“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
When I was younger, one of my cousins told me that saying the word “pig” was haram (unlawful) and that everything I ate for 40 days after uttering that word would also be haram. Like many children, they had heard it from someone else, and like many children, I was ignorant about such rulings and grew up believing it since nobody said otherwise. It didn’t affect my life greatly…other than the fact that I avoided Peppa Pig…but don’t worry, my 4-year-old niece is making sure I make up for it!
I was utterly shocked and confused when, over lunch at Subway while at University with a close practising friend one day, he mentioned the word ‘pig’ during our conversation. I mean, he had just made his halal turkey bacon haram! It was only when he later explained to me that I discovered saying ‘pig’ was not in fact haram.
To some degree, you could excuse my ignorance given that I neither had practising Muslim friends at school, nor nearby access to Islamic libraries for research. I grew up in a household where there was importance placed on abiding by Allah’s laws, but not necessarily understanding or educating oneself on those laws, mainly due to a lack of access to such teachings. However, in this day and age when information – whether it is the Quran and its tafsir, detailed explanations of hadiths or countless videos from learned speakers – is readily available through the internet, our excuses will be limited and we should take every step we can to progress in understanding the deen.
The first word spoken to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by Allah through Angel Jibreel was “iqra” or “read,” and it is this theme that is constantly expressed throughout the teachings of Islam: educate yourself and seek answers. For if we do not, then how can we differentiate between right and wrong? How do we know which worship of Allah is correct and which is incorrect? How can we seek to better ourselves?
Many of us have been born into the religion but even we don’t know the religion well enough. In order to get a grasp and attain a holistic understanding of Islam, we need to explore and delve into spiritual, scientific and philosophical learning. In addition, we should never shy away from asking challenging questions or receiving difficult answers. Those who want to seek the truth with an open heart will find faith and see that Allah is the Master of all the worlds, and that His words cannot contradict each other; the deficiency will never lie with Allah, but rather in ourselves and our understanding of His laws.
“Whoever treads a path in seeking knowledge, Allah will make easy for him the path to Paradise.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
Every Muslim is judged depending on the time and situation in which they live in, so if it was incumbent upon Muslims to read, learn and seek knowledge even back during the Prophet’s time, imagine how great the duty is now on our shoulders with a wealth of information at our fingertips.
Nowadays however, we find that Muslims take a lot of what they hear through other sources on face value and do not seek clarification or context. Some don’t even know the reason behind the spiritual components of the acts of devotion they already perform, as over time religion has just become a part of culture for them. We may start justifying our opinion on an Islamic issue based on how we feel and how we interpret the matter without having read and sought information from knowledgeable sources. Furthermore, we know even from our worldly education that when we understand a concept, we are more likely to remember it. In our context, we would further be more likely to follow it.
When making decisions about any religious matter, whether it be as small as the permissibility to say ‘Jumaa Mubarak’ or as big as the controversies around celebrating Mawlid, we owe it to ourselves and to our Creator to further investigate instead of purely acting on how we feel. The moment we replace what God wants with what we want, we are doomed for then we are not living by God’s wishes but our own, masked as Islam. It is rather astonishing how we have replaced God’s laws with our desires when formulating opinions on spiritual or lifestyle matters when we have clear instructions if we were to only look. We need to re-introduce Allah and His teachings through the Prophets into our framework of deciding how we go about our lives and how we both think and feel about various spiritual concepts. And the best way to recognise and learn God’s wishes is through education.
We are in an extremely lucky position with the technology and accessibility around us but this brings with it responsibility and so we will be asked what we did with the opportunities we had and the information known. We will not get away by standing on the sidelines when it comes to enriching our souls with Islamic education. While we advance in a fast pace with everything else in this world, we need to do the same with our understanding of Islam.
We must actively transform Islam from a purely ritual abiding way of life to an academic way of life of seeking knowledge that results in better understanding of our deen and becoming closer to Allah.
I may have realised that the word ‘pig’ is not haram at 18 years of age but education is something that is lifelong and can start at any age. Insha’Allah my niece will learn from my mistakes and like me, will try to seek knowledge to help guide her. I can pass on information to her and when she is older, no doubt she will also teach me a thing or two. And so we create an environment of learning to better ourselves. It is within all of our means; we do not need to be a scholar, we just need to seek and we shall find what we need. This is the only true path to success and it begins with ourselves.
“O Allah! Bring us benefit by what You taught us, and teach us that which brings us benefit, and increase us in knowledge” (Ibn Maajah)