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Khutba  #2

In Pursuit of Knowledge

 

I advise you, brothers and sisters, and myself toward piety, righteousness, and reverence to Allah and obedience to His divine commands.  Be heedful of your choices in life and their consequences for the hereafter.  Think about the final destination, meaning the eventual departure from this world into the hereafter.  May Allah provide us with the spirit of piety and Divine obedience as the means to salvation.

 

Allah (swt) has promised in the Quran, Surah 58 (al-Mujadala), Ayah 11 in saying:

يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ

“Allah exalts the believers [among you] in proportion, as well as the ones endowed with knowledge, and Allah is all-aware of what you do.”

Muhammad (pbuh) has stated:[1]

فضل العالم علی الشهید درجة، وفضل الشهید علی العابد درجة ...    

وفضل العالم علی سائر الناس کفضلی علی ادناهم

The rank of the Aalim [scholar in Islam] over the Shaheed [martyr] is one degree, and

the rank of the Shaheed over the Mu’min [Aabid] is one degree, and

the rank of the Aalim over ordinary people is like my own prominence [as a Prophet] over people lowest in status.

 

This Hadith sings the praises of people who believe deeply in Islam.  It categorizes their degrees in magnitude:

  1. The Devout (Aabid believer) who only emphasizes acts of worship, dedicating himself to it as an end by itself.

  2. The martyr (the believer who became Shaheed), and

  3. The scholar (the believer who is al-Aalim).

In this Hadith the Scholar in Islam holds the banner of Islam higher than others, and his rank is above others too, so much so that a martyr in Islam comes second in rank, to be followed by the believer who concentrates on acts of worship to the exclusion of other duties. 

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) states in another Hadith: [2] 

طلب العلم فریضة علی کل مسلم

The seeking of knowledge is a religious duty [mandatory] on every Muslim

 

From this Hadith we deduce that looking for knowledge and acquiring it is a necessary duty of any Muslim.  The obligation to pursue knowledge is general and not limited to a specific clan or kinfolk, it is mandatory upon every Muslim, male or female, whatever his or her color or educational background may be.

Therefore, it is a religious duty (Faridha) to seek knowledge and wisdom, just as other mandatory Islamic duties such as Salat, Fasting, Hajj, Jihad, Encouraging virtue and Prohibiting vice and sinfulness.

From the dawn of Islam to this day, all religious thinkers of every Islamic school of thought have embraced the concept of learning and seeking knowledge as a religious duty.  Thus, during the first 7 centuries of Islam we witness the rise of the Islamic civilization and culture as one of three magnificent and remarkable ones in the world.

In books of Hadith like “Bihar al-Anwaar”, “Al-Kaafi”, “Al-Sihah al-Sittah” we see many chapters  dedicated to “The obligation of pursuing knowledge”.

In here the importance of knowledge is not pursued, since the intention is to discuss the reasons why Muslim nations have not advanced in acquiring knowledge, and the reasons for the great dearth of progress in this area.  We can ask ourselves that if Islam has upheld knowledge so high, why then such lack of progress in Muslim nations?

First we must point out three Hadiths, the first is a well-known Hadith that states the following:[3]

اطلب العلم من المهد الی اللحد

Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave

 

From this Hadith we understand that seeking knowledge is not limited by a specific age or to a specific time.  In other words, Muslims must use every opportunity for seeking knowledge.  We know that there is a specific time for prayer, a specific time for fasting, and a specific time for Haj.  However, the duty of seeking knowledge in Islam is not limited to any specific moment, time, age, or year.  The time for seeking knowledge is from the cradle to the grave.  How many of us do that?  Find out and contemplate!

A second Hadith about knowledge states:[4]

 اطلب العلم ولو بالصین

Seek knowledge even be it in China

 

This Hadith indicates without question that seeking knowledge is an obligation even if one has to travel to the farthest corner of the world.  In those days China was the farthest location known.  How many of us do that?

The third Hadith states the following:[5]

ولوعلمتم ما فی طلب العلم لطلبتموه  ولو بسفک المهج  وخوض اللجج

If you have just known what blessings you achieve by pursuing knowledge

you would have sought knowledge even at the expense of your precious things,

or even at taking the aggravation of navigating oceans

 

Thus, some points have to be considered by now:

  1. The first point is that the scientific and technological development of the last few centuries have changed the world in such a way that all activities are necessarily based upon so much knowledge and life cannot go forward without it.

