The Pleasures of Learning
Ibrahim B. Syed,
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA
The rise of Muslims to the zenith of civilization in a period of four decades
was based on Al-lslam'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 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."
"And they shall say had we but listened or used reason, we would
not be among the inmates of the burning fire."
"Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge
alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful. "
And the Qur'an exhorts the Muslims to do scientific research:.
"And whoso bringeth the truth and believeth therein such are the
Every Muslim man's and every Muslim woman's prayer should be:
"My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge.."
The pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason, based on sense 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 in the following way:
- 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
- "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
- Some one 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 riot 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 the 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."
The Islamic Empire for more than 1,000 years remained the most advanced and
civilized nation in the world. .This is because Al-Islam stressed the importance
and respect of learning, forbade destruction, developed in Muslims the 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
By the tenth century their zeal and enthusiasms for learning resulted in all
essential Greek medical and scientific writings being translated 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 capitol 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, and 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 his/her own profession. Learning is a pleasure. It is
not, then one should cultivate the enjoyment associated with learning. Although
the pleasure of learning is universal, there are many dull incurious people in
the world. There are several reasons for this. Some people are made dull by bad
teaching, isolation and following a routine life-style. For some people it is
the pressure of hard work and poverty. For those who are rich, their ephemeral
and trivial delights come in the way of the pleasures of learning. The human
mind can survive not only poverty but also even 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% required for a pass) in S. S. L. C. (Secondary School Leaving
Certificate, India) 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
mathematics. With determination I found pleasure in learning mathematics by
myself. The pleasure was akin to one derives in falling love with his/her
beloved girl/boy friend or would be wife/husband. 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
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 which prompted his outburst, and the rapture of its
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, 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 and pure heartfelt pleasure. The process of
physical growth stops when a boy or girl reaches puberty, that is with the on
set of menarche in the girls and with the change in the voice and growth of
moustache and beard in boys. After puberty it is impossible to increase the
height both in boys and girls. It is only possible to increase their widths by
fattening. On the other hand the mental faculties grow from birth until death.
At some point in our lifetime, the physical body becomes sick or ill and
gradually dies; even the emotions become duller. But 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 significantly
contributed and lead mentally productive lives at their ripe old ages. My own
grandmother at 90 has vivid memories and narrates events, which occurred 70 or
80 years ago in her young age, very clearly. Learning extends our lives into new
dimensions. It is cumulative. Instead of diminishing in time, like health and
strength, its dividends go on increasing, provided one continues to learn
throughout life and integrate the thoughts and make learning harmonious. One
should make it a point to learn at least one new information each day. Now one
can learn even during sleep. This is accomplished with headphones attached to
the ears and repeats playing of phonographs or taped cassettes. This method of
sleep-learning is found most useful in linguistics- to learn new languages.
The pleasure of learning is not confined to learning from textbooks, which
are too often tedious. But it does include learning from book magazines
(periodicals), newspapers, and movies. T. V., radio and traveler when you stand
in a big library infront of thousands of books do not think they are lumps of
lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. Each has its own voice, which is
as inaudible as the radiobroadcast waves falling directly on t 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 of 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 open and active 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 own professional skills-that of a surgeon,
musician or craftsman. Otherwise one can at least develop the ability l
appreciate an art. Crafts and hobbies lead you into fresh fields of enjoyment
and give you relaxation and activity without tension. You should know that
tension is the prime cause of heart attacks, ulcers, hypertension, and most of
the human diseases. Travel is an important part of the pleasures of learning.
There are many examples of best-informed people who never read books and
newspapers, but acquired excellent knowledge through travelling. One should
travel with an open mind, all alert eye and a wish 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 tell you 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 fulfil them". To which
Diogenes replied "Your Excellency my only request is that you get aside and
allow the sun's rays to fall on my body." Alexander the Great was deeply
moved by Diogenes's 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 learner 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.