The pleasures of seeking knowledge

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Category: Articles, Featured, Society | Topic: education, knowledge | Values: education, knowledge | Views: 37,557 | Comments: 30

The rise of Muslims to the zenith of civilization in a period of four decades was based on lslam’s emphasis on learning. This is obvious when one takes a look at the Qur’an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad which are filled with references to learning, education, observation, and the use of reason. The very first verse of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet of Islam on the night of 27th of Ramadan in 611 AD reads:

“Recite: In the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot. Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.” (Quran, 96:1-5)

“And they shall say had we but listened or used reason, we would not be among the inmates of the burning fire.” (Quran, 67:10)

“Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful. ” (Quran, 39:9)

The Qur’an encourages people towards scientific research:.

“And whoso brings the truth and believes therein such are the dutiful.” (Quran, 39:33)

Every Muslim man’s and every Muslim woman’s prayer should be:

“My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge..” (Quran, 20:114)

The pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason, based on sense and observation is made obligatory on all believers.

The following traditions of the Prophet supplement the foregoing teachings of the Qur’an in the following way:

  • Seek knowledge “even though it be in China.”

  • “The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female.”

  • “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

  • “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”

  • “God has revealed to me, ‘Whoever walks in the pursuit of knowledge I facilitate for him the way to heaven.’

  • “The best form of worship is the pursuit of knowledge.”

  • “Scholars should endeavor to spread knowledge and provide education to people who have been deprived of it. For, where knowledge is hidden it disappears.”

  • Some one asked the Prophet : “Who is the biggest scholar?” He replied: “He who is constantly trying to learn from others, for a scholar is ever hungry for more knowledge.”

  • “Seek knowledge and wisdom, or whatever the vessel from which it flows, you will never be the loser.”

  • “Contemplating deeply for one hour (with sincerity) is better than 70 years of (mechanical) worship.”

  • “To listen to the words of the learned and to instill unto others the lessons of science is better than religious exercises.”

  • “Acquire knowledge: it enables its possessor to distinguish right from the wrong, it lights the way to heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless – it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends and an armor against enemies.”

The Islamic Empire for more than 1,000 years remained the most advanced civilization in the world. The main reasons for this was that Islam stressed the importance and respect of learning, forbade destruction, cultivated a respect for authority, discipline, and tolerance for other religions. The teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah inspired many Muslims to their accomplishments in science and medicine.

By the tenth century their zeal and enthusiasms for learning resulted in all essential Greek medical and scientific writings being translated into Arabic in Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad. Arabic became the international language of learning and diplomacy. The center of scientific knowledge and activity shifted eastward, and Baghdad emerged as the capitol of the scientific world. The Muslims became scientific innovators with originality and productivity.

For example Islamic medicine is one of the most famous and best known facets of Islamic civilization in which the Muslims excelled. The Muslims were the great torchbearers of international scientific research. Some of the best and most eloquent praises of science came from the pens of Muslim scientists who considered their work to be acts of worship. The same motives led to the establishment of Al-Azhar (800 AD) the first university in the world. They hit the “source ball of knowledge” over the fence to Europe. In the words of Campbell, “The European medical system is Arabian not only in origin but also in its structure. The Arabs are the intellectual forbearers of the Europeans.”

Learning is a natural pleasure. This pleasure is inborn and instinctive. The pleasure of learning is one of the essential pleasures of the human race. Without learning, survival itself is threatened.

The process of learning starts right after birth. It is true that babies who can barely talk investigate problems with all the zeal and excitement of explorers, make discoveries with the passion and absorption of dedicated scientists. At the end of each successful investigation, one can see on the tiny face an expression of innocent and pure heartfelt pleasure. The process of physical growth stops when a boy or girl reaches puberty, that is with the on set of menarche in the girls and with the change in the voice and growth of moustache and beard in boys. After puberty it is impossible to increase the height both in boys and girls.

On the other hand the mental faculties grow from birth until death. At some point in our lifetime, the physical body becomes sick or ill and gradually dies; even the emotions become duller. But the mind continues to live, and even grows more lively and active, enjoys itself more, works and plays with more expansion and delight. I have seen grandparents obtaining Bachelors, Masters and Ph. D. degrees at the ages of 70, 80 or 90.