  2. The second point is that carrying out of personal and social responsibilities and performing all other religious duties do certainly depend on acquiring knowledge.  Thus, the “Faridha” of knowledge is the important key to carrying out other religious obligations and Islamic duties.

Based on this, to achieve scientific progress and advancement is mandatory and incumbent on any independent and self-ruled society.  Thus, for us Muslims we need to increase our knowledge, and this need is religiously mandated.   Besides, we need to seek knowledge if we intend to delve into greater insight of our faith and make necessary and satisfactory progress with it.  We look forward to the day when we procure outstanding experts and specialists in every field.  We are many centuries behind, and have to catch up.  The road is arduous.  If we do not initiate such a movement any time soon, others will do so, may be to our detriment, and only God knows the extent of harm such shortcoming will cause in the Islamic world.

It behooves us to point out a pertinent Ayah in this regard.  Allah (swt) informs us in the Quran, Surah 5 (al-Maa’ida), Ayah 48 the following:

 

لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا وَلَوْ شَاء اللّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَـكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُم فَاسْتَبِقُوا الخَيْرَاتِ إِلَى الله مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ

“To each of you [O people] We have prescribed a Path [Shari’ah] and a Course of Action [Min’haaj];

and if Allah had willed He would have made you into one Ummah (one nation); But to test you in what He has given you.

Strive in the race for the good deeds [and win against other competitors]”

We ask Allah (swt) to aid Muslims throughout the world in carrying out this immense responsibility and for them to achieve great success in upholding worthy knowledge, both personal and in their societies.

 

For the end of the 1st part of the Khutba, read Surah Al-Asr, take a short intermission, then start the 2nd part of the Khutba with a short Du’aa.

 

In the previous Khutba we stressed the importance of acquiring knowledge.  Islam flourishes in an environment enlightened by knowledge rather than one engulfed in ignorance. 

However, knowledge by itself does not guarantee that the society would bloom.  Actually Society needs the plurality of faith and belief on the one hand, as well as sound knowledge on the other hand.   Islam is in no need of an intellectual disdainful of faith, nor a man whose faith consists of rituals in the main.  Imam Ali has once said:[6]

  قصم  ظهری اثنان :  عالم متهتک وجاهل متنسک

Two groups of people are most taxing to me:

The intellectual who is reprehensible in character,

and the pious man who lacks [Islamic] knowledge.

 

In Nahjul Balaaghah, out of the many sayings of Imam Ali about seeking knowledge, we select three.  These are quoted in al-Alif al-Mukhtara,  (the thousand selected sayings of Ali) by Ibn Abi Al-Hadid (al-Mu’tazali).  The first one goes as follows:[7]

Knowledge is the precious treasure, and the most beautiful.

Knowledge is easy to carry,

tremendous in usefulness,

beautiful in its completeness, and

remarkable in its uniqueness.

The second saying is as follows:

Acquire some knowledge, for surely knowledge is an adornment for the rich,

and an aid for the poor -- and I am not saying that knowledge goes out looking for them, but that it shows them how to be content.

The third saying goes in the following manner:[8] 

 العلم علمان: علم مطبوع   وعلم مسموع

     ولا ینفع المسموع  اذا لم یکن المطبوع

 

Knowledge is of two kinds:

1) that which is written and

2) that which is by ear. 

The heard one [by ear] is of little benefit until it is registered.

 

In addition, there exist several quotes from the Holy Quran that equate knowledge with what is said for piety and righteousness.   About knowledge the Quran says in Surah 39 (al-Zumar), Ayah 9:

 

قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لا يَعْلَمُونَ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُوا الأَلْبَابِ

“Say: Are those who know equal to those who do not know?

It is only men of understanding who will comprehend.”

And about Taq’wa (piety and righteousness) the Quran states in Surah 38 (Saad), Ayah 28:

 

أَمْ نَجْعَلُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ كَالْمُفْسِدِينَ فِي الارْضِ أَمْ نَجْعَلُ الْمُتَّقِينَ كَالْفُجَّارِ

“…. or shall we treat the believers who do good deeds on a par with the mischief-makers?

Or shall we treat the pious ones like the wicked ones?” (The answer is of course no)

Islam considers knowledge as a spiritual light and it considers ignorance as darkness, knowledge as sight and ignorance as blindness.  The Quran says in Surah 13 (al-Ra'ad), Ayah 16:

 

قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الأَعْمَى وَالْبَصِيرُ أَمْ هَلْ تَسْتَوِي الظُّلُمَاتُ وَالنُّورُ

“Say: Is the blind equal to the one who sees? Or darkness equal to Light?”

