Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Knowledge of Islam and the modern world

COTABATO CITY — A friend of mine died yesterday. He was shot outside his home at Broce, DOS, Maguindanao. My friend’s name was Datu Habib Sharifudin Samanudi Maulana. He belongs to the Sama ethno linguistic group of Tawi-Tawi. The motive behind his killing is still unclear as of this time.

Habib was known in our peace network as an active human rights advocate and anti illegal mining in the province of Tawi-Tawi. He was also pro-Duterte during the May 2016 elections.

As I reflect on the deaths of human rights activists, peace advocates, and environmentalists like my friend, Habib, I ask myself, do we really value our faith? Do we really value Islam more than we value our pride, our family, our ethnic group, etc? Or do we just say we are Muslims but we do not follow what Islam truly teaches us in terms of valuing human dignity, principles of justice, and the common good.

As I think about these points, I also ask myself, do we, Bangsamoro and Filipino Muslims, value the search of knowledge and the search for truth of our existence.

Muslims are taught that acquiring and possessing knowledge (‘ilm) has a great status in Islam. We are also taught that knowledge is highly encouraged by the Holy Qur’an and Muslim scholars. Allah (SWT) introduces Himself using the adjective ‘All-knowing’ (‘aleem) 122 times in the Qur’an. The Qur’an on several occasions has glorified those with knowledge, such as scholars (‘alim) and teachers (mu’allim).

I also ask myself, how important is gaining knowledge in the lives of every human being? As I discern further deep in my mind, I remembered that it is written in the verses of the Holy Qur’an and narrations of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the outcome of knowledge and learning is gnosis of God (ma’rifah), sincerity in actions (ikhlas), and a sense of responsibility before God and His creation.

History tells us that Islam was revealed in a land where the people were known for their ignorance. Their beliefs, sayings, and actions were clear signs of their distance from knowledge and civilization. Before the advent of Islam, people in Mecca engaged in battles against one another over petty issues, resulting in a high number of deaths. The worst part was that fathers would bury their newborn daughters in cold-blooded machoism.

Worshipping materials such as rocks, wood, dates, circumambulating naked around the house of God, holding a strong caste system, and devaluing the status of women are clear examples of the ignorance during the time before Islam, called the ‘Age of Ignorance’ (Jahiliyyah). (Source: Muhammad Husien Faryab, 2012)

Unfortunately, the reality on the ground is that although we have Islam as a religion, but our people are still ignorant of the basic importance of gaining knowledge and learning new things in their lives today.

Muslims must remember that the Holy Qur’an repetitively glorifies scholars and condemns the ignorant as a method of encouraging the Muslims to seek knowledge and dishearten them from remaining in a state of ignorance: …Say, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Only those who possess intellect take admonition. (39:9)

Muslim scholars say, the Prophet of Islam spoke of status of knowledge and understanding on multiple occasions. He once said, “Knowledge is the root of all good and ignorance is the root of all bad.” Therefore, attaining eternal and worldly bliss, a level which the prophets of God had reached, cannot be achieved if one does not know what path to follow.

With regards to this, Prophet Muhammad said, “The closest of men to the status of prophethood are those who are accustomed to knowledge and struggle (jihad).”

Lastly, the Holy Prophet of Islam has discussed the superiority of knowledge over worship (‘ibadah) multiple times, where he says, “In the eyes of God, the virtue of knowledge is more favorable than worship.” He has also said, “A small amount of knowledge is better than much worship.”

But I do not say that knowledge alone is the cure for all our ills and evils of our time. History of humankind also reveals that our inclination to seek the truth along with our sense of curiosity has led us to become familiar with a wide scope of intellectual understandings.

All over the world, different have attracted numerous students, and a new field in education and learning is discovered every day. However, with the growth of science and knowledge, people’s problems and sufferings have also increased. It is not surprising to think mankind’s advancement in science has created a number of difficulties.

Another question we must also ask ourselves: what kind of knowledge should be learned? Moreover, what is considered to be the best knowledge? Our prophet (SAW) taught us: “Knowledge cannot be quantized, so seek the best of it.” His cousin and the fourth caliph, Imam Ali (AS), has also said, “Know that there is no good in knowledge that does not benefit anyone.” Therefore, from Islamic context, knowledge without an honorable motive – or with mere material motives – is not considered knowledge; rather, it is an aberration and deviation.

Furthermore, let us all discern, what level of knowledge do we have now in terms of Islam and the modern day challenges of all humankind? How do we confront these challenges? How do we view and react on criticisms? How do we define good governance? And how do we define the future of our Ummah when our children see on the news the deaths and massacres within the Muslim world? God willing, within our lifetime, we can answer these questions without killing one another.