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My Lord! Increase me in Knowledge.


THE mission of the Prophet of Islam has been introduced in the Quran at more than one place as an Instructor of the Book and giver of wisdom. Here is a verse from the Quran: He it is who has raised among the unlettered people a Messenger from among themselves who recites to them His signs and purifies them, and to instruct them in the Book and wisdom. (62:2) Similarly, on another occasion the Prophet of Islam presented himself before the people saying, I have been sent only as a teacher. Then the first word revealed in the form of the Quran was Iqra (96:1). The fourth verse of the first revelation forming part of the chapter Al-Qalam has this to say: God has taught man by the pen. (96:4). We find more than 1500 derivatives and synonyms of the word Ilm, that is, knowledge. It becomes easy to understand in the light of this how the revelation of the Quran in this almost illiterate nation of Arabia set off such a wave of receiving and imparting education, which can rightly be called a learning explosion. The Quran and Hadith both hold men of knowledge superior to the ignorant. 39:9) The books of hadith have a whole lengthy chapter devoted to the importance of knowledge, and the rewards of teaching and learning. For instance, there is a tradition that one who treads a path in search of knowledge has his way paved to paradise by God as a reward for this noble deed (Bukhari, Muslim) In a tradition recorded by Tirmidhi, angels in heaven, fish in the water and ants in their dwellings pray for the well-being of a seeker of knowledge. In another hadith the Prophet of Islam observed, those who learn virtues and teach it to others are the best among humankind (Al-Bayhaqi). Not more than 150 people all over Arabia knew how to read and write. They made the maximum use of their ability to memories, preserving all their literary heritage in their memory. There is no trace of any systematic or organized activity of learning or teaching in the society. But soon after the revelation of the Quran, the trend of receiving education set in, and everyone who accepted Islam learnt the Quran from the Prophet, and after learning it himself taught to other converts. In this way the homes of the early Muslims Abu Bakr Siddiq, Al-Arqam bin Al-Arqam, Fatimah bint Khattabturned into centers of learning. Moreover, from the very outset, the Prophet appointed scribes who were assigned to write down the Quranic portions as soon as they were revealed. This motivated others as well to learn writing so that they might make their own copies of the

holy textbook. It is to be noted that even under life-threatening circumstances, when the Prophet had had the first and second pledge at Al-Aqabah, three years before the migration, he appointed twelve people who were most learned amongst them as teachers of the Quran. These teachers were so sincere and enthusiastic that within a short period of three years they spread the knowledge of the Quran to almost each and every home of the tribes of Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj. Hence when the Prophet arrived at Madinah in the 13th year of his Prophethood, he found all the young and old people of these tribes well versed in the teachings of the Quran. At the Battle of Badr 70 people were taken prisoner. The decision was taken after consultation with the senior companions that on payment of 4000 dirhams each they would be set free. Most of the Makkans being businessmen, knew how to read and write. But the Madinans were mostly farmers, who did not know how to read or write. Owing to the importance of education in Islam it was decided that those prisoners of war who were not able to pay ransom, should be asked to teach 10 Muslim children in order to secure their freedom. This was the first proper school in Islam established by the Prophet himself (Tabaqat, Ibn Sad). The learning explosion produced by the first divine word Iqra continued non-stop. It initially began at Makkah and gradually spread throughout the world. After the demise of the Prophet, the companions spread out in the neighbouring countries with the same spirit of seeking knowledge and imparting it to others. From Makkah to Madinah to Abyssinia to Iraq, to Egypt, to Baghdad this revolutionary educational movement gradually passed on to Central Asia and the East, then to Spain and the West. For more than a thousand years these served as international centres of learning, education, medicine and multidimensional development in all spheres of life. Women were not kept away from these activities. Starting with the Prophets own household, Muslim families provided equal opportunities to the female members of the family to learn to grow and play a constructive role in the progress and development of society at large. A large number of learned women have found mention in history as authorities on various Islamic sciences suchas hadith, Islamic jurisprudence, seerah of the Prophet, commentary on the Quran, etc. The Prophets own wife, Aishah, imparted the knowledge and wisdom she received from the first educator, for almost half a century. She has narrated more than two thousand traditions of the Prophet, and according to the Muslim jurists, these are the source of two thirds of Islamic laws relating to social, political and cultural issues. Biographers such as Ibn Khallikan (author of Waqeyatul Ayan), Ibn Sad (author of Tabaqat), Khatib Bhaghdadi (author of Taarikh Baghdad) and Al-Miqrizi (author of al-Khutal wal-Athar) have mentioned the names of thousands of women and

