(Text of the talk delivered by Mohammad Afzal Choudry at Sunderland Bangladesh Community Centre on 6th August 2006)

Assalamu Alaikum WR WB, my dear brothers and sisters in Islam,

In the title the two words – Religion and Knowledge – are pivotal, hence need to be defined. Let us take a start with the word ‘Religion’.

Religion for some people may simply be a field of academics, for some it is only a spiritual enrichment, some a set of cultural and/or traditional rituals, for others it is just a title, and to the rest as they find it fitting on their level of desire or aspire.

But for us – Muslims – religion is a complete Way of Life, which encompasses all facets of human life. This Way of Life was explained and shown to us by the personal examples of all the prophets of Allah, Subahanu Wa Ta’ala, and finally completed for all times by our beloved Prophet Muhammad – peace and blessings of Allah be on him.

These prophets of Allah Ta’ala conveyed revelations to their people with great care, integrity and without making the slightest change to them. These pious and righteous people never considered themselves above the revelations. They were the first ones to implement them into their lives, becoming role models for their people to follow. That is why Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala made it compulsory for Muslims to follow the ‘Uswa-e-Hasna’ of our beloved Prophet Muhammad – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. (Al-Ahzaab, 21)

The word “Knowledge”, which is a rough translation of the Arabic word “ILM” as the English language does not have any equivalent word for it. The Holy Quran emphasises “ILM” more than 700 times in 87 different forms. However, knowledge can be divided into two main categories – the religious knowledge and the secular knowledge. The religious knowledge is that which came from prophets and in which there is no question of intellect. All other branches of knowledge may be classified as non-religious or secular.

The secular knowledge can be further divided into three categories – praiseworthy, blameworthy and permissible. The knowledge which is necessary for the progress of human race is praiseworthy. This includes Mathematics, Medicine, politics and various Sciences and the like. Without such knowledge no nation can progress at all. Seeking of such knowledge is, in fact, Farz-e-Kafaya, or binding on the Muslim Ummah as a whole. The current condition of Muslims best reflects the consequences of ignoring such knowledge. The blameworthy knowledge includes sorcery, Talismanic science, juggling, gambling and the like. The acquisition and practice of such knowledge is a major sin. The permissible knowledge is positive poetry, history and geography etc.

The TRUE religious knowledge is that which came as revelations to the prophets – from Allah (SWT), through Angel Jibrael (A.S), to a prophet and preserved in a Book. As Muslims we believe in four Books of Allah (SWT) viz. Tawrah, Zaboor, Anjeel and Holy Qur’an. The first three books have been changed by their followers and are continuously under review, even today. The Holy Quran is the last of the revealed Books. The teachings of all previous prophets, adulterated by their followers, were collected, collated, sifted and preserved in Al-Qur’an, and Allah Ta’ala took personal responsibility of its protection and preservation and to keep it free from any adulteration. In this regard Allah (SWT) says in verse 9 of Surah Al-Hijr: “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message (Quran); and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”

The Holy Quran is standard bearer for quality control for other scriptures. The word used in Verse 48 of Surah Al-Maidah for this purpose is Mohaiman, which means a Guardian or a Watchdog. Any teachings of the previous prophets are to be tested against this Scripture before giving them any credibility of being a Word from Allah Ta’ala. Therefore, now the true religious knowledge is only contained in Al-Qur’an, Ahadith and Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad – peace and blessings of Allah be on him.

Adam Alaihissalaam, the first man and prophet of Allah Ta’ala received guidance directly from Allah Ta’ala, immediately following his creation. This knowledge was both religious as well as secular – see verse 31 of Surah Al-Baqarah. Further in Verse 34 Allah Ta’ala tells us that He ordered angels to bow down to Adam (A.S) because of his superiority in knowledge.

The very first revelation to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was also about the acquisition of knowledge. This revelation consisted of the first five verses of Surah Al-Alaq, which says: “Read! In the name of your Lord and Cherisher Who created; created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood. Proclaim: And Your Lord is Most Bountiful, and He taught (the use of) the pen; taught man that which he knew not.”

This revelation of Allah (SWT) is, in fact, an order to all Muslims for the acquisition of knowledge – first the knowledge about Allah (SWT), and without a shadow of doubt it carries top priority. Then the knowledge of things He has created, including our own selves. This is quite essential in order to fully exploit the creations of Allah (SWT) – but only for the benefit of mankind and not for its destruction, as is mostly the case.

At this point let me draw your attention to some of the verses of this Last Book of Allah (SWT) regarding the importance of religious knowledge.

