IQRA: How Muslims addressed this call


Iqra: How Muslims Addressed this Call

“IQRA” is the first word of the first revelation of Islam to Prophet Mohammad, an Arabic word which literally means: “Read”. Muslims since then have tried to do justice to this call for knowledge and learning by setting up an elaborate system of education and learning all through the Islamic world and all through the Islamic history. The importance and high value that Islam accords to education became evident since the very beginning as the very first prisoners of war captured by Muslims in the battle of Badr, the first battle of Islam with the non-believers, who were unable to pay the prize that they were required to pay in order to earn their freedom were asked to teach the art of reading and writing to the illiterate Muslims in exchange of that prize. It is obvious that the pagan prisoners were not supposed to impart the religious knowledge, hence highlighting the fact that it was the idea of literacy itself that Islam bestowed so much value upon!

Islam, thus, has a long and strong tradition of introducing its followers to the art of learning by establishing a network of elementary schools called “madrasahs” (maktab, or kuttab) where pupils learned to read and write, which were developed into centres for instruction in elementary Islamic subjects. Students were expected to memorize the Qur’an as perfectly as possible. Some schools also included in their curriculum the study of poetry, elementary arithmetic, physical sciences, penmanship, ethics (manners), and elementary grammar. Maktabs were quite common in almost every town or village in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Sicily, and Spain, existing since as early as the 9th century. However, the most famous one was founded in 1057 by vizier Nizam-ul-Mulk in Baghdad. The Nizamiyah, devoted to Sunnite learning, served as a model for the establishment of an extensive network of such institutions throughout the eastern Islamic world, especially in Cairo which had 75 madrasahs, in Damascus which had 51, and in Aleppo where the number of madrasahs rose from six to 44 between 1155 and 1260. Important institutions also developed in the Spanish cities of Cordoba, Seville, Toledo, Granada, Murcia, Almeria, Valencia, and Cadiz, under the Umayyads.

Al-Azhar University at Cairo, Egypt, has been the chief centre of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world, founded by the Fatimids in 970 C.E. with a large public library and several colleges. The basic program of studies was, and still is, Islamic law, theology, and the Arabic language. Gradually these subjects got eliminated after having reached climax resulting in consequent decline. In the 19th century philosophy was reinstated. The modernization has resulted in the addition of social sciences at its new supplementary campus. Presently a number of Islamic universities have been established in the Muslim countries where apart from theology, the other sciences are also taught, but they are few in numbers. There are, however, thousands of traditional madrasah and Dar-ul-ulooms in countries with Muslim populations where only Islamic theology and religious sciences are taught, producing millions of ‘ulema’ (religious scholars) with almost no knowledge of social and physical sciences or other branches of knowledge.

Early Muslim Education:

Early Muslim education emphasized practical studies such as the application of technological expertise to the development of irrigation systems, architectural innovations, textiles, iron and steel products, earthenware, and leather products; the manufacture of paper and gunpowder ; the advancement of commerce; and the maintenance of a merchant marine. After the 11th century, however, denominational interests dominated higher learning, and the Islamic sciences achieved preeminence. Greek knowledge was studied in private, if at all, and the literary arts diminished in significance as educational policies encouraging academic freedom and new learning were replaced by a closed system characterized by intolerance toward scientific innovations, secular subjects, and creative scholarship. This denominational system spread throughout eastern Islam between around 1050 and 1250 C.E.

Pursuit of Scientific Knowledge & Libraries:

Thus during first half of millennia of its history, Islamic civilization has been keen to gain knowledge, be it physics, chemistry (alchemi), algebra, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, social sciences, philosophy or any other field. The high degree of learning and scholarship in Islam, particularly during the ’Abbasid’ period in the East and the later during Umayyads in the West (Spain) encouraged the development of bookshops, copyists, and book dealers in big and important Islamic cities such as Damascus, Baghdad, and Cordoba. Scholars and students spent many hours in these bookshop schools browsing, examining, and studying available books or purchasing favourite selections for their private libraries. Book dealers travelled to famous bookstores in search of rare manuscripts for their purchase and resold them to collectors and scholars, thus contributing to the spread of learning. Many such manuscripts found their way to private libraries of famous Muslim scholars such as Avicenna, al-Ghazali, and al-Farabi, who in turn made their homes the centres of scholarly pursuits for their students.

