Have We Forgotten That The First Word Of Divine Revelation Was ‘Read’?
The first word of the first revelation to the Holy Prophet (saw) is “Iqra” which means “read” but everyone knows that the Holy Prophet (saw) was ummi, meaning he could not read or write. If you think about this, you will find that the meaning of “Iqra’ is not only to read but also to learn, to discover, to dig out, to search etc.
The meaning of knowledge is awareness, familiarity, wisdom, intellect; and the study of human history shows that knowledge is not the heritage of any group, class or nation. It awakens the dormant cells and gives man dignity and respect in the society. Acquisition of knowledge is the path of progress while ignorance leads to degradation.
As Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “Acquire knowledge even if you have to go to China.” The question arises as to whether religious knowledge of the Qur’an and Hadith was being imparted in China at the time? No, back then China was far ahead and leading in knowledge and art. How can a scholar who only acquires Qur’an, Hadith, Fiqh and other religious texts make modern inventions? During the golden age of Islam, religious scholars also studied sciences and performed experiments that led to scientific breakthroughs thus laying the groundwork for modern sciences to advance. In fact, there was no bifurcation as such, as is today, between worldly and divine knowledge. A Muslim scholar would learn and teach theology (Quran, Hadith) as well as Geography, Mathematics, History, etc. Masjids served a dual purpose. Sadly, any such recommendation today – turning Madrassas to schools – is turned down by religious extremists.
In the Qur’an, Almighty says, “We have subdued the heavens and the earth, and in it are signs for those who have (knowledge) wisdom.” As we search for knowledge, we discover and invent, finding out as for instance what minerals, gases, and hidden deposits of iron, copper, gold etc. are inside the earth. We then wonder what kind of equipment or tools can be made from these. Wonders revealed to those who had sought knowledge, traveled to far flung areas for learning following the spirit of the Holy verses.
Speaking of today’s world, the United States, Britain, China, Russia, Japan and Europe excelled as superpowers because of scientific knowledge which the Muslim world abandoned and thereby becoming dependent on the former. Islamic countries are mostly underdeveloped except Arabs, who rely on oil wealth – minus that and imagine the scenario. Although oil wealth has brought prosperity to those Islamic countries, almost no progress has been made in science and technology – imperative to stand taller in the comity of developed nations.
“Acquiring knowledge is the duty of every Muslim – man and woman,” Prophet (saw) said. Unfortunately, the education for women has been discouraged by clerics. If one studies the history of Islam, they will find that Hazrat Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet (saw), used to trade and Muslim women used to ride horses, and asking questions to Prophet (saw) openly, etc. Islam gave rights and liberties to women at the time when baby girls used to be buried on birth. It was no less than revolutionizing culture and society. Today women drive cars, so how could it be un-Islamic for Muslim women to do so?
Now is the time for enlightenment in thought processes and actions; to take the path of realism and pragmatism, and thus establishing high quality educational institutions in small towns, cities and villages of the country. The government should immediately increase the education budget while also expanding access and breaking barriers. The acquisition and development of scientific knowledge is imperative for progress. No matter how powerful a country becomes in the military field, it cannot compete with developed countries without science and technology. Let us remember that the destiny of nations can only be changed through education and thus we should reconsider our priorities.