Purpose of Acquiring Knowledge in Islam

According to Webster’s dictionary knowledge is defined as familiarity gained through experience or association.” Or in other way we can say to know something is knowledge.

In today’s world acquiring knowledge is of great importance and if an individual wishes to progress in this world he must struggle to acquire knowledge as much as possible.

Importance of acquiring knowledge is also being emphasized by Islam because Islam is the religion of knowledge. The first ayah of the Qur’an to be revealed is the key to knowledge. Allah (SWT) says:

“Read! In the Name of your Lord who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not” [al-‘Alaq 96:1-5] Allah (SWT) created man and also provided him with the tools for acquiring knowledge, namely hearing, sight and wisdom. Because of the importance of knowledge, Allah (SWT) commanded His Messenger to seek more of it. Allah (SWT) says:
“And say: ‘My Lord! Increase me in knowledge” [Ta-Ha 20:114]

Islam calls us to seek knowledge. The Prophet (PBUH) made seeking knowledge an obligation upon every Muslim, and he explained that the superiority of the one who has knowledge over the one who merely worships is like the superiority of the moon over every other heavenly body.

After Prophet Mohammad the original Abbasids, ruling as Caliphs in Baghdad, set up academies and libraries where new knowledge was honored– independent of its source. The Fatimids then continued this tradition. The best example is the formation of Al-Azhar University. Besides university Fatmid’s worked die heartedly on acquiring new knowledge and descending that knowledge to others. Then after 1000 years of formation of Al Azhar; His Highness Prince Karim Aga khan formulated Aga Khan University to continue the tradition of acquiring and descending knowledge. Besides university, Aga Khan Academic Programs of AKDN are formulating schools to enhance thirst for knowledge in people since childhood.

His highness in his speech in Hyderabad in 2006 said “In such a world, the most important thing a student can learn is the ability to keep on learning.”

His highness once in his speech at American University 2006 stated the words of Hazrat Ali that “No honor is like knowledge. No belief is like modesty and patience, no attainment is like humility, no power is like forbearance, and no support is more reliable than consultation.” His highness further explained it by saying What He (Hazrat Ali) thus is telling us, is that we find knowledge best by admitting first what it is we do not know, and by opening our minds to what others can teach us.

So since the emergence of Islam till the time of our 49th Imam acquiring knowledge and descending it others is always being emphasized now the question arises why is it so, its because history gives evidence that progress is made only when people had desire to acquire knowledge. Therefore in past Muslims had made glorious and marvelous achievements in almost every field of scientific knowledge including Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine and Social Sciences; because a person without knowledge is like someone walking along a track in complete darkness. Most likely his steps will wander aside and he can be deceived easily. This shows that our greatest danger lies in our ignorance of acquiring knowledge. But if we are blessed with the light of knowledge we will be able to see plainly the clear path at every step of our lives. We shall also be able to identify and avoid the dangerous paths that effects mankind.

If Knowledge is pursued and practiced with modesty and humility it leads to beauty and dignity, freedom and justice. Because knowledge is only the first step and it was being clearly explained in speech of his highness at American university in 2006 that “Accessing knowledge is only the first step. The second step–the application of knowledge, is also demanding. Knowledge, after all, can be used well or poorly —for good or evil purposes. Once we have acquired knowledge, it is important that the ethical guidelines of faith be invoked, helping us apply what we have learned to the highest possible ends. And it is also important that those ends be related to the practical needs of our peoples.”

Additionally acquiring knowledge brings us closer to God and God’s creations that is this planet and living things residing in this planet and the other planets in the universe and many more.

Lastly, the rationale of acquiring knowledge given by Islam is to gain the good of this world, not to destroy it through wastage, arrogance and in the reckless pursuit of higher standards of material comfort. In the end, Goethe once said that “Knowing is not enough; we must apply!”.