How Education Is Promoted In Al-Islam
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(Editorial Note: "Knowledge is the lost possession of the Believer" is the statement made by Prophet Muhammed. And as a catalyst it moves the Muslim Believer to transform an unproductive illiterate existence into a productive, progressive one benefiting all of creation. Here in his address honoring Community Educators in Columbia, SC, Imam W. Deen Mohammed demonstrates just how to set this catalytic reaction in motion. This address was given on October 21, 1989 and is published here in its entirety with editing by Imam W. Deen Mohammed.)
As-Salaam-Alaikum, that is peace be unto you. We begin with the Name of Allah, as we say 'Bismillah, ir-Rahman, ir-Rahim.' With Allah's Name, The Gracious, The Compassionate. And we give all praise and thanks to Him on the blessing of our Prophet Muhammed, the last prophet, the peace and blessings be on him, and on his family and descendants, hia Companions, and the righteous and what follows of this salute to the Last Messenger of Allah, Muhammed the Prophet.
I am indeed happy again to address the banquet here in Columbia, SC, and to support our effort to strengthen the Muslim life and to improve the Muslim image among ourselves and the image that we present of ourselves to the non-Muslim people. That is my concern always, to make improvement on our image, on our knowledge, on our life, on the way we look at each other, and on the way others look at us. So we hope that Allah will always bless us to accomplish that.
On these occasions we do not like to speak for a long time. As you know I have been known for talking for hours, but we don't want to do that. 1 hope to speak for fifteen or for twenty minutes at the most on "The Role of Education as it is Promoted in our Religion."
I will begin by bringing to your attention this fact. Our Prophet Muhammed, himself, is the educator. For Muslims, he is the educator and the first teacher.
Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) began conveying Revelation as he received Revelation. He conveyed Revelation to the people, to his Companions and to those in gatherings. He also gave lectures; he taught on what was revealed. He did not only recite what was revealed, but he also lectured on what was revealed. Taa'leem is a word that means teaching and is a process by which knowledge is imparted and received by the listeners. It is a teaching and learning. We have Taa'leem now on certain days of the week. And we may say that any classroom activity where a teacher is sharing knowledge and working with students can be called Taa'leem. Taa'leem simply means learning.
The Prophet was the first educator for Muslims and is also the first teacher. He obligated those who received knowledge from him to do the same. He made teachers of all who gained any knowledge whatsoever. He said, "If you get a tine, pass it on to another. "To appreciate this, we will have to understand the conditions for the intellect during the time of our Prophet on that peninsula where he began his teachings — Arabia. That time is called "Jahiliyyah" and means the Dark Age Period. Most of the people during that time were illiterate — not able to read.
It may be surprising to you that the Prophet, himself, was not able to read. The first Revelation that came to our Prophet said, "Iqraa1." "Read! "When this Revelation came to Mohammed the Prophet, he said, "I can't read. "And the Revelation was repeated to him, "Read!" On the third time it was repeated to him, "Read!" And finally he was able to read.
The Revelation continued, "Read in the Name of your Lord Who created." Right here we find that with the very first words of Revelation to our Prophet, knowledge or learning or reading and creation are tied together. The "term" Creator suggests a creation. Creation suggests a Creator, if we are Believers. But a "Creator" surely suggests that there is a creation.
Learning has always been tied to creation. No one has been able to learn anything except from creation. There is no learning without creation. When Allah created everything (the Muslims should understand this as being Al-Islam), He also created knowledge. Creation in itself is matter, energy, and knowledge. We value creation mostly for the knowledge to be bad from creation. Creation is the language, and poets have talked about this. And we know that Allah says that everything He has created in the heavens and earth is a sign. For us a sign is like a word, a message, or a signal by which or from which knowledge is transmitted.
However, none can get that knowledge except those who are thinkers. We will have to have a certain kind of disposition in our minds to get knowledge.
Most of us get knowledge like a recorder, and that does not mean you have gotten the knowledge. It only means that someone has given it to you.
But the ones who sit down and think, the scientific thinkers, or the philosophical think-era who sit down and think on the wonders of Allah and of His creation, it is from them that we have gotten knowledge. It is from the prophets, from the philosophical thinkers, and from the scientific minded thinkers. At any rate, knowledge is transmitted by creation and is from creation. The creation itself is the language of knowledge, the first language of knowledge.
We speak of mathematics and also speak of the language of mathematics. We speak of the language of science, the language of art, and all of those have to be tied back to creation. For us knowledge is sacred and very, very sacred. For us pure knowledge is Revelation. Knowledge is revelation. And the purest Revelation is the knowledge. We call it the Qur'an. The Qur'an is a Book of Knowledge and is the purest of Revelations for Muslims and for all the worlds.
* Allah says to us and the Prophet (PBUH) has taught us, "Do not pursue a thing, "or do not even be interested in following something or going after something if it does not make sense, if it does not have a basis in knowledge. It must have some real basis in real knowledge. We are not to waste our time with foolishness or in following 'make believe' or something you make up in your mind with no basis in the real order of creation.
