April 8, 2004

KNOWLEDGE – The Light Of Life

“Dedicate your life to Knowledge and Humanity”, these were words
of advice from my father when I had asked for his autograph – it was precisely
what his life was all about. But this was way back in my teenage and I wonder
if I had grabbed the true wisdom behind these momentous words then. Sixteen
years down the road, I still wonder if I do now.

Knowledge may be a single word but it has so much depth in it that we are seldom
able to do justice to it’s meaning. Synonymous to wisdom, knowledge is
an awareness, an understanding; the information that one has acquired through
learning or experience. Knowledge is the end product or the resultant of being
educated. Whereas, education is the process of achieving knowledge, of learning
and training oneself. A proper form of education should develop a person mentally
as well as morally. But somehow over the ages, education has been widely and
falsely associated with the sole purpose of attaining certificates or degrees
from various academic institutions. Education cannot be restricted to a mere
procurement of a degree. In fact it must broaden one’s mind and heighten
thinking and reasoning capabilities. Education enhances the power of knowing
and understanding by which man can obtain knowledge. The truth is that we can
never lay ample stress on the importance of education. One needs to be appropriately
educated in order to rightly understand the world around us, to deal with its
problems and to be able to solve them accordingly. Now the bottom-line is to
comprehend what appropriate and useful knowledge is all about. Does it only
begin and end at an educational institute or is it meant to go beyond that?
Does our obligation as a parent end the moment our child begins to go to school?
There is a hadith, which we so often hear that the best thing that a father
can give to his children is a good education. Unfortunately, providing proper
education has been conveniently translated into getting the kids settled into
renowned academic institutions.

Two months back, a friend of mine was narrating how a member of her family
had to queue up, a night in advance, in front of a school building in order
to obtain an admission form of one of the prestigious schools of her city. She
wished to get her three-year-old toddler admitted there. The admission forms
were to be made available the following morning but since so many parents were
anxious to have their children taken in, a queue had begun to form a day earlier.
Though it may sound unbelievable, it is true to the core. I too would not have
believed the lady’s story had I not heard a similar version of it from
a different quarter earlier on. It left me bewildered. One marvels at the fact
that a vast majority of the human race would readily take all sorts of pains
in order to give their kids the best education they can afford but would not
be prepared to put in half as much efforts for their spiritual uplift. We seldom
spend value time with our children to transmit knowledge that will turn them
into responsible human beings. On the contrary, we would willingly pool in all
types of resources in the form of money, time, tutions… etc.in order to
impart worldly education to our kids – you name it and we would not wish to
compromise on anything if it is in our hands to give our child what we call
a good education and it’s squeal, a degree. Fine! There is absolutely
nothing wrong with that, and if the family can afford it, then why not? But
the actual question is, “Is that sufficient?” Definitely not. If
it was, then only those persons would have succeeded in life that graduated
from prestigious erudite institutions. And mind you, success in life cannot
be measured in term of money earned or a high social rank attained, in fact
it is much much more – beyond the threshold of understanding of a majority
of us. For most of us degree-oriented-education is all that is required to acquire
a good job, a high status and recognition in the society. And we seldom think
beyond these self-generated goals.

If any of you had the privilege of viewing the movie “Patch Adams”,
you would recall how the medical internee convinced the senior doctors at his
university that bookish knowledge is not enough to revive a patient. Love and
attention, care and patience and above all a cheerful and conducive environment
add to the quality of life, something, which cannot be catered with medicines
alone. So from the above argument we may infer that degree-oriented-education,
though consequential, is still not sufficient to grasp the true meaning of life
and it’s philosophies. The truth is that enlightenment of the soul is
just as much important (if not more) as that of the mind.

Permit me to quote a few excerpts here, from the letter written by one of the
world’s greatest statesmen, Abraham Lincoln, to his son’s principal.

“He will have to learn. I know, that all men are not just, all men
are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero;
that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader…”

“Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend. It will take time,
I know; but teach him if you can, that a dollar earned is of far more value
than five found… “

“In school teach him that it is far more honorable to fail than to
cheat… teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells
him they are wrong… teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough
with the tough. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when
everyone is getting on the band wagon.”

“Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire
makes fine steel. Let him have the courage to be impatient…, let him
have the patience to be brace. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself
because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind.”

It seems there is a lot more to be learnt then we had ever imagined.

