Education: Need, Compulsion and Obligation 

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Education: Need, Compulsion and Obligation

  Shabi Hashmi, Cardiff, UK  ......... Click here for his Blog Page


Tariq Nawaz Qaisrani**  


Read another article by Shabi Hashmi: Birth of a New Desire

 The stunning rise of the budding Islamic empire and its exponential expansion over nearly two continents was in itself a remarkable feat, though not unmatched in history.  Nevertheless, the longevity, prosperity, and resilience of this empire were indeed unique.  For nearly one millennium, the Muslims were a force to be reckoned with.  While the western world was plunged in the dark ages, Muslims acted as torchbearers for the rest of the world to follow.  And follow the others did Ė as long as the Muslims led the way.  

The reasons behind the Muslims successes and failures are manifold and they could fill tomes.  Nevertheless, one of the contributing factors was the search for knowledge.  Today it is an established fact that the great Muslim empires of the early days laid great emphasis on scholarly activities and encouraged scholars.  While its predecessors had put scholars to death (Socrates) for corrupting the youth by encouraging them to question or closed down schools (Plato) for being a threat to their propagation, the religion Islam was not only quite liberal to scholars, it encouraged their activities.  This is evident from the very fact that the Islamic empire produced great intellectuals like Ibn-e-Sina, Ibn-e- Haitham, et. al.

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 The Holy Quran also gives a clear idea of the value of education and procuring knowledge in the following verse:

 "Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful." (Quran 39:9)

 Perhaps one of the reasons for Islam encouraging scholarly activities is the fact that Islam does not encourage blind faith.  A close investigation of the Islamic scripture will show that it invites man to question and to experiment, to study and to ponder in order to discover his origins and his purpose in life.  It encourages man to think critically over his surroundings, to study nature and to pore over earlier scriptures in his search for his Lord and Creator as is evident in the following verse: 

How many signs there are in the heavens and earth! Yet they pass them by, turning away from them.  (Surah Yusuf: 105)

Nevertheless, as Muslims drifted from their religion, they also adopted a retrogressive stance with regard to knowledge.  Many contemporary scholars even began to contend the importance of scholarly activities in Islam with the claim that the knowledge Islam binds its followers only to religious education.  Some even adopted a hardliner stance and forbade the acquiring of contemporary languages used by foreigners notwithstanding the fact that their ancestors in faith had left no stones unturned in their quest for knowledge.  But knowledge knows no boundaries as is evident from the following verse:

Those who remember God, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth:'Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire. ( Surat Al 'Imran: 191)

Here is the One Lord of mankind, goading people to reflect on the heavens and the earth, not only on his scripture.  The Holy Quran urges man to study his world critically and to wonder over its creation and to asses his position in it with great care.

 Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it? And the earth- We have spread it out, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and produced therein every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs)- To be observed and commemorated by every devotee turning (to God). And We send down from the sky rain charged with blessing, and We produce therewith gardens and grain for harvests; And tall (and stately) palm-trees, with shoots of fruit-stalks, piled one over another. (Surah Qaf: 6-10)

It beckons man to see for himself, not once but again and again and invites him to solve its mysteries.

Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made? And at the Sky, how it is raised high? And at the Mountains, how they are fixed firm? And at the Earth, how it is spread out? ( Surat al-Ghashiyah: 17-20)

The Holy Quran invites man to ponder over the water cycle as an example of a sign of his Lord and to realize his helplessness in the face of his Lords prowess manifest through nature.   

It is He who sends down water from the sky. From it you drink and from it come the shrubs among which you graze your herds. And by it He makes crops grow for you and olives and dates and grapes and fruit of every kind. There is certainly a sign in that for people who reflect. ( Surat an-Nahl: 10-11)

Have you thought about the water that you drink? Is it you who sent it down from the clouds or are We the Sender? If We wished We could have made it bitter, so will you not give thanks? (Surah al-Waqiíah: 68-70)

The Holy Quran challenges its readers to try their utmost in finding any flaws in the work their Lord and Creator, and failing which to submit themselves to Islam.

He who created the seven heavens one above another: No want of proportion will you see in the Creation of (God) Most Gracious. So turn your vision again: do you see any flaw? ( Surat al-Mulk: 3)

All these verses of the Holy Quran and many more provided the motivation behind the work of the early Muslim scientists who were pioneers in their fields. These verses clearly substantiate the claim that worldly knowledge is imperative, as much for religious understanding as for the worldly life.  They all point to a long forgotten Muslim canon that provided the impetus behind the Islamic renaissance that followed in the wake of the long stagnation of the part of the world that was later to constitute the Islamic empire.

