Among the many characteristics that Allah (SWT) describes or appreciates in the Quran, one is that of seeking knowledge and understanding of things. And one of the primary reasons for this is that we see as a result of acquiring knowledge and understanding, the iman of a person can increase by many folds. As Allah (SWT) says:
innama yakhsha Allaha min ‘ibaadihil ‘ulama
It is only those who have knowledge among his slaves that fear Allah
yarfa’i Allahu allatheena aamanu minkum waallatheena ootol ‘ilma darajaat
Allah will exalt in degree those who believe and those who have been granted knowledge
But the question we ought to ask ourselves is that what should be the aim of knowledge in Islam? Why do we want to know? What is it that we want to know? Now that we know what does Islam expect you to do with what you know? So we want to look at some of aspects related to knowledge that are relevant to us as Muslims insha Allah.
Classification of Knowledge
– Religious & Secular
Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (With the thought): “Our Lord! not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire. (3: 191)
Johannes Kepler, one of the most important astronomers and mathematician of the 17th century. He is cited in every elementary physics text as the discoverer of the important laws of planetary motion. His motivation for uncovering the laws of nature was to give glory to its creator.
– Beneficial & Non-beneficial
اللهُمَّ علِّمنا مَا يَنْفَعُنا وَانْفَعْنا بِما عَلَّمتَنَا وزِدْنَا عِلما
O Allah, help us learn what is beneficial to us, help us benefit from what You have enabled us to learn, and increase us in knowledge.
And we can compare this to the bombastic human being who says ‘We have gone where no man has ever gone before’. And when they want to express how much we as human beings know, they say to you ‘look at this huge very sophisticated complex thing we have created. They take pride in how powerful they are in the knowledge of architecture. In some ways, the taller the building, the more indicative it is of how much we know.
Sometime around the mid of the twentieth century, there were some breakthroughs in genetic engineering and many people were making statements such as how human beings had come close to demystifying the divine secrets of creation, so on and so forth. So scientists at the US Department of Agriculture in one of their experiments incorporated the human growth gene in the genetic make up of a pig, which they referred to as Pig No. 6707. This, they believed would make the pig super fast-growing, super meat-making, etc. but he really turned out to be a super-mess. He was excessively hairy, lethargic, was riddled with arthritis and apparently impotent, he rarely tried to get up and simply languished in the straw, a wretched victim of science without ethics.
Source of Knowledge
Islam maintains that all knowledge comes from God. However, it is men whose psychology and constitution may cause them to receive and understand knowledge with varying degrees of certainty. Allah mentions in the Quran about His Knowledge.
‘But over all endued with knowledge is one, the All-Knowing.’ (12: 76)
The characteristics of Allah (SWT) are unlike the characteristics of His creatures:
– Difference between ‘Alim and ‘Aleem
In the Arabic language, it helps to know that there are many ways, with shades of nuances, to describe the actor or the doer of something. A person who knows is a ‘Alim but Allah is ‘Aleem. In the Arabic language the structure between the ‘Alim and ‘Aleem or the structure fa’il and fa’eel, is that when you use ‘Alim, the person knows, makes mistakes sometimes, doesn’t know at other times. So a ‘Alim may not necessarily know every single moment but when we use the word ‘Aleem then knowledge becomes inseparable constant quality or characteristic of Allah (SWT).
– Degrees of Knowledge
We know that every characteristic of Allah (SWT) is unlike the characteristics of His creatures. So many human beings have knowledge and we all know that there are grades in knowledge so a person who has a PhD in Physics would understand the law, say W = mg in a much more profound manner than a beginning student in high school who has just started to study Physics. And so Allah (SWT) knows and whatever we know is incomparable to what He knows.
– No acquisition of Knowledge
Not only that but ‘How Allah knows’. As human beings, we don’t know then we know. There is no such a thing for Allah (SWT) that He didn’t know then He knew.
– No evolution in Knowledge
When we know, we know something in this way one day and then we know that thing better the following day. So there is an evolution in our knowledge. But ‘Aleem for Allah (SWT), there is no such evolution in His knowledge. There is no change in His knowledge. So even when things change, His knowledge of them has never changed. And that’s very important to keep in mind.
Difference between Knowledge & Understanding
Knowledge provides us with the resources to solve a problem. Understanding however, is the ability to use those resources to solve it.
The word used for understanding in the Quran & Sunnah is fiqh. This terminology of fiqh being confined fiqh to the rituals, this came later in the Islamic history. But the Quranic concept of fiqh is related to deep understanding of things: to exert effort for the understanding of things. That is why Rasulullah (SAW) said:
Man araadallahu bikhayrin yufaqqihhu fid deen
Whoever Allah wills good for, He grants him a good understanding of the religion.
Innaka fi zamanin qalililin qurraa’uhu katheerin fuqaha’uhu Qalilin maneey yas’al katheerin maneey yu’tee Tuhfazu fihi hudoodul quran wa tubaeeyu fihi huroofahu. Fihi inaasun yubdoona a’maalahum wa yukhfoona ahwa’ahum. Iza sallu ataalus salah wa iza takallamu qasrul khutbah.
