by Ruby Zigrino
1. What is knowledge ?
2. How knowledge can lead to wisdom and righteousness ?
3. Why wisdom and righteousness are synonymous in Religion?
4. How important a duty is it to pursue knowledge for a believer ?
With the very first revelation in the Quran, God is commanding humankind to read:
“ Read in the name of your Sustainer, who has created – created man out of a germ-cell! Read – for your Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One Who has taught the use of the pen – taught man what he did not know!” [ 96: 1-5 ]
What is this ‘reading’, and ‘use of the pen’ God is implying? This cannot be simple reading and writing in the ordinary sense. Because if this Message is for humankind as declared many places, most of humankind at that time, including the Prophet himself, did not know how to read or write. It must be much broader in scope and deeper in meaning: On the grand scale of human wisdom and understanding, the ‘reading’ implied here may be the ‘reading’ of the reality: deciphering God’s truth (huq) and signs-messages (ayats) inscribed in the reality: This is knowledge. And this knowledge helps one not only to know the truth in the divine revelations, but also what is inscribed in the pattern of the reality: the life, the nature, the seen and the unseen Universe.
And the ’the use of the pen’ may mean the retrieving and preserving this information and transmitting to others.
There are two kinds of knowledge: the one mentioned above is the inherent knowledge, or wisdom, the capacity implanted in our nature at the time the Creator creted us (Quran 30: 30). Each one of us possess this inherent capacity: it is like the unseen umbilical cord between the humans and the Supreme Being. Purer it remains in its nature, higher is its capacity to know and understand through God’s guidance.
Knowledge, in the ordinary sense, is the acquisition and accumulation of information as a life progresses, and wisdom is the frame of mind in which the information is placed, sorted, looked at, and understood. Information is like a tree, but not the forest, merely dots in a pattern but not the whole pattern. The wisdom, however, is the ability to see the forest, to know the pattern, and to comprehend the truth. That is why wisdom helps one to see things in proper perspective. Therefore, wisdom can be acquired through compliance with our true nature, and knowledge can be pursued by acquiring information.
4: 162 “..those from among them who are deeply rooted in knowledge, and the believers who believe …….these it is unto whom We shall grant a mighty reward.”
The knowledge coupled with faith enhances appreciation of God’s reality, leading to higher levels of righteousness. For example, in the Quran, the sky is compared with a “canopy”, the function of which is to protect and to provide shelter. To an uninformed person the sky appears like a canopy and he/she appreciates that way. But to an informed person, that canopy consists of the ozone layer and the magnetic field to save life from harmful rays and discharged particles from the Sun. The level of understanding and appreciation of God’s mercy among these two groups cannot be same.
Wisdom leads to righteousness, and righteousness helps to achieve wisdom, building on each other to reach a higher and higher level of existence before God. Therefore the purpose of the acquired knowledge is wisdom.
In the story of creation of a human, the Quran is placing a god-like status to a human because of this faculty of knowledge that God has implanted: “And He imparted unto Adam all the names [ ism ]” (2: 31)
What are these ‘names’? These are the names of elements and component of the reality. To name and classify these elements, bits of reality, man has to have knowledge as to their nature. For example in the physical world names of forces, energies, elements, particles, names of their behavior patterns, names of their interaction patterns; and then there are the names of different behavior patterns and interaction patterns of individuals and/or communities: social, political, and spiritual. In any discipline of knowledge the humans have ascribed names to the contents and components of reality, to describe and to identify its manifested nature. Names of classifications and sub-classifications of group of things and living beings on the basis of similarities and dissimilarities. All these require knowledge of things ‘named’.. Therefore this word “names’ is pervasive and all inclusive. The Arabic word “ism” used here also implies “the knowledge [of a thing]”.
Before God, responsibility equates any endowment and empowerment. God knows this ability and this empowerment He has granted to humans. So He also placed the highest responsibility of representing Him on human beings. How ? What is this responsibility ? To take care of God’s creation similar to the way He Does: with truth and justice, with care and compassion, with restrain and balance, and with patience and wisdom. He gave the burden of ‘choice.’ On humans. And gave huge range to choose from, good and bad.
Is human being capable enough to do this enormous job of representing God in this life? Of course: God empowered this creation ‘human’ with ‘names’:with knowledge (wisdom) to discern right from wrong, truth form false, and cause from consequence in making the right choices. The burden of being the Vicegerent of God now rest squarely on the shoulder of humankind, for which God commanded the angels to bow before a human. Through these allegories, God is conveying a very important message: the empowerment with knowledge and corresponding responsibility.
The Quran is full of exhortations to learn: “so that you may become wise”, “that you may think”, “that you may know”, etc. That is the purpose of the Quran and all other divine revelations of the past, to guide, to inform, and to warn. As the understanding increases, the appreciation deepens, leading to higher and higher spirituality to transform one to true success. This progressive journey leads a soul where it should be: to have a successful return or reunion to the ‘Ultimate Reality’. And knowledge that transforms into wisdom through faith helps one to achieve that state. The whole life and living can be the worship of God if done with knowledge and wisdom. Quran says: 51: 56 “I have not created the invisible beings and humankind to any end other than that they may [know and ] serve Me.”
That is why Prophet Mohammed said: “An hour’s reflection is better than a year’s worship.” Puzzled the followers asked the prophet: “Even better than reading the Quran?” And he replied, “And, can the Quran be useful without knowledge? God did not distribute to His servants anything more to be esteemed than intelligence…” His sayings also include: “ Striving after knowledge is a sacred duty (faridah) imposed on every Muslim, male and female” : “If anybody goes on his way in search of knowledge, God will make easy for him/her the way to Paradise” [Bukhari, Volume I, chapter III]; All these sayings indicate that a believer must strive for knowledge all his/her life. The Quran is commanding its believers to pray for knlowledge: 20 : 114 ……”O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge”
Therefore knowledge is an integral part of faith, and the pursuit of knowledge is an essential process of righteousness.