The Holy Prophet said about knowledge:
- Acquiring knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim (male and female).
Knowledge is a great blessing of Allah. Humanity is superior to other creatures due to this blessing. Allah clarified the human superiority and greatness over the angels by making them prostrate in front of Prophet Adam because of knowledge. Knowledge was the topic of the first revelation towards Prophet Mohammad pbuh. Moreover, in the revelation, Allah mentioned knowledge as a gift to man. Hence, knowledge is the first message of Islam. Allah says:
- (O Beloved!) Read (commencing) with the name of Allah, Who has created (everything). He created man from a hanging mass (clinging) like a leech (to mother’s womb). Read, and your Lord is Most Generous. Who taught man (reading and writing) by the pen. Who (besides that) taught man (all that) which he did not know. (96:1-5)
Battle of Badr
We can also understand the eminence of knowledge through the Battle of Badr. Knowledge was set on the path to development when teaching Muslims was offered as compensation to the disbelieving captives after victory in Battle of Badr. When, after victory of the Battle of Badr, knowledge was set on the path of progress by setting a compensation for teaching Muslim children for the infidels who were made prisoners. Prophet Mohammad pbuh established a school named al-suffah in a part of Masjid-e-Nabwi after pilgrimage. He spread the eminence of knowledge all over the world by being the teacher and having his Companions be the student. It was due to this knowledge that the Companions became exegetists of Holy Quran, relaters of Hadith, jurists, teachers, Imams, orators, soldiers, governors and rulers of the time.Ilm (Knowledge) is an Arabic word meaning knowing, awareness, familiarity, consciousness. So the formation of any object in mind is called knowledge.
Knowledge Explained by Scholars
Al-Qaffal Al-Kabīr, well known relater, exegetist of Holy Quran and jurist explained knowledge as following:
- To prove a thing according to its nature is knowledge.
Al-Sharif al-Jurjani explains it as:
- It is the firm belief that is in accordance with reality.
Mulla Ali al-Qari writes:
- Knowledge refers to the religious knowledge that is necessary for a person to acquire. For example, recognizing Allah, tauheed, gnosis of prophethood of Prophet Mohammad, how to pray, etc.
- Rulers said: “The appearance of the form of an object in the mind is knowledge”.
Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh writes in the book Kashf al-Mahjub about knowledge: O beloved! Know that there is too much knowledge and life is very short. It is not obligatory upon people to learn all knowledge from sciences such as astrology, medicine, arithmetic, industry, etc. Only that knowledge from such sciences is required which is related to matters of shariah. Therefore it is important to know enough about astrology to know the time of night, about medicine to keep the digestive system in order. Enough knowledge of arithmetic that one can know the inheritance and period of iddat. This much knowledge is obligatory. If no benefit comes from its self or any other knowledge, then Allah Almighty has condemned such knowledge.
Eminence of Knowledge in Light of the Holy Quran
Allah Almighty says:
- And always submit (before the Holy Presence of your Lord): ‘O my Lord, increase me further in knowledge.’ (20:114)
- Say: ‘Can those who have knowledge and those who do not be alike?’ (39:9)
- Allah will raise those in ranks who believe from amongst you and who are given knowledge. (58:11)
- He is the One Who created man. He alone taught him the art of expression and communication. (54:3-4)
- And surely, We have brought them such a book (the Quran) that We have elucidated on (the basis of Our) knowledge, a guidance and a mercy for those who believe. (7:52)
The greatest miracle of Prophet Mohammad pbuh is the Holy Quran. Greatest glory of the Holy Quran is its comprehensive knowledge. Allah created the Holy Quran an argument for those who deny Prophet Mohammad and the Holy Quran and are in doubt towards them. This is such a great book that it is impossible for mankind to make a sura anything like it. As Allah says:
- Allah bears witness that none is worthy of worship apart from Him; and the angels and those who possess knowledge also bear testimony to it (as well as the fact) that He designs and executes every plan with justice. None is worthy of worship but He. He is Almighty, All-Wise. (3:18)
Examples of Knowledge in Islam
It is obligatory upon Muslims to acquire knowledge of every need of the world so that they do not have to depend on non-Muslims and they can maintain Islam in the world. For example medicine, agriculture, physics, geography, mathematics, science, armaments, defense, etc. Prophet Mohammad used to take advantage in Jihad of every new knowledge he gained as he built a trench in the battle of Ahzab. The Companions and the followers of Prophet Mohammad used catapults in wars. Prophet Mohammad got ships for Muslims and Ameer Muawiya prepared the fleet, which resulted in Muslim domination of the Mediterranean Sea. Muhammad al-Fatih conquered Constantinople as a result of modern inventions and techniques. Allah blessed Prophet David with the skills of armouring and mentioned his name in the Holy Quran as a favor.
