Seek knowledge even if you have to go to China (“Utliub il ilma wa law fis Sin”)

Justice Markandey Katju-


When I quoted the above Hadees ( statement of Prophet Muhammad ) somewhere I was Immediately attacked by some Muslims who obviously regard themselves as repositories of all Islamic knowledge, and who said the hadees was fabricated or forged.


Justice Markandey Katju

But this hadees has wide circulation throughout the Muslim world, and I was informed about it by several Muslim friends. Even the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammed, referred to it (though he is not a scholar ). How can people say it was fabricated? Were there tape recorders in the time of the Prophet? In fact, Hadees were collected after the Prophet’s death.


Some say this hadees is a weak hadees. Even if it is, one should see its substance and not go by its literal meaning. It obviously means that the Prophet said that one should seek knowledge wherever available. There are two hadees of which no one doubts their authenticity:


(1) “Utlubul ilma minal mahde illal lahd” which means” Seek knowledge from your mother’s lap to your grave ”
(2) “Talabul Ilmi fareezatun ala kulle Muslim” which means” It is the duty ( farz ) of every Muslim to seek knowledge “This is narrated by Ibn Majaah from the hadees of Anas ibn Maalik, and classified as saheeh by al Albaani in Saheeh Sunan ibn Majaah.


There are also these words in the Quran “Wa Qul Rabbi Zidni ilma” which means “May God increase my knowledge “In fact the Quran begins with the word ‘ Iqra ‘ which means ‘ Read’. These show the importance of the Quran and the Prophet placed on acquiring knowledge.


Among Hindus, the most sacred mantra of the Rigveda, the Gayatri mantra, says the same thing which the Quran and the Prophet said. It is: “Bhoor bhuvah swah, tat savitur varenyam, bhargo devasya dheemahi, dhiyo yo nah prachodayat .” The word ‘dhee’ means knowledge, and the word ‘prachodayat ‘ means ‘increase’.
So the mantra means ‘ May God increase our knowledge ‘

The renowned medieval Muslim Arab scholar Sa’id ibn Ahmad al Andalusi ( 1029-1070 ) wrote in his book ‘ Tabaqat al ‘umam ‘, one of the earliest books in the history of science:

“The first people in the world to have cultivated science are the Hindus, who are renowned for their wisdom. Over many centuries, all the scholars of the past have recognized the excellence of the Hindus in all branches of knowledge. They have made great strides in the study of numbers and geometry ( Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, etc ).


They have acquired immense information and reached the zenith in their knowledge of astronomy ( Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, etc ). They have surpassed all other people in the world in their knowledge of the medical sciences ( Sushruta, Charak, etc ) “. ( See in this connection my article ‘ Indians were once leading in science ‘ in ).


Today the fact is that the majority of Indian Muslims are backward and poor, as the Justice Sachar Committee Report pointed out. Perhaps the reason for this is that they deviated from the path of acquiring knowledge shown by the Prophet, and are in the clutches of the clerics. The way out for them to attain prosperity is to focus on getting modern education and economic development instead of indulging in petty politics and religious fundamentalism.



[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]


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