Education is also a Responsibility


Education is also a Responsibility

2eduKnowledge, I believe, is one and indivisible, and to separate it into parts, into ancient and modern, eastern and western, and ideological and practical is incorrect.

As Iqbal has said:

Talk of modern and ancient is

The sign of narrowness of vision.

I regard knowledge a truth which is a gift of Allah and does not and should not belong to a particular race or community. I see unity even in its diversity. That unity is truth, the search for truth, the aptitude for it, and the joy of its realization. I am grateful to the Chancellor and other officials of the University that their choice for this high academic honor fell upon a person who is associated with the traditional system of education.

Whatever the branch of study, literature, philosophy or science, I do not conform to the view that he, alone, is a scholar and an intellectual who appears in its ‘uniform’, and whoever does not clothe himself with it is not worthy of recognition. The same, unfortunately, is the case even with poetry and literature, and it has come to be taken for granted that any one who does not display his wares in the shop-window or show himself off in the trappings of a poet or writer has no place in the realm of letters. The world has not forgiven even born litterateurs who did not put on the ‘uniform’ or were not lucky enough to obtain one from the ‘store-house’. I believe in the universality, vigor, and freshness of learning that has always been favored with Divine guidance. If earnestness is there and the urge is genuine, the grace of Allah is never withheld. It is always reaching.

At this Convocation of the University of Kashmir, situated as it is in a beautiful valley of the heaven-kissing Himalayas, I am reminded of the incident that had taken place 1400 years ago in the arid land of Arabia, and on a Mountain which was neither high nor verdant.

Neither grass grows here nor flowers bloom,

Yet heavens bend themselves low to meet it.

The tremendous impact it made on history, and the imperishable effect it produced is absolutely unique in the annals of our race. Significantly enough, it too was related to the ‘tablet’ and the ‘pen’ upon which rested the entire structure of knowledge and civilization, and without which neither the magnificent seats of learning would have come into existence nor the huge libraries. I refer to the Divine Revelation that was sent down to Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم on or around February 12, 611 CE in the Cave of Hira, near Mecca.

It said:

Read (O Muhammad)! In the Name of thy Lord who created,

Created man out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood.

Read! And thy Lord is Most Generous.

He who taught (the use of the) Pen,

Taught man that which he knew not.

(Qur’an, 96:1-5)

Even in this initial installment of the Revelation, this first shower of the Rain of Mercy, the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds did not put off the proclamation that the destiny of learning was bound up with pen. To be sure, it was in the solitude of Cave Hira where an Unlettered Apostle had gone to seek Message from the Almighty Lord for the guidance and instruction of humanity and whose own state was that he could neither read nor write. Can the like or equal of it be found at any stage of history?

And to imagine the sublimity of it. The Revelation is sent down, for the first time, to the Unlettered Prophet in an illiterate country where – what to speak of educational institutions – even bare literacy was rare; and contact is established – after hundreds of years, between the sky and the earth – and it begins with Read. He who did not know how to read or write as is being commanded to Read. It signified that the community that was to be given to him would not be a mere student, but teacher of the world and bearer of knowledge. It would promote learning amongst mankind. The era that had been granted to him would not be an era of darkness and ignorance, but of progress and enlightenment.

It declared: Read! In the Name of thy Lord who created. The great misfortune was that the bond between knowledge and the Creator had been broken, and consequently, learning had lost the sense of purpose and direction and had gone off of the right course. The broken link was restored now when knowledge was glorified. Besides, the warning was also given that knowledge should start with the Name of Allah for it was a Divine gift and it could make a steady and balanced progress only under His guidance. It was the most revolutionary and epoch-making call the world had ever heard. No one, indeed, could have conceived of it at that time and in those circumstances. Had it been put to the thinkers and writers of the world to guess as to how would the Revelation that was going to be received begin and what would take precedence in it, I am sure, no one with an idea of the mental and cultural condition of the Arabs would have said that it would commence with Read.

The announcement that the voyage of knowledge should begin under the guidance of the Omniscient and All-knowing Lord was unprecedented. It marked a watershed in the world of learning. The journey was long, hard, and perilous. It was full of pitfalls. Caravans were robbed in broad daylight. A perfect guide was essential, and who could it be save The Supreme Being, The All-Wise? It was not abstract knowledge that was aimed at. Not the knowledge that consisted of ornamenting with colors, or […] was meant simply for entertainment, or for fighting with one another, or for filling the belly. It was not the knowledge that taught only the use of the tongue. Rather:

Read! In the Name of thy Lord who created,

Created man out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood.

Read! And thy Lord is Most Generous.

He who taught (the use of the) Pen,

Taught man that which he know not.

The proclamation was clear, firm, and positive. Read! Your Lord is Most Benevolent. How can He be unaware of your needs and weaknesses?

Read! And thy Lord is Most Generous. He who taught (the use of the) Pen.

What could have elevated the pen in power and dignity more than that? Who could have given greater glory and honor to it?

Remember, it was the first Revelation of Cave Hira and in a town where perhaps there was no pen in any home. If you needed one, you would have had to go to a Warqah bin Nawfal [2] or someone who had received education in Persia.

It further unfolded the great reality that knowledge was infinite. It was without end. He taught man that which he knew not.

What is science?

What is technology?

Man is going to the moon. We have conquered space, and pulled the ropes of the earth. 

Is it not a miracle?

I shall crave your indulgence, now, to offer a few suggestions as an ordinary wayfarer of the valley of learning.

The foremost task of the Universities is character-building. Their endeavor should be to produce men who, in the words of Iqbal, may not be willing to sell their conscience for “a handful of barley.” Under the influence of modern ideologies and current order of things, it has been presumed that everyone carries a price. There is no one who cannot be bought in exchange for something or another.

