pleasures of seeking knowledge

1/21/2006 - Education Social - Article Ref:
By: Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
IslamiCity* -
The rise of Muslims to the zenith of civilization in a
period of four decades was based on lslam's emphasis
on learning. This is obvious when one takes a look at
the Qur'an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad 
which are filled with references to learning,
education, observation, and the use of reason. The
very first verse of the Qur'an revealed to the Prophet
of Islam on the night of 27th of Ramadan in 611 AD

"Recite: In the name of thy Lord who created man from
a clot. Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who
taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not."
(Quran, 96:1-5)

"And they shall say had we but listened or used
reason, we would not be among the inmates of the
burning fire." (Quran, 67:10)

"Are those who have knowledge and those who have no
knowledge alike? Only the men of understanding are
mindful. " (Quran, 39:9)

The Qur'an encourages people towards scientific

"And whoso brings the truth and believes therein such
are the dutiful." (Quran, 39:33)

Every Muslim man's and every Muslim woman's prayer
should be:

"My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge.." (Quran, 20:114)

The pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason, based
on sense and observation is made obligatory on all

The following traditions of the Prophet  supplement
the foregoing teachings of the Qur'an in the following

Seek knowledge "even though it be in China."  

"The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every
Muslim, whether male or female."  

"The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood
of the martyr."  

"Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave."  

"God has revealed to me, 'Whoever walks in the pursuit
of knowledge I facilitate for him the way to heaven.' 

"The best form of worship is the pursuit of

"Scholars should endeavor to spread knowledge and
provide education to people who have been deprived of
it. For, where knowledge is hidden it disappears."  

Some one asked the Prophet : "Who is the biggest
scholar?" He replied: "He who is constantly trying to
learn from others, for a scholar is ever hungry for
more knowledge."  

"Seek knowledge and wisdom, or whatever the vessel
from which it flows, you will never be the loser."  

"Contemplating deeply for one hour (with sincerity) is
better than 70 years of (mechanical) worship."  

"To listen to the words of the learned and to instill
unto others the lessons of science is better than
religious exercises."  

"Acquire knowledge: it enables its possessor to
distinguish right from the wrong, it lights the way to
heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in
solitude, our companion when friendless - it guides us
to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an
ornament among friends and an armor against enemies." 

The Islamic Empire for more than 1,000 years remained
the most advanced civilization in the world. The main
reasons for this was that Islam stressed the
importance and respect of learning, forbade
destruction, cultivated a respect for authority,
discipline, and tolerance for other religions. The
teachings of Qur'an and Sunnah inspired many Muslims
to their accomplishments in science and medicine.

By the tenth century their zeal and enthusiasms for
learning resulted in all essential Greek medical and
scientific writings being translated into Arabic in
Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad. Arabic became the
international language of learning and diplomacy. The
center of scientific knowledge and activity shifted
eastward, and Baghdad emerged as the capitol of the
scientific world. The Muslims became scientific
innovators with originality and productivity.

For example Islamic medicine is one of the most famous
and best known facets of Islamic civilization in which
the Muslims excelled. The Muslims were the great
torchbearers of international scientific research.
Some of the best and most eloquent praises of science
came from the pens of Muslim scientists who considered
their work to be acts of worship. The same motives led
to the establishment of Al-Azhar (800 AD) the first
university in the world. They hit the "source ball of
knowledge" over the fence to Europe. In the words of
Campbell, "The European medical system is Arabian not
only in origin but also in its structure. The Arabs
are the intellectual forbearers of the Europeans."

Learning is a natural pleasure. This pleasure is
inborn and instinctive. The pleasure of learning is
one of the essential pleasures of the human race.
Without learning, survival itself is threatened.

The process of learning starts right after birth. It
is true that babies who can barely talk investigate
problems with all the zeal and excitement of
explorers, make discoveries with the passion and
absorption of dedicated scientists. At the end of each
successful investigation, one can see on the tiny face
an expression of innocent and pure heartfelt pleasure.
The process of physical growth stops when a boy or
girl reaches puberty, that is with the on set of
menarche in the girls and with the change in the voice
and growth of moustache and beard in boys. After
puberty it is impossible to increase the height both
in boys and girls.