There are many examples in the history of Art, Music and Science, of both men and women who significantly contributed and lead mentally productive lives at their ripe old ages. Learning extends our lives into new dimensions. It is cumulative. Instead of diminishing in time, like health and strength, its dividends go on increasing, provided one continues to learn throughout life and integrate the thoughts and make learning harmonious. One should make it a point to learn at least one piece of new information each day.

The pleasure of learning is not confined to learning from textbooks, which are too often tedious. But it does include learning from book magazines (periodicals), newspapers, movies, television, radio and traveling.

When you stand in a big library in front of thousands of books do not think they are lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. Each has its own voice, which is as inaudible as the radiobroadcast waves falling directly on ears. Just as one switches on the radio to listen, similarly a person needs to open a book to hear the voice far distant in time and space. One can hear the voice speaking, mind to mind, and heart to heart. Reading of books gives you two different delights. One is the pleasure of understanding the unknown and the unexpected. The other pleasure is of deepening one’s knowledge of a specified field.

Apart from books, learning means keeping the mind open and active to receive all kinds of experience. As pointed out earlier there is great emphasis on learning and seeking knowledge in Islam. The Prophet Mohammed ordered Muslims to be active in their search for learning, crossing oceans and continents if necessary. ” Seek knowledge even in China” he said. Learning also means learning to practice one’ s own professional skills – that of a physician, engineer, musician or craftsman.

Crafts and hobbies lead you into fresh fields of enjoyment and give you relaxation and activity without tension. One should know that tension is the prime cause of heart attacks, ulcers, hypertension, and most of the human diseases.

Traveling is an important activity in the pleasures of learning. There are many examples of exceptionally informed people who never read books and newspapers, but acquire knowledge through traveling. One should travel with an open mind, an alert eye and a wish to understand other people and other places.

A saying of Prophet Muhammad is … With knowledge man rises to the heights of goodness and to a noble position, associated with sovereigns in this world, and attains the perfection of happiness in the next.

It is fitting here to mention the story of Diogenes, the great Greek philosopher who lived during the time of Alexander the Great. Diogenes was a very learned man who shunned both power and wealth. He was known to have wandered around searching for an honest man carrying a lantern during day and night. He gave up everything he possessed, except a coconut shell for drinking water. One day he saw a man drinking water forming a cup with his hand. After seeing this Diogenes threw away his last possession, the coconut shell.

The name of Diogenes spread throughout Greece. Alexander the Great heard about Diogenes and one day decided to see him. Mounted on horseback, Alexander the Great went to Diogenes who was sitting on the ground. Alexander said ‘ Oh Diogenes, I have heard a great deal about you and your life. I am very much impressed by your life and it is my earnest desire to help you in whatever way I can. Please let me know your desires so that I can fulfill them”. To which Diogenes replied “Your Excellency my only request is that you get aside and allow the sun’s rays to fall on my body.” Alexander the Great was deeply moved by Diogenes’s reply and said “If I were not Alexander the Great. I would be Diogenes.” Now the point I want to make here is that Diogenes never went to Alexander the Great, but that Alexander the Great came to Diogenes for he was such a learned philosopher.

There are many people in this world who have played themselves to death, or eaten and drunk themselves to death. Nobody ever died because of thinking or learning. People who avoid learning, or abandon it, find no joy in life, find that life is dry. No learner has ever run short of subjects to explore. The pleasures of learning lead to happiness. One can live a long, healthy and rewarding life by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning. Learning is everyone’s birthright. Everyone – young or old, rich or poor, male or female, has access to learning. Exercise your birthright. Remember what you have learned cannot be taken away by others.


Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D.  is President of Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.


Leave a Reply


  1. Salaams,

    Those “Prophetic traditions,” are they supposed to be Hadith? Some

    of those are not Ahaadith as all. Can you please add the reference

    for each of them?


  2. Dear brother, I was wondering if you happen to have the Muhaddith for the quoted hadiths in your article such Bukhari, Muslim, etc…

    May Allah reward you!


  3. 1. Seek knowledge “even though it be in China.”

    2. “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the


    Those are fabricated Hadiths.

  4. Asalamoalaykum,

    Interesting article but there a few unauthetic ahadith. Please verify them for your sake (because it is a great sin to ascribe wrong hadith to the Prophet Mohammed PBUH) and for people’s sake(because you’d be misleading people without the intention to do so).

