Monday, May 5, 2014

Knowledge in Islam (My Lecture Notes from 1995)

1. Origin of Knowledge

Statement: The source of knowledge is Allah (SWT) – Al Aleem – i.e. His attribute signifying that he is the processor of complete and perfect knowledge.

 “Behold, your Lord said to the angels: I will create a vicegerent on earth. They said: Will you place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood? While we do celebrate your praises and glorify your holy name. He said: I know what you know not” (Surah Baqarah V. 30)

Allah (SWT) transferred some of that knowledge to Adam, i.e. He taught him the “names” of all things. When one knows the name of something, the name represents that thing. This implies that He gave him the capacity to pursue knowledge. He then placed the things before the angels and asked them to name them. They said that they have no knowledge except that which you teach us.

 “And He taught Adam the nature of all things, then placed them before the angels and said: Tell me the nature of these if you are right” (Surah Baqarah V. 31)

“They said: Glory to You: of knowledge we have none, save what You have taught us. In truth it is You who are perfect in knowledge and wisdom” (Surah Baqarah V. 32)

The difference between humans and angels is that angels do not have the capacity to pursue knowledge by themselves. Allah (SWT) taught Adam the “names” of all things. This implies he gave him the reason (capacity to pursue independent knowledge/capacity to form thoughts & concepts).

Islam does not say do not reason. It says you must use it to be a good Muslim. Other religions are anti-reason. Islam is pro-reason.

Angles have only god-given knowledge, while humans and jinn have this ability to acquire knowledge.

Statement: Allah (SWT) is pleased with one who uses his reason.

What is the status of one who has knowledge? His status is EXTRAORDINARY.

He (SWT) ordered the angels to prostrate to Adam for his higher knowledge.

“And behold, We said to the angels: Bow down to Adam; and they bowed down; not so Iblis. He refused and was haughty. He was of those who reject Faith” (Surah Baqarah V. 34)

Whoever possesses knowledge will have a high station with Allah (SWT). If we are negligent of knowledge, enemies will have higher status than us.

Rhetorical Question
“Is then one who does know that which has been revealed onto you from your Lord is the Truth like one who is blind? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition” (Surah Raad V. 19)

The Prophet (SWAS) made pursuance of knowledge obligatory on the Muslims.

He said: Acquisition of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim -- male or female.

2. Function of Knowledge

Why should one pursue knowledge?

Hadith Qudsi: “I (Allah) was a hidden treasure and desired that I should be known, so I created Creation”

This shows that the function of knowledge is to take us to Allah (SWT). If knowledge is not being used to take us to Allah (SWT), it is not being used properly.

Secular perspective: knowledge should be gained for jobs.

Islamic perspective: knowledge should be gained for Allah.

The function of knowledge is to know Allah (i.e. the Truth). Truth is revealed in revelations (Quran, Torah, Injeel, Zabur, etc).

Problem: I have reason and I can acquire knowledge, but the function of knowledge is to take me to Allah (SWT).  What is the relation between reason and the Truth (Quran)?

Function of reason is to help you come to the Truth.

Suppose Quran says something is black, but reason says it is white, what should I do?

Reason is not infallible nor is it limitless. When you know it is the Truth, submit to it –whether you understand it or not.

In secular educational institutes reason sits in judgment over the Truth. Reason determines the Truth. It is a new god!!!

3. Knowledge through Spiritual Experience (True Dreams)

Hadith: “Prophethood consists of 46 different parts. After me only 1 will remain. When asked which is that? He replied good and true dreams.”

Spiritual experience is not dominant over Truth (revelation), e.g. if someone has a dream that the Earth is flat and the Quran says it is not, it will be the information in the Quran which will dominate that in the dream.

4. Knowledge & Faith

Having submitted to the Truth, we must try to understand it.

“Behold! Abraham said: My Lord! Show me how you give life to the dead. He said: Do you not then believe? He said: Yes! But to satisfy my understanding. He said: Take four birds, tame them to turn to you. Put a “portion” of them in ever hill and call to them. They will come to you with speed. Then know that Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise” (Surah Baqarah V. 260)

Islam is not a religion of blind faith. Having submitted to the Truth, you have the right to pursue the path to understand things.

5. Sources of Knowledge

There are two sources of knowledge:

  1. That world – revelation
  2. This world – creative intellect, nature, inquiry

Our duty is to tap BOTH sources of knowledge, not just one. Imagine you are looking at a diseased tree. You do not see the roots. If you ignore what you can not see maybe you can not diagnose the disease if it is in the roots. This results in the disease not being cured. This is the case with most social challenges of our times: drug addiction, violence, etc.

6. Dimensions of Knowledge

There is a whole world of knowledge besides our world. It is called Al Ghaib.

“And He revealed unto His slave that which He revealed. The heart in no way falsified what it saw. Will you then dispute with him concerning what he saw?” (Surah Najam V. 10-12)

Say you see a true dream of a fire taking place in your neighbor’s house. The fire is pre-determined. It already exists – in the ghaib. Allah (SWT) has already said “Kun” (Be). You intercept the event before it happens.

7. Nature of Knowledge

There is a difference between knowledge (ilm) and opinion (zun). Ilm is the fruit from the tree of Truth, whereas zun has no contribution to the Truth. It is not from the tree of Truth (e.g. TV, media, fantasy, etc.)

Shaitan wants to embrace you in the world of zun.

Allah (SWT) wants to keep you in the world of ilm.

 Knowledge becomes wisdom when you use it to get to Allah (SWT).

 If someone has knowledge and it does not take them to wisdom, he is like a donkey loaded with books. If you never apply your knowledge in life you will never grow in wisdom.

Wisdom (hikmah) is something very valuable.

“He granted wisdom to whom he pleased and he to whom wisdom is granted is granted has received indeed a benefit overflowing. But none will grasp the message except men of understanding” (Surah Baqarah V. 269)