Role of Islam in Renaissance & Enlightenment:

Europe owes its awakening from the dark ages to the Renaissance and Enlightenment by the transfer of knowledge including lost Greek heritage through the Muslim scholars and centres of learning at Spain and their contact with the Muslim world through Crusades. As long as Muslims continued the pursuit of all branches of useful worldly knowledge of physical sciences and technology along with the religious sciences, the Islamic Civilization was at its zenith.

Stages of Evolution of Learning Process:

The progress and development of educational system among Muslims may be divided into various stages. The renaissance of Islamic culture and scholarship developed largely under the ‘Abbasid administration in Eastern side and later under the Umayyads in the West, mainly in Spain, between 800 and 1000 C.E. This latter stage, the golden age of Islamic scholarship, was largely a period of translation and interpretation of classical thoughts and their adaptations to Islamic theology and philosophy. The period also witnessed the introduction and assimilation of Hellenistic, Persian, and Indian knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, algebra, trigonometry, and medicine into Muslim culture. Whereas the 8th and 9th centuries (mainly between 750 and 900 C.E.) were characterized by the introduction of classical learning and its refinement and adaptation to Islamic culture, the 10th and 11th were the centuries of interpretation, criticism, and further adaptation. There followed a stage of modification and significant additions to classical culture through Muslim scholarship. During the 12th and 13th centuries, most of the works of classical learning and the creative Muslim additions were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and Latin. The creative scholarship in Islam from the 10th to the 12th century included works by such scholars as Omar Khayyam, al-Biruni, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina), at-Tabari, Avempace (Ibn Bajjah), and Averroes (Ibn Rushd).

Muslim Contributions in the field of Medicine, Science & Technology:

The contributions in the advancement of knowledge by the traditional Islamic institutions of learning (Madrasahs, Maktab, Halqa & Dar-ul-Uloom) are enormous, which have been summed up in Encyclopedia Britannica: “The madrasahs generally offered instruction in both the religious sciences and other branches of knowledge. The contribution of these institutions to the advancement of knowledge was vast.

Muslim scholars calculated the angle of the ecliptic; measured the size of the Earth; calculated the precession of the equinoxes; explained, in the field of optics and physics, such phenomenon as refraction of light, gravity, capillary attraction, and twilight; and developed observatories for the empirical study of heavenly bodies. They made advances in the uses of drugs, herbs, and foods for medication; established hospitals with a system of interns and externs; discovered causes of certain diseases and developed correct diagnoses of them; proposed new concepts of hygiene; made use of anesthetics in surgery with newly innovated surgical tools; and introduced the science of dissection in anatomy.

Muslims furthered the scientific breeding of horses and cattle; found new ways of grafting to produce new types of flowers and fruits; introduced new concepts of irrigation, fertilization, and soil cultivation; and improved upon the science of navigation. In the area of chemistry, Muslim scholarship led to the discovery of such substances as potash, alcohol, nitrate of silver, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and mercury chloride.

Muslim scientists also developed to a high degree of perfection the arts of textiles, ceramics, and metallurgy.”

According to a US study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in its journal on 21 February 2007, “Designs on surface tiles in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages revealed their maker’s understanding of mathematical concepts not grasped in the West until 500 years later. Many Medieval Islamic buildings walls have ornate geometric star or polygon or ‘girih’, patterns, which are often overlaid with a swirling network of lines – This girih tile method was more efficient and precise than the previous approach, allowing for an important breakthrough in Islamic mathematics and design.”

