Last Updated on 4th February 2021
Rahmatullah Khan Shakir (1901-2000) Former Assistant Editor and Manager of Al Fazl
The ignorance of the Arabs during the time of the Prophetsa is known to all, where even the traces of knowledge were hard to find. But along with the light of faith, a zeal to seek knowledge was infused into the Muslims, who not only themselves underwent a revolutionary transformation, but became the founding fathers of various sciences in the current world.
The topic under discussion is so vast that a large number of voluminous books can be written on it. But this is not the fit occasion for this. Therefore, only a few examples in this regard are cited below.
Hazrat Abu Hurairah
The whole world is well aware of the high standing of Hazrat Abu Hurairahra in the discipline of hadith. But probably very few people know that he accepted Islam in the prime of his life, when he was 30. Sacrificing all his ambitions and longings and like a destitute man, he presented himself to the Holy Prophetsa so as to gather the pearls, in the form of words, uttered by the Holy Prophetsa and preserve them for the generations to come.
Like a shadow, he would accompany the Holy Prophetsa everywhere. He bore starvation upon starvation and with his stomach pressed with stones, he would stay inside the mosque lest be deprived of a saying of the Holy Prophetsa by stepping outside for income or food. Frequently, he would faint due to starvation and people would take him to be suffering from epilepsy, whereas this condition of his was due to starvation. As a result of his blessed labour, the number of ahadith he reported from the Holy Prophetsa is as many as 5,374. (Al-Isabah, Vol. 7, p. 353, Zikr Abu Hurairah)
Hazrat Usama was a storehouse of the Prophet’ssa sayings
Hazrat Usama bin Zaidra was only 20 at the death of the Holy Prophetsa. But all are in agreement that he was a storehouse of the sayings of the Holy Prophetsa. Even the senior Companionsra would seek his counsel in matters about which they had doubts. (Al-Isabah, Vol. 1, p. 203, Zikr Usamah bin Zaid)
Excellent knowledge of the Quran and Islam
Hazrat Uthmanra bin Abi Al-As embraced Islam in the final years of the Holy Prophetsa and he was quite young at that time. But his standing in knowledge was so high that Hazrat Umarra used to say that this boy was very keen in understanding the Islamic faith and the Holy Quran. Though he was quite young, but on account of his distinction in learning, the Holy Prophetsa appointed him the imam of Bani Thaqif. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 3, p. 476)
Desire to memorise ahadith Hazrat Abu Saeed Khudrira was quite young in the time of the Holy Prophetsa, but he reported as many as 1,170 ahadith, which gives a clue as to how keen he was to the acquisition of knowledge. (Al-Isti‘ab, Vol. 4, p. 1672)
The youngest of all the naqibs
Hazrat Saadra bin Zarah, on account of his knowledge, was appointed naqib [chief] of Banu Najjar by the Holy Prophetsa. He was the youngest of all the naqibs. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 2, p. 196)
Travelling to a distant land to learn
Hazrat Jabirra bin Abdullah was only 18 or 19 years old when he embraced Islam. But he was so keen to learn that once after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, Jabirra learnt that Hazrat Abdullahra bin Anis knew a hadith which he himself did not know. At that time, Abdullahra lived in Syria. Hazrat Jabirra bought a camel and to learn the hadith from him, travelled all the way to Syria. Similarly, for another hadith, he travelled as far as Egypt to learn it from Hazrat Muslimah, the amir of Egypt. (Bahuth fi Tarikh Al-Sanatil-Mushrifah, p. 213)
Memorisation of the Quran
Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit accepted Islam when he was only 11 years of age and started learning the Holy Quran from that very time. Hazrat Zaidra had memorised 17 chapters when the Holy Prophetsa came to Medina. Keeping in view the lifestyle of the Arab youths, this was something unusual. To see this, people brought him to the Holy Prophetsa, who was pleased to hear the Quran from him. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 2, p. 127)
Hazrat Zaid learning Syriac and Hebrew
Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit, as mentioned in the above account, was very pious and intelligent. Once the Holy Prophetsa said to him that sometimes, he received letters in Syriac or Hebrew languages, whose content did not need to be disclosed. Nobody knew those languages except the Jews. Therefore, the Holy Prophetsa directed him to learn the language. In compliance, he started learning it. He worked in this regard so keenly and diligently that he became proficient in reading and replying the letters in only 15 days. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 5, p. 182)
Keenness to report ahadith
Hazrat Sahalra bin Saad was very young in the time of the Holy Prophetsa but was so keen to learn that he reported as many as 1,188 ahadith. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 2, p. 320)
Appointment as governor due to knowledge
Hazrat Amrra bin Khuram accepted Islam at a young age, but he was so good and well-versed in learning, maturity of opinion and decisiveness that despite his being as young as 20, the Holy Prophetsa appointed him the governor of Najran. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 3, p. 771)
Need for more knowledgeable people among Muslims
Hazrat Umairra bin Saad was so young in the time of the Holy Prophetsa that he could not join in any ghazwah [a battle in which the Holy Prophetsa participated in person]. But he acquired so high a standing among the Companionsra in learning and excellence that Hazrat Umarra used to say that if only he had a few more men like Umairra, he would have been greatly facilitated in matters pertaining to Khilafat. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 3, p. 790)
Desire to become huffaz
The Muslim youth were very eager to commit the Holy Quran to memory. Once, for some reason, Hazrat Umarra had the huffaz counted; he learnt that in one detachment of an army, there were over 300 huffaz. (Kanzul-Ummal, Vol. 1, p. 217)
Hazrat Muaz bin Jabal
Hazrat Muazra bin Jabal died in the prime of his life, at 36. Hazrat Muazra spent this age with utmost piety, which is normally considered the age of carnal desires. People suggested to Hazrat Umarra to appoint someone as Khalifa when he was taking his last breaths. He replied, “If only Muazra was alive, I would have appointed him as Khalifa.”
He used to say:
عَجَزَتِ النِّسَاءُ اَنْ يَلِدْنَ مِثْلَ مُعَاذٍ
“Women are unable to give birth to another man like Muazra.”
He was also a member of the Shura body. After the fall of Mecca, the Holy Prophetsa appointed him the amir of Yemen, which is a proof of the fact that he possessed a high literary and intellectual standing in his eyes. (Halyatil-Auliya wa Tabaqatul-Asfiya, Vol. 2, p. 229) (Sunan Al-Kubra, Vol. 7, Hadith No. 15558, Kitab-ul-Adab, Qismus-Sadaqat wan-Nafaqat)
Unaffected from hypocritical views
Hazrat Majmara bin Jariyah had committed the Holy Quran to memory in his childhood, which in this age of ours is not something outstanding, but in the perspective of that society, it was really something remarkable.
On account of his piety and righteousness, he became the imam of his people. His father was the founder of the mosque of Zirar [a mosque built by the hypocrites in Medina], but despite being young, he had grasped the Islamic teaching with its spirit so purely that he accepted no evil effect from his father. (Usdul-Ghabbah, Vol. 4, p. 290)
An eight-year-old’s desire to learn about Islam
Hazrat Nu‘manra bin Munzar was only eight in the time of the Holy Prophetsa, but had a keen eye and would study the circumstances of the Holy Prophetsa with deep attention and remember them. He would take his seat very close to the pulpit at the time of address. He claimed that of all the Companionsra, he knew most about the Tahajud prayer of the Holy Prophetsa. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 4, p. 269)
Hafiz of hadith
Hazrat Samrahra bin Jundab was very young in the time of the Holy Prophetsa, yet he had memorised hundreds of ahadith. It is reported that he was the hafiz of ahadith and reported a large number of ahadith from the Holy Prophetsa. (Al-Isti‘ab, Vol. 2, p. 654)
Desire to hear the words of the Prophetsa
Hazrat Umarra lived at some distance from Medina, but he was so desirous to learn that on alternate days, he and his neighbour, Hazrat Utbanra bin Malik, would visit the Holy Prophetsa, lest they miss any of his sayings. On his turn, he would apprise his neighbour of the sayings of the Holy Prophetsa and the next day, he would listen to it from him. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Ilm, Bab Tanawub fil-Ilm)
The Muslim tribes that resided out of Medina would send some of their men to live for some time in the company of the Holy Prophetsa and acquire the knowledge of faith and on their return to their clan, they would teach it to their people. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Ilm, Bab Tahriz-un-Nabisa wafad Abdul-Qais ala an Yahfazu)
