The Greatness and Importance of Knowledge

Hasan al-Basri said:

“Nothing which Allah has created is greater in terms of reward than seeking knowledge. Not Hajj, not Umrah or Jihad, or Zakah, or releasing slaves. If knowledge had a physical image it would be more beautiful than the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky and a majestic throne.” [1]

Reflection: One might ask how Hasan al-Basri can claim that seeking knowledge is greater than Jihad, performing Hajj, paying Zakah etc? Some of these acts are even among the pillars of our deen! One answer is that if a person does one or more of these acts without knowledge, he is very likely to incur punishment. He needs to know the conditions, the permissible and the impermissible things related to each act before he performs it. Imam Ghazali gives the example of a person who wishes to fast, but he ends up fasting in the days of tashriq thereby incurring punishment [2]. Likewise Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) would forbid people from trading in the market, before they knew the rules related to trade [3].

In our time there is a widespread lack of knowledge, but many people perform these acts anyway without looking into the details related to each act. By doing so they might end up rendering the act invalid. An even worse example is when young ignorant muslims spill the blood of innocents, in their own countries or abroad, claiming to perform jihad. A sheikh from Medina, whom I studied with, mentioned that performing jihad without knowing it’s rulings is actually considered hiraaba (highway robbery). So for someone to act with very little knowledge, or simply acting on the fatwa of some “sheikh” a thousand miles away, can result in the person performing serious offenses despite having a good intention.

The solution is for our young people to reconnect with our tradition, seek out sound scholarship and educate themselves, while recognizing the great reward related to seeking knowledge. By doing this, they will recognize what actions are the most pleasing to Allah and how to perform them. Likewise, they will know the danger of even speaking about subjects which might affect other peoples blood, honor and wealth.


[1] Sadly, I have not been able to relocate the actual quote apart from my notes. I am however sure that I originally took it from a trustworthy source.

[2] Ghazali, Ayyuhal Walad (English translation: “Dear Beloved Son”)

[3] Zarnuji, T’alim al-Muta’allim (English translation: “Instruction of the Student”)

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