Chapter 2: On Knowledge
The Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) stated, "The best wealth which an individual receives is knowledge." Good etiquette and praise-worthy characteristics are like clean clothes which always adorn us. Pondering is a very bright mirror."1
العلم وراثة كريمة والأداب حلل مجددة والفكر مرأة صافية
The honor and the virtue of knowledge is obvious. And it cannot be denied that whenever man refers to his Intellect he understands that knowledge is honorable.
God the Exalted states,
“…Say: ‘Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.’” The Holy Quran: Az-Zumar 39:9.
In fact, the point that the knowledgeable one and the ignorant one are not equal has been stated here, so as to remind the owners of the Intellect about it. This means that the owners of the Intellect and wisdom understand that knowledge is better than ignorance, and having knowledge is not equivalent to being ignorant. The Holy religion of Islam is also a religion of knowledge that continually invites its followers to acquire knowledge and act accordingly.
You have probably often heard the following tradition on the authority of the Seal of the Prophets - Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (S), "It is incumbent upon every Muslim man and Muslim woman to seek knowledge."2 In the Arabic text of some versions of this tradition we find the word Muslamat (Muslim Women) along with Muslim, while in some other versions we only find the word Muslim which of course also includes men as well as women.
In another narration the Prophet (S) stated, "Seek knowledge even if you have to travel to China, since seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim."3 This means that seeking knowledge is of such importance that even if it is necessary for you to travel a long distance to obtain it, you should do so.
In another narration the Prophet (S) stated, "You must seek knowledge from birth till death."4
In another narration it has been stated, "I heard that Aba Abdullah as- Sadiq (a.s.) stated, 'Try to sincerely and profoundly understand the religion, since anyone who does not do so is like a Bedouin.' The Honorable God the Exalted also stated in His Book:
“…they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the people when they return to them, - that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil).’”5 The Holy Quran: Tauba 9:122.
There are many Quranic verses in this regard including the following,
“There is no god but He: That is the witness of Allah, His angels, and those endued with knowledge, standing firm on justice. There is no god but He, the Exalted in Power, the Wise.” The Holy Quran: Al-Imran 3:18.
In this verse God the Exalted has placed the witnessing of the knowledgeable ones in the same rank as His Own Witnessing. Of course, it is clear that the ones highest in rank of the knowledgeable ones are the Immaculate Imams (a.s.), the first of them being the Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) who is the same peerless character about whom God the Exalted states,
“The Unbelievers say: ‘No apostle art thou.’ Say: ‘Enough for a witness between me and you is Allah, and such as have knowledge of the Book.’” The Holy Quran: Ar-Ra'd 13:43.
In another verse it is stated,
“…And when ye are told to rise up, rise up. Allah will raise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted (mystic) Knowledge. And Allah is well- acquainted with all ye do.” The Holy Quran: Al-Mujadilah 58:11.
In another verse it is stated,
“Allah is He Who created seven Firmaments and of the earth a similar number. Through the midst of them (all) descends His Command: that ye may know that Allah has power over all things, and that Allah comprehends, all things in (His) Knowledge.” The Holy Quran: At-Talaq 65:12.
This means that the world has been created so that you may acquire theological knowledge and realize that God is All-Powerful and All-Knowledgeable. The knowledge of theology is the first in rank of all sciences, and it is the source of all other branches of science.
Therefore, the nobility of knowledge is a certain issue. That is why it is stated, "The truth of knowledge is actually the same light which God the Exalted makes shine in the heart of whoever He wishes to do so."6
The Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) stated, "The best wealth which an individual receives is knowledge..."7 It becomes evident from this sentence that knowledge has a lot of importance. The Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) continued by saying, "Good etiquette and praise- worthy characteristics are like clean clothes and garments which always adorn us…"8
Knowledge becomes valuable when it is accompanied by admirable personal attributes and piety. Therefore, man should try to develop admirable ethics such as truthfulness, kindness, patience, humbleness, and other admirable ones.
The Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) continued by saying,"…Pondering is a very bright mirror."9 There are other narrations about this. For example, the following has been narrated on the authority of Abi Abdullah as-Sadiq (a.s.), "One hour of thinking is better than one year of worshipping (without any thinking)." Abi Abdullah as-Sadiq (a.s.) added,
“… It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.” The Holy Quran: Ar-Ra'd 13:19.
What is this (type of) thinking that is of such importance? The most significant type of thinking is thinking about the manifestations of God's Power, the wonderful things about God’s Creations and Signs. Man must think about his own existence and notice the Manifestations of God's Power in his own existence and in Creation. This very act is the greatest type of thinking for man.
The second type of thinking which is of great importance is that about the unfaithfulness of the world. Man should realize that this world is transient and he must not rely on it a lot. On the other hand, he must take lessons from the events in the history of man. And the result of this would be that he will not get attached to this world anymore, but will get detached from it. Acquiring knowledge must also be for the sake of God, and not for this world. Otherwise, no benefit is derived from that. Amongst the various types of thinking which are very outstanding are thinking about scientific issues such as monotheism (Tawheed); the religious principles (monotheism, Prophethood and the Resurrection); religious jurisprudence; religious precepts; morality; Quranic commentary and to sum it all up - the Islamic sciences.
Discourse 2: The Virtue and the Divine Reward for Getting Educated and the Duties of the Knowledge-Seeker
The most important attribute of perfection which can be imagined for man is knowledge. There are many verses in the Noble Quran which express the virtue of knowledge, among which we can cite the following verses,
“Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) the pen, Taught man that which he knew not.” The Holy Quran: Al-Alaq 96:1-5.
In these verses the beginning of man’s existence which is mentioned in this verse is the clot of congealed blood (Alaqih). And afterwards, these verses express the highest rank for man which is knowledge.
There also exist a lot of narrations about the virtues of knowledge. The Prophet Muhammad (S) stated, "Learn knowledge, for to learn it is an advantage: to study it is (a feature of) glorification of God; to search for it is (a sort of) holy war (jihad); to teach it (to the ignorant ones) is a form of charity; to instruct it freely is a pious act because it is the sign of the allowed (halal) and the forbidden (haram). It leads its seekers to Paradise; it entertains them during times of loneliness; and it is their companion when they are in a strange place.
It is a guide towards joy; a weapon against the enemies; and a beauty as seen by friends. It is with knowledge that God raises some people to such a high degree that it makes them guides to goodness, so that their conduct is cited as an example and their practices are followed as a lesson. The angels desire to become friends with them. Knowledge is the life of the hearts and light of the sights.
It is the strength of bodies. God takes the bearers of knowledge to the ranks of the beloved ones and grants them the association with the virtuous ones in this world and the life to come. Through knowledge, God is obeyed, worshipped, acknowledged, and confessed as being One. Through knowledge, likewise, relationships are respected and the allowed (halal) and the forbidden (haram) things are recognized. Knowledge is the leader of the Intellect. The Intellect guides it towards prosperity and warns it about corruption."10
Worshipping God is the result and the ultimate point of man’s creation as He stated in the Holy Quran,
“I have only created Genies and men, that they may serve Me.” The Holy Quran: Az-Zariyat 51:56.
Thus, the aim of creation is worshipping God. Moreover, acquiring knowledge is not just a form of worship, rather it is the highest form of worship. This is so since if there is no knowledge, then man would not know how he should worship God. As we read in a part of the above narration, "…to study it is (a feature of) glorification of God…"11
The same reward for praising God and supplicating by saying things such as "Glory be to God, praise be to God, there is no god but God, and God is the Greatest" or "There is no power nor any strength save in God the Great" is established for studying and learning knowledge.
