Today, Muslims are backward in the scientific knowledge and modern inventions. There was a time between 9th and 13th centuries, referred as Golden Age, when they contributed to the most of the scientific development to the scale the world had never experienced before. Undoubtedly, they sow the seeds and laid the foundation of modern scientific world.
Among others, the principal reason behind their success was that they considered modern research and scientific knowledge as worship. Ibn al-Haytham was one of the prominent scientists of Golden Age. He was an author of around 200 books and his work focused entirely on science. In explaining why he dove so deep into scientific study, Ibn al-Haytham concluded, “I constantly sought knowledge and truth, and it became my belief that for gaining access to the effulgence and closeness to God, there is no better way than that of searching for truth and knowledge”1 Thus, early Muslim scientists made progress because they considered research, knowledge, discoveries and inventions being a part of worship and the easiest way to please God. Today, most of the Muslims, unfortunately, have confined the concept of worship to performing only ritualistic acts.
“The concept of worship in Islam is misunderstood by many people including some Muslims. Worship is commonly taken to mean performing ritualistic acts such as prayers, fasting, charity, etc.”2 Actually, Worship is every action or act of an individual carried out to please Allah. This includes ritualistic as well as non-ritualistic act. Seeking knowledge is one of the highest non-ritualistic acts of worship. There are many verses in the Holy Quran and hadiths of our last prophet (PBUH) that ask Muslims to seek knowledge.
Our last Prophet (PBUH) said, “Seeking knowledge for one hour is better than praying for seventy years.” At another occasion he said, “Excess knowledge is more virtuous than excess prayers.” Besides, the first word of the Holy Quran is “Read.” It shows the desire of Allah for the believers to seek knowledge. The is what Ibn al Haytham meant when he said “he sought knowledge to gain access to the closeness of Allah.” He had a clear vision of non-ritualistic act of worship. It does not mean that ritualistic acts such as praying, fasting, charity and so on are not important. They carry their own values.
There is another misunderstanding among some Muslims about seeking knowledge. According to them, acquiring knowledge, as advocated by Allah(SWT) and his last prophet (PBUH), only refers to the Islamic learning. It is a reason that, today, in almost all madrassas, scientific knowledge, is not being imparted to the students. No doubt, Islamic knowledge is very important, but the knowledge of this world is also considered an important part of Islam because “knowledge of the world is knowledge of God’s creation. In this way a Muslim through science, knows and understands the signs of God that are everywhere. The Quran states: “And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the Earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors; most surely there are signs in this for the learned.” This passage indicates God’s desire that we learn about nature and thus engage in scientific endeavors.”3 Besides, our last prophet (PBUH) referred to the worldly knowledge when he asked his companions to seek knowledge even if they had to go to China.
The purpose of writing this piece is to encourage our young generation to gain scientific knowledge and conduct research as if they were worshipping God and seeking His closeness. A mindset needs to be created, similar to the Muslim scientists of Golden Age, that, there is no better way than that of searching for knowledge to please God and ask for His forgiveness. However, at present, we have diverted from our traditional work of discoveries because our religious scholars are putting no emphasis on the Muslims students to encourage them to acquire scientific knowledge. More alarmingly, most of our students of M-Phil and PhDs, for whom, it is mandatory to write a research paper, fell no regret when they pay a third person to write a thesis for them. They also feel proud when they get their work published by putting falsified data. Hardly any student works seriously as if he was doing it for the sake of seeking closeness to God. Unless it is inculcated in young generations that seeking knowledge is an act of worship similar to prayers, fasting, charity and so on, no measure would be successful to regain the glory of Muslim in the coming time.
- Lost Islamic History, Firas Alkhateeb, 2020, p.93.
- Ansari, Muhammad Abdu Ha. The concept of Worship in Islam General Administration of Culture and Publication.
- Reconciliation, Islam, Democracy & the West, Benazir Bhutto, 2008 Simon & Schuster publishers, p.59.