 It is worthwhile to look into the early days of Islam and its emphasis on learning. Muslims were at the zenith of development until 16th century because of Islamís focus on learning. At that time Islam was a conduit in the way people lived and the way people thought. The emphasis on learning was laid by Prophet Mohammed (saw) and his traditions are filled with references to learning, education, observation and the use of logic. Islam preaches learning and it is pretty clear from the very first verse of Quran when it was revealed to prophet on the night of Laylatul Qadr:

"Read: In the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who taught by the pen, Taught man that which he knew not." (Quran 96:1-5).

We also know that Islam also pushes us to go for all sort of learning. Donít the following verses support the claims that Allah has commanded us to learn and gain knowledge?

Every Muslim man's and every Muslim woman's prayer should be: "My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge." (Quran 20:114)

The pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason based on sense of observation are made obligatory on every Muslim man and woman.

The following traditions of the Prophet (saw) supplement the foregoing teachings of the Quran in the following way:

1.      Seek knowledge "even though one has to make a detour to China ".

2.      "The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, regardless of the sex."

3.      "God has revealed to me, whoever walks in the pursuit of knowledge I facilitate for him the way to heaven".

4.      "Scholars should endeavour to spread knowledge and provide education for people who have been deprived of it. For, where knowledge is hidden, it disappears."

5.      "Seek for knowledge and wisdom, for whatever the vessel from which it flows, you will never be the loser."

6.      "Worship without knowledge has no goodness in it and knowledge without understanding has no goodness in it."
And the recitation of the Quran, which is not thoughtful, has no goodness in it.

7.      "Acquire knowledge: it enables its possessor to distinguish right from the wrong, it lights the way to heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends and an armour against enemies."

8.      Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.

We saw the commandments of Prophet (saw) vis a vis acquiring knowledge. Hence there is no point delving much on the aspect of obligation. Whatever Prophet (saw) said is an obligation for us and has to be fulfilled. We hear about so many Muslim in the early stages of Islam excelling in their area of expertise. They gained knowledge as an obligation and succeeded in their pursuit by the grace of Allah. The Islamic Empire remained the most advanced and civilized nation in the world for over a millennium. This is because Islam stressed the importance and respect of learning, forbade destruction, developed in Muslims the respect for authority, discipline, and tolerance for other religions. The Muslims recognized excellence and craved intellectually. The teachings of the Quran and Sunnah drove many Muslims to their accomplishments in sciences and medicine. Today our Imaan isnít so strong and unfortunately we take the commandments of Prophet (saw) in literal sense and that is why we fail to succeed in our endeavors.

Now if we look to second aspect called compulsion. It has been oft repeated that it is a compulsion to gain the knowledge. The very knowledge makes us important in this world. Donít we as the best Ummah that ever heralded on earth also have every right to be respected by all and sundry? Do we feel the Muslims of earlier generation were respected by their peers for no worthwhile contributions? If we echo the sentiments of the Muslim bashers then we are at serious fault and it also depicts our weak understanding of Islamic civilization. If we look into the history of Muslim achievers then there is no dearth of scholars and their contributions. For example Islamic medicine is one of the most famous and best known facets of Islamic civilization, and in which the Muslims most excelled. The Muslims were great torch-bearers of international scientific research. Some of the best and most eloquent praises of science ever written came from the pens of Muslim scientists who considered their work to be acts of worship.

The same motives led to the establishment of Al-Azhar (800 C.E), the first university in the world. They hit the "source ball of knowledge" over the fence to Europe . In the words of Campbell , "The European medical system is Arabian not only in origin but also in its structure. The Arabs are the intellectual forbearers of the Europeans." In fact the Muslims are directly responsible for the European Renaissance. Therefore it is a compulsion for us to learn the knowledge and continue the legacy of our Muslim greats. This brings name and fame to individual, family and community at large. Hence we can see why Allah exhorts us to learn and propagate that knowledge.