There is a narration in which the Prophet (S) stated, "When a believing servant of God glorifies Him and praises God sincerely by saying 'Glory be to God; praise be to God; and there is no god but God; God is the greatest' God the Exalted commissions the angels to plant a sapling for him in Heaven, and these heavenly saplings yield fruit. This continues until the Heavenly saplings mature and bear fruit."12 Therefore, studying and acquiring knowledge has the same reward as praising God.
The above narration goes on and says, "… to search for it is (a sort of) holy war (jihad); to teach it (to the ignorant ones) is a form of charity; to instruct it freely is a pious act …"13 However, why does knowledge have such a great amount of reward? It is because as in the above narration it is stated, "... to instruct it freely is a pious act because it is the sign of the allowed (halal) and the forbidden (haram). It leads its seekers to Paradise…"14 In another narration on the authority of God’s Prophet (S) we read, "God will open a way to Heaven for anyone who covers a distance to acquire knowledge."15
The above narration goes on and says, "… it entertains them during times of loneliness; it is their companion when they are in a strange place. It is a guide towards joy; a weapon against the enemies; and a beauty as seen by friends…"16
Knowledge forces man to be patient in times of hardship and he gets rewarded. Moreover it is man’s guide when he is blessed and happy, since knowledge forces man to thank God for His Blessings, and use each blessing in its own place.
When one completely recognizes God, he becomes greedy to seek knowledge. This is so because Divine Decrees are based on knowledge. Thus in this narration we read the following, "Through knowledge, God is obeyed, worshipped, acknowledged, and confessed as being One."17
Therefore, man must try to acquire knowledge. And as much as it is possible one’s intention to do so must be sincere. He must have the sole intention of doing so for God’s sake neither leadership nor for worldly goods. This means that knowledge must be sought for the sake of knowledge, not for the sake of this world. "Attend to your soul and its nobilities. And try to acquire nobilities, since it is the soul that makes a man not the body."18
Therefore, one must try to seek knowledge and reach the rank of the knowledge-seeker, and act upon it until one becomes perfectly knowledgeable. This must be done in a praiseworthy manner. In each stage, one must first find the necessary information and act accordingly.
Then he may try to guide others. Amongst the orders of His Holiness Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) is the following, "Whoever opens the doors leading others to guidance and guides someone will receive the same rewards given to the doers of those good deeds. Whoever misguides others to deviation, will receive the same type of chastisement which the misguided ones receive."19
Thus, man must try to guide people. However, he himself must act upon that guidance first. The Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) stated, "Whoever establishes himself as the leader of the people should train himself before he trains others. He should teach others with his own actions before he teaches them with his tongue. One who trains and guides himself and practices what he has learned is more worthy of respect than one who just trains and guides others."20
The duty of a knowledge-seeker is that his knowledge-seeking must be for God, since seeking knowledge is the most important type of worship and worship must be for the sake of God.
A knowledge-seeker should be sincere and ask God to grant him success in acquiring knowledge and acting upon it. He should struggle hard to seek knowledge. In this regard the Holy Quran states,
“And those who strive in Our (cause), - We will certainly guide them to our Paths: For verily Allah is with those who do right.” The Holy Quran: Al-'Ankabut 29:69.
Moreover a knowledge-seeker must act according to his knowledge, since knowledge without action does not have any benefit. A knowledgeable individual lacking action is like a fruitless tree.
A knowledge-seeker's knowledge must be accompanied by piety. His soul or self must be decorated with good habits; a good temper and admirable attributes such as patience; humbleness; honesty; reliance on God; contentment and perseverance. There is a narration from Imam al- Baqir (a.s.) which states, "Nothing is better than knowledge combined with patience."21 Of course, patience is one of the evident qualities of the Prophets (a.s.). God praises them for having such an attribute.
Moreover, a knowledge-seeker's knowledge must be accompanied by a good temper. God's Prophet (S) stated, "The most perfect of the believers from the aspect of belief are those who have a better temper."22
God the Exalted praises God’s Prophet (S) for having this quality where God states,
“And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character.” The Holy Quran: Al-Qalam 68:4.
