What Does The Quran Say About Education?January 5, 2020 2023-09-22 2:56
What Does The Quran Say About Education?
When the Prophet Muhammadﷺ first brought the teachings of the Quran to the people of Mecca, most were not quick to accept him as a messenger of Allah. Many people saw his teachings as profane, while the city’s most powerful figures were more concerned with how his criticisms of their actions would damage their status. In retaliation, Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ enemies branded the Quran a forgery. It was a work of fiction, they said, produced by the Prophet and him alone. Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ early followers leapt to his defense, insisting a man with his limited education could not have possibly conceived of something as wondrous as the Quran. Their argument was strong. After all, heﷺ was a lowly caravan trader who had little need to know about literature or poetry. On top of that, he had been orphaned at a young age and, as such, had no access to anything resembling a formal education.
Today, ardent Muslims come back to this argument again and again. How could a man just a notch above a peasant produce a book as magnificent as the Quran? Prophet Muhammad ﷺ couldn’t even read, yet the Quran is filled with scientific facts that were not known to the people of his time. Many of them were only confirmed within the past century. In many ways, the Prophet’s total lack of education is the best argument for the truthfulness of the Quran. That being said, the Quran is quite clear in its support for learning. Over and over again, the Quran encourages Muslims to seek knowledge and understanding. Similar messages can be found in the hadith, the documented sayings of the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. If you’re a Muslim struggling to decide if further education is for you- or even if you should be paying a little more attention in high school – you’ve come to the right place. In today’s article, we’re going to be looking at what the Quran and the hadith have to say about the merits of education.
Knowledge Comes Only From Allah
In Islam, it is regularly stressed that all things come from Allah. In some cases, such as the revelation of the Quran, they come directly from Him. In others, however, they come indirectly. Education is a good example of this. Although we may be taught by a teacher in the classroom, it is Allah who put the teacher in a position to pass on their knowledge. Even though that teacher likely learned the information they are sharing from their own teacher and so on, the original revelation of the facts came from Allah. This is stressed in the passages 1 – 5 of the Quran’s 96th surah. They read as follows:
“Recite: In the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot. Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.”- Quran, 96:1-5
Although this verse does not appear until late in the order of the mushaf (written composition of the Quran), it was actually the very first to be revealed to the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. From the moment Allah revealed to the people, He sought to stress the role He plays in education and the sharing of knowledge. It is also worth taking note of the first word in the passage, which provided the foundation upon which the entirety of the Quran was built: “Recite!” Originally, this was a command directed towards the Prophet Muhammadﷺ exclusively. Today, however, it is a command to all Muslims. To be a dedicated follower of Islam, one must recite the Quran. In order to do this, of course, one must read the Quran. Reading and reciting the Quran both require proficiency in classical Arabic. Classical Arabic is not actually the mother tongue of anybody – even native Arabic speakers – and so requires diligent study to master. The Quran contains a number of additional passages referencing the importance of learning classical Arabic so that one may fully understand its message. These include:
“And thus We have inspired unto you (O Muhammad) an Arabic Qur’ân that you may warn the mother of the towns (Makkah) and all around it”- Quran, 42:8 “Verily we have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’ân in order that you may understand”- Quran, 12:2
“And truly this (the Qur’ân) is a revelation from the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists), which the trustworthy Ruh (Spirit-Jibreel) has brought down upon your heart (O Muhammad) that you may be (one) of the warners, in the plain Arabic language”- Quran, 42:192-195
Education Should Be Utilized
When we were children, sitting in dusty classrooms and being forced to study Algebra, we all had the thought, “When is this ever going to be useful in the real world?” According to the Prophet Muhammadﷺ, the onus is on the individual to find an output for such knowledge at some point in his/her life. Speaking to his followers, he has been documented as saying: “Knowledge from which no benefit is like a treasure out of which nothing is spent in the cause of God.”- Al-Tirmidhi, 108
It is important to note that the hadith above is not commanding Muslims to go out of their way to find a situation in which they will be able to use Algebra or similar things they learned in school. Rather, it is telling us that we should not hesitate to put such knowledge to use should the opportunity to do so ever arise. It can also be considered a command to avoid consuming trivial pieces of knowledge, such as what a celebrity’s favorite food is, and focus our energy on more noble educational exploits, such as the study of the Quran or scientific matters. In fact, the early Islamic world was arguably the most scientifically advanced of its time. Many great discoveries, inventions, and observations were made by early Muslim scholars. In encouraging their exploits and praising them for putting their education to good use, the Prophet Muhammadﷺ declared: “One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by God.”- Riyadh us-Saleheen
This teaching is in direct contradiction to those of some other religions. Although the Western world likes to think of itself as “more advanced” than the Middle East, many of its Christian denominations view science and knowledge as an enemy. They discourage their followers from exploring higher education. Oftentimes, they even brand things like fossils and the theory of evolution as “tests from God,” in what you could be forgiven for believing was a parody of religious fanaticism. Thankfully, the passage above and others like it tell us that the God of Islam looks favorably upon those who “tread a path in search of knowledge.” With this in mind, most prominent Islamic scholars agree that there is no reason Islam cannot coexist with modern scientific discoveries and theories.
