The concept of Knowledge in the Quran

By Ahmad Ibrahim Dec 2006

The real purpose of 'acquiring knowledge' and developing a 'system of education' is in understanding of the natural world around us, an appreciation and respect for nature, as a gift of God and a deep sense of responsibility that this knowledge must only be used for the benefit of humankind

The Quran tells us that Adam was created to establish a vicegerent of God on earth. To fulfill this divine purpose, God endowed him with a special quality that was not given to any other creature on earth: God gave him the spirit or the soul.

This spirit gave him a ‘free choice’ to do whatever he wanted to do and equipped him with the intelligence to communicate, rationalize and speculate. This combination of ‘intelligence’ and ‘free choice’ gave Adam an absolute edge over rest of the creatures and enabled us, the children of Adam, to literally conquer this planet. Wherever we went we gathered knowledge about the world around us and used this knowledge to our benefit. This is what the Quran calls “Musakhar” i.e. to subordinate something for one’s benefit by discovering and harnessing the laws governing it.

But this ability to think about the nature of things and discover the laws that govern them only works, while we use our intellects and ask questions. Once we lose this ability to think deeply and ask questions we also lose our God given edge over other creatures. Then, the Quran tells us, we simply gravitate to earth and become like animals or even worse. The Quran calls this “Addalla” i.e. straying away from the right path.

On the other hand “Hadaya” i.e. guidance, is based on observation, knowledge, and reasoning. Dr. Mohammad Iqbal in his lecture “Knowledge and Religious Experience” says:

The search for rational foundations in Islam may be regarded to have begun with the Prophet himself. His constant prayer was: “God! Grant me knowledge of the ultimate nature of things!”

Criticizing the Greek Philosophy, Iqbal further says:

“The spirit of the Quran sees in the humble bee a recipient of Divine inspiration and constantly calls upon the reader to observe the perpetual change of the winds, the alternation of day and night, the clouds, the starry heavens and the planets swimming through infinite space! ….. [The Quran] regards hearing and sight as the most valuable Divine gifts and declares them to be accountable to God for their activity in this world.”

Thus, observing the nature, seeking inspiration from it and acquiring knowledge is the spirit of the Quran, It is in our nature, but it can not be an end in itself. Dr Fazlur Rahman says:

“’Empirical’ knowledge itself is of little benefit unless it awakens the inner perception of man as to his own situation, his potentialities, his risks and his destiny. That is why the Quran appears to be interested in three types of knowledge for man. One is the knowledge of nature which has been made subservient to man, i.e., the physical sciences. The second crucial type is the knowledge of history (and geography) …The third is the knowledge of man himself”

Therefore empirical knowledge must lead to two things. First is a deep appreciation for the benevolence of the Creator for giving us the gifts of nature. And second is the use of this knowledge within the moral boundaries i.e. for the benefit and welfare of humankind and not for one’s selfish and narrow-minded objectives.

These are the two guiding principles the Quran gives us for establishing a system of education. If the students graduate from this system with a firm believe in these two principles and also practice them in their lives, it will result into what the Quran calls “falah” i.e. blossoming of one’s potentials. On the other hand if these principles are broken, it will result into what the Quran calls “khusran” i.e. total loss.

Another important thing is that the Quran’s system of education is not confined within the boundary walls of schools, colleges or universities. It extends to all the spheres of our lives. Our homes, offices, educational institutions and mosques, all these come within this System. It is a concept that goes from the proverbial cradle to the grave.

Thus, for the Quran, the process of education must never stop. It must continue throughout our lives. In other words we constantly need reminders of the above guiding principles in our lives, because we tend to forget, become heedless and get engrossed in, what the Quran calls “ad-dunya” i.e. the mundane affairs which revolve around our pettiness.

Conclusion

We learn from the Quran that the purpose of acquiring knowledge and developing a system of education is not limited to attending schools, colleges and universities but in giving the students an understanding of the natural world around them, an appreciation and respect for the nature as a gift of God and a deep sense of responsibility that this knowledge must only be used for the benefit of humankind. If we are able to develop these qualities in ourselves and our children it will definitely lead to “falah” i.e. blossoming of our potentials and save us from “Khusran” i.e. total loss.

 

 

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