The Quran does not have as many commandments as much as there is emphasis on considering the earth and sky, sun, moon, sea, plants, animals and creations of Allah. The Muslims neglected it while the non-Muslims worked hard and made the Muslims their dependents and slaves by developing modern inventions. Now it is necessary for Muslims to master all those sciences which are essential for Islam’s victory and to dominate non-Muslims in Jihad and every aspect. Thus, this worldly knowledge will become the knowledge of the hereafter.
Eminence of Knowledge in Light of Hadiths
- Muadh ibn Jabal relates that the Holy Prophet pbuh said “Acquire knowledge because learning knowledge for the sake of Allah creates His fear. Seeking it is worship, discussing it is praise and pursuing it is Jihad. Teaching knowledge to the ignorant is charity. And spending on someone who is eligible for it is a cause of closeness. Because knowledge is the way of understanding what is lawful and unlawful.” (Daylami)
- Aisha said “I heard Holy Prophet say that excess of knowledge is better than excess of worship and the essence of religion is piety.” (Mishkat, Fazail-e-ilm-o-Ulama)
- Imam Bukhari has said in his book of knowledge “Indeed, the scholars are the legatees of the Prophets. They have left a legacy of knowledge. So the one who got this (inheritance of knowledge) got a great share. Allah makes the path to Paradise easy for someone who is in search of knowledge.”
- It was narrated that Zirr bin Hubaish said: “I went to Safwan bin ‘Assal Al-Muradi and he said: ‘What brought you here?’ I said: ‘I am seeking knowledge.’ He said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah say: ‘There is no one who goes out of his house in order to seek knowledge, but the angels lower their wings in approval of his action.’’” (Ahmad ibn Hambal, Tirmidhi, Nisai)
Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani says in Tabaqat al Kubra:
- Hasan ibn Ali used to tell his sons and nephews to acquire knowledge. And if you cannot remember it then write it down and take it to your homes. (Taleem or Ta’alam ki Fazeelat-o-Takreem)
Eminence of Knowledge over Wealth
- Ali ibn Abi Talib said knowledge is superior to wealth because of seven reasons:
- Knowledge is the legacy of Prophets while wealth is the legacy of the Pharaohs.
- Wealth decreases by spending but Knowledge does not.
- Knowledge protects the intellectual while wealth needs protection itself.
- When man dies, his wealth stays in the world but his knowledge goes to the grave with him.
- Both Muslims and non-muslims get wealth but Divine knowledge is available only Muslims.
- Everyone is in need of a scholar in their religious affairs and not of a rich man.
- Knowledge helps in traversing the right path while wealth creates obstacles in the right path. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 1, Fazail-e-Ilm-o-Ulama)
So it is clear in the light of Quran and Hadith that acquiring knowledge is a great blessing. But it is also important to act according to the knowledge gained.
