THE PLEASURES OF LEARNING

“My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge..” - (Qur’an, 20:114)

The rise of Muslims to the zenith of civilization in a period of four decades was based on Al-Islam’s emphasis on learning. This is obvious when one takes a look at the Qur’an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (s) which are filled with references to learning, education, observation, and the use of reason. The very first verse of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet of Al Islam on the night of the 27th of Ramadan in 611 AD reads:

“Read: In the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.” (Qur’an, 96:1-5)

“And they shall say had we but listened or used reason, we would not be among the inmates of the burning fire.” (Qur’an, 67:10)

“Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful. ” (Qur’an, 39:9)

The Qur’an exhorts the Muslims to do scientific research:. “And whoso bringeth the truth and believeth therein such are the dutiful.” (Qur’an, 39:33)

Every Muslim man’s and every Muslim woman’s prayer should be: “My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge..” (Qur’an, 20:114). The pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason, based on sensory observation is made obligatory on every Muslim, man and woman.

The following traditions of the Prophet (s) supplement the foregoing teachings of the Qur’an :

Seek knowledge “even though it be in China.”

“The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female.”

“The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”

“God has revealed to me, ‘Whoever walks in the pursuit of knowledge I facilitate for him the way to heaven.’”

“The best form of worship is the pursuit of knowledge.”

“Scholars should endeavor to spread knowledge and provide education to people who have been deprived of it. For, where knowledge is hidden it disappears.”

Someone asked the Prophet (SAS): “Who is the biggest scholar?” He replied: “He who is constantly trying to learn from others, for a scholar is ever hungry for more knowledge.”

“Seek for knowledge and. wisdom, or whatever the ‘vessel from which it flows, you will never be the loser.”

“Thinking deep for one hour (with sincerity) is better than 70 years of (mechanical) worship.”

“Worship, without knowledge, has no goodness in it and knowledge without understanding has no goodness in it. And the recitation of the Qur’an, which is not thoughtful has no goodness in it.”

“To listen to the words of the learned and to instill unto others the lessons of science is better than religious exercises.”

“Acquire knowledge: it enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong, it lights the way to heaven; it is Our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless - it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends and an armor against enemies.”

For more than 1,000 years, the Islamic Empire remained the most advanced and civilized nation in the world. This is because Al-Islam stressed the importance of learning, forbade destruction, and developed in Muslims respect for authority, discipline, and tolerance for other religions. The teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah drove many Muslims to their accomplishments in science and medicine.

By the tenth century, the Muslim’s zeal and enthusiasm for learning resulted in the translation of all essential Greek medical and scientific writings into Arabic in Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad. Arabic became the international language of learning and diplomacy. The center of scientific knowledge and activity shifted eastward, and Baghdad emerged as the capital of the scientific world. The Muslims became scientific innovators with originality and productivity.

For example Islamic medicine is one of the most famous and best-known facets of Islamic civilization, in which the Muslims most excelled. The Muslims were the great torchbearers of international scientific research. Some of the best and most eloquent praises of science ever written came from the pens of Muslim scientists who considered their work to be acts of worship. The same motives led to the establishment of Al-Azhar (800 AD) the first university in the world. They hit the “source ball of knowledge” over the fence to Europe. In the words of Campbell, “The European medical system is Arabian not only in origin but also in its structure. The Arabs are the intellectual forebearers of the Europeans.”

One of the secrets of success in any profession is to be the most learned or best-informed person in the profession. Learning is a pleasure. If it is not, then one should cultivate the enjoyment associated with learning. Although the pleasure of learning is universal, there are many dull people in the world who are not inquisitive. There are several reasons for this. Some people are made dull by bad teaching, isolation, and routine. For some people, it is the pressure of hard work and poverty. For those who are rich, their ephemeral and trivial delights interfere with the pleasures of learning. The human mind can survive not only poverty but also wealth with luck, determination and guidance. For example I come from a poor family and due to poor teaching I lost interest in learning mathematics. As a result, I scored only 39% in mathematics (35% is required to pass) in S. S. L. C. (Secondary School Leaving Certificate, India), and in the Intermediate Science examination I scored 50% in mathematics. When I entered the Bachelor of Science degree class, I realized there is no way I can escape from mathematics and I resolved to conquer it. With determination I found pleasure in teaching myself mathematics. The pleasure was akin to falling love. This pleasure changed my whole life. I started to score 100% in mathematics in all the class tests and mid-term examinations. In the final B.Sc. examination I scored more than 70% in mathematics.

Take the example of Archimedes. When he discovered the principle of specific gravity by observing his own displacement of water in a bath tub, he leaped out with great joy, and shouted, “Eureka, Eureka!” (“I have found it. I have found it!”). He was overwhelmed with joy and ran naked. All children possess the same instinct that prompted his outburst, and the rapture of its gratification.