their outstanding contribution in the field of education and development in the Muslim world. Noteworthy among them, for instance, are the twosisters of Al-Fahri of Morocco, Fatimah and Maryam, the daughters of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who founded the Qayrawan University and the Andalus University in the historical city of Fas in 245 A.H.

The field of education, covering ethics, religion, skills and general knowledge, is a very broad and very vital one. The importance of learning in enabling the individual to put his potential to optimal use is self-evident. Without education, the training of the human mind is incomplete. No individual is a human being in the proper sense until he has been educated. Education makes man a right thinker and a correct decision-maker. It achieves this by bringing him knowledge from the external world, teaching him to reason, and acquainting him with past history, so that he may be a better judge of the present. Without education, man, as it were, is shut up in a windowless room. With education, he finds himself in a room with all its windows open to the outside world. This is why Islam attaches such great importance to knowledge and education. The Quran, it should be noted repeatedly asks us to observe the earth and heavens. This instills in man the desire to learn natural science. When the Quran began to be revealed, the first word of its first verse was Iqra! that is, Read. Education is thus the starting point of every successful human activity. All the books of hadith have a chapter on knowledge (ilm). In Sahih Bukhari, there is a chapter entitled, The virtue of one who acquires ilm (learning) and imparts it to others. In the hadith, the scholar is accorded great respect. According to one tradition, the ink of a scholars pen is more precious than the blood of a martyr, the reason being that while a martyr is engaged in the task of defence, an alim (scholar) builds individuals and nations along positive lines. In this way, he bestows upon the world a real life treasure. The very great importance attached to learning in Islam is illustrated by an event in the life of the Prophet. At the battle of Badr, in which the Prophet was victorious, seventy of his enemies were taken prisoner. Now these captives were all literate people. So, in order to benefit from their erudition, the Prophet declared that if each prisoner taught ten Madinan children how to read and write, that would serve as his ransom and he would be set free. This was the first school in the history of Islam, established by the Prophet

himself. It was of no matter to him that all its teachers were non-Muslims, all were prisoners of war, and all were likely to create problems again for Islam and Muslims once they were released. This Sunnah of the Prophet showed that whatever the risk involved, education was paramount. Islam not only stresses the importance of learning, but demonstrates how all the factors necessary to progress in learning have been provided by God. An especially vital factor is the freedom to conduct research. Such freedom was encouraged right from the beginning, as is illustrated by an incident which took place after the Prophet had migrated from Makkah to Madinah. There he saw some people atop the date palms pollinating them. Since dates were not grown in Makkah the Prophet had to ask what these people were doing to the trees. He thereupon forbade them to do this, and the following year date crop was very poor as compared to previous year. When the Prophet asked the reason, he was told that the yield depended on pollination. He then told the date-growers to resume this practice, admitting that they knew more about worldly matters than he did. In this way, the Prophet separated practical matters from religion, thus paving the way for the free conduct of research throughout the world of nature and the adoption of conclusions based thereon. This great emphasis placed on exact knowledge resulted in the awakening of a great desire for learning among the Muslims of the first phase. This process began in Makkah, then reached Madinah and Damascus, later centering on Baghdad. Ultimately it entered Spain. Spain flourished, with extraordinary progress made in various academic and scientific disciplines. This flood of scientific progress then entered Europe, ultimately ushering in the modern, scientific age. Allah Subhanahu wa Taala has commenced the revelation of the Holy Quran by mentioning regarding the importance of Knowledge, Read and your Lord is Most Honorable, who taught (to write) with the pen, who taught man what he knew not. (Quran, 96-3-5) Only those from amongst His servants who possess knowledge are the ones who fear Allah; surely Allah is Mighty Most Forgiving.(Quran, 35:28) Oh Allah You increase me in Knowledge. (Quran, 20:114) The following verse indicates to us the importance of seeking knowledge, wherein Allah Subhanahu wa Taala tells the Holy Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wasallam to ask Him for an increase in knowledge. The Holy Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu alaihi wasallam encouraged all Muslims to acquire knowledge and share it. He said: Acquire knowledge, for he who acquires it in

