The rise of Muslims to the zenith of civilization in a period of four decades was based on lslam’semphasis 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 endeavour to spread knowledge and provide education to people who have been deprived of it. For, where knowledge is hidden it disappears.” Someone 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 onset 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.