The attribute of being good-tempered was also one of the morals of the Divine Leaders (Imams). It has been quoted in another narration, "The good ones from amongst you are those who have a good temper, and who become intimate with the people so that they become intimate with them."23
In another narration it is stated by God's Prophet (S), "The first thing to be measured on the Balance of Deeds from amongst one's actions is a good temper."24
In another narration on the authority of God's Prophet (S) we read, "He (a.s.) told his companions, 'Do you want me to let you know about the individual who is more similar to me from the aspect of morality?' They answered in the positive. His Holiness (S) stated, 'The ones who are more similar to me are the ones from the aspect of temper and patience; and from the aspect of being more generous to their relatives; and from the aspect of being better in controlling themselves during times of anger or happiness.'"25
One of the duties of knowledge-seekers is that they should pay due respect to their professors. There is a narration on the authority of God's Prophet (S) in this respect which states, "God the Blessed the Exalted has designated a relationship between four things and four other things:
A - The blessing of knowledge is this that when the student sees his teacher he should show respect and bow before him.
Since when a student praiseworthily appreciates his professor, his knowledge is blessed. And if he does not show this respect he will lose his knowledge.
B - If an individual pays attention to God’s Majesty (by observing the creatures), his belief will remain with him.
However, if he has not discovered the Majesty of God, he will lose his belief.
C - God has placed the joy of life in doing good to one’s parents.
Whatever good an individual does for his own father and mother, he will be more fortunate in this world and the next. And he will enjoy life more.
D - One must abandon annoying people so as to be rescued from the Hell-Fire. This means that if a person does not annoy anybody, God will protect him from the Hell-Fire."26
Therefore, we should try to be pious and be qualified with good attributes and morality. We must respect our parents and teachers and try not to bother anyone at all.
His Excellency the Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) stated to one of his companions Kumayl ibn Ziyad Nakhayi (may God the Exalted be pleased with him, "These hearts (meaning these souls) of the people are containers and the best of those containers is the one which can hold more."27
يا كميل إحفظ عني ما أقول لك: الناس ثلاثة: عالم رباني ، ومتعلم على سبيل نجاة ، وهمج رعاع ، أتباع كل ناعق ، يميلون مع كل ريح ، لم يستضيؤا بنور العلم ، ولم يلجئوا إلى ركن وثيق ، يا كميل العلم خير من المال ، العلم يحرسك وأنت تحرس المال ، والمال تنقصه النفقة ، والعلم يزكو على الإنفاق
One can conclude from this saying of His Excellency (a.s.) in which he stated 'the one which can hold more' that some people's talents differ from those of other people and from the beginning, the learning capacity of various individuals differs. For this very reason people are held responsible to the degree of their capacity, although the same duties and beliefs are expected of everyone."
The Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) also stated, "O Kumayl! Remember what I tell you. The people are divided up into three groups: divine scholars; students seeking to be saved; and the pests in the air which fly in whichever direction the wind blows. They are the ones who have not benefitted from any rays of knowledge and have not sought refuge in any strong base…"28
He (a.s.) divided the people up into three distinct groups:
1- 'Divine scholars' include the Prophets, the Immaculate Leaders and other scholars who are in the field of religious studies or teach the people religious subjects.
2- 'Students seeking to be saved' refers to those who use the teachings of divine scholars and wish to be saved. They benefit from a high rank, since they seek knowledge by studying.
3- 'Pests in the air' refers to people who are unimportant and may be pushed around just as the wind takes pests along with it in any direction. Since these people are not enlightened by the light of knowledge, they go after anything they hear. They do not have a firm belief and are not leaning on any strong place.
The Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) goes on to enumerate the advantages of knowledge and stated, "O Kumayl! Knowledge is better than wealth. Knowledge will guard you, but you must guard your wealth. Wealth will be reduced once spent, but knowledge will increase when it is spread."29
And what a difference there is between that which man must protect and that which would protect man. Knowledge, however, is not like this. Rather, it always accompanies man. Getting to know the truth of knowledge is religion itself and in return in the Hereafter it will be recompensed. Knowledge is the means by which man obeys and worships God in his own lifetime.
