better light a candle than curse the darkness

BaKhabar, Vol 4, Issue 1, January 2011
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...  Dr Absar Ahmad*
کھول آنکھ  زمیں دیکھ  فلک دیکھ  فضا دیکھ
دیکھ مشرق سے ابھرتےہوےء سورج کو ذرا  دیکھ
The term used for knowledge in Arabic is ‘ilm, which has a much wider connotation. ‘knowledge´ falls short of expressing all the aspects of ‘ilm. Knowledge in the Western world means information about something, divine or corporeal, while ‘ilm is an all-embracing term covering theory, action and education. Islam is the path of "knowledge". No other religion or ideology has so much emphasized the importance of ‘ilm. In the Qur´an the word ‘alim has occurred in 140 places, while al-’ilm in 27. In all, the total number of verses in which ‘ilm or its derivatives and associated words are used is 704. The aids of knowledge such as book, pen, ink etc. amount to almost the same number. Qalam occurs in two places, al-kitab in 230 verses, among which al-kitabfor al-Qur´an occurs in 81 verses. Other words associated with writing occur in 319 verses. It is important to note that pen and book are essential to the acquisition of knowledge. The Islamic revelation started with the word iqra´ (‘read!´ or ‘recite!´).  top
The first teaching class for Adam started soon after his creation and he was taught ‘all the Names´ (allama Adam al-asmaa kullaha-2:31). Allah is the first teacher and the absolute guide of humanity. This knowledge was not imparted to even the Angels.
The idea of ilm distinguishes the world-view of Islam from all other outlooks and ideologies: no other world-view makes the pursuit of knowledge an individual and social obligation and gives enquiry the same moral and religious significance as worship.
To translate ilm as ‘knowledge´ is to do injustice, even though it be unintentional, to this sublime and multi-dimensional concept. It certainly contains the elements of what we understand today as knowledge. But it also contains the components of what is described as ‘wisdom´. But this is not the end of the story. We can best under-stand the notion with reference to other concepts of the Qur´an to which it is intricately linked. This ilm also has some connotation of ibadah (worship); that is, the pursuit of ilm is a form of worship. Similarly, ilm incorporates the Qur´anic notion of khilafah (trusteeship of man): thus, men (and women) seek ilm as trustees of God for if ilm is sought outside this framework it will violate the fundamental Islamic notion of tawheed. And, the means by which ilm is acquired and the final use to which it is put both by the individual and society are both subject to accountability: the Qur´anic concept of akhrah (the Hereafter) envelopes ilm to ensure its moral and social relevance. These few of the many, many dimensions of ilmillustrate the complex and sophisticated nature of the notion.
The synthesis of a whole array of principles and notions into a single, unified concept of ilm is one of the basic features of the world-view of Islam. It was this universal synthesis that demolished the artificial boundaries of the so-called religious and secular knowledge. And it was this universal synthesis which ensured that for a Muslim, knowledge was not an isolated, abstract act or thought; it was at the very root of his/her being and world-view. It is not surprising then that ilm had so much significance for early Muslims, that countless Muslim thinkers were so occupied with the exposition of the concept. Their conceptualization of ilm is perhaps best manifested in the attempted definitions of ilm of which there seems to be no dearth. The quest of these scholars to define ilm in all its shapes and forms was inspired by the belief that ilm was nothing more than a manifestation of tawheed; "understanding the signs of God", being near Him, as well as building a civilization required comprehensive pursuit of knowledge.              
In the Islamic context, the knowledge-seeking mind has not only a conceptual-spiritual being, but also a   social-material existence. Islam has never allowed the speculative and active lives to become totally divorced from each other. Thought and reflection have always been wedded to action. On the one hand, according to a prophetic tradition, an hour of thoughtful reflection is better than sixty years of acts of worship. But knowledge without action has been described as a tree without fruit. Contemplative thought (tafakkur) and reflection in Islamic spirituality essentially provide a knowledge that relates the knower to higher modes of being.

The Holy Book considers all things to be "signs" (ayat) pointing to the ultimate origin of the world. Besides describing the internal structure of an object, its history, present state, and future course of development, it also discusses its place in perspective or origination and ultimate end; that is, it makes a vertical movement that cuts across the horizontal physical plane. Thus the systems of "efficient cause" and "final cause" act as two wings attached to the body of the experimental science (study of internal structure) helping it to break out of static, earth-bound state and enabling it to fly in the infinite skies of the Divine world outlook. The same sort of approach towards the phenomena of this world can be seen throughout the Quran. In this manner the two wings of origination and ultimate purpose are revived and rejuvenated in all the research being carried out about these phenomena. In this way, the Holy Quran turns knowledge into reason, reason into wisdom, and mental conceptions into verities. This is the fashion in which the Quran coordinates the findings of theoretical reason with the effort of practical reason. This means that the Quran turns a specialist into man of religion, a scientific researcher into a practical investigator, a scientific "authority" into a devotee of the Truth, a technical inventor into a committed believer, an industrial entrepreneur into a man of faith, thus transforming raw mind into a seasoned intellect.                        top
In the past Muslim philosophers did not consider any field of learning to be truly independent science. They believed that, without the science of ethics and spiritual purification, mastery over any science was not only devoid of any value, but it would in fact lead to the befogging of insight and ultimate destruction of those who pursue it. That is why it has been said that "al-ilmu´ huwa al-hijab al-akbar" which means that knowledge itself is the thickest of veils, which prevents man from seeing the real nature of things. Moral virtues in man gain him eternal happiness and vision of the truth, while moral corruption leads him to everlasting wretchedness and ignorance. It is, therefore, necessary for man to purge and purify himself of all evil traits of character and adorn his soul with all forms of ethical and moral virtues. The human soul can be compared to a mirror in this regard. If we wish to see something beautiful reflected in a mirror, we must first clean the mirror, so that dust and dirt do not disfigure the reflection. Any attempt to attain true veridical knowledge would be fruitful and successful only when one has purified himself of evil habits and tendencies. In the words of the Quran those who have a sound heart (i.e., qalb-e-saleem) can be granted true knowledge of the Real. In order to attain ultimate and final perfection in knowledge and action, is it necessary to traverse the path of struggle against the selfish lusts and immoral tendencies which may exist within the soul and thus to prepare the soul to receive the grace of God. If man sets foot on the path of self-purification and actively engages in performing religious obligations God comes to his aid and guides him along the right path. The Quranic verse 69 of Surah Al-Ankabut asserts: "As for those who strive hard in Our cause, we shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us.       
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