By: Zain Maken
Most of us, including myself, are akin to travelers who have travelled a few hundred feet and have stopped, turned around and have spent our entire lives giving detailed description of the world we have yet not experienced, but merely seen by these beautiful yet fragile instruments, the eyes. These travelers may be religious and non-religious, whatever their goals may be, they have merely seen a glimpse of their objectives from far, far away, and thus consider themselves excellent guides to their goal. From knowledge seekers, we have transformed our role to knowledge dispensers. Is this really a significant problem? After all, if the society you address is ready to devour each of your words and gestures without thought, why go through the hassle of introspection?
Yes. This is a huge problem, it constitutes the base upon which we build our lives, and enormously influences the service we provide to others. Knowledge is an endless pursuit; have we not been asked to gather knowledge from the cradle to the grave? Two questions I would attempt to unravel here will be: What is knowledge? And the second is whether religious knowledge is an end in itself?
Knowledge, according to me, is the ability to understand and appreciate the intricacies and mysteries of the human self. All other knowledge of society, nature and the worlds beyond this world is built upon this base. Inside one’s self, exists a universe where there are a million streams of thoughts, endless emotions on display, the disappearing presence of reason, the blueprints of social conduct, and the endless conflicting desires. For a more accepted definition, knowledge can be considered to be the grandfather of information, and the offspring of reason, emotion and language. Its siblings include education, experience, and intuition, all of whom it learns from, according to the parents’ the advice. Knowledge is what gives man a reason to act; without knowledge, any action would be disastrous, and to have knowledge but not act would be tragic. Knowledge takes man to impossible heights, granting his eyes sights of extraordinary beauty which the mind is never able to completely fathom, and leave him with a whiff of a pleasure, a pleasure that Will Durant sees as the noblest joy, the joy of understanding.
Concerning the second question, if one may ask an individual (in Pakistan) how knowledge can be gathered, a likely response is, ‘through understanding the Holy Scriptures i.e. The Holy Quran and the Sunnah.’ To consider a religion as comprehensive and timeless in its approach and content does not simultaneously negate that anything outside of it is not to be read, understood, appreciated or experienced. If God wanted each of us to be a Muslim, with the same culture, the same beliefs, and to speak in the same language, He had the power to do so; ‘If God has so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is Allah’ (Surah 5, Verse 48). The reason there are hundreds of different cultures, each with a special flavor, endless variety in languages, each resonating a delightful sound, and these extraordinary kind and cruel human beings, each a world in himself, is because of the beauty in diversity. And this beauty is not only to be praised in words, but translated in action, one must, I insist must, expose himself to different cultures, religions, explore their ideas, and travel in their kempt and unkempt seas of their minds. One does not necessarily have to accept or reject these ideas, but they should always be considered. Consideration of others’ ideas persuades man to see human beings as carriers of beauty and parts of Truth, and this instills an inherent calmness that fills up the cup of the heart. And this calmness is not exclusive in nature, because the more we try to restrict love for a certain kind of people, the more we pollute the innate nature of love. But returning to the question at hand, religious knowledge is essential, but it should give you impetus to build newer structures, and simultaneously remove this fear of foreign ideas, this cold blanket over the heart should be lifted; it has weakened the mind unnecessarily for too long.
Does the pursuit of a medicine formula contradict the Quranic teachings only because there is no overt mention of it? Does the discovery of this procedure suggest that God had previously not known about it? The answer to this lies tangled silently inside our webs of thoughts. The answer is actually in a question; could God not have wanted human beings to struggle immensely in the pursuit of something He already knew, but wanted us to discover for ourselves? The faculties that we require in the journey for knowledge have been laid down by the Quran and the Sunnah (for example tafakkur/tadabbur (contemplation)), but the pursuit is ours to achieve. The pursuit is definitely ours. When we recognize this pursuit, we smile at the distance we are yet to cover, and when one accepts his own speck in this vast expanse of universes, his wish to impose his reality on his surroundings is replaced by a state of awe, where he lives with eyes that cherish anything that expands his mind. This state of awe needs intense introspection, but it does not require one to shun society. It is society itself that is the best and often the harshest teacher.
To conclude, let us look at some distinctions that can be drawn between the knowledgeable and the ignorant. The ignorant is afraid of silence, while the knowledgeable treasures the silence, seeing it as an opportunity to introspect, to lift the veil from the curtains that hide the beauty of the Almighty, and experience His existence beyond these speculations. The knowledgeable is never satisfied with a single point of view, be it of his own family, sect or community, and is ready to serve Justice even if the decision comes not in the favor of his loved ones. The knowledgeable is refreshed when he hears an original idea and entertains the thought; the ignorant is afraid of ideas, seeing them as storms that will shake his thought processes and leave them in tatters. The knowledgeable never displays his knowledge to awe others, just as a means to dispel darkness, and refrains himself to convince others, and instead pushes them to reconsider their own opinions. And lastly and with sweet irony, the knowledgeable always refers to himself as ignorant, and vice versa.
To sum my thoughts up, and in the hope that respect for intellect will never cease, I would like to end with a saying of Hazrat Ali: There is no knowledge and science like pondering and thought; and there is no prosperity and advancement like knowledge and science. Quoted from Majlisi, Bihārul Anwār, vol.1, p.179