Knowledge and action: Two essential parts of Islam


Last Updated on 21st November 2022

Ataul Mujeeb Rashed, Missionary-in-Charge, UK
Knowledge Islam

مِنَ الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوۡا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللّٰهَ عَلَيۡهِ ۚ فَمِنۡهُمۡ مَّنۡ قَضٰي نَحۡبَهٗ وَمِنۡهُمۡ مَّنۡ يَّنۡتَظِرُ ۫ۖ وَمَا بَدَّلُوۡا تَبۡدِيۡلًا

“Among the believers are men who have been true to the covenant they had made with Allah. There are some among them who have fulfilled their vow, and there are others among them who [still] wait, and they have not changed [their condition] in the least.” (Surah al-Ahzab, Ch.33: V.24)

This simple, easy, brief, two-worded topic – “knowledge and action” – comprises extraordinarily vast and comprehensive meanings and philosophy.

All our efforts, religious or worldly, throughout our lives appear to revolve around the axes of these two orbits; knowledge and practice. If knowledge is like a seed, action is its fruit. Without knowledge, neither the demands of religion nor those of the world can be fulfilled. On the other hand, without practice and action, one cannot achieve anything in the field of religion or that of the world. The right action is inconceivable without knowledge and knowledge without appropriate action is useless. The sole object of knowledge is for one to follow a course of action in the light of that knowledge and ultimately achieve one’s goal with the blessing of sound knowledge and appropriate good deeds. 

Thus, knowledge and practice are inseparably connected; these are two wheels of the same cart without which life cannot move on. They must be mutually balanced and synchronised. Knowledge and action are indeed the two essences of our lives, the central point and standard of our success and prosperity that guarantee our survival and progress. These two words are the secret of our exoneration and happiness. It can be stated with confidence that these two words describe the motto and ideal of an Ahmadi.

According to lexicologists, ’ilm means to know the minute particulars of something. The Promised Messiahas stated:

“’Ilm according to the terminology of the Holy Quran, refers to definite knowledge.” (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya [English], Part III, p. 231)

He added that real knowledge is that which Allah Almighty grants out of His grace. That knowledge leads to God’s realisation and creates fear of Allah, as stated in the Holy Quran:

اِنَّمَا‭ ‬يَخۡشَي‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬مِنۡ‭ ‬عِبَادِهِ‭ ‬الۡعُلَمٰٓؤُا‭ ‬

“Only those of His servants who possess knowledge fear Allah. (Surah Fatir, Ch.35: V.29)

The Promised Messiahas said, “If knowledge does not increase fear of Allah, then it is not a means to increase God’s realisation”. (Malfuzat, Vol. 5, p. 11)

A study of the Quran shows that the greatest beneficence Allah conferred on man, after his creation, is knowledge, by which he attains the skill of expression.  

خَلَقَ‭ ‬الْاِنْسَانَ‭ ‬عَلَّمَهُ‭ ‬الْبَيَانَ

 “Allah has created man; He has taught him the skill of expression.” (Surah ar-Rahman, Ch.55: V.5)

عَلَّمَ‭ ‬الْاِنْسَانَ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬لَمْ‭ ‬يَعْلَمْ‭ ‬

“He taught man what he knew not. (Surah al-’Alaq, Ch.96: V.6)

The blessing of knowledge is primarily granted to prophets of Allah so they may become teachers of their people. The acquisition of knowledge is strongly enjoined in the ahadith:

مَنْ‭ ‬خَرَجَ‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬طَلَبِ‭ ‬الْعِلْمِ‭ ‬فَهُوَ‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬سَبِيلِ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬حَتَّى‭ ‬يَرْجِعَ

“He who goes forth in search of knowledge is considered to be struggling in the Cause of Allah until he returns.” (Tirmidhi)

طَلَبُ‭ ‬الْعِلْمِ‭ ‬فَرِيضَةٌ‭ ‬عَلٰى‭ ‬كُلِّ‭ ‬مُسْلِمٍ

 “Acquiring knowledge is obligatory for all Muslims.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

According to the ahadith, knowledge is of two types; the science of bodies and the science of religions. Knowledge of religions has superiority over all other sciences because the blessing of religious knowledge makes for a good life in this world as well as in the hereafter, whereas the effect of secular knowledge is limited to affairs of this material world only.