And of course, it is obvious that the goal of creating man is worship of and obeyance (to God) as we read in the Holy Quran,
“I have only created Genies and men, that they may serve Me.” The Holy Quran: Az-Zariyat 51:56.
We also read in another verse,
“And they have been commanded no more than this: To worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith)…” The Holy Quran: Baiyinah 98:5.
Thus, the goal of this created world is worshipping God and that is the very quality of knowledge by which means man understands how to worship God. In the event that there is no knowledge, man does not know how to give away charity, say his prayers, associate with other people and finally how to be sincere. These things are expressed by religious knowledge.
Therefore, this means that man by means of religious knowledge chooses divine worship and obeying God as his way in life. Knowledge is the means by which man obeys and worships God in his own lifetime. It is also by the means of knowledge that man will be remembered by his good name after he passes away. Knowledge is the ruler (and the orderer). However, an order is issued upon wealth.
The ones who pile up wealth upon wealth are actually dead in the time in which they are alive. However, the clergymen and scientists remain alive up until the end of time. And even though apparently their bodies are obliviated and they disappear from sight, their examples are always remembered in the hearts. This is like the great Shia scholars who left behind all of these precious writings and services. And they are always alive and eternal, even they are not present in the society. This is expressed in a poem attributed to the Commander of the Faithful Ali (a.s.) which says:
Therefore, you should make a serious effort to acquire knowledge and get educated. You should not substitute anything else for it, since everyone is dead except for the learned ones who are alive.
It has also been stated that knowledge is the most valuable thing which you may store up. The glory of those who intend to acquire and teach knowledge will never diminish.
Thus one must intend to get educated and struggle in this way which is the necessary condition for reaching that goal. And when a scholar is perfect in knowledge and action, he must make an effort to teach others and save people from the dark well of derivation. He must guide them to the Straight Path as is stated in the following narration, "If someone guides an individual, he is brighter than the sun which shines upon him."30
It is clear that if an individual becomes perfect in knowledge and does not guide others, naturally the foolish ones will try to guide the people. Thus it is no wonder how much corruption will result from that.
- 1. Nahjul Balaghah, Words of Wisdom 5.
- 2. Mustadrakal - Vasa'el, 17/2 48.
- 3. Bihar ul-Anwar, 1/180.
- 4. Tafsir-i-Qumy, 2/401.
- 5. Kafi, 1/31.
- 6. Misbah ul-Shria, 16
- 7. Nahjul Balaghah, Words of Wisdom 5.
- 8. Nahjul Balaghah, Words of Wisdom 5.
- 9. Nahjul Balaghah, Words of Wisdom 5.
- 10. Tuhuf ul-Uqool, 28.
- 11. Tuhuf ul-Uqool, 28.
- 12. Vasa’el ash-Shia, 7/185.
- 13. Tuhuf ul-Uqool, 28.
- 14. Tuhuf ul-Uqool, 28.
- 15. Kafi,1/34.
- 16. Tuhuf ul-Uqool, 28.
- 17. Tuhuf ul-Uqool, 28.
- 18. Kashkool-e-Sheikh Bahaee, 175.
- 19. Kafi, 1/35.
- 20. Nahjul Balaghah, Words of Wisdom 73.
- 21. Bihar ul-Anwar, 2/53.
- 22. Vasa’el ash-Shia, 2/156.
- 23. Bihar ul-Anwar, 77/149.
- 24. Bihar ul-Anwar, 71/385.
- 25. Kafi, 2/24.
- 26. Ithna Asharia.
- 27. Nahjul Balaghah, Words of Wisdom 147.
- 28. Al-Khisal, 3-257.
- 29. Al-Khisal, 3-257.
- 30. Bihar ul-Anwar, 33/448.