The importance of knowledge in Islam

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was quoted saying:

Seek knowledge, even as far as China.

On another occasion the Prophet (peace be upon him) is recorded saying:

Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim (man & woman).

Many ‘hard-line’ Muslims have a common yet bizarre perspective to these sayings. A few days ago a group of people from the mosque (تبلیغی جماعت) came to my house to ‘preach’. These are the people who go house to house and meet with people and invite them to mosque and charities. One of them referenced the first saying and said, “You know, the Prophet was talking about Islamic knowledge, the spiritual knowledge and he emphasized so much as to ask the Muslims to travel to China at that time to seek knowledge, the science is just for skills, it isn’t real knowledge”. I respectfully disagreed with him and asked, “But, Islam at that time was only confined to Arabia and some eastern parts of Africa. What Islamic / ‘spiritual’ knowledge was to be gained in China at that time?” To which he had no answer, only to tell me that I have less religious knowledge and walk away.

After this (rather insignificant incident) I had forgotten about it, until one day while watching a documentary (Engineering an empire) on the History channel I was literally amazed at what I saw. It was a documentary about China and how over time it was engineered by its emperors. According to it, Chinese were one of the first astronomers, chemists, mathematicians and engineers. They were the first to modernize naval warfare. They put mercury and other elements to various tests and discovered many properties that the world had never seen. They  were on their way towards inventing rockets and torpedoes. They constructed the great wall, which to this day, stands as a monument to human engineering.

While at that time (during the 6th century) Arabia was in the age of darkness, ignorance ruled hearts and minds of the Arabs. But China at the same time was advancing intellectually, socially and technologically. The vision of the Prophet(peace be upon him) was so vast, his sense of urgency was spot on, He must have known what is happening in China (at that time). Ofcourse at that time, journey to China was a life long experience, which goes to show how much importance knowledge had in the eyes of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

It is sad how Muslims today have ‘limited’ the great vision of the Prophet (peace be upon him), by viewing his sayings in a perspective which (more often) doesn’t even make sense. It was this knowledge & technology which has changed the world to what we know today. It was this knowledge which has helped nation progress and overcome their rivals. It is this knowledge which has made nations like United States and China, world leaders. It was this knowledge that the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Muslims to seek 1,400 years ago.

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About Hasan
A Muslim with a slightly different perspective. A student of history, theology and science.

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