About the rank of the learned people, Allah (SWT) says in verse 18 of Surah Ali-Imran: “There is no god but He: that is the witness of Allah, His angels, and those endued with knowledge, standing firm on justice.” In this verse, Allah (SWT) begins attestation of the TRUTH first by Himself, then by His angels and then by the learned. So it is quite evident that the status and honour of the learned people are much higher. To follow the path of justice is also a part and parcel of True Religious Knowledge.

Allah (SWT) increases rank of the learned people as He says in Verse 11 of Surah Al-Mujadila: “Those who are believers among you and the learned, Allah will increase their ranks.” In explaining this verse, Hazrat Ibn Abbas (R.A) said that the rank of the learned people is seven hundred times higher than that of the believers, and the difference between the two ranks is a distance of the path of five hundred years travelling.

Let us now look at a few more verses of the Holy Quran:

1. Surah Taha Verse 114: “And say: ‘My Rubb! Increase me in knowledge’.”

2. Surah Al-Zumr Verse 9: “Say: Are they equal, those who know and those who know not? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.”

3. Surah Fatir Verse 28: “Those truly fear Allah, among His servants, who have knowledge: for Allah is exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.”

4. Surah Ar-Ra’d Verse 43: “Say (O Prophet Muhammad): Enough for a witness between me and you is Allah, and such as have knowledge of the Book.”

5. Surah Al-Qasas verse 80: “But those who had been granted knowledge said: Alas for you, the reward of Allah (in the Hereafter) is best for those who believe and do Good.”

6. Surah Ankabut verse 43: “And such are the parables We set forth for mankind. But only those understand them who have knowledge.”

7. Surah Al-Ar’aaf verse 52 “And We had certainly sent unto them a Book based on knowledge, which We explained in details – a guide and a mercy to all who believe.”

8. Surah Al-Ar’aaf Verse 7: “And verily We shall recount their whole story with knowledge, for We were never absent (at any time or place).”

9. Surah Ankabut Verse 49: “Nay, here are Signs self-evident in the hearts of those endowed with knowledge. And none but the unjust reject Our Signs.”

In these verses Allah Ta’ala is teaching us a du’a to request him for the increase in our knowledge. It also proves that the absolute owner of knowledge is Allah (SWT) and He may give any amount of this knowledge to anyone He likes. Even the prophets used to beg Allah (SWT) for the increase in their knowledge. These verses also show that it is only the learned people that receive admonition; who truly fear Allah (SWT) through recognition of HIS revelation.

It is only the people of knowledge who feel pain for the wicked ones for their fate in the Hereafter. Again, it is the people with true religious knowledge who can recognise the TRUE nature of the Holy Quran: that it is from Allah and Allah alone; it’s full of knowledge; it is a complete code of conduct, guidance and a mercy for mankind, till the Last Hour.

The learned people know from their knowledge that on the Day of Judgement everyone has to account for their deeds. Allah (SWT) will recount the story of each one of us, and let us know what we did on the face of this earth. It is only people of knowledge that take lessons from the parables mentioned in the Holy Quran and recognise the Signs of Allah (SWT). The people who have no knowledge lack in all these qualities. It also proves that injustice is always perpetrated by the ignorant people.

After Holy Quran, let us see what the Ahadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has to say about the people of religious knowledge:

1. Abu Musa (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “The guidance and knowledge with which Allah has sent me are like abundant rain which fell on a land. A fertile part of it absorbed the water and brought forth profuse herbage and pasture; and solid ground patches which retained the water by which Allah has benefited people, who drank from it, irrigated their crops and sowed their seeds; and another sandy plane which could neither retain the water nor produce herbage. Such is the similitude of the person who becomes well-versed in the religion of Allah and receives benefit from the Message entrusted to me by Allah, so he himself has learned and taught it to others; such is also the similitude of the person who has stubbornly and ignorantly rejected Allah’s guidance with which I have been sent.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)

We learn from this Hadith that there are three categories of people. First, those who acquire knowledge of Quran and Hadith, act upon it and also pass it on to others. By virtue of this quality they are the best of all. Second, those people who acquire knowledge and pass it on to others, but do not act themselves according to that knowledge. Allah (SWT) may question and punish them for their negligence. Third, those who shun the knowledge of the Quran and Hadith, they neither study nor listen to the learned people for their own benefit. Nor they seek knowledge to pass it on to others for their benefit. This is the worst category of people.

2. Mu’awiyah (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah Said, “When Allah wishes Good for someone, He bestows upon him the understanding of DEEN.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)

This Hadith highlights the excellence of knowledge and the fact that it is a Sign of Allah’s help to the person who possesses it and acts upon it.

