Root Out Illiteracy

By Obaidur Rahman Nadwi

Education is an essential tool for understanding realities of life. It is backbone of the nation. No nation can progress sans this asset. All religions emphasise acquiring knowledge. We find that in spite of its importance scant attention is paid in this direction.

Time has come when we should gird up our loins and come forward to work for spreading education and motivate others to achieve this precious essence without which our life is bleak and meaningless. Illiteracy is the greatest hindrance in our progress and prosperity. Needless to add that human beings are considered superior to other creatures of Allah by virtue of knowledge.

Emphasising the significance of education, Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari has rightly said that to combat the ghost of communalism, people of the country would have to equip themselves with the weapon of education. If all get educated, surely there will be communal harmony and peace in the nation. Education also plays a vital role in the development of the country. We will have to educate every person if we want to become a developed country. He added, “The southern states of the country focus on education and have given a number of intellectuals and scientists but the northern India still lags behind in education. We need to focus on education in the coming times and should take steps to improve the situation”.

It is significant to note that Islam has made education mandatory for its adherents. The first Qur’anic revelation was sent to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by Almighty God is about knowledge.

The holy Qur’an says: “Read in the name of thy Lord Who created man, out of a leech-like clot: Read and thy Lord is most bountiful. He who taught the use of the pen, taught man that which he knew not” (S. 96A. 1-5).

The holy Qur’an further says: “God brought you out of the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing, but gave you the faculties of hearing, sight and perception. Would you not thank Him? (16:78). Is the man devoid of knowledge the equal of the man in the know? Do you not think? (39:9) O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge” (2:114).

If we think why God commenced the first revelation with reading, we find that the age in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was sent, was the age of ignorance. It is obvious that without knowledge ignorance and stagnation cannot be dispelled. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has laid great emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge. The Prophet said: “Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon every Muslim man and woman”.

“Seek knowledge from cradle to the grave”, “Acquire knowledge even if you have to go to China.” Knowledge, says a Tradition of the holy Prophet, is the lost property of a Muslim and he is the rightful owner. The Prophet further said: “Acquire knowledge, because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord performs an act of piety; who speaks of it, praises the Lord, who seeks it adores God, who dispenses instruction in it, bestows alms, and who imparts it to its fitting objects, performs an act of devotion to God. Knowledge enables its possessor to distinguish what is forbidden from what its not, it lights the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when bereft of friends; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is our ornament in the company of friends; it serves as an armour against enemies. With knowledge the servant of God rises to the height of goodness and to a noble position, associates with sovereigns in this world and attains to the perfection of happiness in the next”.

Noted scholar K.K. Usman has said: “Prophet Muhammad for the first time in the history of Arabian peninsula made knowledge an essential tool for understanding realities of life. Under his inspiring guidance, learning acquired respect and reverence which remained the hallmark of Islamic civilization for centuries afterwards. The importance which the Qur’an attaches to knowledge can further be explained by the frequency with which it has used the word ‘ilm (knowledge). According to one estimate it has been used 750 times in the Qur’an. In the mind of a Muslim, knowledge should include everything which reason and Revelation can unearth for the betterment of mankind”. (This is Islam, p, 135)

It should be kept in mind that Islam always emphasises acquiring profitable and advantageous knowledge. Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) supplication is as follows: “O Allah, I seek your refuge from a knowledge that does not benefit, from a heart that does not fear, from a soul that is not satisfied, and from a prayer that is not granted.”

Swami Vivekananda says: “What is education? Is it book-learning? No. Is it diverse knowledge? Not even that. The training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education. Now, consider, is that education as a result of which the will, being continuously choked by force through generations, is now well-nigh killed out; is that education under whose sway even the old ideas, let alone the new ones, are that education which is slowly making man a machine? (Teachings of Swami Vivekananda, p.50)

Mahatma Gandhi held same views regarding education. He said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live for ever”.

It should be a bounden duty of a parent to impart education to children from their early childhood. In fact, it is such a gem that creates awareness, and helps in development of mental faculties. It provides ability to distinguish between good and evil. To have a refined, well­mannered and suave child who may later become an asset to the family and society in general is really nice. Parents must, therefore, insist on proper and good education of their progeny.

The writer teaches at Nadwa College, Lucknow