Warning of Not Acting on your Word despite Having Knowledge
Allah says in the Holy Quran:
- O believers! Why do you say what you do not do? It is most hateful in the sight of Allah that you should say what you do not do. (61:2-3)
- Jandab relates that the Holy Prophet pbuh once said “A scholar who teaches people good things and forgets himself is like a lamp that gives light to people but burns itself.” (Tabarani)
- Mālik bin Dīnār used to say that when a person acquires knowledge with the intention of action, his knowledge increases. And when he acquires knowledge without the intention of action, it becomes the cause of increasing bad deeds such as disobedience, arrogance and contempt for the common people. (Imam Abdul Wahhab Sharani) (Ilm aur Masadar-e-Ilm)
The Superiority of Knowledge and Action
Sultan Bahoo says in his book “Mehak-ul-Faqr Kalan” while explaining knowledge and actions:
- Wahb ibn Munabbih says “Faith is bare, piety is its adornment, modesty is its beauty and knowledge is its reward.” Piousness and abundance of knowledge are not mandatory for a man, but it is necessary to practice knowledge and avoid sins. Laziness and neglect, committing sins, hypocrisy, pretense and love of the world are the reasons why a person does not act on his knowledge. Man stops at the lowest levels of humanity due to not acting on his knowledge. He is deprived of Divine Favour and pleasure of prayers. And the punishment of the hereafter is written in his destiny. The disadvantage of lack of knowledge in our society is that most of the people consider their assumptions as knowledge. They consider their own thoughts as knowledge, therefore they consider those who disagree with them to be ignorant. There is a tendency among many scholars, teachers and students that what they know, no one else knows. It is part of the nature of every person in society that all I know is true knowledge.
The Holy Prophet pbuh relates that a man in Bani Isra’il had made eighty boxes of knowledge. Each box was eighty yards long, but he could not make any use of this knowledge. Allah revealed to His Prophet to say to this man of knowledge that this collection of knowledge did not benefit him, but if he follows three things, he will be successful. First, you should not be enamored of the world because the world is not the home of a believer. Second, do not become a friend of Satan because Satan is not a friend of the believer. Third, do not hurt anyone because it is not the way of a believer to cause unnecessary pain to anyone.
Knowledge and Practice Indispensable
Data Ganj Bakhsh declared knowledge and practice indispensable. And declared such knowledge useless which keeps the knowledgeable away from action. He says in this regard in Kashf al-Mahjub:
- I saw a group among the people who prefer action over knowledge and a group who prefer knowledge over action. And in fact both of them were on falsehood because action without knowledge is not actually action. Action counts as action only when there is knowledge along with it, as a result of which a person becomes deserving of reward. Just as a person cannot perform ablution properly if he does not know about the steps of ablution and whether the water is pure or not. If one does not know direction of qiblah then his prayer is incorrect. Similarly if one does not know the meaning and reality of Salah intention, prayer is useless. Likewise, if he does not know the parts of prayer, then how can prayer be correct? So we proved that action is close to knowledge. The ignorant who separates knowledge from action and gives priority to action over knowledge, is simply nonsense and based on falsehood. But the fact is that knowledge does not exist without action.
Condemnation of Idle Knowledge
Data Ganj Bakhsh stressed upon action as well as knowledge. He said about a scholar who is devoid of knowledge:
- There are two groups in this problem: One is which considers people to have a high status because of knowledge and does not give any importance to actions. These people consider action as separate from knowledge without reaching its bottom. These people do not actually have knowledge and neither do they act upon any. Even an ignorant person said “One must not be verbose rather should be experienced” and the other group says “There should be action, not knowledge”.
Ibrahim ibn Adham says that once he saw a stone on which was written “turn me over and read” I turned it upside down and it was written on it:
انت لا تعمل بما تعلم فکیف تطلب عملا مالا تعلم
- Meaning: If you do not act on what you know, then why ask for knowledge about what you do not know?
Data Ganj Bakhsh says this means when you do not act on your knowledge, it is impossible for you to ask for something that you are not aware of. That is, you should act on what you know so that due to its blessings you will gain knowledge of what is beyond your knowledge.
Hadiths in Kanz al-Ummal
Ali ibn Abi Talib said “O holders of the Quran! Follow the Qur’an because a scholar is a person who acts on his knowledge. And his actions are in accordance with his knowledge. Soon some people will acquire knowledge, but their hearts will not accept this knowledge, their solitude will be against their zeal and their actions will be against their knowledge. They will sit in groups and brag to each other. If one scholar’s group leaves him and sits in the group of another, he will be angry and leave. Deeds of people in these groups will not reach Allah. (Kanz al-Ummal)
Jabir bin Abdullah says that the Holy Prophet pbuh said “Some people of paradise saw some people of hell. They asked ‘How did you go to hell? Although we have gone to heaven because of your teachings.’ They replied ‘We used to order people and did not act ourselves.’” (Kanz al-Ummal)
Abu Hurairah says that the Holy Prophet said “The greatest punishment on the Judgement Day will be to the scholar who did not benefit from the knowledge Allah gave him.” (Kanz al-Ummal)
Jandab says that “A scholar without action is like a lamp that burnt itself out to give light to people (and harms itself)” (Kanz al-Ummal)
The Holy Prophet said “Life of people is soul, life of soul is intellect, life of intellect is knowledge and life of knowledge is action” (Mehak-ul-Faqr Kalan)
Problems after the Holy Prophet pbuh
During the time of Holy Prophet, knowledge was abundant and so was practice. After the time of Holy Prophet, it was the era of his Companions and there was more practice. So, due to the lack of knowledge and practice, society started vanishing in the darkness of ignorance. Look at the bottom of all the problems Muslims have today and you will see lack of education.