3. Sahl bin Sa’d (R.A) reported: The Prophet (SAW) said to Ali (R.A), “By Allah, if a single person is guided through you, it will be better for you than a whole lot of red camels.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)

Red camels used to be very precious in Arabia, and there reference here is to highlight the value of knowledge. Thus, this Hadith shows the importance of calling people towards Allah (SWT). But before calling others to the Path of Allah (SWT), one must know it, and for this purpose, the knowledge of the Quran and Hadith is essential.

4. Abu Hurairah (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “Allah makes the Way to Jannah easy for him who treads the path in search of knowledge.” This Hadith is self-explanatory and reported in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.

5. Abu Hurairah (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “The world, with all that it contains, is accursed except for the remembrance of Allah; and the scholars and seekers of knowledge.” (At-Tirmidhi)

It does not mean that this world, and whatever is in it, is really cursed. What it in fact means is that such things of this world are cursed which make a person negligent of the remembrance of Allah (SWT); or it is cursed for those who in their whole life do not remember Allah (SWT). This Hadith shows that acquisition of knowledge is essential to know that such and such work will be a source of winning the Pleasure of Allah (SWT), and such and such act will incur His displeasure. This is the reason the teacher and the learner have been included in the exemptions from the curse.

6. Abu-Darda (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “He who follows the path in quest of knowledge, Allah will make the path of Jannah easy for him. The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depths of the oceans seek forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness). The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who bequeath neither dinar nor dirham but only that of knowledge; and he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.” (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)

This Hadith stresses the distinction of religious scholars and highlights the esteem in which they are held by Allah (SWT), His angels and His other creatures. The benefit of voluntary prayers and remembrance of Allah (SWT) of a devout worshipper (Abid) is restricted to his own self while the benefit of knowledge of the scholar reaches others also. Hence, of the two, the later is far superior. It also mentions the eminence of learning religious knowledge, and respecting and honouring ‘Ulema.

7. ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-As (R.A) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) say: “Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people, but He takes it away by taking away (the lives of) the religious scholars till none of the scholars stays alive. Then the people will take ignorant ones as their leaders, who when asked to deliver religious verdicts, will issue them without knowledge. The result being that they will go astray and will lead others astray.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)

It is a Sign of the nearness of the Day of Judgement and the world will be deprived of genuine religious scholars, and illiterate people will become leaders who will have neither the knowledge of Quran nor that of the Hadith. Despite their ignorance of the Quran and Hadith, they will be called Mujtahid (Jurist entitled to independent reasoning) and Imam (leaders) and will mislead people with their legal opinions and self created problems. Besides urging us to acquire religious knowledge with a view to producing more scholars in the society, the Hadith also warns us against the ignorant self-styled ‘Ulema. It also warns us against entrusting religious leadership to them.

8 Abu Hurairah (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “He who is asked about knowledge (of religion) and conceals it, will be bridled with a Fire on the Day of Resurrection.” (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)

We learn from this Hadith that to withhold guidance in the matter of religion from anybody who seeks it, is a great sin which is threatened with Hell.

9 Abu Hurairah (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “He who does not acquire knowledge with the sole intention of seeking Pleasure of Allah but for worldly gain, will not smell the fragrance of Jannah on the Day of Resurrection.” (Abu Dawud)

This Hadith informs us that religious knowledge should only be acquired for the Pleasure of Allah alone. If a person acquires it to make it a means of worldly gains, then it is a serious crime that such a person will not even smell the fragrance of Jannah. However, if one gains wealth and worldly gains through it without any intention, then it is a different matter. In that case, it is not harmful for him as long as he uses it in a manner pleasing Allah Ta’ala.

Finally I would like to say that TRUE learned people are only those who are humble and always consider their knowledge to be insufficient, despite their great achievements in the field of their professions. When they are asked about any issue they explained it fully and then leave it to the enquirer to decide, for Allah (SWT) has granted freedom of choice to all humans. One should not force his/her views on others as it will be a violation of this freedom. Forcing ones views on others is tantamount to a major sin and one MUST always avoid it.

I would like to quote an incident from the life of Imam Shaf’i (R.A): at his deathbed he said with great pain if he would have acquired some knowledge. People around told him that he had a wealth of knowledge and had the distinction of being an architect of a school of thought. To which he replied the amount of his knowledge was not more than a drop of water from the vast sea. A person with True Religious Knowledge can never show arrogance as it is a trait of Shaitan and Shaitan is ungrateful to Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala.

Let us pray together: O Allah! Teach us what will benefit us, and let us benefit from what we have already learnt.

O Teacher of all the prophets, teach us and enable us fully to understand and put into practice whatever we learn Ameen!

Wa Akhiro Da’wana Innal Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil Aalameen!

NB: All Ahadith and their explanation has been taken from Riyad As-Saliheen