We live in a time where the recitors of the Quran are few in numbers but the people who have an understanding of the message and meaning of the Quran, they are in large numbers. He said questions are rarely asked even though if they are asked there are many to answer them. People care more to observe the commands of the Quran, not to preserve the letters of the Quran. He said in this time people pay more attention to their deeds and they put aside their ego and desires. Whenever they pray their prayers are long and whenever they talk their speeches are short
Wa saya’tee alan nasi zamanun katheerin qurra’uhu qalilin fuqaha’uhu
And there will come a time where the number of people who know how to recite Quran beautifully are going to be in abundance but people who have the understanding of its meaning are going to be very few in numbers.
Tuhfazu fihi hurooful quran wa tudaeey’u fihi hudooduhu
People are going to pay a lot more attention in preserving the letters of Quran but they are going to be heedless about the commandments of the Quran. So these are people who pay more attention to the ego and they put aside their deeds or their work. Whenever they speak their speeches are very long, whenever they lead the prayers their prayers are very short.
One of the problems of misunderstanding of fiqh is the misunderstanding that the text itself is considered fiqh unless someone reflects and thinks on it, that human endeavor is called fiqh. To be able to apply Islam to our lives or to truly understand how it is applied in practice and how its related to contemporary issues, one needs to understand three things:
- Fahmun Nusoos – Understanding of the text
- Fiqh al-Waq’i – Understand Circumstances/Culture
- Fiqh at-Tanzeel – Application of text to the environment
1. Fahmun Nusoos – Understanding of the text
We need to learn to look at the Quran in a holistic manner. There is a hadith that says:
Sibabul muslimu fusooqu wa qitaaluhoo kufr (Tirmidhi)
The cursing of a Muslim is fisq and to fight him is kufr.
So if someone uses this to say that a Muslim who is involved in a fight with other Muslims is a kafir. That’s misunderstanding of the text. Here kufr is that of an-n’ima as Allah has said:
Fa asbahtum bin’imatihi ikhwaana
So that by His grace you became brethren
That’s denial of a blessing of Allah SWT because the Quran says:
Wa in taaifataani minal momineena qtatalu fa-aslihu baynahuma
If two group of believers fight, Allah called them believers although they are fighting each other.
Therefore it becomes important to keep the holistic picture in mind.
2. Fiqh al-Waq’i (Understand Circumstances/Culture)
Rasulullah (SAW), when he sent Muadh ibn Jabal (RA) to Yemen to teach Islam. He said:
Ya Muadh, innaka t’atii qawman ahli kitaab
Essentially making him aware that you’re not going to a people who are like the people of Makkah but these are people who’ve received the scripture.
3. Fiqh at-Tanzeel (Application of text to the environment)
Imam Shafi’i travelled to Madina to study under Imam Malik and then to Baghdad under Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan Shaybani. It was here that the Imam developed his first school of fiqh (al madhab al-Qadeem) which was influenced by both the Hanafi and Maliki schools of thought. Then he went to Cairo where within four years he changed and developed his second school of thought (al madhab al-jadeed)
One of the examples of the difference in opinion between companions is that between Umar (RA) and Fatima bint Qais (RA), who was one of the great sahabiyyat. And this is a clear example of the role that women have played in the development of our juristic understanding. For instance, when related to the question of a woman who was divorced in the final irrevocable divorce, which occurs after three pronouncements, Fatima bint Qays did not believe that a woman was entitled to either the financial support or to domestic habitation, that a man should provide for her a habitat during that time. Umar (RA) differed with her on that. Umar (RA) derived his ruling from the Quran in which Allah while mentioning the divorced women said:
laa tukhrijoohunna min buyootihinna
Do not remove them from the houses
The idea of not being removed from their houses after they’ve been divorced to Umar (RA) was a clear indication that they should be provided for both financially and in their habitat during that period. Fatima bint Qays said but continue to read on with the verses because later Allah says, perhaps Allah will cause some reconciliation to occur. So she said that this is an indication that the verse was not related to an irrevocable divorce but a revocable divorce and in that case indeed the woman should have financial support and housing should be provided for her. Now the three imams Imam Malik, Imam Shafii and Imam Ahmed took the position of Fatima bint Qays while Imam Abu Hanifa preferred the position of Umar (RA) because it was a valid difference of opinion between the companions so the Imams differed on which ones they went with.
Now we need to understand that this difference of opinion of the sahaba and the tabi’un and subsequently the scholars of later generations did not mean that one of them was wrong. All it meant was that they did their ijtihad and they arrived at different conclusions. The khilaaf of the companions was a khilaaf in which there was no resentment that accrued because of this difference, there was no hatred, enmity or animosity that was engendered because someone disagreed with their opinion or their judgment.
Knowledge – Responsibility & Accountability
Shakawtu ilaa Wakee’in soo’a hifdhee I complained to Wakee’ about my poor memory
Fa arshadanee ilaa tarkil ma’aasee So he advised me to leave off sinning
Fa akhbaranee lianna al-‘ilma nooran He informed me that knowledge is light
Wa noorullahi laa yuhdaa li ‘aasee And the light of Allah guides not the sinner.