The Importance of Knowledge And Method*

There is no doubt that the highest position in this hierarchy belongs to that branch of knowledge concerned with coming to know God. But today we know from the bitter experience that a failure to attend to the disciplines that offer knowledge of this world can harm our chances of achieving the next. Neglecting the disciplines of this world can lead a Muslim country to disaster, to defeat in the face of an enemy, or to an even worse fate. As a result of their failure to attain worldly knowledge, Muslims may face oppression, become susceptible to bad advice, and even fall into (or, through anti-religious education, be forced into) irreligion. For this reason, all knowledge—whether concerned with this world or with the next—should be regarded with respect and viewed as important.

Translations in other Languages

Prof. Dr. M. Es’ad Cosan
(May Allah have mercy on him)

We can all agree that scholars and teachers are our pride and glory. Islam’s regard for them and their knowledge is second to none. But what exactly does this mean? It is Islam that places the love of knowledge in the hearts of Muslims. Islam teaches that “I am the slave of him who has taught me one single letter.”1 What this means is that teaching spirituality alone is not enough to make one a true spiritual guide. It is about being a slave to someone who so much as teaches you a letter. Wisdom and spirituality are in Mecca and the Hijaz, yet Islam instructs us to “seek knowledge even if it is in China.”2 What does this mean? It means that the wisdom and spirituality of Mecca is not enough, that we also need non-religious knowledge, that we need all kinds of knowledge. This is a fard-kifaya. If any field of knowledge does not have a single Muslim representative or researcher in it, the responsibility for rectifying this situation must be borne by the Muslim world as a whole, for it is the collective fault of all Muslims that not one among them chose to pursue that branch of learning.

There must be Muslims in every discipline and every area of inquiry, no matter how many such exist in the world. If there are new areas of knowledge which Muslims have not heard about, all Muslims are again responsible for this. Why? Because Islam dictates that learning is a collective obligation. The same situation obtains in other areas. For instance, if a person dies here and there is nobody capable of carrying out the funeral, all Muslims are responsible for this situation in the same way. However, if there are people who can carry out the funeral and funeral prayer, then the other Muslims are no longer responsible for learning to do so. As a collective obligation, once someone carries it out, the others are relieved of their responsibility. Knowledge is the same as well. Therefore, we Muslims must embrace all kind of knowledge.

This does not mean, however, that all knowledge is equal. In Islam, all disciplines occupy a place in a certain hierarchy. This hierarchy consists of:

1. The principal disciplines, which deal with religion and branches of knowledge that lead one toward heaven and into God’s good graces.

2. The instrumental disciplines, which deal with knowledge that is useful in a technical sense or as a means to another end.

There is no doubt that the highest position in this hierarchy belongs to that branch of knowledge concerned with coming to know God. But today we know from the bitter experience that a failure to attend to the disciplines that offer knowledge of this world can harm our chances of achieving the next. Neglecting the disciplines of this world can lead a Muslim country to disaster, to defeat in the face of an enemy, or to an even worse fate. As a result of their failure to attain worldly knowledge, Muslims may face oppression, become susceptible to bad advice, and even fall into (or, through anti-religious education, be forced into) irreligion. For this reason, all knowledge—whether concerned with this world or with the next—should be regarded with respect and viewed as important.

We must each educate ourselves as much as possible, both individually and in our own fields. This is what Sufism is all about. We must each educate ourselves, becoming competitive and even masters of our respective fields at an international level. We must be able to follow developments in our fields wherever they occur, whether at home or abroad, and in whatever language. We must be able to follow the professional journals in our field. These publications are available in our university libraries. Go and find them, read them! Take a day off work to do so if you have to. Whet your intellectual curiosity, and slake it through study.

A book becomes old as soon as it is released, even before it makes its way through the publishing process. Books offer knowledge that has already been debated, discussed, and accepted. That is fine, and they have their place. But at the same time with every passing day there emerges a wealth of new knowledge that has yet to make its way into any book. The latest knowledge can only be found in the professional journals. And if you do not yet have the ability to follow these professional journals, then this means you have not yet attained the intellectual or methodological level required by your chosen discipline.

