Importance of seeking Knowledge in Islam

  • 03 Nov 2021
As the old saying goes, ‘knowledge is power’. Since the first revelation from Allah the Almighty to our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the Quran mentions great importance of seeking knowledge in Islam. Every Muslim is obligated to seek knowledge regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, social status and more. We all have equal rights to education and seeking knowledge to improve and empower ourselves as liberating individuals of the Ummah.
Because of Islam’s focus on the significance of seeking knowledge, exemplary role models of Islam during the Islamic Golden Age like Ibn Sina, Ibn Batutta, al-Khawarizmi, Al-Jazari, and the likes were born to contribute and expand various branches of knowledge to enlighten the whole world, SubhanAllah. They were some of the pioneers of complex and advanced fields of knowledge like medicine, astronomy, cartography, psychology and more.
Definition of Knowledge in Islam:
Before we get to the whys and hows of seeking knowledge, let us first unravel the Definition of seeking knowledge in Islam, what it means from other Muslim scholars’ perspective.
The Arabic word ‘ilm often translated as “knowledge” implies “knowing about something”.
According to one of the prominent figures of Islam, Imam Al-Ghazali, he defines knowledge as ‘the attainment of actual description or representation in the heart.’
Based on the view of Prof Syed Naquib al-Attas, knowledge is divided into two based on the manner of its attainment:
Husul: The arrival of meaning and description of a thing to the soul.
Wusul: The arrival of the soul at the right meaning and description of a meaning that is in fact the subject of knowledge.
Ibn Sina, an extraordinary Muslim scholar defines knowledge as ‘the understanding or discernment of something, which is the reality reflecting itself in the intelligent which has been constantly observing what it is.’ In principle, reality is external from the intelligent.
Now that we’ve gotten a good grasp on the concept of knowledge in Islam, let us explicate the Quranic verses and hadiths on seeking knowledge to further understand how essential it is to educate ourselves:
Quranic verses and Hadith on Seeking Knowledge:
Aside from the very famous surah on seeking knowledge, Surah al-’Alaq, where the whole chapter entails the urgency for all Muslims to read or acquire knowledge, there are also other parts of the Quran and hadiths which mention the vitality of seeking knowledge:
يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
God will raise up, by many degrees, those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge: He is fully aware of what you do. [Qur’an, 58:11]
Allah the Glorious Promises that He WILL raise the status of those who are given knowledge. It is evident that the level of the knowledgeable is vastly higher than those who are ignorant.
وَسَخَّرَ لَكُم مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مِّنْهُ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
He has subjected all that is in the heavens and the earth for your benefit, as a gift from Him. There truly are signs in this for those who reflect. [Qur’an, 45:13]
إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ
At is those of His servants who have knowledge who stand in true awe of God. God is almighty, most forgiving. [Qur’an, 35:28]
If you notice, in many parts of the Quran Allah mentions that those who contemplate and reflect, especially when utilising their intellectual faculty, will find the Signs that the ignorant don’t. Keep on learning and discover the wonders of the world, and within those beauties will you find the great Signs of Allah the Almighty. By seeking knowledge, you will expand your worldview, make you more mature and wiser, InshaAllah.
“Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim (and Muslimah)” [Prophet Muhammad ﷺ]
One of the biggest struggles Muslims come across today is the blatant technological distraction which lures us to waste our time on entertainment rather than seeking knowledge!
The hadith on seeking knowledge above is one of the most common hadiths we often come across at least once in our lifetime. This hadith encapsulates the meaning of our responsibilities as Muslims, which is to seek knowledge whenever we can.
“Whoever takes a path in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to walk in one of the paths to Paradise. Indeed the angels will lower their wings in great pleasure with the one who seeks knowledge.” [Prophet Muhammad ﷺ]
“If Allah intends goodness for a person, He gives him the understanding of the religion.” [Prophet Muhammad ﷺ]
Last but not least, here are some of the hadiths on the benefits of seeking knowledge. It is mentioned in the hadith above that Allah the Glorious will open a path to Paradise for those who pursue knowledge, and if Allah intends goodness on a Muslim, He will endow that person with the understanding of Islam.