Learning is a natural pleasure. This pleasure is inborn and instinctive. The pleasure of learning is one of the essential pleasures of the human race. Without learning, survival itself is threatened. It is said that the propagation of the human race might be endangered if the knowledge of sex through seeing, reading or hearing is withheld from everyone.

The process of learning starts right after birth. It is true that babies who can barely talk investigate problems with all the zeal and excitement of explorers, and make discoveries with the passion and absorption of dedicated scientists. At the end of each successful investigation, one can see on the tiny face an expression of innocent, pure heartfelt pleasure. The process of physical growth stops when a boy or girl reaches puberty, that is, with the onset of menarche in girls and the change in voice and growth of facial hair in boys. After puberty it is impossible for boys and girls to grow taller. It is only possible to increase their widths by becoming heavier.

On the other hand, mental faculties grow from birth until death. At some point in our lifetime, the physical body becomes sick and gradually dies; even the emotions become duller. However, the mind continues to live, and even grows more lively and active, enjoys itself more, works and plays with more expansion and delight. I have seen grand parents obtaining B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the ages of 70, 80 or 90. There are many examples in the history of art, music and science, of both men and women who make significant contributions and lead mentally productive lives to ripe old ages. At 90, my own grandmother has vivid memories and clearly narrates events, that occurred 70 or 80 years ago when she was very young.

Learning extends our lives into new dimensions. It is cumulative. Instead of diminishing in time, like health and strength, its dividends continue to increase, provided one continues to learn throughout life, integrate ones thoughts and make learning harmonious. One should make it a point to learn at least one new fact each day. Now one can learn even during sleep. This is accomplished with headphones attached to the ears and repetition of phonographs or taped cassettes. This method of sleep-learning has been found useful in learning new languages.

The pleasure of learning is not confined to textbooks, which are too often tedious. It can include learning from books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, movies, television, radio and traveling. When you stand in a big library in front of thousands of books do not think of them as lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. Each has its own voice, which is as audible as radio waves falling directly onto our ears. Just as one switches on the radio to hear. So does one just need to open a book to hear the voice far distant in time and space? One can hear the voice speaking, mind to mind, and heart to heart. Reading books gives you two different delights. One is the pleasure of understanding the unknown and the unexpected. The other pleasure is of deepening one’s knowledge of a specified field.

Apart from books, learning means keeping the mind active and open to receive all kinds of experience. The Mahabharatha says ” Learn from the environment and absorb the good things.” As pointed out earlier there is great emphasis on learning and seeking knowledge in Islam. The Prophet Mohammed ordered Muslims to be active in their search for learning, crossing oceans and continents if necessary. ” Seek knowledge even in China” he said. Learning also means learning to practice one’s professional skills - like that of a surgeon, musician, or craftsman. Otherwise one can at least develop the ability to appreciate an art. Crafts and hobbies lead to fresh fields of enjoyment and give relaxation and activity without tension. Tension is the prime cause of heart attacks, ulcers, hypertension, and most human diseases. Travel is an important part of the pleasures of learning. There are many examples of well-informed people who never read books and newspapers, but acquired knowledge through traveling. One should travel with an open mind, an alert eye and a desire to understand other people and other places.

Everybody knows ‘‘Knowledge is Power” but now I can say “Knowledge is Wealth”. For the more learned you are, the more money you can earn. It is fitting here to relate the story of Diogenes, the great Greek philosopher who lived during the time of Alexander the Great. Diogenes was a very learned man and he shunned both power and wealth. Hence he was called a cynic. He was known to have wandered searching for an honest man carrying a lantern during day and night. He gave up everything he possessed, except a coconut shell for drinking water. One day he saw a man drinking water forming a cup with his hand. After seeing this Diogenes threw away his last possession the coconut shell. The name of Diogenes spread throughout Greece. Alexander the Great heard about Diogenes and one day decided to see him. Mounted on horseback, Alexander the Great went to Diogenes who was sitting on the ground. Alexander said ’ Oh Diogenes, I have heard a great deal about you and your life. I am very much impressed by your life and it is my earnest desire to help you in whatever way I can. Please let me know your desires so that I can fulfill them”. To which Diogenes replied “Your Excellency my only request is that you stand aside and allow the sun’s rays to fall on my body.” Alexander the Great was deeply moved by Diogenes’ reply and said “If I were not Alexander the Great. I would be Diogenes.” Now the point I want to make here is that Diogenes never went to Alexander the Great, but that Alexander the Great came to Diogenes for he was such a learned philosopher.

There are many people in this world who have played themselves to death, or eaten and drunk themselves to death. Nobody ever died because of thinking or learning. People who avoid learning, or abandon it, find no joy in life, find that life is drained dry. No one seeking knowledge has ever run short of subjects to explore. The pleasures of learning lead to happiness. One can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning. Learning is everyone’s birthright. Everyone - young or old, rich or poor, male or female, has access to learning. Exercise your birthright. Remember what you have learned cannot be stolen by others.

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