the way of Allah performs an act of piety; he who speaks of it, praises the Lord; he who seeks it, adores Allah; he who dispenses instruction in it, bestows alms; and he who imparts it to others, performs an act of devotion to Allah. (Bukhari, Muslim) Abu Hurairah Radiyallahu anhu narrated that The Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wasallam said: Whoever seeks a way to acquire knowledge Allah will make easy his way to paradise. (Muslim) Also Anas Radiyallahu anhu related that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam said: Seeking of knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.(Ibn Majah) Imam Ahmad Rahimahullah would say: We will accompany the inkpot until our death. Jabir Ibn Abdullah Radiyallahu anhu narrated that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam said: People are of different substances, the best of them in the Jahiliyah (A state of ignorance), are the best in Islam, if they gain Ilm (knowledge). (Ahmad) Hudhaifah Ibn al-Yaman Radiyallahu anhu narrated that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam said: The excess of Ilm (knowledge) is better than the excess of Ibadah (worship), and the best of your religion is the wara (piety, self restrain). (Tabrani) Ibn Abbas Radiyallahu anhu reported that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam said to a group of companions, When you pass by the meadows of Paradise indulge freely in it! They said: O Messenger of Allah! What are the meadows of Paradise? He said: The circles of Ilm (knowledge).(Tabrani) Ubadah Ibn as-Samit Radiyallahu anhu narrated that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu alaihi wasallam said: He who does not respect our elders, and does not have mercy on our children, and does not honor our scholars, is not of my Ummah.(Ahmad) Abu Bakrah Radiyallahu anhu reported that, I heard the Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wasallam saying: You should either be a scholar, or a student, or a listener, or a lover of Ilm (knowledge) and scholars, and you should not be the fifth which will make you perish. Ata (Rahimahullah) said, Misar (Rahimahullah) said to me: You added a fifth point which we did not have. The fifth point is: To hate Ilm and its people. (Ulama)(Tabrani)


My talk on the Education of Shi'ahs in North America; a general outlook and suggestions is divided info four parts;

1. Importance of knowledge and education in Islam. 2. Types of Education. 3. Basic Education. 4. Advanced Education.

1) Importance of Education

In a society where religion and knowledge in general and science in particular do not go hand in hand, it seems necessary to briefly describe the position of Islam vis--vis knowledge, Islam, in theory as well as in practice, has always promoted knowledge. Distinctive mark of human beings over the angels is knowledge:

"And Allah taught Adam all the names (2:31)

The first verses of the Quran began with the word:

"Read. Read in the name of thy Lord who created; [He] created the human being from blood clot. Read in the name of thy Lord who taught by the pen: [He] taught the human being what he did not know." (96: 1-5).


The Qur'an says.

"Are those who have knowledge equal to those who do not have knowledge?!(39:9).

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) has also emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge in different ways: (a) Time: "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." (b) Place: "Seek knowledge even if it is far as China." (c) Gender: "Seeking of knowledge is a duty of every Muslim" (d) Source: "Wisdom is the lost property of the believer, he should take it even if finds it in the mouth of a mushrik."

The Prophet did not only preach about importance of knowledge, he also gave examples of promoting knowledge. In the very first battle between the Muslims and unbelievers or Mecca, known as the war of Badr, the Muslims gain victory and caught seventy kuffars as prisoners of war. One of the criteria of releasing the POWs devised by the Prophet was that those who were literate among the prisoners could go free if they teach ten Muslim children how to read and write.