In retrospect, we can deduce that Allah the Merciful indeed encourages all to tread the path of knowledge and will reward us for doing so. So, get ready to embark on a spiritual journey of seeking knowledge, and see the difference in the new you!
The Three Divisions of Knowledge in Islam:
Generally, there are many branches of knowledge, but what does Islam say about the division and integration of knowledge in Islam? According to Ahmad Tijani and Muhamad Zahiri (2013), there are three categories of knowledge according to the Qur’an (62:2 and 96:1-5) that forms a strong foundation of the integration of knowledge:
1. Religious Knowledge:  The essence of the Islamic religious knowledge and experience is tawhid. It is the main foundation of the Islamic intellectual discourse (Bakar, 2008). This makes the Islamic intellectual tradition a tawhidic epistemology.
2. Pure Sciences:  a science depending on deductions from demonstrated truths, such as mathematics or logic, or studied without regard to practical applications. This science is needed to enable Muslims have a better understanding of religious or sacred knowledge.
3. Natural Sciences:  a branch of science that deals with the physical world. Allah the Glorious has mentioned in many parts of the Quran that capture the explorations of natural phenomena (Mehdi Golshani, n.d.). The exploration of nature should be made positive and ultimately, it should be a reflection about the glory and excellence of Allah the Almighty.
The Two Types of Knowledge in Islam:
According to most Muslim scholars, Islamic knowledge is classified into two types:
1. Individually Obligatory Knowledge (farḍ ʿayn): This type of knowledge refers to the fundamentals of Islamic beliefs that every Muslim is obligated to know. Seeking this knowledge is a must for each and every Muslim. The ruling for not acquiring such knowledge is sinful and Muslims are held accountable for the ignorance in this type of knowledge. For instance, one must know the pillars of Islam and Iman, the fundamentals of worship, fiqh rulings of certain deeds and so on.
2. Communally Obligatory Knowledge (farḍ kifâyah): This type of knowledge is not an obligation for every individual, but rather falls upon a “sufficient number” within the community as a whole. Hence, if a group of individuals in the community acquire this kind of knowledge, other individuals are exempted from this duty. The ruling for this type of knowledge is sunnah mu’akkadah. For example, pursuing Law or medicine, and other professions imperative for the welfare of society.
The 5 Tips to Seek Knowledge in Islam:
Of course, to seek knowledge is to be familiar with the etiquette, preparations and the correct methods. Before you begin your journey of seeking knowledge, you should bear a few things in mind:
1. Rectify your intentions
Just like any other deed, you have to determine the reasons for doing something. Why do you want to seek knowledge? Are you mentally and spiritually ready to embark on your adventure? What drives you to start? These are all questions you should have answers to. If it helps, you could even jot down your intentions in your personal journal to keep your intentions in check every day. The last thing you need is to corrupt your intentions by showing off the knowledge you possess!
"Actions are but by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended. Thus he whose migration was for Allah and His messenger, his migration was for Allah and His messenger, and he whose migration was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his migration was for that for which he migrated." [Prophet Muhammad ﷺ]
2. Choose Your Teachers Wisely
Just like any other deed, you have to determine the reasons for doing something. Why do you want to seek knowledge? Are you mentally and spiritually ready to embark on your adventure? What drives you to start? These are all questions you should have answers to. If it helps, you could even jot down your intentions in your personal journal to keep your intentions in check every day. The last thing you need is to corrupt your intentions by showing off the knowledge you possess!
SimplyIslam Academy offers Islamic courses online, from Hadith, Fiqh, Sirah, Tasawwuf and more. Our Muslim scholars are selected based on their credebility and exceptional qualifications, and our platform is deeply rooted in the way of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah. So, if you would like to start your journey towards Islamic knowledge, our platform can be a great stepping stone for you to expand your Islamic worldview, InshaAllah.
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www.simplyislam.academy
3. Attend Classes at Your Local Mosque
If you are allowed to go to the mosque, it is an incredible opportunity for you to seek knowledge face-to-face with the instructor. This will give you a better learning experience as you could ask whatever questions that come to your mind and interact with your instructor and other participants.
