Science and Civilisation in Islam, S.H Nasr (1/2)

B. Educational Institutions

“Since the teachings of Islam are essentially gnostic in nature, all forms of knowledge, even the most external, take on a sacred character, so long as they remain faithful to the principle of the revelation. It is not accidental that the first verses revealed to the Prophet Muhammad were those of the Chapter 'The Clot,’ in which the primacy of knowledge is affirmed in the following words,

I. Read, In the name of thy Lord who createth,
2. Createth man from a clot.
3. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous,
4. Who teacheth by the pen,
5. Teacheth man that which he knew not.

Many of the verses of the Quran that were to follow affirmed the sacred nature of knowledge and scientia (‘ilm), one of God’s names being "He who knows,' (al-’alim). The Prophet himself—although unlettered from the standpoint of human knowledge—was at the same time the channel of the revelation of the Book which is considered by all Muslims to be the quintessential sum of all knowledge, both human and divine. Moreover, he reaffirmed the teachings of the Quran by stressing that the acquisition of knowledge to the limits of one's abilities is incumbent upon every believer as part of his religious duties. His sayings—such as, "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,”or “Seek knowledge, even in China”—were echoed through latter centuries as the most authoritative arguments for teaching and propagating knowledge (‘ilm), even though debates also arose as to exactly what the knowledge to which the Prophet alluded, and whose attainment he considered so essential, encompassed”.

To read further: Chapter 2: The Basis of the Teaching System and the Educational Institutions (The Classification of the Sciences) pps. 59-64 from ‘Science and Civilization in Islam’, S.H, Nasr.

This post is part of our series of lecture reading excerpts from Sanad Foundation's 2018 course 'Islamic Scholarly Tradition' taught by Sidi Mohamed Acharki in Melbourne.