Knowledge and Contemplation in the Quran

Knowledge and Contemplation in the Quran

The first ayat of the Quran revealed upon Prophet Mohammad was: “iqra bismir abbikalazi khalaqa; khalaqal insane min alaq; iqra wa rabbukal akram allazi allama bil qalam; alamal insane ma lamm yalam”, which means “Read by the name of thy Lord who created (all the things), who created man from a clinging substance; read as your Lord is the most Generous who taught man by pen, and taught him what he did not know.”
At another place in the Quran, Allah, the Almighty says: “Nun wal qalami wa ma yasturun”, which means “This is the chapter titled Nun. The Pen is witness and what they have been writing…”. The Holy Quran calls itself ‘huda’ which means guiding light. It spreads divine light on each and every object, thereby distinguishing right from wrong and so it is called ‘furqan’. The ‘huda’ and ‘furqan’ aspects of the Quran are accomplished by ‘al-ilm’ (knowledge) and together these three, huda, furqan and al-ilm, guide man towards ‘hasanah’ ( this worldly salvation), and ‘falah’ (salvation in the other world); therefore, knowledge in this worldly sense and in the sense of the other world carries a great significance from the point of view of the Quran.
The name of the holy book, Quran, itself means to read and to recite, or simply a book which is read again and again; therefore, Holy Quran in itself is total knowledge and lifelong learning. Prophet Mohammad (SAW) has been time and again described as ‘mua’lim’ and ‘muzzaki’, which means ‘a teacher and somebody who purifies people’.
Quran in its ayats at hundreds of places has asked believers as well as non-believers to think and ponder on what is going on in the universe. Not only that, the Quran time and again asks man to reflect on every internal and external object and guide himself to the discovery of the Creator. If a discourse analysis of such ayats and expressions and keywords of Quran is conducted, one would find that Islam is the path of salvation through ilm and al-hikmah. The word alim (in its different forms) has occurred at 140 places and al-ilm at 27 places. The total number of ayats having the word ilm or its derivatives and associated words are around 700. The word al-kitab has been used at around 230 places wherein al-kitab as the synonym of al-Quran has been used at around 81 places. Words like ‘taddaburun’, ‘taffakarun’ ‘tanzurun’, tabsurun’ and ‘tahkumun’ have been used in more than five hundered ayats.
Moreover, the Quran has not only invoked the five sense of human body at scores of places, it has also invoked external objects of nature and asked man to see, to think, and to ponder and make inferences that guide him to the truth of all truths.
It is also worth noting that the Quran goes beyond the physical phenomenon of the world and asks man time and again to raise his potential for the understanding of the invisible and the apparently unseen; this is something man cannot learn from the sciences that he has discovered so far in the history of human knowledge and sciences.
When the Quran narrates episodes of human history, man is asked to learn from the past and shape his future in the best possible way; however, man quite often does not learn as he is short-sighted and weak in his temperament, according to the Quran.
There are three aspects of knowledge: information, knowledge and wisdom. Some people are satisfied by information about different things. This is, however, the lowest of the three stages of knowledge. Some people move beyond information and work towards the direction of transforming information into knowledge and some go to further heights and are blessed with the vision of knowledge. About the last, the Quran says: “wa mann yutal hikmat fa qadd utiya khairan kathir”, which means “Those who are blessed with hikmah, they have been blessed with abundance of blessings”. It goes without saying that Prophets fall in the highest category as they are blessed with the vision of Truth (which is hikmah according to the Quran).
At one place in the Quran, Allah makes a categorical binary between those who know and those who do not know : “hall yastawillazeena yalamun wallazeena la yalamun”, which means “Can those who know and those who do not know be equal?” Such a question asked by Allah categorically points to the fact that nature of al-ilm is absolutely different from ilm in the mundane sense of the world, as al-ilm is directed towards the discovery and vision of the truth of all the truths. This in other words shows that knowledge of empirical and quantifiable sciences fall in the category of ‘ilm’ which human beings in general have to the potential to explore with all the possibilities of evolution, while as ‘al-ilm’ is something which prophets alone accompanied by ‘hikmah’ are blessed with and its scope is even beyond the physical phenomenon.
Going by the Quranic parameters of knowledge, one finds that every human beings is supposed to make the use of his/her potential for acquiring knowledge by the means made available to him by God, as Allah’s scheme is such that He wants His creations to maximise their potential for the reception of the light of knowledge, thereby discovering for themselves the right path of life and code of conduct, which is clearly mentioned in the Quran. While being on this journey one may one day discover the wisdom/ hikmah behind all such teachings.
While trying to understand the nature of ‘ilm’ and ‘al-ilm’ from the Quranic point of view, it should not surprise a man that Quran does not end up at disciplining the human body and its desires; its ultimate objective is the education and emancipation of human soul; that is why there are commandments towards this direction at maximum number of places. The study of Quranic ayats at hundreds of places suggests that physical control is ultimately aimed at uplift and nourishment of the human soul. Such an understanding of the Quran leads a reader towards the understanding of the essences of Quran. The essences of Quran are what one may call the core and kernel messages of Quran where we trace the spirit of Islamic education and nature of al-ilm, which if recognised and realised by man would usher him onto the path becoming ‘insan’, carrying the ‘aalam e akbar’ within him.
Concluding, we may say that all empirical sciences have developed as a result of human observation and experimentation, the potential and necessary material for which has been created by God; therefore, when man uses the same new wonders and potentials within, those materials are discovered and the same may be treated as ilm. However, the world that is invisible to our eyes and beyond the scope of material sciences falls in the category of al-ilm (hikmah). The Holy Quran has thrown inklings and suggestions about both the categories and has invoked both of them in different contexts. It is light upon light and each ayat of Quran aims at “bringing people out darkness towards light” (li yukrijahum minazulumat ilan nur). In the forthcoming columns, an attempt will be made to explain the different facets of this light in the context of Quran as a guiding light and as a source of human emancipation and liberation.

—ameenparray@gmail.com

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