Islam is the religion of guidance and truth. It conveys truth to man and teaches him the ways how to grasp, actualize and apply it.
Existence and truth are virtually synonymous. Islam thus teaches man how to be true to himself and live life not according to the fluctuating whims and limited capacities of his weak being, but according to the absolute will and infinite knowledge of his Creator and Master.
In Islam, man is created as an honorable being. He is accorded the meritorious title of Almighty Allah’s vicegerent, or trustee, on earth.
In order to succeed in his challenging tasks, attaining in the process his Creator’s pleasure and happiness in both worlds, man is asked, among other things, to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. Such is seen as a key to all goodness.
Man is asked to awaken his consciousness and satiate his inherent cognitive capabilities. This is so because man is born to learn and know, just as he is born to submit to the will of his Creator and worship him.
Knowledge is seen as the greatest asset, and ignorance as the ultimate liability and hindrance. While knowledge is a twin brother of guidance and truth, ignorance, on the other hand, is a twin brother of falsehood, misguidance and skepticism.
Owing to that, the first revelation to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was to read (iqra’!). However, the reading was conditioned by:
…in the name of your Lord Who created (96: 1).
Hence, the culture of reading is to be tripartite. It is to encompass the reading as a universal and endless pursuit, to be in the name of and for the sake of Almighty Allah, and to incorporate the prerequisites of both the heavens and the earth (matter and spirit, body and soul).
Although the Prophet (peace be upon him) was an unlettered man, he was asked to read because this was not like any of the established forms of reading. It was much more profound. It was about reading, comprehending and applying the revealed knowledge, together with the discovering, reading, comprehending and applying the conventional knowledge attained from the physical realm of existence.
Not only were the five senses and their observations and experimentations (empiricism), and reason (rationalism), to be utilized for the purpose, but also the heart and soul.
The new reading paradigm furthermore was about reading and implementing the signs (ayat) of the revelation, along with the signs (ayat) of the creation. It was about integrating and combining the revealed book (al-Qur’an al-tadwini) and the ontological or created “book” (al-Qur’an al-takwini).
This new and revolutionary type of reading and knowledge-acquiring engages the whole being. It involves in equal measure one’s physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. It comprises finding, comprehending, embracing, implementing and living truth. Established epistemological concepts and methods are just a part of this wide-ranging procedure.
This new reading – which could be termed a culture of iqra’ (read!) – means reading the revealed Word, the universe, life, nature, society, history and self.
It means approaching all physical and metaphysical aspects of life with equal zeal and identical objectives.
It means discovering and knowing truth, which is deposited and manifested as much in the smallest and least significant as in the grandest and most consequential.
It is on account of this that the learned men and women are the heirs of prophets; that as long as a person is on the path of seeking knowledge, he or she is on a path to Paradise (Jannah) and Allah will always make his or her task easy; and that the superiority of the learned men and women over the devout (but ignorant) worshipers is like that of the full moon over the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness) – as explained by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
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