True Awaiters Series – The Importance of Acquiring Knowledge

Islam was revealed in a land where the people were known for their ignorance. Their beliefs, sayings, and actions were clear signs of their distance from knowledge and civilization. For years, people engaged in battles against one another over petty issues, resulting in a high number of deaths. Fathers would bury their newborn daughters in cold-blooded machoism. Worshipping materials such as rocks, wood, dates, circumambulating naked around the house of God, holding a strong caste system, and devaluing the status of women are clear examples of the ignorance during the time before Islam, called the ‘Age of Ignorance’ (Jahiliyyah).

This reveals the difficulty the Holy Prophet of Islam experienced in bringing his message. One of Islam’s main goals was to motivate people to learn and acquire gnostic knowledge (ma’arif). The Qur’an emphasizes on the status of knowledge, the importance of learning, and the value of scholars, teachers, and students. The Holy Qur’an has also encouraged people to attain knowledge through sending the Prophet as one who integrated learning and instilled a yearning for knowledge in the people’s hearts:

كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولًا مِنْكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمْ مَا لَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ

As We sent to you an Apostle from among yourselves, who recites to you Our signs, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know. (2:151)

On many accounts, the Holy Qur’an repetitively glorifies scholars and condemns the ignorant as a method of encouraging the Muslims to seek knowledge and dishearten them from remaining in a state of ignorance:

قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

…Say, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Only those who possess intellect take admonition. (39:9)

In the Holy Qur’an, God the Exalted praises the ignorant man who follows a knowledgeable man and at times has advised people to find the truth by seeking out knowledgeable individuals even if they are from other religions:

فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

If ye realize this not, ask of those who possess the Message. (16:4321:7)

This verse portrays the rational necessity for the ignorant to refer to the knowledgeable.3 Since the people of the Abrahamic faith are educated in answering questions regarding the existence of messengers and prophets before Prophet Muhammad (s),4 God has commanded the polytheists, who are skeptical on this matter, to refer to them for their knowledge.

The Prophet of Islam spoke of status of knowledge and understanding on multiple occasions. He once said, “Knowledge is the root of all good and ignorance is the root of all bad.”5

Truly, attaining eternal and worldly bliss, a level which the prophets of God had reached, cannot be achieved if one does not know what path to follow. With regards to this, Prophet Muhammad said, “The closest of men to the status of prophethood are those who are accustomed to knowledge and struggle (jihad).”6

The Holy Prophet of Islam has discussed the superiority of knowledge over worship (‘ibadah) multiple times, where he says, “In the eyes of God, the virtue of knowledge is more favorable than worship.”7 He has also said, “A small amount of knowledge is better than much worship.”8

It was based on this given status of knowledge that the Holy Prophet encouraged Muslims to seek it: “Seek knowledge even if it be in China, because seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.”9 He has also said, “In the eyes of God, seeking knowledge is more valuable than prayer (salat), fasting (sawm), pilgrimage (hajj), and struggle (jihad).”10

The practical life story (sirah) of the Holy Prophet was such that he preferred a scholarly gathering over one devoted entirely to worship: One day the Prophet entered the mosque, and upon arrival he noticed two groups of people. He said, “Both groups are good. One group is glorifying and beseeching God and the other is seeking knowledge and conveying it to the uneducated. However, the latter group is the better of the two, for I have been sent to teach men.” Subsequently, the Holy Prophet sat amongst those who were busy obtaining knowledge.11

Imam Ali (a),12 considered knowledge as a source of life for one’s heart and the light for one’s eyes against the blindness and weakness of the body.13 He has said:

Oh people! Seeking knowledge is more necessary than seeking wealth, because wealth has been distributed amongst you. God, the Just, has divided it amongst you and He will make it available to you, but knowledge is kept amongst certain individuals and you are responsible for seeking it from them; thus, you should ask for it.14

Also, Imam Ali (a) in his conversation with one of his close companions, Kumayl bin Ziyad, said the following on comparing knowledge and wealth:

Knowledge is better than wealth, for knowledge guards you but you must guard wealth. Wealth is reduced when given away, but knowledge grows when given. An individual who is built by his wealth will be obliterated when his wealth is wiped out.15

Imam Sajjad (a)16 said the following regarding this topic: “If people know how beneficial it is to seek knowledge, they will obtain it even if it is with bloodshed or going in a whirlpool.”17

The Holy Qur’an has firmly condemned ignorance and lack of knowledge and has warned their followers from falling into it. In the Qur’an, after the narration of Prophet Noah’s story and his request from God to save his son from the storm, God says the following:

يَا نُوحُ إِنَّهُ لَيْسَ مِنْ أَهْلِكَ ۖ إِنَّهُ عَمَلٌ غَيْرُ صَالِحٍ ۖ فَلَا تَسْأَلْنِ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۖ إِنِّي أَعِظُكَ أَنْ تَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ

O Noah! …So ask not of Me that of which thou hast no knowledge! I give thee counsel, lest thou act like the ignorant! (11:46)

God the Exalted not only warned his Prophet from ignorance and lack of knowledge, but He also advised him to distance himself from them:

خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْجَاهِلِينَ

Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; But turn away from the ignorant. (7:199)

It is from such viewpoints in Islam that the Holy Prophet considered providing a platform for education and learning to be one of the responsibilities of a parent toward his child.18


Why is it important for an Awaiter of Imam Mahdi (ajtf) to acquire knowledge?