The Voice of Islam:
The Importance of Knowledge

By: Ustadh Isa Husayn

We often hear the proclamation that “We as Muslims believe”, or even more boldly, that “Islam says.” Are Muslims, then, a monolithic group, and has Islam become personified? If the latter is true, the question inevitably arises, does Islam have a voice? If it does, through whose mouth does its sound echo?

To answer this question we return to the Book of Allah, namely the Noble Quran, in which Allah says,

{ثُمَّ أَورَثنَا الكِتابَ الَّذينَ اصطَفَينا مِن عِبادِنا}

Which means

“Then We [God] gave the Book as inheritance to those whom We chose from Our servants.” 1

Furthermore, Allah says, {قُل أَطيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطيعُوا الرَّسولَ} – which means, “Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger.”

It is therefore in obedience to the Quranic command that we hearken to the words of the Messenger of Allah, namely the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, as he says,

“The learned ones [al-ʿulamāʾ] are the inheritors of the prophets.” 2

He also said,

“Verily, the prophets do not leave behind dinars and dirhams [i.e. monetary means], rather they leave behind knowledge. So whoever gets a hold of it gets a great deal of good.” 3

The Voice of Islam: The Importance of Knowledge

We draw two primary lessons from this hadith:

Firstly, while all believers benefit from the increase in goodness (barakah) emanating from the Sacred Scripture, it is the learned ones, namely al- ʿulamāʾ (loosely translated as scholars), that are the true heirs of the prophetic inheritance. As the saying goes, “One cannot give what one does not possess.” If a person lacks in sacred knowledge – if he or she has not taken part of the prophetic inheritance – he or she is not competent to speak on matters related to the details of the religion.

As such, the Islamic theological and jurisprudential discourse is not a democracy. Everyone’s opinion does not weigh the same on the scale. Rather, the discourse is firmly rooted in the Islamic source texts, namely the Quran and the Prophetic Sunnah, and it is up to the trained scholars to expound on its teachings and framework, in accordance with the theological and juristic principles that the seminal inheritors have extracted from the source texts.

Secondly, but not to be neglected, is the fact that in knowledge is a great deal of good. How can it not be, when it is that, and not something else, that God willed for the prophets to leave behind? As such, the scholarly output – especially of the immediate successors – is the healthy fruit of the prophetic tree.

What we have attested to above – namely that there is major difference between the learned and the non-learned – can be gathered from the Quran, in which Allah makes this distinction Himself,

He says,

{قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ}

Which means,

“Say, ‘Are those who know and those who do not know equal?’’ 4

This is a hypothetical question, to which the answer is clear as never before – an unquestionable no. When speaking on any given subject, how can knowledge and ignorance be the same? If I, completely untrained in the medical field, were to weigh in on academic discourses on medicine, and if I were to, even more boldly, reject the academic research of the experts, would anyone in the academic world take me seriously? Would my opinion be considered equally valid and sound, and an alternative interpretation of modern medicine? If not, why should the field of Sacred Scripture be any different?

Again, the Book of Allah affirms our contention, as it states,
(يَرفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذينَ آمَنوا مِنكُم وَالَّذينَ أوتُوا العِلمَ دَرَجاتٍ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِما تَعمَلونَ خَبيرٌ)

Meaning, 

“Allah raises those of you who have faith and those who have been given knowledge in rank, and Allah is aware of what you do.”

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According to Abdullah ibn Abbas – may Allah be pleased with them – commented on this verse, saying that the learned ones are seven hundred ranks above the believers; between each two of which is a distance of five hundred years.

This verse also brings us to another dimension: the importance for the individual to seek knowledge. While belief is good and essential, and through it you are raised in rank: mere belief is inferior to belief if it were coupled with knowledge. While the Quran speaks of belief in Allah, it also commands us saying,
(فَاعلَم أَنَّهُ لا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ) – which means, “Know that there is no god but Allah.” 6 The emphasis is on knowledge – certainty based on sound evidence.

An additional dimension to the importance of knowledge is the fact that the Quran often couples belief with good deeds. Such as in the 95th Surah, al-Tin, in which Allah tells us how mankind were created in the best of forms, but that we then sunk to the lowest of the low,

(إِلَّا الَّذينَ آمَنوا وَعَمِلُوا الصّالِحاتِ فَلَهُم أَجرٌ غَيرُ مَمنونٍ)

“Except those who have belief and do good deeds, and that for them is a reward which shall not be discontinued.” 7

There is a proverb that reads, (العلم إمام العمل) – “Knowledge is the leader of action.”

Actions are not sound unless accompanied with knowledge, for if you lack knowledge, it equals ignorance of the good and bad nature of the deed. Hence, how can you do good if you do not know what is good in the first place? Similarly, how can you stay away from evil if you do not know what evil is in the first place? As such, since belief and good deeds go hand-in-hand, knowledge becomes the very basis for a sound manifestation of one’s belief. In the same spirit, knowledge without deeds is of no use, for as the proverb goes, “Knowledge without action is like a tree without fruit.”

As such, if you have belief, but lack knowledge, or if you have knowledge, but lack good deeds (for all three are essential), you are designated to a lower realm than if you combined these three very essential components.

More on this in the near future, for it deals with the importance of seeking knowledge for the individual, which we shall deal with extensively in our next installment, if Allah permits.

As for the second part of the abovementioned hadith, i.e. there being a great deal of good in knowledge, the Prophet ﷺ said, (من يريد الله به خيراً يفقهه في الدين).

This statement can be understood in two ways, both of which are – God willing – equally acceptable.

The first interpretation, “The one whom Allah wills good for, He grants him penetrating understanding of the religion.”

The second interpretation, “The one whom Allah wills good with, He grants him penetrating understanding of the religion.”

The former speaks of the benefit of the individual, the latter of his surroundings. Hence, if Allah grants you knowledge, it is a sign that He not only wills well for you personally, but to facilitate good for others through you.

In light of all that I have mentioned, we at Madina Institute aim to equip the student with knowledge, as preserved by classical scholarship, that not only grants him or her the competence to engage in the contemporary Islamic discourse at a grass-root level, but also provides the student with guidance that enables him or her to transform him- or herself and community through a manifestation of their faith through actions based on sound Islamic knowledge.

Madina Institute specializes in adult-oriented Islamic education, and believe in a holistic approach to the understanding of religion, equipping the student with tools navigate modernity while being faithful to the theological and jurisprudential precepts of their religion.


  1.  Surah Fatir 35: 32
  2. Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban and others.
  3. Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud
  4. Surah al-Zumar 39: 9
  5. Surah al-Mujadilah 58: 11
  6. Surah Muhammad 47: 19
  7. Surah al-Tin 95: 6
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