Qarun was of Prophet Musa’s people, but he acted insolently towards them. He was extremely rich. He was given of the treasures that of which the keys “would have been a burden to a body of strong men” (28: 76).
Some people admonished him, saying:
Do not exult, for Allah does not love those who exult (in riches)… Do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not to spread corruption (mischief) on earth, for Allah loves not those who do mischief (28: 76-77).
But Qarun retorted arrogantly:
“This has been given to me on account of knowledge I possess” (28: 78).
Qarun’s case is a case of a false and misleading knowledge, which blinds, debilitates and slowly destroys its proprietor(s).
Prophet Muhammad implored Allah, seeking his protection as much against ignorance as against knowledge that is not beneficial (Sunan al-Nasa’i).
Knowledge is wrong and misleading, for example, when it is pursued with wrong intentions and for wrong objectives, when it is abused, or used for dishonest purposes, when it is employed for facilitating other individual or collective immoral tendencies and programs, when it, or anything pertaining to it, and at any level of its conception, planning, completion and application processes, comes into conflict with any of Islamic principles, values and teachings.
It goes without saying that every knowledge that is not beneficial is harmful in certain ways. Hence, it is improper.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any knowledge, though. It all boils down to the people and their private and institutional motives and plans.
Qarun was tested with his riches and knowledge more than anybody else. But he employed the latter for behaving arrogantly and impudently, and for sustaining his ungodly reputation.
However, Allah warned him that when distorted and mishandled, knowledge becomes an instrument of ignorance, innermost wretchedness and ultimate failure in life. It becomes dangerous. Whereas true knowledge can only be a cause of happiness and triumph in life.
Allah brought home to Qarun — as well as to others – the message that if he truly possessed knowledge, he would have known his true condition and its impending unavoidable corollaries, and that “the wicked are not called (immediately) to account for their sins” (28:78).
Allah asked if Qarun had knowledge, how come he did not know “that Allah had destroyed before him (whole) generations which were superior to him in strength and greater in amount (of riches) they had collected?” (28: 78).
The fact that Qarun did not know any of those things, nor did he behave accordingly, bringing in the end about his own disgraceful downfall, indicates that he possessed no true knowledge.
He was as ignorant and unenlightened as anybody else. He was only blinded and incapacitated by what he and those like him in his midst falsely regarded as knowledge. They lived in their own epistemological fantasy world.
One day when Qarun went forth before his people in all his pomp and worldly glitter, some persons who were as misguided and so, ignorant, as Qarun, lamented:
Oh that we had the like of what Qarun has got! For he is truly a lord of mighty good fortune (28: 79).
When referring to such people, Allah brings forth the raison d’etre of their, as well as Qarun’s, ignorance syndrome, which is their being desirous of the life of this world only.
It is no coincidence that Prophet Muhammad also warned that the chief reason for Muslims’ forthcoming civilizational slumps and failures – at the core of which will always be intellectual sterility and outright ignorance — will be:
“…(excessive) love of this world and the (excessive) hatred for death (and what follows thereafter)” (Sunan Abi Dawud).
However, while the first group of people wished to be like Qarun, another group emerged and they said both to the first group and Qarun himself:
Alas for you! The reward of Allah (in the Hereafter) is best for those who believe and work righteousness; but this none shall attain save those who steadfastly persevere (in good)” (28:80).
The Qur’an describes the second group as “those who had been granted (true) knowledge” (28:80).
The message intended to be thus conveyed was that the persons in the second group believed and worked righteousness because they were genuinely knowledgeable, and they were genuinely knowledgeable only because they were truthful believers and doers of good.
In addition, they were able to see and understand what was concealed from others, on account of a sixth sense that true knowledge generated in them. They saw nothing good, nor appealing, in Qarun’s life pattern.
They saw in him a man inflicted by endless spiritual and ethical – in addition to intellectual – contagious disorders. He, and whoever followed him, thus needed to be pitied and, if possible, cured, rather than being held in awe.
Last but not least, knowledge is not always what it seems, nor is ignorance. They often barter their respective places and roles, baffling him who is unsure as to what knowledge, and what ignorance, exactly is.
That said, one recalls the fact that abundant resources are being invested nowadays in the fields of knowledge and education in the Muslim world as part of many Muslim countries’ national development visions and plans.
Despite that, however, there is no tangible progress whatsoever – or, at best, there is very little scattered here and there — insofar as the prospect of reviving and advancing authentic Islamic civilization is concerned. Yet, the overall state of Muslims seems to be going from bad to worse by the day.
One then starts wondering if the Muslim governments and other local and international auxiliary institutions are investing in knowledge or ignorance, in progress or regression, and in the opening, or further closing, of the Muslim mind, if they are generally working for the interests of Islam and Muslims, or against them, and if they exist for the sake of solving Muslim predicaments, or for perpetuating them.
Feeling simply overwhelmed, one even begins to wonder if they all know what they are doing and what exactly they are supposed to do.