Knowledge is one of the important pillars upon which the edifice of Islam is raised. The very fact that the first revelation upon the Holy Prophet (pbuh) contained the commandment about ‘reading’ speaks volumes of the emphasis Islam lays on education. All interpreters of the Holy Qur’an have consensus on this that the first five verses of sura al-Alaq form the beginning of the sending of revelation:كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولاً مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّ
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَO خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍO اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُOالَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِO عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْO
“(O Beloved!) Read (commencing) with the Name of Allah, Who has created (everything). He created man from a hanging mass (clinging) like a leech (in the mother’s womb). Read and your Lord is Most Generous, Who taught man (reading and writing) by the pen, Who (besides that) taught man (all that) which he did not know.” (al-‘Alaq, 96: 1-5)
The first commandment contained in these verses related to ‘reading’ as a part of process of acquisition of knowledge. In addition to the description of Allah Almighty being the Creator and Sustainer, there the mention was also made of two branches of knowledge ie sociology and creations. While indicating knowledge of biology and morality in the verse number two and three, it was also explained that Islamic concept of knowledge is very vast and when Islam talks of acquisition of knowledge, it embraces all branches of knowledge, both religious and secular, in its fold, which are productive for the mankind. Traditional religious sciences are not exclusively meant here. Many verses of the Holy Qur’an invite man to ponder and meditate over the creation of universe; heavens and earth. This meditation and reflection led to the laying down of the foundation of modern science. History bears witness to the fact that the modern science upon which humanity takes pride today, was not only founded by the Muslims but they were also the ones who determined its rules and regulations and undertook early discoveries and inventions. (Since this is not the main subject of this article here, therefore, those interested in knowing more about it should consult Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad’s two-volume book Muqaddima Sirat-ur-Rasool.)
Following the rise of Islamic civilization for one thousand year, one of the basic reasons underlying the total decline of its civilization is that those basic and clear concepts upon which there was no ambiguity in history were not only obscured but also got polluted. One of these is related to women’s acquisition of knowledge. There is a particular mindset in the contemporary age that opposes women’s learning and education tooth and nail and if it does not oppose it in an outright way, it is in favour of putting such restrictions as make it almost next to impossible for female students to get knowledge.
No disagreement is found on acquisition of knowledge being binding and obligatory. The importance and excellence of knowledge has been highlighted both directly and indirectly at about five hundred places in the Holy Qur’an.