The need of knowledge and the value of education have another facet. This is proved by the above verses of Quran. Apart from that if we look from worldly aspects, it opens doors for further opportunities. We as Muslims are inferior to none and hence deserve respect all over the world. Allah has promised for his blessings and bounties but it will not come without putting any effort and hence it is high time we stick to the Quranic exhortations towards knowledge seeking world. We have to renounce the distorted interpretation (of Quran) from some of the self-centric scholars. Isnít it a fact that the more knowledge we have the more it takes to the apogee of respect in terms of fame and finally may help us in earning better livelihood? The education also teaches us the civility and also helps us in understanding our religion at large. Even learning and understanding of Quran is a need (apart from obligation) for our usual day to day life.

After looking at the direct factors exhorting us towards learning knowledge, we need to analyze the current situation of Muslims vis a vis status, wealth, respect and value. The status of the Muslim Ummah is of great concern to all the Muslim intellectuals. But unfortunately the Muslims who enjoyed above a millennium of ascendancy are in the most pathetic position. No one can deny that the Muslim Ummah at present occupies a position which is at the lowest rung of the ladder in the world. The share of the Muslims in Nobel Prizes, Magsaysay awards, Entrepreneurship prizes etc could be easily counted on fingers. Muslimís contributions to literature are marginal at best. In the present scenario the Muslims have reached the nadir and it is really painful to stomach this reality. Muslims have been economically exploited and politically subjugated. Muslims are very weak economically; they are lagging behind in education; and their representation is marginal in science and technology. The average literacy rate is around 38 per cent and in rural areas in Muslim countries, the illiteracy rate among Muslim women is 93 to 97 per cent. This is in total violation of the message of the Quran and Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) as mentioned earlier. The Muslims educated in the western world know about Western books and scholars but they know very little about Muslim books and the intellectual achievements of the Muslims. The mean rate for literacy for the Muslims is 35 per cent lower than that for the Third World , and 40 per cent below the worldís average. Isnít this point contrary to the teachings of Prophet (saw)? 

Why have we become retrogressive? The Prophet (saw) came to this world to enlighten us but we the Ummah are failing him. But we must realize that if we fail to live up to our responsibilities as the final Ummah, then Allah Almighty may supplant us with another people (perhaps new converts) as has always been his way. It is a clear indication that our Ulemas donít have proper understanding of religion Ė otherwise how else can they not call the Ummah for gaining knowledge. Rather nowadays most of our Ulemas are involved in infighting among themselves and try to outperform each other in badmouthing. Isnít it a shame for us? The Ulemas have been given responsibility to unite Ummah and call all and sundry towards the knowledge world. To our misfortune their action seems contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Authentic data suggests that almost two-thirds of the Muslims worldwide are illiterate. This low level of literacy, evidently, is responsible for the grinding poverty, the backwardness, and the deplorable conditions under which the vast majority of the Muslims live at present. Only Malaysia and to some extent Pakistan could be considered advanced Muslim countries in science and technology among Muslim nations. However, the literacy rate for Pakistan is lowest among the most populous nations and even below the average for the Muslim nations. The literacy rate of Indian Muslims matches with the literacy rates of poor African Muslim countries. What is shocking is Bihar, home to huge number of Muslims, has Muslim literacy rate even worse than the literacy rate of the poorest countries such as Mali and Burma . Who is responsible for such plight of Muslims? A point to ponder upon! It is left to readers to judge who is responsible and why.

As is proved from Quran and Sunnah, every individual is entitled to have access to education. Regardless of religion, language, race or status, every individual has the right to strive for knowledge. Social injustice, however, renders this virtually impossible, introducing many problems demanding immediate solution, the foremost being unavailability of free education for every member of a community. In many countries, due to poverty, huge numbers of children and teenagers are deprived of quality education. Access to a handful of quality schools is reserved for a privileged minority. The ordinary people hardly receive schooling addressing their actual educational needs. In this context, the richer receive better education while the poorer simply get what the system provides.

The development of children can be fostered by laboratories and many other means provided by schools receiving adequate material support. The limited resources of some schools, on the other hand, hinder young individuals in many ways.

Bihar Anjuman has taken initiatives in positive direction. It plans to augment the existing educational centers by providing all sorts of support. The plans are noble and hence Allah the Almighty should fulfill the objectives of Bihar Anjuman.

      ** Tariq Nawaz Qaisrani is a Research Assistant at Center for Digital Signal Processing, Cardiff , United Kingdom .  He comes from Ravalpindi , Pakistan and holds MS degree from Kings College , London .           



2.      Tafsir Ibn Kathir

3.      Islamic Fiqh Academy :


5.      Al-Jumuah Magazine, Vol.33, P8-10