The Ashab al-Suffah [companions who remained in the close company of the Holy Prophetsa in Masjid al-Nabawi] were extremely poor and destitute, so they were bound to earn their living with hard labour and toil. During the day, they would cut wood from the woodland and bring water in the town; in this manner, they earned their living. Therefore, they had very little time for education during the day; hence they would study at night. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 3, p. 137, Musnad Ahmad bin Malik, Hadith No. 12429)
A child as an imam
Hazrat Umarra bin Muslimah was only seven or eight years old in the time of the Holy Prophetsa. But amongst the people of his tribe, he knew the most Quran. The people of his tribe enquired from the Holy Prophetsa as to who should lead their prayers. The Holy Prophetsa replied, “The one who knows the Quran the most.” Thus, Umarra was appointed their imam. (Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salat, Bab man Ahaqqu bil-Imamah)
The responsibility of a learned person on others
Hazrat Salman al-Farsira [the Persian] wrote to Hazrat Abu Dardara, “Knowledge is a fountain where people come to slake their thirst and dig drains out of it to irrigate others. But if a learned person keeps quiet, he is a body without soul. If knowledge is not squandered, it is nothing more than a buried treasure. A learned person is like a man who leads others with a lamp on a dark route.” (Sunan Darmi, Bab No. 46, Al-Balagh an Rasulillah wa Talimus-Sunan, Hadith No. 576)
Learning has nothing to do with being young
Hazrat Abdullah bin Abbasra was young not only in the time of the Holy Prophetsa, but in the time of Hazrat Umarra as well. He was so highly learned that most of the time, in complex issues, Hazrat Umarra would seek his counsel. As he was young, he would show reluctance from speaking in a public meeting. But Hazrat Umarra would encourage him and say, “Learning has nothing to do with being young or of an advanced age.” He would seat him among the noble Companionsra of Badr. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ut-Tasfir, Bab Qaulihi Fa-Sabbih bi-Hamdi Rabbika Wastaghfir)
Hazrat Abdullah bin Abbasra was only 14 or 15 years old at the demise of the Holy Prophetsa. But he was so keen on learning that he reports as many as 1660 Ahadith. (Al-Tahzibut-Tahzib, Zikr Abdullah bin Abbas)
Nobility should not impede learning
Some people are deprived of knowledge or the service to the faith only because they deem it below their dignity to go to somebody to learn something. But the Companionsra were free from such a malady.
Hazrat Abdullah bin Abbasra, being a cousin of the Holy Prophetsa, belonged to the noble family. Besides this distinction he was highly learned, which has been discussed earlier. But this nobility was not an impediment in his way to learning and acquisition of knowledge. After the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, he would visit the Companionsra and listen to his ahadith from them. When he learnt that so and so person had heard a hadith from the Holy Prophetsa, he would immediately visit his house to hear that hadith from him. Thus, he collected the golden words scattered all around Arabia. As a result of this toil and hard work, whenever there was a disagreement among the Companionsra about a saying or deed of the Holy Prophetsa, they would consult Hazrat Ibn Abbasra. He promulgated this knowledge with the same struggle and hard work as when he had acquired it. He had a large number of students; hundreds of them would come to learn from him daily. (Tabaqatul-Kubra, Vol. 2, pp. 280-81)
Acquiring knowledge of other subjects
Hazrat Umarra acquired excellence not only in matters of faith, but he also acquired knowledge of those secular disciplines which were needed in the way of faith. It is reported in some ahadith that aft er coming to Medina, he had got proficiency in Hebrew. Once, he brought a Hebrew copy of the Torah to the Holy Prophetsa and started reading from it. As he continued reading, the Holy Prophet’ssa face radiated with pleasure. (Sunan Darmi, p. 62, Bab ma Yattaqi min Tafsir Hadith-in-Nabiyy wa Qauli Ghairihi)
Discipline of the distribution of inheritance