The real success of a University lies in moulding the personality of its scholars in a way and giving such citizens to the society who do not put themselves up to auction, nor can be lured away by a destructive ideology or misguided movement.

By Thy grace, I am not without honor,

No Toghral’s or Sanjar’s [3] slave I am.

Though world-seeing is my nature, I am no Jamshed’s cup.

Secondly, our Universities ought to send forth men who may be ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of truth, knowledge, reform, and uplift, and derive the same satisfaction from going without food as people generally do from eating and drinking to their heart’s content, and to whom loss appears to be more worthwhile than gain.

The Universities should see to what extent they are being successful in producing men of real worth and merit. The greatness of a country does not depend on the number of the Universities it has. This criterion has, now, become outdated. The real thing is how many of its citizens are endued with an awareness of their duties and obligations and can come forward to dedicate themselves to the attainment and promotion of knowledge, growth and development of moral virtues, and suppression of evils like corruption, greed, cruelty, and injustice. How many of them are able to rise above personal considerations and lift the country to a higher cultural and spiritual level?

The fundamental aim and purpose of knowledge is to impart a new life and a new soul to the country and the nation. I shall read out to you a few verses from Iqbal which though not addressed directly to the poets or writers are applicable to all the branches of learning:

Valuable is the taste for Art, ye men of vision,

But vision that perceives not reality is futile.

The song of the poet or the minstrel’s strain,

Worthless is the zephyr which makes the garden depressed.

The goal of Art is the flame of immortal life,

Not a spasm or two that vanish like sparks.

Before I conclude, let me say a few words to the fortunate brothers who have successfully completed their studies and obtained the degrees or are still under instruction here. I shall take recourse to relating a parable which may sound more agreeable to the ears after the exhortation I have just imparted upon you.

Once, some students were enjoying a ride in a boat. The time was pleasant, the air was cool, and the young men were in high spirits. With the simple-minded boatman also being there to serve as a target of fun and entertainment, who could make the students sit quietly?

One of them asked the boatman, “Uncle! What subjects have you read?”

“I have read nothing,” the boatman replied.

The young man sighed, and said, “Oh! Have you not read science?”

“I have not even heard its name,” replied the boatman.

“But you must be knowing geometry and algebra,” said another young man.

“These names, also, are altogether new for me,” came the reply.

It was now the turn of the third student to sharpen his wit. “You would have surely studied history and geography,” he said.

“Are these the names of men or towns?” asked the boatman in reply.

At it, the boys burst into laughter, and inquired from the boatman what his age was. “Forty years or so,” he said.

“You have wasted half of your life and learnt nothing,” remarked the young men.

The poor boatman remained silent. Soon afterwards, a storm arose in the river and the boat began to be tossed on unruly waves. Disaster seemed imminent, and the students who had no experience of journey by water felt extremely nervous. They were seized with the fear of their lives. The boatman then asked the young men, with feigned seriousness, what they had learnt. Failing to grasp the real intent of the boatman, the students began to give a long list of subjects that were taught in the colleges.

When they had finished, the boatman said with a smile, “You have read all these things. But, tell me, have you also learnt swimming?

If, God-forbid, the boat over-turns, how will you reach the coast?”

“Uncle!” the youngmen replied, “This is the one thing we do not know. We never thought of learning it.”

Upon it, the boatman laughed aloud and remarked, “I have wasted half of my life, but you have lost the whole of your lives. Your education is not going to help you in the storm. Only swimming can save you today, and you do not know it.”

The so-called powerful and advanced countries of the present-day world are confronted with an identical situation. The boat of humanity is in grave peril, the tides are moving menacingly towards it, and the shore is far away. The worthy passengers of the boat know everything, but are wholly ignorant of the art of swimming or navigation. Or, in other words, all the intellectual and scientific achievements notwithstanding, the modern man does not know how to live like a civilized and God- fearing human being. Iqbal has drawn pointed attention to the dismal state of affairs, the strange contradiction which has set up the biggest question mark before the 20th century world and brought it to the crossroads of destiny. He says,

He who enchained the sunbeams could not

Unfurl the dawn on life’s dark night.

He sought the orbits of the stars, but failed

To travel his own thought’s world.

Entangled in the laybrinth of his learning,

He lost count of good and evil.

The art of leading a good, useful, and dignified life consists basically of God-awareness, humanitarianism, self-restraint, and willingness to subordinate one’s own advantage to the common good. Unselfish interest in the welfare of others, respect for mankind, the urge to protect the life, property and honor of fellow human beings, preference for duties over rights, defense of the weak and the down-trodden, the strength to stand up against the oppressors, firmness in opposition to those who have nothing to be proud of save power and wealth, and the refusal to be over-awed by them, the courage to speak the truth at all times and in respect of one’s own country, belief in the All-Knowing and All-Seeing Power, and anxiety of being recreated after death and called upon to render a full account of one’s doings on the earth.

These are the essential conditions of a good and noble life, the fundamental requirements of a healthy society and a strong and honorable nation. To arrange for training and instruction in these attributes and to create an environment that may be conducive to their development is the primary responsibility of educational institutions.


[1] This is a transcription of a speech delivered by Mawlana Nadwi (ra) at the Seventh Convocation of the University of Kashmir held on October 29, 1981. It took place on the occasion of receiving the Degree of D.Litt. (Honoris Causa).

[2] A learned Arab who lived during the days of the raising up of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. He was well-versed in the Hebrew language and was considered an authority of the Torah and the Bible.

[3] Names of ancient Turkish Emperors.

Courtesy of Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi Center For Research, Dawah, and Islamic Thought

By: Mawlana Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali al-Nadwi [1], Edited by IlmGate

Source: IlmGate,

Courtesy :
Taqwa Islamic School
Islamic Educational & Research Organization (IERO)

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