We Should Ask God To Grant Us Knowledge
In our modern world, there are countless means of obtaining knowledge. We can learn in a classroom, surrounded by classmates and led by a teacher. Alternatively, we can pay a tutor for one-on-one lessons. We can even bypass formal education entirely and utilize the plethora of smartphone apps dedicated to teaching a diverse set of subjects. In earlier times, we could bypass formal education even more intensely by renting or buying textbooks, texts, access to libraries, studying magazines, journals, monographs, etc., and educating ourselves. In Islam, however, none of these methods of learning can trump a single lesson from the Supreme Guide. Several passages in the Quran remind us that Allah is the purveyor of all information and encourage Muslims to cry out to Him when in need of knowledge. One such passage can be found in Surah TaHa and reads as follows: “So high [above all] is Allah, the Sovereign, the Truth. And, [O Muhammad], do not hasten with [recitation of] the Qur’an before its revelation is completed to you, and say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’”- Quran, 20:114
Although this seems like quite a simple Quranic extract, there is actually a lot to unpack here. In its purest form, this is a command from Allah to Muhammadﷺ himself. In it, the Creator encourages Prophet Muhammadﷺ to begin sharing the message of the Quran even though the fullness of the book has not yet been revealed to him. The Prophetﷺ was famously reluctant to publicly discuss the Quran in the early days of his prophethood, so this command was instrumental in jump starting his ministry. Allah encourages Muhammadﷺ to actively seek out further revelations rather than simply waiting for them to come to him. Today, however, this passage, like so many others in the Quran, can be viewed as a command for all Muslims. A Muslim should not hesitate to live by the principles of the Quran, even if they have not yet completed their study of the book. Additionally, they should ask Allah to increase their understanding of its contents, rather than simply relying on their own assumptions and the arguments put forth by contemporary Islamic scholars. This command can also be applied far beyond the realm of Quranic studies. As discussed earlier, all knowledge comes from Allah, be it knowledge of the Quran or knowledge of more secular topics.
Seeking Knowledge Is Mandatory
Some people are content to live their lives with minimal, if any, dedication to learning. As alluring as this may be, it should be considered impermissible in Islam. According to the Prophet Muhammadﷺ, it is the duty of every Muslim to pursue education. There are a number of statements made by Prophet Muhammadﷺ in this vein, with one of the most commonly cited being outlined below. “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.”- Al-Tirmidhi, 74
Now, don’t stress yourself out too much over this hadith. It is not commanding every Muslim to go to their nearest library and learn everything about every subject. Most Islamic scholars agree that it is simply a command to learn something – anything – which can benefit the individual and society at large. This can be as simple as memorizing the first verse of the Quran, a feat more noble than many seemingly larger acts. Additionally, Muslims should seek not only to gain knowledge, but to share it with others. This command was given by the Prophet Muhammadﷺ in the following hadith: “Inquire [so as to acquire] knowledge and impart it to the people.”- Al-Tirmidhi, 107
This hadith has served to encourage many for whom the command to learn simply wasn’t enough. The additional command to pass their knowledge onto others has allowed them to learn with a sense of purpose. They are not simply pursuing further education to appease Allah or secure some high-paying job, they are doing it to further the knowledge of other Muslims, ensuring they too fulfill the obligations laid out by Prophet Muhammadﷺ in the hadith contained in this section.
Teachers Are Blessed
Throughout the world, teachers are often hailed as unsung heroes of society. They work in immensely trying conditions to perform an immensely difficult task: imparting knowledge on to young children who generally don’t even want to learn. And despite the difficulties associated with their job, teachers are among some of the lowest paid workers in the world. But while teachers may suffer in this life, they can be certain of great joy in the next. Speaking of those who dedicate their lives to teaching, the Prophet Muhammadﷺ declared:“God, His angels, and all those in heavens and on Earth, even ants on their hills and fish in their water, call down blessings upon those who instruct others in beneficial knowledge.”-Al-Tirmidhi, 74
The weight of this declaration cannot be understated. To be blessed by Allah is undoubtedly a magnificent achievement and one we should all strive for. Teachers, however, have blessings called down upon them not just by Allah, but by angels and all other beings in Heaven. Furthermore, they are praised by their fellow human beings and every living creature from the ant to the fish. Even animals, considered in Islam to be servants of Allah, are aware of the valuable role teachers serve in the community and wish to see them rewarded for it.
Many people are of the erroneous belief that religion and education cannot go hand in hand. While this may be the case with certain religious beliefs, it is most certainly untrue when it comes to Islam. Since the moment of the first revelation to Prophet Muhammadﷺ, more than 1000 years ago, Islam has been firmly on the side of the poets and the scholars. It has fervently encouraged its followers to seek knowledge, both in the realm of religious studies and in more worldly matters. The hadith and Quranic passages outlined above are just a small selection of a litany of similar statements to be found in core Islamic doctrine. Together, they showcase Islam’s love of knowledge, those who pursue it, and, perhaps most of all, those who share it.