2) What Type of Knowledge? Knowledge in Islam is normally divided into two broad categories: there is a famous saying "al'ilm "ilman: 'ilmu- adyan wa ilmu abdan - knowledge is of two kinds: the knowledge concerning religions and the knowledge concerning [human and physical] bodies." What has been mentioned above on the importance of knowledge refers to both, the religious as well as the secular knowledge The Quran has specifically talked about science also: "In the creation of the heavens and the earth the alternation of the night and the day, in the ships that sail in the sea with their load. in the rain which Allah sends down from the sky and thus revives the earth after its death; and then He spread in all kinds of animals; in the changing of the winds: in the clouds which have been left suspending between the heaven and the earth -in all these are clear signs for the people who understand (2:164)

"We-: shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves." (41:53) The backwardness of the Muslims in last few centuries, as far as education is concerned, is because of the following: o The Muslims lost leadership in the field of physical science and technology because of arrogance which led to stagnation.

The invasion by the Mongols, who were barbarians and did not appreciate the value of knowledge: they burned down the most prestigious libraries in Baghdad.

In the nineteenth century, when the Muslims attempted to revive the process of education and knowledge in their societies, they naively adapted the western secular system which had completely separated the religious sciences from the secular sciences. (Example of the Turkish reformers of the last century and also Egyptian intellectuals of the early twentieth century, especially Dr. Taha Husayn in his Mustaqbilu th-Thaqafah fi Misr. We can also mention Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of India.) The Muslim world is still suffering from the dissection between the religious and secular sciences.

This issue goes back to the basic difference between the Islamic and Christian view of knowledge. In Christianity, the Bible relates the fall of man to the sin of stealing the fruit from the tree of knowledge; whereas, in Islam, the Quran describes knowledge as the basis on which the man was given preference over the angels. Even historically, the Christian church is full of stories about its Inquisitors who censored the works of science and also tortured the scientists if they views were contrary to what the Bible said.

In Muslim history, no such institutionalized censorship or suppression of scientists can be found. In the Muslim world, you find the harmonious combination of the two types of knowledge. For example, in the person of Ibn Sina, you had someone who had written al-Isharat on philosophy and metaphysics, and also al-Qanun fit-Tibb on medicine, a book whose Latin translation was used as a text in western universities till two centuries ago!

This dissection between the religious and secular sciences is the root of all the problems in the area of education for the Muslims world-wide. The greatest challenge for the Muslims of the

twenty-first century is the issue of the bringing together of the two sciences, religious and secular, in such a way that knowledge brings people closer to God and gives meaning to the life on this earth. This is not impossible because historically the Muslims have done that in the past. Right from the days of Imam Muhammad al- Baqir (a.s.) till the down-fall of the Muslim empire. We had Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) who taught theology to Hisham bin Hakam, Ahadith to Zurarah bin A'yan, and science to Jabir bin Hayyan. In our Imams, we see the example of a single source for religious as well as secular sciences.

The western science is based on experimental method. Let me just quote something about the alchemy of Muslims from Will Durant's The Story of Civilization,1[1] Muslim developed experimental method which is the greatest pride and tool of the modern mind. When Roger Bacon proclaimed that method to Europe, live hundred years after Jabir bin Hayyan, he owned his illumination to the Moors of Spain, whose light had come from the Muslim East."

But, for today, I would like to briefly look at this issue in the Western context and propose some ideas which hopefully would generate discussions in the workshop this afternoon.

3) Education at the Basic Level

What can we do to combine the religions and secular education for Muslim children in North America? There are two solutions to these problems: a short-term and a long-term solution.

a) The Short Term Solution


Send our children to the public or private school for secular education; and for their religious education, send them to the: Sunday schools and summer programs. This is what we are doing at this stage of our settlement in this continent. But this short-term solution is not a complete solution, its still suffers from the problem of separating religion from science; religion from real life issues. If the parents do not implement what is taught to the students at the Sunday schools, then there is the danger that the student might suffer from the double standard syndrome: behave as a Muslim in madrasah, masjid and majlis but. behave as a regular with others.

b) The Long-Term Solution Creation of full time Islamic schools. This will provide The Muslim students with a morally Islamic atmosphere turning the peer pressure in favour of Islam rather than against Islam. Secondly, a full time Islamic school would integrate the secular sciences with religious sciences science will became not only a servant of man but also a means of serving Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala.