    JazakAllah khayr for your effort,

    -Umm Hafsa

  5. What a brilliant naseeha for all i.e. muslims and non muslim. i’m a lover of books today my real knowlegde came from personal reading not classroom i hate classroom presure.i love the story of Diogenes. your piece has also given me a new materials for the book i’m currently working on baraka Allahu feeku and jarzaka Allahu khayra

  6. Those who acquired knowledge acquired great wealth.They could not all be enumerated but we can give example of people such as Imam Bukhari Imam Muslim,Imam Shafii Imam Malik,Imam Ahmad Bin Hambal Imam Abu Haneefa,Imam Ghazali Abdulahi Bin Mubarak and Companions who were lanterns of knowledge and above all the teacher Sahabahs the beloved Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) who was Ummiy unlettered but taught by Allah (S.W.T) through the tongue of Angel Gabriel the teacher of all Prophets who were the best examplary teachers.They all taught knowledge to their followers.Many of our elders and predecessors became like the encyclopedias of their time.They had such wonderful memory that could not be imagined or compared with our present time as Allah blessed them.The Prophet used to make dua thus:” Oh Allah place light in my heart and on my tongue light and my ears light and in my sight light,and above me light,and below me light,and to my right light and to my left light,and before me light and behind me light.Place in my soul light magnify for me light and amplify for me light.Oh Allah grant me light and place light in my nerves and in my body light in my blood light in my hair and light in my skin.Increase in me light increase in me light.Grant me light upon light.

    What a wonderful Dua of our Beloved Prophet who asked Rabbi Zidni Ilmah.May Allah increase our knowledge and we acquire such knowledge that is beneficial in this life and the Hereafter.

  7. The significance of knowledge as aptly captured by the writter of this article especially with quotations from the quran and sunnah cannot be reiterated further. Indeed the lapse in seeking for knowledge as well as abandonment of the path of sunnah amongst the present generation of muslims has in no small measure aided western dominance over muslims today. Our only consolation however, is that the promise of Allah shall surely come to pass. I consider this article as a wake-up call to all muslims to rise to challenge and once again place islam as the standard bearer of all civilisations.

  8. This article is one of the best I read on this web.My reason is that Muslims are left back nowadays because they have neclected the commands of our beloved Nabiy concerning seeking for knowledge. We should therefore wake up and revive the culure of seeking for knowlwdge so as to restore our lost glory.

  9. I strongly support and appreciate the message. Knowledge is power, and its acquisition should be desired as a drowning person desire air to breath.There are two kinds of knowledge – secular and divine – both are important but we should seek more, for divine knowledge because it promotes goodness,benefit others and make us achieve eternal bliss. Also, all that a man has learnt he should observe and apply it and not merely to know it, use it to improve the world; because Allah will not ask us what we learn but what we have done. Thanks for the instructive write-up and for the opportunity you give to me.

  10. What an article! I am going to translate it into Swahili immediately and spread it to my people. It’s very clear and instructive.

  11. A good article but it streches aayaat/ahaadeeth beyond what the first generation of Muslims would have understood them. Islaam makes distinction between ‘spiritual knowledge, brought by the Messengers, and ‘scientific’ knowledge gained through the scientific method. Invariably, all exhortations to knowledge and its attendant eternal rewards concern the former not the latter. Some of he ahaadeeth quoted are suspect, e.g. that which makes reference to China; the ‘male or female’ clause in the hadeeth is an unwarranted addition, not said by the Prophet [s], etc. The article should expunge unreliable ahaadeeth. Qur’aan 39:33 is NOT an encouragement towards scientific research.

  12. Truly, Islam expects believers to acquire knowledge. But it should be kept in mind that, today muslims dont offer duties (like Salah, reading Quran) while searching for knowledge. “The True Knowlegde” is one that helps you here and after death. Thats “Ilman naafiyaa”. After death, Allah will nerver see your doctorate/engineering degree, but will see how you follow Quran & Hadith in your life.

    Atleast muslims should learn Haraam and Halaal.

    As you say the following statement, which I disagree that: “Learning also means learning to practice one’ s own professional skills – that of a physician, engineer, musician or craftsman.”