Knowledge should help one recognize right from wrong, friend from foe, truth
from falsity. It should not be superficial instead it must go deep into the
wisdom of things. Knowledge is not an end in itself but a means of seeking much
nobler aims that can only be attained if it is put to proper use. There is an
oft-repeated hadith from Sahih Al-Bukhari, narrated by Abdullah bin Masood (razi
allah anhu), that the Prophet (sal allahu alaihi wasalam) said,” Do not
wish to be like anyone except in two cases. The first is a person, to whom Allah
has given wealth and he spends it righteously (according to what Allah has ordained
in a just and right way); (the second is) the one whom Allah has given Al-Hikmah
[wisdom i.e. the knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah (legal ways) of the Prophet
(sal allahu alaihi wasalam)] and he acts according to it and teaches it to others.”
When we look back at the Islamic history we find that the companions of the
Prophet (sal allahu alaihi wasalam) had two major aims in their lives. One was
attaining the knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah; and second was their practice
in accordance with that knowledge. This brings us to the corollary that without
an authentic and reliable knowledge of the divinely approved way of living we
cannot hope of success in this life and, of much more significance, the hereafter.
Recently, while leafing-through (Al-Raheeq Al-Makhtoom) a biography of our beloved
Prophet Mohammed (sal allahu alaihi wasalam) I came upon the following passage
which I am reproducing underneath:

“The Prophet (sal allahu alaihi wasalam) on his part, would always
maintain and sustain his followers’ souls with the light of belief,
sanctify them through inculcating the Quranic wisdom in their hearts and cultivate
their minds deeply with the spirit of Islam that would elevate them to a state
of noble spirituality, pure heartedness and and an absolute degree of freedom
from the yoke of materialism, a high morale powerful enough to resist worldly
lusts and consequently lead them from darkness to light.”

And this is the form of enlightenment, the knowledge, the light of life that
we have been trying to discover all along.

With my limited knowledge, I have come to the understanding that a learned
person is not just a soul that has a lot of degrees to boast about but someone
who has recognized his creator and in turn discovered himself. The Quran says:
“Only those of his servants who possess knowledge fear Allah.” (35:29).
Wisdom is to know your creator and to know the purpose behind your creation.
Just like a diligent student who shall never waste time by indulging in futile
activities, in order to attain favorable grades in the exams, a person who has
acquired the wisdom behind his existence shall never sit idle and would make
the most of his time to gather the best he can for the Day of Judgement. A knowledgeable
person would never feel content on little but would thrive on achieving higher
aims. He would rush to grab as many pious deeds as possible. Erudition would
help him identify Satan and his evil tactics and ways to overcome such hurdles.
Such a person would be more in control of himself instead of cursing his fate
each time. Though a cliché, one cannot overstress the fact that knowledge
is light, whereas ignorance is darkness. Allah has given man the blessing of
intellect, which raises him to the level of taking on responsibilities given
by our Lord. A wise person knows that it is not enough for him to read the Quran
but even more important is to practice its doctrine; only that may lead him
towards a peaceful end. When an infliction falls on such a person he handles
it with patience and remains grateful to his Creator for having saved him from
a greater trial that might have befallen instead. Our Prophet (sal allahu alaihi
wasalam) said that a person who has tidings of the heavens cannot stay asleep
the whole night through, since he would be anxious to attain that place; hence
he would waste no time and would spend part of the night praying and repenting
and asking for God’s forgiveness and blessings. Similarly, a person having
information regarding hell shall not sleep peacefully at night, since the fear
of hell would not permit him to overlook his responsibilities as a true Muslim.
We may say that knowledge allows a person to recognize his mistakes and in turn
rectify them. We have learnt from the Quran that when we shall look back at
our worldly lives in the Hereafter, it would seem that we had only spent a day
or just a fraction of a day in the world. Our whole life, spread over so many
years, would merely seem like a passing moment in the Afterworld. Isn’t
this knowledge enough to correct out ways? Why are we so convinced to risk our
everlasting abode for something that will seem so meaningless, so short and
temporary once we would look back at it?

On the outlook it seems that the world has progressed a lot on the basis of
its discoveries but inspite of all this evolvement we are perplexed people.
Buffaloed and bound to the chains of this world. The hereafter is lost and forgotten.
Islamic teachings furnish a complete code of life, which must be absorbed and
implemented. And an individual who has acquired the true wisdom of the Islamic
doctrines shall never be lost or misled. I end with a portion of our Prophet’s
(sal allahu alaihi wasalam) supplication, reported by Ahmed and Muslim:

“Oh Allah, I seek your refuge from a knowledge that does not benefit,
from a heart that does not fear (You), from a soul that is not satisfied,
and from a prayer that is not granted.”

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