4) Education at Advanced Level

At the present stage of our settlement, on this continent, we cannot think of the same solution for the advanced level or education as we presented about the basic level of education. Maybe, our future generations may explore the means and ways of establishing an Islamic university which our students can study the so-called 'non-religious' sciences not as anti-religious but as part of their 'religious' outlook. At the moment, however, our efforts should be concentrated on bridging the gap between the 'ulama and the scientists on the intellectual and mental levels. This may be done in two ways:

a) Short Term There should be regular inter-action, dialogue and discussion between the ulama and scholars of secular sciences. b) Long Term
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(a) The 'ulama should become familiar with the modern scientific issues: their information on social, economic, and ethical issues of our time must be up- to-date and correct. In the old Islamic system, there was no separation between the centers of learning of religious and secular sciences. You could have gone to Baghdad, Hella, Najaf, Ray, Cairo, Fez, Qum or Cordova for seeking of religious as well as scientific knowledge. Even now, I personally know of examples among the 'ulama' of Qum who had hired a learned economist from the University of Tehran to visit them on a weekly basis to discuss the most modern and advance economic theories of the time. My own grandfather was an alim and also a tabib.

(b) The Muslim scientists must familiar themselves with the basic texts of Islam: the Qur'an and sunnah. The Muslim scientists must become familiar with the Islamic literature related to the areas of their specialization. When the Prophet said, "I am leaving two precious things amongst you: the Book of Allah and my family; as long as you hold to them you will never be led astray," he was not only addressing the ulama': he was leaving these two guides for the entire ummah.

Out of six thousand and some verses of the Qur'an, only five hundred arc on fiqh, The verses on nature and creation are still waiting explanation by the Muslim scientists. The ahadith on nature and science arc still waiting for explanation at the hands of Muslim scientists. Allamah Majlisi has compiled a 110 volumes encyclopaedia of Ahadith known as Biharul Anwar. In this compilation, there a complete volume on the verses and ahadith related to the earth and heavens; this particular volume is sub-titled as 'kitabu s-sama" wa 'l ardh" the book of the heaven and earth. Small steps have already been taken by some scientists to study the original texts of Islam on scientific issues. The fore-most example is that of Dr. Maurice BuCaille in his Bible, Qur'an Science. Also a group of Canadian science Lists from the University of Toronto were invited in early eighties by a university in Arabia to study embryology in the Quran and hadith. These nonMuslims were astonished to see that the Qur'an spoke about issues which have been discovered only recently by the modern science on embryology. My prayers is to see that Muslim scientists come up with ground-breaking theories based on the Quran and Ahadith rather than wait for science to discover something and then say that it was mentioned by the Qur'an 1400 years ago!

5) Some more Suggestions

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The Shi'ah community of North America is, al hamdulila-Lah, affluent to take care of its children. And I strongly believe that our organizations, specially the federal, national or umbrella organizations, must establish scholarship programs for those who want to pursue advance studies in all fields of knowledge. They should also establish 'awards' for those of our children who show excellence in their academic fields. Even Muslim scholars and scientists should be awarded for their achievements. Such projects already exist among other ethnic and religious groups. e.g., the Jewish people, who recognise the achievements of their own people. We should we not take pride in our community members and support them. If there are organizations which have such programs, then they should be more publicized among- our communities all over North America. I hope the ideas I have thrown around will help in generating discussion and formulating a vision and a view of future, which, I believe is optimistic.

Remember, our Imams have said that if you have to select between wealth and knowledge, go for knowledge: wealth can he stolen but knowledge can never be taken away; wealth decreases with usage but the more you use your knowledge the more you increase in it. Look at the examples of our Imams: the rulers took away the wealth but they could not take away the knowledge which had been bestowed upon them by Allah. In spite of all the bitterness between Imam Ali and first caliphs, the second caliph used to approach Imam Ali whenever he could not resolve a legal or Qur'anic problem. We are in minority in this continent; when political stability and economic prosperity is there, we as immigrants or minorities are acceptable. But no one knows what will happen to the present tolerant environment when the economic indicator goes down or these countries lose their political stability. Look at the anti-immigrant, sentiments in Europe during the last two years. Our wealth may be taken away; but if we have knowledge, no one will be able to deprive us of it. With knowledge, we may regain our wealth; but with wealth, you cannot buy knowledge.

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