Depending on your local mosques, they might have fixed schedules every day when lectures will be conducted. So, perhaps if lectures are conducted after Maghrib, you could stay there and perform Isha’ congregational prayer as well! As they say, kill two birds with one stone.
Here are some etiquette to keep in mind when you’re attending classes or lectures:
  • Ask questions!Leave early so you can arrive early/on time to the mosque
  • Put your cell phone on silent (or turn if off) to prevent disruptions
  • Sit as close as you can to the instructor
  • Jot down any notes for memory retention
4. Make Du’a Before you Study
Just like before you eat, before you sleep, there is also a du’a for you to recite before you seek knowledge. These du’as may be simple, but when you truly believe in them and recite with a sincere heart, it does wonders for your intellectual faculties! You will find that you retain information much easier, understand concepts much more easily and utilise time effectively, InshaAllah.
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لَا يَنْفَعُ وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لَا يَخْشَعُ وَمِنْ نَفْسٍ ‏لَا تَشْبَعُ ‏ ‏وَمِنْ دَعْوَةٍ لَا يُسْتَجَابُ لَهَا‏
“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from knowledge which does not benefit, from a heart that does not entertain the fear (of Allah), from a soul that is not satisfied and the supplication that is not answered.”
َللَّهُمَّ اَكْرِمْنْيْ بِنُوْرِ الْفَهْمِ وَ خَرَّجَنِيْ مِنْ ظُلُمَاتِ الْوَهْمِ وَ افْتَحْ عَلَيْنَا اَبْوَابَ عِلْمَكَ، وَ انْشُرْ
عَلَيْنَا خُزَّانَ مَعْرِفَتِكَ يَا اَرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِيْنَ،
اَللَّهُمَّ وَفِّقْنِيْ فِىْ الْمُطَالَعَةِ بِحَلِّ جَمِيْعِ مُشْكِلاَتِ الْمَسَآئِلِ مِنَ الْكُتُبِ بِرَحْمَتِكَ يَا اَرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِيْنَ
“Oh Allah, honor me by the light of understanding and take me out from the darkness of doubt and open upon us the doors of your knowledge and open upon us the treasure of your recognition, oh the best of the Merciful ones. Oh Allah, and give me Tawfeeq to study and solve all the difficult problems through books. By your mercy, oh the best of the merciful ones.”
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي
“O my Sustainer! Open up my heart and make my task easy for me, and loosen the knot from my tongue so that they might fully understand my speech.”
5. Seek Knowledge by Reading Islamic Books
Just like the first revelation Allah has descended upon our Blessed Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, we are encouraged to read some insightful Islamic books to enhance our understanding of Islam, and increase our love to our deen, InshaAllah. Here are a few recommendations for you to start with:
  1. The Great Theft by Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl
  2. The Broken Chain by Sidi Aftab Malik
  3. Reclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed
  4. Secrets of Divine Love by A. Helwa
We hope that these few tips will help you in your journey to seek Islamic knowledge, and may Allah ease any difficulty that comes your way. Seeking knowledge is indeed a noble deed that all Muslims should try and invest time in, so let’s empower our Ummah through passion and love for Islamic knowledge, InshaAllah.
If you have any other tips for seeking knowledge, do not hesitate to leave a comment down below and share with us what works for you. InshaAllah, let us share the knowledge with others so they could benefit from them.
About The Author:
Written By:
Lily Syahirah Ramlan
Lily Syahirah is a Content Writer of SimplyIslam Academy based in Selangor, Malaysia. She recently graduated with a Bachelor's Degree of Education (Teaching English as a Second Language) from International Islamic University Malaysia in 2020. She is actively invovled in public speaking, English language debates, poetry and theatre and loves to express her work through writing. Her love for language arts and imagination has led her to produce, direct and write experimental plays she's passionate about during her degree years. She was also actively invovled as a Master of Ceremony (Emcee) where she hosts minor and major events in IIUM.