Muslims Scholars of Theology and Science:

According to the famous scientist Albert Einstein; “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” Francis Bacon, the famous philosopher, has rightly said that a little knowledge of science makes you a believer in God. A critical analysis reveals that most of Muslim scientists and scholars of medieval period were also eminent scholars of Islam and theology. The earlier Muslim scientific investigations were based on the inherent link between the physical and spiritual spheres, but they were informed by a process of careful observation and reflection that investigated the physical universe.

Influence of Qur’an on Muslim Scientists:

The worldview of the Muslim scientists was inspired by the Qur’an as they knew that: “Surely, in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alteration of the night and the day, in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies, with which He revives the earth after its death and spreads in it all kinds of animals, in the change of the winds and the clouds between the sky and the earth that are made subservient, there are signs for rational people.” (Qur’an 2:164). Their scientific enquiry was inspired by Qur’anic verses like “Indeed in the alteration of the night and the day and what Allah has created in the heavens and the earth, there are signs for those who are God fearing.” (Qur’an 10:6). They were aware that there was much more to be discovered. They did not have the precise details of the solar and lunar orbits but they knew that there was something extremely meaningful behind the alteration of the day and the night and in the precise movements of the sun and the moon as mentioned in the Qur’an. One can still verify that those who designed the dome and the minaret knew how to transform space and silence in to a chanting remembrance that renews the nexus between God and those who respond to His urgent invitation.

86 comments on “IQRA: How Muslims addressed this call

  1. Great information! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. This is a wonderful and well researched article that I hope can close those “close minded clerics” who openly teach that education is a western tool and advocate that Muslims have NO rights to education and science. I should know, I just interviewed that boy on my blog telling me how bad it is to study and many mosques are delivering daily sermons on how bad education is for Muslims and in particular for women.

    Tib ka shauba has also immense Muslim contribution and today’s bearded tell us polio vaccination is western propaganda, I am ashamed that Pakistan is the second only country left in the globe where we could not still eradicate polio.

    Imran, you need to take the message of “IQRA” into present day narrative and respond to Allah SWT urgent invitation for spreading the gift of education, I really hope a prolific writer as yourself will write on how important it is for 21 century Muslims to attain education and become associated with studying the various aspects of Universe.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Beautifully written very informative Bless you

    Liked by 4 people

  4. this is good! keep it up 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  5. So true the Golden Age of Islam
    in Endeavors of science brings
    Light to the Crusade
    Age of
    Darkness to the
    Development of
    the Gift of Allah
    in Reason to
    our minds
    in both Science
    and Art.. and i do love
    the spiraling architecture
    that Rose up out of
    the Angles
    of Western
    ways of building
    as the Golden Spiral
    mean of Allah seen through
    all of the Universe from the largest
    and smallest visible to the human
    aided and unaided eye.. as reflected
    in the
    of Science..
    my friend.. Imran Ali..:)

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Great post brother Imran
    I hope that the nation of IQRA still cares for reading
    Sadly the spread of internet reduces the desire of reading books all over the world..
    Reading is a great weapon indeed against ignorance even amongst educated people
    Flowers for the intelligent reader Imran Ali

    Liked by 3 people

  7. This is such an interesting and informative post, Imran. I was always impressed by the depth of Islamic learning, most notably the advances made in medicine during the Middle Ages. As you have pointed out, they were advanced in so many other aspects of learning, too. The Moorish architecture in Southern Spain is quite amazing.Thank you for sharing the details of your excellent research.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. This is awesome information, especially for converts who have to learn everything from nothing. Contextual history is integral to learning the Deen properly.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Comprehensive one. Good for ignorant people like me also 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Barak Allah Fikum, Brother Imran for your excellent efforts – this article is very enlightening!

    Subhann’Allah, isn’t it amazing that with the arrival of Islam, and the need to pray at specific times each day, the evolution of the clock was set in motion by devout Muslims.

    The evolution of mathematics and astronomy was greatly supported by Muslims, also, since the need to pray at the correct time was joined with the need to pray in the exact direction of the Kaaba in Makkah. This influenced Muslim scholars in many studies, including the development of algebra, optics, map making, publishing, and so many other excellent endeavors.