We must ensure that the latest professional publications are available in our libraries. If you are a lawyer, you must have access to law journals; if you are an economist, you must have access to economics journals. Whoever you are, you must have access to the journals in your field! Researchers and scholars never write the same thing twice! Their job is to make an original contribution to their field, and to do otherwise is to lose face. These original contributions are found first and foremost in these journals, and it is for this reason that we must follow them.

These words of advice are the fruit of practical experience. If you lack the ability to follow the journals in your field, you cannot make any contribution to it. You must do what you have to do to reach that level.

But following journals is not enough. You must also be in contact with the other people in your field. This is especially the case for the most distinguished people in your field, regardless of whether or not you happen to always agree with them. Knowledge knows no boundaries. It is not the property of any one country or any one person. Knowledge is knowledge. It can be learned from Germans and Swedes as well as it can from other Turks. They may not go to the mosque like you do or pray like you do, but that does not matter; you must try your best to develop and maintain a decent working relationship with them.

Moreover, if you want to do something, do all you can to ensure that the tools you use toward that end and the results you achieve with them are the best they can be. Learn how to use the latest technology, for it will aid you in this endeavor. With the computer, you can access databases and get information not otherwise available. By means of the internet, you can connect from your very own home to a library all the way across the world and access whatever publications it may have. This is an incredible opportunity! Years ago, when I was a professor, I was always very sad because the library closed at 5:00 pm. At 4:30, the librarian would start to give me looks, and by 4:45 he would be asking me to hand over my books. I was at the library almost all the time. I would even get upset after chatting with a colleague at the two minutes I had lost. But now wherever you are, whenever you want, you have access to a world of information at your very fingertips. This is truly a wonderful thing.

But having access to the latest journals and a computer is not enough. You must also have a solid enough command of a foreign language to take advantage of them. As Muslims, knowledge of foreign languages is important both for this reason, and because it will allow us to explain our religion to non-Muslims.

Every branch of knowledge is valuable, and everyone should attain a level of mastery in one or several fields. As Muslims, our work should be done beautifully and it should be done properly. It should be as perfect as possible. Thus, we must work to cultivate a sense of religious excitement around knowledge and the techniques required to achieve and actualize it.

God, may Your glory be exalted, guide us in our endeavors, that we may perform good works and that we may be of benefit to our fellow Muslims. Grant us success, that we may be serve You in this world, and through our service become worthy of Your blessings in the world to come... Ameen bi hurmati Sayyidi’l-mursaleen, sallallahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallama tasliman kathira.


FOOTNOTES

* Başmakaleler 1: İslâm Dergisi Başmakaleleri, Istanbul: Server İletişim, 2011, (This article is dated May 1993.) p. 326-329.

1. For the narration transferred by Abu Umama see Taberânî, el-Mu’cemü’l-kebîr, VIII, 112, hadith nu: 7528; Müsnedü’ş-Şâmiyyîn, II, 7, hadith nu: 818; Beyhakî, Şu’abü’l-îmân, II, 406, hadith nu: 2214; Ibn Asakir, Târîhu Dımaşk, V, 359.

2. For the narration transferred by Anas ibn Malik see Bezzâr, I, 175, hadith nu: 95; Deylemî, I, 78, hadith nu: 236; Ukaylî, ed-Du’afâ’, II, 230; İbn Adiy, el-Kâmil fî’d-du’afâ’, IV, 118; Hatîb el-Bağdâdî, Târîhu Bağdâd, IX, 363; er-Rıhle fî Talebi’l-hadîs, p. 72, 75-76; İbn Abdilber, Câmi’u beyâni’l-ilmi ve fadlih, hadith nu: 12, 13, 19; Beyhakî, Medhal, hadith nu: 243.

Article “The Importance of Knowledge And Method” Professor M. Es'ad Coşan