Thus pursuit of knowledge is the aim, it is like the light and sight to us, it is obligatory for all Muslims.  To accept this is not obtained without devotion; we cannot state that according to Islam it is only obligatory for men to come out of darkness and embrace the light.

In regard to the Holy Prophet the Quran singles him out in Surah 62 (al-Jumu’ah), Ayah 2 with such strong terms: ٍ

 

هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الأمِّيِّينَ رَسُولا مِّنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلالٍ مُّبِينٍ

“It is Allah who has raised a Messenger among the illiterates; Reciting unto them Allah’s Verses, and purifying them, and teaching them the Book [Quran] and Wisdom.  Verily, beforehand they had gone astray”

In this Ayah piety and knowledge are mentioned simultaneously, this indicates that Islam is both a religion urging to acquire knowledge and a religion of Taq’wa (piety). Today humanity needs both knowledge and piety.  Taq’wa is used commonly and quite often in religious texts.  And the Holy Quran refers to knowledge and to faith, or to Salat and Zakat, just as commonly as it refers to piety.

In Nahjul Balaaghah the word Taq’wa (Piety) is repeated very often.  There is a long sermon in  Nahjul Balaaghah entitled Muttaqeen or “the pious or righteous”.  The sermon was delivered in response to a man by the name of Humam, who requested Imam Ali to describe the Muttaqi or the pious person.  Imam Ali politely avoided delving in the matter for it is complex, so instead Imam Ali limited himself to a few phrases.   However, that individual wanted more from Ali.  He urged Ali for more information, and Imam Ali began to give the details, ending up with a long sermon enumerating more than one hundred characteristics and specifications for such a man of genuine piety.  The result was a painstaking presentation and a discourse of the highest spiritual caliber as well as the highest ethical and moral aspects of life per se.

Piety does not require from a person to isolate himself or herself from society, neither to avoid nor pass up taking part in life.  The essence of piety is righteousness, that a person protects himself from sin.  Piety also means keeping off sin, so that a strong character is developed to protect the person and make him blessed.

It is to be noted that piety can lead to a confident self; the result is a person at peace with himself, a wholesome person with a clean heart.   A person, who is pious and content with his share in life, has a more confident soul and a calmer spirit, if not a wholesome heart.  Persons who are pious can be the building stones of a wholesome and righteous society.  Therefore what Islamic societies need is advancement in knowledge and public awareness of the importance of knowledge; and what humanity desperately needs in addition is acquiring piety and self-purification.

By being behind in research and in acquiring valuable knowledge, and by the lack of growth in scientific works during the last 3-4 centuries, Muslims have paid a devastating price.  The way to rectify this is very arduous and long.  But we as Muslims, in order to flourish and prosper again, we ought to work hard in that endeavor.  How many of us are doing this nowadays?

Let us ask ourselves a few simple questions: 

  1. If seeking knowledge is part of practicing Taq'wa (piety), how many of us do practice Taq’wa through seeking knowledge and doing research?

  2. How many of us follow the model and character of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)? 

  3. Let us take about 10,000 Muslims including yourself and ask: 

  4. How many of these do practice Taq’wa fully, specifically by

    a.  acquiring knowledge and doing research, versus

    b.  others who instantly fail to do so?

We ask Allah (swt) to grant us the opportunity to achieve both knowledge and piety so that our toil is not only to reach the highest quality of knowledge but also achieve the very useful one.

 

Let us read Surah Al-Nasr with a short Du’aa to close the Khutba.

[1] Maj’ma’ al-Bayan, Vol. 9, Page 53.

[2] (Usool Al-Kaafi, Vol. 1, Page 30. Also Ibn Maajeh Vol. 1, section 17, Hadith 224).

[3] Muttafaqun Alaih.

[4] Kanz al-Ummal, Hadith 8697.

[5] Bihaar al Anwaar, Vol. 2, Page 177.

[6] Bihaar Al-Anwaar, Vol. 2, Page 111.

[7] Al-Alif al-Mukhtara,  (the thousand selected sayings of Ali) by Ibn Abi Al-Hadid (al-Mu’tazali). 

[8] Nahjul Balaaghah, saying 333.

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