    Masha’Allah, the importance of our prayer is truly awesome!
    Peace and Blessings

    btw I wrote a short article about the Muslim contributions to clock making for OnIslam.net – altho that website is temporarily down, I have a copy on my author website at https://aishasoffice.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/4-fantastic-clocks-from-islamic-heritage/

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I nominate you for the sunshine blogger award…. 🙂 Aameen Summa Aameen


    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wonderful post and I agree with all the comments:) May you be blessed for the amazing insight you freely shared with all of us:)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. The verses about Iqra have always been my favorite verses in the Quran because education has always been dear to me alhamdullilah. I also thank Allah and my family for making it a priority in my life. Thank you for sharing this, jzk!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. A very informative post…
    If we look in the current prospective here in India…The need of education(not only religious but a more comprehensive one ) covering important subjects like Maths,Science is required to be taught in Madarsaas….
    As proper education system at present is the key to every problem…..

    Liked by 2 people

  15. jazakAllah Imran for creating awareness of facts and blessings with your wisdom and knowledge . peace and more wisdom to you

    Liked by 2 people

  16. That’s really amazing.I know all these things al-ready in historical and Islamic books already in detail but your way to convey this message is really great.Stay blessed always 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Reblogged this on All is well!.


  18. A brief information! Do you really have so much knowledge about Islam, Imran? It makes me feel ashamed.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Assalamu alaikum..
    A very informative post and provides an insight to many about the importance of Ilm/ knowledge in Islam. It’s a blessing He gives a few, I feel. Blessed are those who are granted it by Allah swt and they should use it to educate the others!
    Thanks for coming along on my blog, that brought me here. Glad to connect to you!
    Jazakallahu khairan! 🙂
    Stay blessed brother and keep doing the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks Bro! So good to know about Islam in a new perspective.
    TC. GBU.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Iqra! To seek knowledge of the Haq. Not only the world, but also the Deen. Islam is all about striking the right balance! Subhan Allah! 🙂 Good read!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Hope that Today’s madrasahs function with the aim that the ancient madrasahs had. Today madrasahs are just centres knowing how to read the Holy Quran and memorise it. It needs to be more varied. Besides learning just the scriptures, more subjects essential to today’s life should be included. Else they shouldn’t function at all. Coz in most places, the poor children especially the Yateems who are admitted into madrasahs do not go to school. If madrasahs take into account overall development of the child along with religious studies, it is okay if children just go there. But most madrasahs fail to do so and some of them which keep Yateems, dont send them to schools. And this keeps the poor children from getting proper education. The Muslim communtiy should look upon this issue seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Well written

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Love this! A great, informative piece

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Shalom!

    I as a strong believer in Judaism can never deny this fact! My grandfather knew even the most minutest of the details of all Muslim scientists born, from Spain to Afghanistan. I am researching for a book on the very subject. And I keep meeting many loving Muslim youngmen, who don’t know about these greatest scholars of the world. And some who know it, don’t encourage others to produce these greats in this age. Muslims scholars were far more intellectual than learned Jewish Scholars in those times, who were know as the intellectual canons in Christian world. Whereas in the Christiandom the Pope’s decree was “If you find any Science or Philosophy book burn the house and it’s residents!” And the lovers of knowledge used to escape to the Muslim wonder called Toledo or Granada(Muslim Spain).

    Our “golden era of diaspora was Muslim Spain” as David Ben-Gurion rightly quoted.

    Therefore the Papsy were the ones who gresomely and most brutally persecution both the Jews, Muslims and the Knowledge. Muslims Scientists no doubt enlightened the Jewish mind. Those are the true chosen people(Biblically) of the lord who possess true knowledge and learning of the sciences.

    The writer reminded me of what my father used to say.

    By the way, perhaps you already know it, in Hebrew your name translates to height.


    Liked by 1 person

  26. This was really interesting to read…

    Liked by 1 person

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