by Justice Saleem Marsoof P.C.
To seek knowledge is a sacred duty, it is obligatory on every Muslim, male and female. The first word revealed of the Qur’an was "Iqra" READ! Seek knowledge! Educate yourselves! Be educated.
Surah Al-Zumr, ayah 9 asks: "Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?" Surah Al-Baqarah, ayah 269 reveals: "Allah grants wisdom to whom He pleases and to whom wisdom is granted indeed he receives an overflowing benefit." According to hadith, our Prophet (PBUH) has said: “Go even to China to acquire knowledge”. During the days of the Prophet, going to China from Arabia was almost impossible for an ordinary being, as it was necessary to traverse thousands of miles of inhospitable desert land and the dizzy heights of the Himalayan mountain range to reach China. Going to China by sea was equally hazardous, as one has to go round the Cape of Good Hope and almost half the globe on the Indian Ocean to reach China. So, what our Prophet was saying to us was that we should be prepared to devote our whole lifetime and even risk our life to gain knowledge. In fact, our Prophet (PBUH) has said, "He who travels in search of knowledge, to him Allah shows the way to Paradise."
The Islamic world has produced the greatest scientists and scholars mankind has ever known, and the standards of Islamic universities in cities such as Fez, Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and Cordova are a model for even the 21st Century. We all know that the system of numbering used all round the world is known as “Arabic numerals” and first appeared in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825 AD. The science of Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi's discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.
Perhaps, the most famous scholar ever in the history of mankind, was Ibnu Sina, whose story explodes the now fashionable theory that the West has the monopoly of all knowledge. Ibn Sina, who was born in 981 AD in Bukhara, had by the age of ten memorized the Qur'an and quite a bit of Arabic poetry, and went on to study medicine. He simultaneously studied philosophy by reading relevant Greek, Islamic, and other material. He learnt Logic from the (then renowned) philosopher Abu Abdallah Natili. In addition, he received instruction from various teachers in metaphysics. By the age of sixteen, Ibn Sina had mastered the study of medicine; his skills in that field proved to be of great value and gained him a great reputation. He was such a veteran that by the age of twenty-one, Ibn Sina had become accomplished in all branches of formal learning, and started to serve as a jurist in Gurganj. He was then welcomed by Khawarizm Shah in Jurjan where he served as a teacher. In Rayy (near modern day Tehran), Ibn Sina served as an administrator and then moved on to Qazvin where he was a physician. The credit for deducing that Venus must be closer to the earth than to the sun goes to Ibnu Sina. He was the first to describe meningitis, and the first to suggest the treatment for lachrymal fistula by the use of a medical probe into the throat canal. Ibn Sina was also the first scientist to graphically describe, in minute detail, the different parts of the eye.
Ibnu Sina’s work The Kitab al-Shifa (The Book of Healing) is described as a scientific and philosophical encyclopedia. Its Latin translation during the 12th century is known as the "Sanatio." It covered Mathematics, which was divided into four branches, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Music. His most famous book throughout the East and the West is the immense encyclopedia of medicine, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine). It surveyed the entire realm of medical knowledge available, at that time, from ancient and Islamic sources. Its systematic approach and its intrinsic value superseded all previous works on Medicine, and remained supreme for six centuries. In addition to describing pharmacological methods, Al-Qanun described 760 drugs and became the most authentic medical material of the era. It was translated into Latin by Gerard Cremona in the 12th century and became the textbook in European medical schools. During the last 30 years of the 15th century, it was reissued 16 times with 15 editions in Latin and once in Hebrew, and it was reissued more than 20 times during the 16th century. In 1930, Cameron Gruner partly translated Al-Qanun into English and entitled it A Treatise On the Canons of Avicenna. From the 12th century until the 17th century, Al-Qanun served as the chief guide for medical science in the West. Dr. W. Osler, author of the Evolution of Modern Science wrote, "The Qanun has remained a medical bible for a longer period than any other work."
Ibn Sina spent the last 14 years of his life relatively peacefully in the court of the ruler Ala ad-Daulah in Isfahan. He completed many works on philosophy, medicine, the Arabic language and the many military campaigns that he had to attend. His works include Kitab al-Shifa, the Kitab an-Najat (Book of Salvation) and the Kitab al-Isharat wa at-Tanbihat (Book of Directions and Remarks). The latter describes the mystic's spiritual journey beginning with the development of faith to the final stage of direct and continual vision of God. Ibn Sina died in June 1037 while on a military campaign with Ala ad-Daulah, leaving his vast findings and knowledge for us to learn from. The story of Ibnu Sina shows us how learning the Qur’an in a tender age can propel a man to great heights in the realm of knowledge and spiritualism.
The question that I wish to pose is: what has happened to the great Islamic thirst for learning? Perhaps, long entrenched monarchies, colonialism, foreign dominance or intervention and the oppressive rule of their own people have brought about moral and spiritual degeneration of Muslims throughout the world. Perhaps, we have due to lethargy, arrogance or ignorance strayed away from the teachings of the Qur’an and sunna. . Perhaps, the temptations and intrigues of the Western world have lured us away from the path shown to us by Islam. To retrieve ourselves from this degeneration, it is about time that the Muslim Ummah restructures its educational priorities along Islamic lines, fulfilling the existing needs as well. By virtue of such an educational program, the future generations will become the torch-bearers of Islamic values and play an effective role in the present world. The challenges of modern times call for rebuilding the structure of our educational program on such a foundation as to fulfill our spiritual as well as temporary obligations.