On the other hand the mental faculties grow from birth
until death. At some point in our lifetime, the
physical body becomes sick or ill and gradually dies;
even the emotions become duller. But the mind
continues to live, and even grows more lively and
active, enjoys itself more, works and plays with more
expansion and delight. I have seen grandparents
obtaining Bachelors, Masters and Ph. D. degrees at the
ages of 70, 80 or 90.

There are many examples in the history of Art, Music
and Science, of both men and women who significantly
contributed and lead mentally productive lives at
their ripe old ages. Learning extends our lives into
new dimensions. It is cumulative. Instead of
diminishing in time, like health and strength, its
dividends go on increasing, provided one continues to
learn throughout life and integrate the thoughts and
make learning harmonious. One should make it a point
to learn at least one piece of new information each

The pleasure of learning is not confined to learning
from textbooks, which are too often tedious. But it
does include learning from book magazines
(periodicals), newspapers, movies, television, radio
and traveling.

When you stand in a big library in front of thousands
of books do not think they are lumps of lifeless
paper, but minds alive on the shelves. Each has its
own voice, which is as inaudible as the radiobroadcast
waves falling directly on ears. Just as one switches
on the radio to listen, similarly a person needs to
open a book to hear the voice far distant in time and
space. One can hear the voice speaking, mind to mind,
and heart to heart. Reading of books gives you two
different delights. One is the pleasure of
understanding the unknown and the unexpected. The
other pleasure is of deepening one's knowledge of a
specified field.

Apart from books, learning means keeping the mind open
and active to receive all kinds of experience. As
pointed out earlier there is great emphasis on
learning and seeking knowledge in Islam. The Prophet
Mohammed ordered Muslims to be active in their search
for learning, crossing oceans and continents if
necessary. " Seek knowledge even in China" he said.
Learning also means learning to practice one' s own
professional skills - that of a physician, engineer,
musician or craftsman.

Crafts and hobbies lead you into fresh fields of
enjoyment and give you relaxation and activity without
tension. One should know that tension is the prime
cause of heart attacks, ulcers, hypertension, and most
of the human diseases.

Traveling is an important activity in the pleasures of
learning. There are many examples of exceptionally
informed people who never read books and newspapers,
but acquire knowledge through traveling. One should
travel with an open mind, an alert eye and a wish to
understand other people and other places.

A saying of Prophet Muhammad  is ... With knowledge
man rises to the heights of goodness and to a noble
position, associated with sovereigns in this world,
and attains the perfection of happiness in the next.

It is fitting here to mention the story of Diogenes,
the great Greek philosopher who lived during the time
of Alexander the Great. Diogenes was a very learned
man who shunned both power and wealth. He was known to
have wandered around searching for an honest man
carrying a lantern during day and night. He gave up
everything he possessed, except a coconut shell for
drinking water. One day he saw a man drinking water
forming a cup with his hand. After seeing this
Diogenes threw away his last possession, the coconut

The name of Diogenes spread throughout Greece.
Alexander the Great heard about Diogenes and one day
decided to see him. Mounted on horseback, Alexander
the Great went to Diogenes who was sitting on the
ground. Alexander said ' Oh Diogenes, I have heard a
great deal about you and your life. I am very much
impressed by your life and it is my earnest desire to
help you in whatever way I can. Please let me know
your desires so that I can fulfill them". To which
Diogenes replied "Your Excellency my only request is
that you get aside and allow the sun's rays to fall on
my body." Alexander the Great was deeply moved by
Diogenes's reply and said "If I were not Alexander the
Great. I would be Diogenes." Now the point I want to
make here is that Diogenes never went to Alexander the
Great, but that Alexander the Great came to Diogenes
for he was such a learned philosopher.

There are many people in this world who have played
themselves to death, or eaten and drunk themselves to
death. Nobody ever died because of thinking or
learning. People who avoid learning, or abandon it,
find no joy in life, find that life is dry. No learner
has ever run short of subjects to explore. The
pleasures of learning lead to happiness. One can live
a long, healthy and rewarding life by attaining and
preserving the happiness of learning. Learning is
everyone's birthright. Everyone - young or old, rich
or poor, male or female, has access to learning.
Exercise your birthright. Remember what you have
learned cannot be taken away by others.

Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D.  is President of Islamic
Research Foundation International, Inc.


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