That does not mean that we are to condemn fiction. Fiction will not even sell as good fiction unless it is based on knowledge. A good fiction is based in and tied to real knowledge. I am not condemning fiction, and do not get me wrong. What I am saying is that Muslims should not spend time with nonsense. If a thing cannot be supported by real knowledge, we are not to spend time with it. We are not to waste our time on it.
In our religion the greatest role of education is the liberation of the intellect of man. Educating is to liberate the mind that is enslaved by ignorance and enslaved by false worship. As a matter to be noted, false worship in our religion is the worse kind of slavery, according to the teachings of Allah in our Holy Book. Most important for a society honoring the role of knowledge is to have it liberate the mind from misconceptions and poor directionless thinking. It is simply to educate. The role of education for us is liberation, the liberation of our brains.
I believe this is the role and chief purpose of education for all of the civilized world. The role of education is the liberation of the intellect of man. When our people gained freedom in this country from slavery, what did they go to first? Historians have recorded that they were seen trying to read first. They had papers or a book or even just a piece of paper. When they would get a break in the field, they were seen leaning on the plow or sitting down in the field trying to read something. Their minds were hungry for knowledge, for they had been deprived of that freedom and sacred right while they were slaves. Once they were freed, they wanted to go right after the knowledge.
This is simply natural intelligent behavior. The nature tells them that to live in a free world and compete with the established and achieved people they (the freed group) would have to prepare themselves. So they knew if they were to rise up, it had to be with knowledge, education, learning. They knew that education was a must for them.
Many of the followers of the Honorable Elijah Mohammed used to think that competition with the white man was more complicated than it is. The Honorable Elijah Mohammed, before he passed, simplified it. He said if you want to be equal to the white man, get equal knowledge.
Muslims, it is important we know that our religion promotes knowledge and the attainment of knowledge and also scientific study. Now it might be true for some other religions, but I do not know of them.
Education for Muslims is identified as "the lost property of the Believers." The Prophet, the peace and the blessings be upon him, said, "Knowledge is the lost property of the Believers." He said, "Pursue knowledge, although it be in the far country of China." He also said, "Acquire knowledge from the cradle to the grave." In our religion we are never too old to be students. We are supposed to be studious from the cradle to the grave.
I am happy to say that those words have been given to the elder members, past and present, and you will find people among us now in their seventies and eighties studiously seeking knowledge. In fact, there is a sister here tonight who went back to school, and I know she is over seventy. She went back to school to complete her education. That is Sister Intisar Naji, who used to be my teacher when I was a child. And she is one of the prettiest women we have ever had in our circle of activities. My older brother told me (before I was old enough to know the difference between the pretty women and the ordinary women), "We wish she was a little younger."
To conclude this, the greatest thing that is offered to us in our religion regarding the role of knowledge is that our Prophet himself was a man without knowledge, uneducated. And he was chosen for Revelation because of his created excellence, because he was Allah's perfect man for that responsibility. The mystics say, "Allah created Muhammed." They (the mystics) say, "The world was created for Muhammed." He was born of a mother and a father we know, but the mystics say Allah created Muhammed, and "created him complete". Peace be upon him, he was an uneducated, un-taught, unlearned, unlettered man. He is called in the Qur'an "ummi," which means unlettered.
The people to whom he was preaching, the people of his peninsula, Arabia, are called the "ummiyin" — the unlettered people. The great majority of "Arabs" at the time of our Prophet's advent were uneducated or unlearned, not able to read. Thus, there was an unlearned, unschooled, uneducated, unlettered man missioned to be the Last Prophet, the last and universal prophet to all the people of the world. Upon receiving the Last Revelation (the Qur'an), our Prophet recited, lectured, and explained relevant logic. With the Qur'an and with his teaching, he brought people to the light of education, to the light of higher learning, and eventually to the sciences.
Many of us think that the Muslims dug up and researched and found the old sciences of the great Greek teachers and by way of the Greeks they were able to do the things they did. No! The Muslims were already turned on. And if you read Qur'an, you will be turned on. If you are a person who appreciates knowledge and science, then read the Qur'an and you will be intellectually turned on. They were not turned on by the Greeks, they were turned on by the Qur'an and by the master teacher himself, Prophet Muhammed.
Naturally when their minds were turned on to appreciate the creation as a transmitter of knowledge, then naturally they did research and studied history and past achievements, and built upon what ever had already been done. However, they began as students of Revelation (the Qur'an) and as students of our Prophet and they (the early history Muslims) were scientists before they began to revive works of the ancient Greek philosophers. You can read now in the books by Western writers and see what they did. You can read now in the books by analytical writers and historians of what they did, and you will see a change in the language from what was said falsely by most in the past works of the West.
The Muslims did not just present what was there in the Greek treasures. They verified it, improved upon it, and then presented it to Europe. And finally the whole world came to benefit by the contributions of Muhammed's students who contributed to the revival of the sciences and to the return and to the progress of civilization.
Thank you very much. As-Salaam-Alaikum.
* The quote from Prophet Muhammed reads as follows: "Do not pursue something for which there is no knowledge."