The Holy Quran has made it clear that those who do not know are not on par with those who do. The superiority of a learned person is an accepted reality. Knowledge is a power that begets bravery. Real knowledge creates humility in man that raises his ranks, and exonerates him, in the hereafter. The Promised Messiahas has stated: 

“Knowledge and wisdom are a treasure that is superior to all riches. All material wealth is perishable, however, knowledge and wisdom do not perish”. (Malfuzat [Urdu], Vol. 7, p. 209)

It must be clear that all knowledge is attributable to God Almighty as He, being the Knower of the Unseen, is the Source and Fountainhead of real knowledge. All the learned and the knowledgeable drink from that pure fountain and believe they did not attain their knowledge; it was bestowed on them by God Almighty. With that conviction, he keeps lying at the threshold of God with his entreaties like a beggar.

To teach mankind, God Almighty has given the example of angels who confessed most humbly: 

لَا‭ ‬عِلْمَ‭ ‬لَنَآ‭ ‬اِلَّا‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬عَلَّمْتَنَا‭ ‬

“No knowledge have we except what Thou hast taught us.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.33)

The realisation that all knowledge is bestowed by God Almighty – that being the real knowledge – must lead one inevitably to supplicate to Him always. Allah, the Answerer of Prayers, most graciously taught the believers to supplicate in the following words:

قُلْ‭ ‬رَّبِّ‭ ‬زِدْنِيْ‭ ‬عِلْمَاً

“Say, ‘O my Lord, increase me in knowledge.’”(Surah TaHa, Ch.20: V.115)

Quran 1

Similarly, a prayer taught by the Holy Prophetsa should also be remembered:

اَللّٰهُمَّ‭ ‬انْفَعْنِيْ‭ ‬بِمَاعَلَّمْتَنِيْ‭ ‬وعَلِّمْنِيْ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬يَنْفَعُنِيْ‭ ‬وَزِدْنِيْ‭ ‬عِلْمَاً

“O my Allah! Make the knowledge that You have bestowed on me beneficial for me and grant me knowledge that is beneficial for me and continue to increase me in knowledge forever and evermore.”

True knowledge is that which is beneficial and a deed acceptable to God is that which is righteous. In keeping with that point of wisdom, the Holy Prophetsa has taught us another prayer: 

اَللَّهُمَّ‭ ‬ارْزُقْنِيْ‭ ‬عِلْماً‭ ‬نَافِعَاً‭ ‬وَّعَمَلاً‭ ‬صَالِحاً‭ ‬تَرْضَاه

“O, My God! Grant me knowledge, that is beneficial for me, and the ability to do good deeds that please You!”

Another narration adds يَرْفَعْنِي – meaning grant me the ability to do good deeds that lead to an increase in my ranks. 

Allah taught the following prayer by revelation to the Promised Messiahas:

رَبِّ‭ ‬اَرِنِيْ‭ ‬حَقَا‭ ‬ئِقَ‭ ‬الْاَشْيَاء

“O, my Lord! show me the reality of things” (Tadhkirah [English], p. 990)

Knowledge must lead to moulding one’s practice accordingly, because it is the practice that lends credence to the sincerity of one’s faith. This world is Dar-ul-’Amal (the place of action) and the Hereafter is the day of recompense when one will be answerable for their deeds.

The Holy Quran has placed great emphasis on appropriate and righteous deeds that follow knowledge and faith. A righteous deed is that which involves the use of physical and natural faculties, being mindful of obligations to fellow human beings, being free from any discord and inequity and being appropriate to the situation and the need. The Promised Messiahas has defined a righteous deed, in simple and comprehensive terms as that “which is only for the sake of God.” (Malfuzat [Urdu], Vol. 9, p. 96)

It is imperative to act on the knowledge that is acquired. The Arabic words ’ilm (knowledge) and ’amal (action/practice) are derived from the same set of letters and are thus fundamentally intertwined with one another. 

