Islam represents a comprehensive code of civilization encompassing all the dimensions of human thought and life. The holy Quran is Allah’s last revelation to the mankind, meant to guide man in his esoteric and exoteric domains of life. It was with this guidance that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), among others, established an Islamic Society in Arabian Peninsula which continued flourishing for several centuries. It was not merely a religious society but represented Islamic principles in all walks of life, i.e., social, political, economic, moral, cultural, military, international relations and education.
In the Islamic theory of knowledge, the term used for knowledge in Arabic is ‘ilm, which, as Rosenthal has justifiably pointed out, has a much wider connotation than its synonyms in English and other Western languages.
‘Knowledge’ falls short of expressing all the aspects of ‘ilm. Knowledge in the Western world means information about something, divine or corporeal, while ‘ilm is an all-embracing term covering theory, action and education. Rosenthal, highlighting the importance of this term in Muslim civilization and Islam, says that it gives them a distinctive shape.
The holy Quran, in fact, stimulates and inspires, motivates and encourages Muslims to study the Universe in its various facets and aspects. According to many scholars, about 750 verses of the holy Quran exhort, insist and urge the believers to study nature, to make best use of ‘Aql (reason/intellect) in their search and to make acquisition of knowledge and scientific comprehension, as there are “signs” of Allah’s power for mankind. Holy Quran, for example in sura Aal-i-Imran (3: 190), says: “Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and the day, there are indeed signs (ayaat) for men of understanding”.
According to the Qur’an, the first teaching class for Adam started soon after his creation and Adam was taught ‘all the Names’.
Allah is the first teacher and the absolute guide of humanity. This knowledge was not imparted to even the Angels. In Usul al-Kafi there is a tradition narrated by Imam Musa al-Kazim (‘a) that ‘ilm is of three types: ayatun muhkamah (irrefutable signs of God), faridatun ‘adilah (just obligations) and sunnat al-qa’imah (established traditions of the Prophet [S]).
This implies that ‘ilm, attainment of which is obligatory upon all Muslims covers the sciences of theology, philosophy, law, ethics, politics and the wisdom imparted to the Ummah by the Prophet (S). Al-Ghazali has unjustifiably differentiated between useful and useless types of knowledge. Islam actually does not consider any type of knowledge as harmful to human beings.
Nature Of Knowledge
The Qur’anic terms for knowledge are: ‘ilm, ma’arifat, hikmat, basiirat, ra’ay, dhann, yaqeen, tadhkirat, shu’ur, lubb, naba’, burhan, dirayat, haqq, and tasawwur.
The terms for lack of knowledge are: jahl, raib, shakk, dhann, and ghalabat al dhann.
Grades of knowledge are ‘ilm al yaqeen, ‘ayn al yaqeen, and haqq al yaqeen. Knowledge is correlated with iman, ‘aql, qalb, and taqwah.
Knowledge must be evidence-based knowledge, hujjiyat al burhan. The seat of knowledge is the ‘aql, and qalb. Allah’s knowledge is limitless but human knowledge is limited. Humans vary in knowledge. Knowledge is public property that cannot be hidden or monopolized. Humans, angels, jinn, and other living things have varying amounts of knowledge.
History Of Human Knowledge (tarikh al ma’rifat al insaniyat)
Adam was the first human to learn actively when he was taught the names. Human knowledge after that grew by empirical trial and error or through revelations. Development of language and writing played a big role in knowledge development. Publication and telecommunication are responsible for the current knowledge revolution.
To conclude, ilm( knowledge) is one of the blessings bestowed by Allah to the human being (the Supreme creature) and to know the Ultimate Reality (Almighty Allah) – who is the Creator and the Sustainer of the entire creation – is the real purpose, ultimate aim and goal of acquiring or seeking knowledge. ‘Ilm (knowledge) – the foundation of the Quran – is the ‘criteria’ for distinguishing between right and wrong, true and false, virtue and vice, and Haqq and Batil.