    This statement includes Music…which in Islam is Haraam. You be a engineer or a doctor…but be sure you are a “TRUE” muslims will you leave this world. “May ALLAH increase our knowledge”

  13. With regard to the hadith which says seek knowledge even as far as china, this is authentic hadith, maryam please refer to Sahih Buhari or Tirmidhi

  14. Islam was not the most advanced civilization for 1000 years. The Chinese and New world civilizations would certainly counter that. Also, parts of Europe during that time were still producing and creating.

  15. Why are thay diffrent yard sticks to measure

    A person charecter- a person that has caused blood shed, Killed and conqured – are sometimes called The Great and some are called The Dictators.

    This was a gteat write up -no matter what age – from cradle to grave everyone should read this,and i dont see why one should not read this writeup once in every few days to renew thier desire to learn and make learning a never ending process.

    Overall a Excellent write-up


  16. I am very greatful to see that scholars from my Ummah is promoting education equally for man and women of the Ummah. I have been searching for a Ayahs from the Qur’an-e-Majid and or Hadiths of the Prophet(p.b.u.h) that cites the right of women for knowledge but havn’t been successful. Thank you brother for citing this Hadith, and if you have anymore I would appreciate it very much.


  17. Assalamu` alaikum wr wbk

    Alhamdulillah. It is a joy reading Dr Ibrahim’s article on The Pleasures of Seeking Knowledge. With due respect, I wish to seek for your indulgence and permission to submit the following comments:

    1. The article rightly listed out the generally known principles and rationales of Ilm in life

    2. It does not, however, explain the key element on the subject.

    3. The key element is:

    a) The Soul (Roh) is the essence of Man

    b) It is pure and desires to remain pure

    c) This inclination to wanting to be sacrosanct is due to the Mithaq, the Covenant, it had with Allaah SWT [S.Q.Al-`Araaf 7:172. In other words, by honouring the Mithaq, the Roh would honour the covenant, and therefore attain Sa`ada, the Final Blissfulness.

    d) To allow the Roh to fulfill the Mithaq, Allaah SWT “blows” it into Man, making the mortal life of Man the time and stage for the Roh to do Maarof and shun Mungkar, for the reward of Sa`ada.

    e) Maarof Nahi Mungkar means the ability of the Roh to use its Aqal and Reason to control its appetitive drives (Ghadaba & Shahawaniyya), thus resisting the pleasures baited by Syaitan.

    f) To acieve this, the Roh needs to use Aqal to discover and know the Reasons why and how to combat the Satanic drives in Man

    g) To use Aql and Reason, the Roh needs Knowledge.

    h) Seeking knowledge, thus, promises the Final Blissfulness, the final pleasures, the Sa`ada.

    This is the key to the rationales why seeking Knowledge is Fardh. It is thus the reason why Seeking Knowledge is Noble and Pleasureable.

    Wallahu`alam bissawab.

  18. As Salaamu Alaikum,

    It is refreshing to see an article that reminds us, as Muslims, to constantly seek knowledge and to reiterate that this is meant for both men and women. Many times I see my sisters stagnated or discouraged from seeking knowledge from sources other than the Holy Quran or the Hadiths. Insha Allah others will read this and take heed, learn all that you can from as many sources as you can.

    I leave you with this Arabic proverb, “The best of people are the learned.”

    Wa Salaam

  19. As salaam alaikum,

    This is an exceptional artical. It has inspired me to present to our board a challenge to excecute this strategy locally, in our actions and sponsorships.

    wa laikum,

    Bro. Early

  20. This may sound crazy, but here is some knowledge for all Muslims and certain South Americans with investments in the US. All investment and savings accounts in excess of $ 1 million will be “temporarily” seized and frozen by Homeland Security, both here in the US and in Europe, on the pretext of investigating the source for “terrorist funding”. Foreign government reserve accounts may be spared but there is no guarantee. This is not only going to impact Muslims but South Americans as well, particularly those South American countries demed “un-friendly” to the US. Notices will go out from financial institutions after the accounts have already been seized, advising of a temporary hold on their accounts by order of the Department of Defense. However this temporary hold may be extended for years and funds may be confiscated all together. Muslims and their governments would be well advised to withdraw their money now. Irrespective of the impact this will have upon US and foreign markets, the Bush government will proceed with the plan. They are going for broke now, no matter where the chips may fall. Geeze talk about gamblers.