Allah Almighty has created man such that he is pledged to toil and struggle. Man does not achieve his goal only through knowledge, intention, or desire for it; he gets what he struggles for. Knowledge is a treasure, but action is the key to it. An Urdu poet has put it in the following words:

نقوشِ‭ ‬غيب‭ ‬كو‭ ‬قسمت‭ ‬په‭ ‬چهوڑنے‭ ‬والو

يه‭ ‬نقش‭ ‬بنتے‭ ‬نهيں‭ ‬هيں‭ ‬بنائے‭ ‬جاتے‭ ‬هيں

Those who leave unseen impressions to fate should know,

These images do not come about spontaneously but have to be created.

However, salvation in the Hereafter does not depend on deeds alone but on the mercy and forgiveness of Allah Almighty. Of course, good and righteous deeds are means to attract Divine Mercy.

The Promised Messiahas says: 

“Blessed is the one who owns up to his failings and seeks Divine Mercy and extremely insolent, wicked and unfortunate is the person who regards his deeds as the result of his faculties and demands justice from God.” (Chashma-e-Ma’rifat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 23, p. 35)

The Promised Messiahas has written about knowledge and practice in many of his books. He has elaborated a great deal on its various aspects in his epoch-making treatise, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam. Answering the fifth question on sources of Divine knowledge, he mentioned three types of knowledge: 

Knowledge by way of certainty of inference

Knowledge by way of certainty of sight

Knowledge by way of certainty of experience 

He stated various sources of knowledge, including reason, traditions, human nature, Divine revelations and practical experiences. Passing through these, stage by stage, one attains the highest level of utmost certainty by way of experience. He has explained the mutual relationship and connection between knowledge and practice, as follows: 

“There is no virtue in the knowledge that is confined to the mind and the heart. True knowledge is that which emerges from the mind and regulates and trains all the limbs and manifests itself all the store of memory. Thus, knowledge is strengthened and fostered through its imprint being imposed on all the limbs by practical experience. No type of knowledge, however elementary arrives at its climax without practice.” (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp. 202-203)

He further elaborated:

“Only that knowledge is beneficial which has been tested by experience and knowledge that is merely academic and has not been the subject of experience is without beneficences.” (Ibid, p. 204)

He added:

“The ultimate certainty of Knowledge is achieved through the experience of every part of it. That is what happened in Islam. God Almighty provided the Muslims with the opportunity to illustrate whatever they were taught in the Quran in their practice and thus to become filled with light.” (Ibid)

In these few words, the Promised Messiahas has given a great deal of insight. briefly but comprehensively, concerning the mutual relationship and connection between knowledge and practice. Knowledge is like a seed and unless it sprouts into a plant that bears fruits and flowers of deeds, it is inert, immaterial, and useless. That is why, Islam – the most perfect religion, while drawing attention to the magnificence and blessings of knowledge, and its acquisition, has emphasised the need to put it into practice. The Holy Quran has repeatedly mentioned faith and righteous deeds together. Affirmation of faith with the tongue alone amounts to nothing unless it is put into practice.

It is worth remembering that the journey of faith starts with knowledge. When this knowledge progresses to certainty and insight, it is called faith. Faith relates to the heart. According to Islamic teachings, it is not enough for one only to affirm some beliefs earnestly unless the practical demands of that belief are fulfilled, and it is fully enforced into one’s practical life with good and appropriate righteous deeds. Till such time, faith is not called perfect. Thus, knowledge and practice are inextricably intertwined.

Without practice, knowledge is unprofitable and useless and without knowledge, deeds are devoid of beauty and virtue. Ideological and academic knowledge is beneficial only when it is acted upon. The same principle is operative in the spiritual as well as the material world. Every invention in the world is the product of a practical transformation of knowledge.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira makes a profound point in his book Mirqatul Yaqeen about the mutual relationship between knowledge and practice. He states that once he saw the Holy Prophetsa in a dream and asked him, “What did you teach Hazrat Abu Hurairahra whereby he could commit your sayings to memory?” As the Holy Prophetsa moved his mouth close to his ear to tell him, Khalifa Nuruddin Sahib woke him up, saying it was time for prayer. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira interpreted the dream to suggest that acting upon the ahadith was indeed the means to remember them. (Mirqatul Yaqeen, p. 173)

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