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by Habeeba Husain

It is midterm season for lots of students out there, and in honor of this very crucial time, I wanted to shed light on the importance of seeking knowledge. In the midst of your study sessions, you may forget how esteemed having knowledge is in the bigger picture. The whole process of memorizing formulas and vocabulary words to ensure a good grade on the exam becomes somewhat (if not very) rote. But this ability to learn is such an immense privilege, one we must not take for granted.

Let us go back some 1400 years into the past before the time of Islam. This period of time in the Arab world was actually dubbed Jahiliyyah, which literally means ignorance. People continued their forefathers’ way of life and roamed naked during religious rituals, buried their daughters alive, and worshiped stones that possessed zero power. Any knowledgeable person would deem this behavior ignorant, at best. However, this lifestyle was so ingrained in the people of the time that they became blind to the abhorrence of the actions. Islam is a religion that made humankind reflect, ponder, and question. The Quran challenged the Arabs of the time to break away from the baseless traditions they had so far followed simply because they found their parents doing it. Many of them did and became the first Muslims that are so loved by followers of the faith all around the world.

The very first word of the Quran to be revealed was “Iqra”—a command meaning “Read!” God could have chosen any word to begin with, but He chose this. It is through reading one can learn and ultimately grow. Reading opens the door to new perspectives and outlooks on the world. Throughout the Quran, Allah encourages people to reflect on this life and to think. This aspect is unique to the Islamic holy scripture.

It is stated in a narration, “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim” (Tirmidhi). From this, we understand knowledge is vital in the faith. For example, a Muslim is required to learn how to enter a state of purity with proper ablution, Arabic passages from the Quran in order pray, the rules of fasting and the mandatory charity, as well as many other things to fulfill the commands of God. But this knowledge needs to translate to action; otherwise, it is wasted. God says in the Quran, “O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? Great is hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do” (Q. 61:2-3).

In addition to religious knowledge, Islam holds other knowledges in a very high regard as well. The Quran mentions scientific facts regarding the sun and moon, the night and day, seeds and plants, and even the beginning stages of a human being’s life while it is still in the womb of its mother. While these facts are mentioned to highlight the signs of God, they also illustrate the significance of knowing about these processes. When one learns about the orbit, plant cycles, and reproduction, not only does he/she become an informed human being, but he/she can see God at work.

Throughout history, we see many Muslim scholars excel in religious subjects in addition to the fields of mathematics, medicine, and science. The Muslim world was one that thrived, home to the biggest libraries and amazing architectural feats in places like Baghdad and Andalusia. While much of the accomplishments and writings have been destroyed, the evidence is still very much noticeable. The structures and books, concepts and theories show how Muslims had a thirst for knowledge in the past. Quenching that thirst is something the religion of Islam not only encourages, but necessitates.

To have knowledge is a great blessing and Islam teaches its adherents to always seek it out. Gaining it results in a better understanding of the world, people, and our place in this world. So as you study for your midterms and hand in your papers, know that this is exactly what the fastest growing religion in the world would have you do.