It is Hazrat Uthmanra and Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit who introduced the discipline of the distribution of inheritance. On the basis of the principles mentioned in the Holy Quran, both of these noble men erected so sound a building of this discipline that the Muslims are benefiting from it until this day and will continue to benefit from it till the Day of Judgement. (Kanzul-Ummal, Vol. 6, p. 372)
Hazrat Ali’s knowledge
Hazrat Alira accepted Islam at a young age. He was so keen on learning that observing his excellence in learning, the Holy Prophetsa said:
أَنَا مَدِيْنَةُ الْعِلْمِ وَعَلِیٌّ بَابُھَا
“I am the house of knowledge and Ali is its gate.” (Mustadrak lil-Hakim, vol. 3, p. 127, Kitab Ma‘rifat-us-Sahabah, Bab wa amma Qissatu I‘tizal Muhammad bin Muslimah Al-Ansari anil-bai‘at)
Hazrat Hasan’s knowledge
Hazrat Hasanra was only eight when the Holy Prophetsa passed away. But he had excelled so much in learning that in later years, he became a member of the committee formed in Medina responsible for compiling the discipline of fiqh [jurisprudence]. (A‘lamul Muqieen, Vol. 1, p. 72)
What Hazrat Mughirah bin Shu‘bah heard from the Prophetsa
Every old and young companion was keen to increase their knowledge. Once, Amir Mu‘awiyahra wrote to Hazrat Mughirahra bin Shu‘bah to teach him whatever he had heard from the blessed tongue of the Holy Prophetsa. In reply, he wrote, “The Holy Prophetsa forbade [everyone] from silly talk, wasting money and begging. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-uz-Zakat, Bab Qaulillah Ta‘ala La Yas‘alunan-Nasa Ilhafa)
Secular knowledge in early Islam
Besides religious learning, the Companionsra had special attention to secular knowledge as well. During his sovereignty, Amir Mu‘awiyahra heard accounts of earlier history, non-Arab kings, the evolution and history of languages and accounts of various countries and notable places from a renowned scholar, Hazrat Ubaid bin Sharbah, and had them compiled in book form. (Mu‘jamul-Mu‘llifin, Vol. 2, p. 348)
Hazrat Abdullahra bin Zubair was only seven or eight years old in the time of the Holy Prophetsa, but when he grew older, he acquired excellence not only in religious learning, but also had good command over secular subjects. He owned slaves from various countries and surprisingly, he spoke with them all in their respective mother tongues. (Mustadrak lil-Hakim, Vol. 3, p. 633, Bab Zikr Abdullah bin Zubair bin Awwam)
Keeping in view the hindrances in the way of learning at such an age, it becomes apparent from this how much labour the Companionsra would put in to acquire knowledge.
Knowledgeable female companion
The holy company of the Holy Prophetsa had induced the Companionsra to desire to learn so much that not only men of the barbarian Arabs, but women as well would put their toil into it. Not without struggle, they attained excellence in matters learning. Despite being a woman, Hazrat Rabira bint Mu‘awwaz bin Afra was so great a scholar that even very renowned scholars such as Hazrat Ibn Abbasra and Imam Zainul-Abidin would frequently seek her counsel in religious matters. (Siyar al-Sahabiyat, p. 135)
Hazrat Asmara bint Amis was very good at interpreting dreams, so much so that a renowned and excellent scholar like Hazrat Umarra too would sometimes ask her the interpretation of his dreams. (Al-Isabah, Vol. 8, p. 16, Zikr Asma bint Amis)
Setting aside the struggle and excellence of these holy men in learning, just look at their toil and hard work not only for religious learning, but despite the severest difficulties, for secular learning as well. It greatly saddens us to learn the situation in the present day, when Muslims are considered to be the most backward and ignorant in terms of education.
These are the achievements of the earlier Muslims in the field of education. The achievements and services of Muslims who came aft er them are also glorious and eternally alive in our memories.
The whole world acknowledges that the foundations for many modern day sciences were laid by Muslims. Modern research in all these sciences and arts are being carried out in light of the mental endeavours of these holy men.
Europe benefited from these gems and advanced to such a degree in every science that it has prevailed the whole world today. But regretfully, the Muslims did not value this heritage of theirs and benefited naught from it.
As a result, those who had already lost sovereignty, gradually deteriorated in all aspects of life as well and today, they are counted among the most backward of peoples in the world. May Allah have mercy on them.
(Translated by Shahid Mahmood Ahmad, Missionary in Ghana, from the original Urdu, Muslim Nau-jawanon kay Sunehri Karnamey)