If we want our religion and world corrected, worship accepted in true sense, poverty eradicated, mental, physical and spiritual diseases freed, justice spoken, freedom and democracy promoted, society awake and alert, its only means is the acquisition of knowledge. And the knowledge is such that it is common and in accordance with the teachings of the religion of Islam. What is most needed in the present age is that along with the acquisition of knowledge, it should be fully practiced and ignorant actions should be avoided. Only this causes success in this world and the hereafter.
The Greatest Miracle of the Saints of the Mohammadan Ummah, the Miracle of Knowledge
If miracles of the Holy Prophet are trees, then deeds of all saints who came in Ummah of the Holy Prophet until the Judgement Day are branches and leaves of tree of miracles of the Holy Prophet. In general, walking on water, flying in the wind, breaking stones, healing the sick, etc. are considered to be great deeds. However, Ibn e Arabi says:
- All these actions are not miracles. If flying in the air was a miracle then flies and birds would be the greatest Saints. And if walking on water was a miracle then fishes would be the greatest saints. Therefore miracles of the saints are not these, but is knowledge of truth. (Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya)
The greatest miracle of the Holy Prophet is the Holy Quran, which is the book of knowledge. The greatest virtue of the saints of the Ummah of Mohammad is benefiting from that knowledge.
- Jabir ibn Abd Allah relates that the Holy Prophet said “There are two (kinds of) knowledge. First, knowledge perceived by the heart, that is useful knowledge. Second, the knowledge at on the tip of one’s tongue, that is an argument from Allah, against the children of Adam.”
Generally we can call them exoteric and esoteric knowledge. Saints always combine both because guidance is obtained only when we combine them.
Sultan-ul-Ashiqeen is the Perfect Saint of the present era. He refines the soul by imparting exoteric knowledge as well as esoteric knowledge. Below are some sayings regarding knowledge.
- Exoteric knowledge and esoteric knowledge is real knowledge, religion and faith.
- If we pay attention only to exoteric knowledge, disputes will arise. And perfect religion does not lie only within esoteric knowledge. It is necessary for both to be together for the completion of faith.
- There is a problem in the present era. When problems regarding esoteric knowledge arise, some people neglect the Quranic verses containing clear instructions concerning esoteric knowledge as analogies. The main reason for our misguidance in today’s age is that we have forgotten our esoteric self and focus only on the exoteric.
- There are many types of knowledge. But the best knowledge is that which gives Divine recognition and gnosis of Allah. Everything except Allah is mortal. And the knowledge of the mortal is also mortal and the knowledge of the immortal is eternal life. So the knowledge which does not give recognition and gnosis of the immortal is ignorance. And the knowledge that takes towards immortal is real knowledge.
- Exoteric knowledge without esoteric knowledge creates sectarianism and bias. (Sultan-ul-Ashiqeen)
Q.1: What is knowledge and its importance?
Ans: Knowledge is a great blessing of Allah. Humanity is superior to other creatures due to this blessing. Knowledge was the topic of the first revelation towards Prophet Mohammad. And in the revelation, Allah mentioned knowledge as a gift to man. So knowledge is the first message of Islam.
Q.2: What is the relationship between knowledge and action?
Ans. Action without knowledge is not actually action. Action counts as action only when there is knowledge along with it, as a result of which a person becomes deserving of reward.
Q.3: What is knowledge without action?
Ans: Data Ganj Bakhsh declared such knowledge useless which keeps the knowledgeable away from action.