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Islam: A Religion Based on Knowledge

Islam as a total system of thought and way of life consists of iman (faith or belief), islam (submission) and ihsan (comprehensive excellence). This triad is indivisible. Lacking any of the three components seriously undermines one’s association with the religion of Islam.

The soul of the edifice of Islam is the appropriate knowledge. The word “appropriate” is emphasized because, especially nowadays, many things that unfold in the name of knowledge are mere delusions and falsehoods. Knowledge has been bartered for ignorance, certainty for doubt, and truth for deceit.

If beauty is the splendour of the truth – as said by Plato – then knowledge is its epitome and also garland. It is yet its own criterion. But the authentic knowledge can only be the one that brings a person closer to his Creator and to himself. It is the beacon that illuminates the path towards self-fulfilment.

Attaining mankind’s honourable mission on earth is on the line and only the proper knowledge can do the trick. In short, knowledge is sacred and is aimed to make people better men and women and to make this earth a better place. It follows that desacralizing and relativizing knowledge is a crime both against heaven (God) and reason (the humanness of man).

Knowledge should precede each one of iman, islam and ihsan. Under favourable circumstances, the three are next expected to grow together towards a spiritual perfection, taking inspiration from each other’s distinctiveness and drawing on each other’s conceptual as well as operational strength.

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No Islam Without Knowledge

There is no Islam without knowledge, just as there cannot exist a true and virtuous knowledge without Islam.

Muslims’ belief system is not predicated on inconclusive and unproved premises; nor are their submission of wills, thoughts and lives to their only Creator and Lord on account of some forms of ritualism, irrational ancestral traditions, or simply due to their fear of the unknown (xenophobia); nor are Muslims’ ethical standards the result of some narrow-minded and prejudiced socio-cultural norms (ethical relativism) that are on a collision course with common sense.

Rather, true Muslims believe and have faith (iman) because they know. They are fully aware, have knowledge of, and are absolutely certain about Almighty Allah and all the other components of His unseen segments of creation.

They are in that state owing to the integration of the revealed knowledge – which is in the form of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah – and the conventional knowledge. The two poles of the knowledge realm are unified in such a way that the former presides over and leads the latter.

The revealed knowledge signifies the beginning (motivation and guidance) and end (validation) of all the other epistemological pursuits. There is so much in-between for the two types of knowledge to converge upon and cooperate for the common good.

In passing, it is normal that the paths of the revealed and conventional forms of knowledge diverge in a number of instances, however, such can be the case only at the operational, as opposed to the philosophical, plane. They both share the same worldview (Weltanschauung) and the corporate transcendent identity. They are like two branches originating from the same roots and trunk.

Knowledge Before Deeds

The Qur’an thus instructs, for example:

“Know, therefore, that there is no god but Allah and ask forgiveness for your sin and for the believing men and believing women. And Allah knows of your movement and your resting place.” (Muhammad, 47:19).  

There are several verses in the Qur’an where knowledge comes before deeds, wherefrom the status and role of knowledge in Islam become apparent. In those verses, knowledge is often interpreted as a means of enhancement and firmness insofar as the quality of performances is concerned. Sometimes knowledge becomes a requisite, and at other times an aggrandizer.

Moreover, Muslims submit themselves to Allah because, given that Almighty Allah is the ultimate truth and reality, they, like the rest of the physical and metaphysical existential ecosystem, ought to be pragmatic and build relationships contingent on integrity, good sense and reciprocity.

Muslims worship Allah because He is true and real, and as part of their Creator-vs-creation and Master-vs-servants relationships with Him, they owe it to Him. That is also the way Muslims communicate with Allah and are able to sustain themselves and their drive towards self-realization in this world and towards Paradise in the Hereafter.

Realism, coupled with all-round awareness, comprehension and appreciation, is the key. Needless to say that Islam abhors as much outright non-belief as ignorance, doubt, forgery and apathy. The two feed on each other’s wretchedness, seeing it as a fodder for further degeneration. Illusions and elements of escapism and fantasizing are not welcome either. Man must be real and must be himself at all times.

Read: The First Word

That was the reason why the first revealed words of wisdom and guidance to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) were the words to read (recite and proclaim) in the name of his Lord who has created all that exists (al-‘Alaq, 96:1). As brief as they are, these few words set the stage for the entire existence and its purpose.

First, Allah is the ultimate Creator, Sustainer, Truth and Reality.

Second, existence is the evidence of the Creator’s presence, and a theatre of His will and of man’s – as well as other beings’ – purpose, together with function.

And third, by virtue of addressing the final prophet to mankind – and by extension mankind itself – the intrinsic significance of human existence has been implied, and doing so by way of the imperative “read!” indicates the quintessence of the entire ontological compendium. That said, as if the remainder of the ‘Alaq chapter stands for an elaborate commentary of its first verse.

Highest Heavenly Standards of Behaviour

Finally, Muslims are bidden to subscribe to the highest heavenly standards of behaviour because they know who is who in the existential hierarchy. They know the life benchmarks and the values of its modules. Hence, they accord everybody and everything their dues in a subtle interplay of relations and dealings.

Admittedly, things sometimes may prove beyond the reach of human intelligence, however, governed by the revelation authority, true Muslims can hardly lose their way and develop discordant communication and behavioural patterns while interacting with others and with the rest of the members of the web of creation.

As a result, Islamic meta-ethics, prescriptive and applied ethics became the very hallmark of the Islamic message, perennially modelling individuals and societies with a civilizational predisposition like no other. Islamic civilization was always ethics-centric. Therefore, if it is said that knowledge without deeds is like a tree without fruit, it likewise can be said that knowledge without morals is like a weed that is not only barren, but also highly unwanted, incongruous and even harmful to its surroundings.

For this reason are the notions of ignorance, the lack of understanding and intellectual blindness, on the one hand, and the notions of non-belief, paganism and wickedness, on the other, often bracketed together in the Qur’anic discourses. It is as though they are equal. Irrespective of which one is more qualified to be the cause and which one the effect in the dynamic mutual relationships of theirs, they all, in equal measure, debilitate and ravage, exactly as their antitheses with regard to the worship of Almighty Allah liberate and empower.

It goes without saying that an ignorant, disoriented and confused person in connection with the fundamental dimensions of life and self is not in a position to possess the wherewithal to be strong, successful and content in the truest senses of the words. He cannot help himself, how then can he help others?

The majority of the “greatest” and most “creative” minds in the history of man were bohemians, eccentrics and loners, who often lived wretched and morally decadent lifestyles and even died by their own hands. One wonders what qualified such persons for all those ostensibly honourable titles when their overall legacies are attestations to something else.

To put the thing into perspective, one can compare such legacies with the legacies of the companions of the Prophet and the legacies of all those who followed in their footsteps throughout history and will see the difference.

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About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].