Knowledge and Action: The Twin Pincers of Progress


By Din Merican

God, The Most Merciful and Most Compassionate, said “READ” (Surah Al ‘Alaq, 96:1).

The Qur’an is the only Holy Book with a command to read. God has conferred a great honour on knowledge and the learned that before ordaining prayers and fasting, before giving details of the Islamic creed and the law to be revealed. See Surah Ali Imran 3:18; Surah Ta Ha 20:114; Surah Al ‘Ankabut 29:20; Surah Al Zumar 39: 11; Surah Al Mujadilah 58:11,and Surah Al Qalam 68:1. The Arab word for knowledge (ilm) and its derivatives appear 850 times in the Qu’ran. Knowledge is not just theoretical as all knowledge must lead to action (Surah Al Tawbah 9:105). This is Islam (and not Islam Hadhari).

Ignorance and idleness engulfs the Muslim world today. This shows that we do not believe in the essential teachings of the Qur’an. In Malaysia, we are subject to “political islam” which is propagated by the state which seeks to monopolise and control discourse on all matters relating to Islam, and exercise power over the Malays and Muslims in our country. As a result, I think, there is less interest in learning, working, continuous creativity and intellectual activity among us Muslims in this country.

Even our universities are subject to rigid control and academics who dare to think and act independently are shanted aside in favour of those who toe the “official line”. There is also no intellectual/cendiakawan community to speak of. Public intellectuals are seen as “trouble makers’ who deserve no better than a sojourn in Kamunting under the Internal Security Act. A massive cloud of fear overhangs the national landscape and the mother of all evils, mediocrity and kiasu take over.

Courage and truthfulness, defense of the right, fight against injustice and exploitation, and championing the rights of the weak and meek are mere slogans by the UMNO-led government when, in fact, these are qualities and deeds of a true Muslim.

But before we can take action, we must have knowledge. Read first; we must be able differentiate right from wrong, know the laws of the real world in which we live, and then and only then we can take action. Action is not just talk. The Qur’an establishes a method. It enjoins Muslim to move, marshal observations, record data and then examine all available facts. It was, unfortunately, Francis Bacon who introduced the method of induction a 1,000 years after the revelation of the Qur’an. If only we had made an effort to understand our Holy Book and acted according to its commands, the Islamic world would have been well ahead of the West.

How many of us remember Jabir Ibn Hayyan (chemistry), Ibn Arabi (mysticism), Ibn Haytham (in mathematics and geometry), the great Andalusian philosophers, poets and musicians, and the Arab astronomers who contributed to human knowledge when Europe was in the Dark Ages. Our ancestors combined their knowledge with work (action) and this combination of knowledge and work contributed to the advance of civilization. They were inspired by the word, Read, the first word revealed, that the Holy Prophet Muhammad pbuh was directed to convey to his followers.

A true Muslim is both a man (and woman) of knowledge and of action. In fact, the Qur’an says it best:
Those who have faith
And do righteous deeds-
They are the best of creatures.”
(Surah Al Bayyinah 98:7).

The Holy Prophet pbuh, our role model, was not just a man who was the Messenger of God or a reciter of the Qur’an. He was a hard worker and a very successful business man. He was the first to lead in times of war; he led from the front and shared the life of his soldiers, their hunger and thirst, and their fears. He was a prophet who conveyed a message of hope and salvation, a soldier who fought his battles valiantly, a field commander who planned both strategy and tactics, and a politician who administered the affairs of state with justice for all and with prudence. He was also a devout Muslim, truthful and honest, never sullying his tongue or his hand. He never shirked a burden in the service of that cause for which he fought and for which he would have died. He was a kind father, a good husband and a loyal friend.

Our Prophet Muhammad pbuh is the epitome of transformational leadership and of incessant hard work. If you seek to reach the right destination, you cannot get there without knowledge and action. Talk is cheap; promises must not be taken lightly and commitments must be honoured. Our leaders must do good deeds and serve the people and not themselves, their families and cronies. Otherwise, they are not fit to govern.

That is why as Malaysians, we must hold our leaders to high standards of ethics and public accountability. We must not be scared to change our leaders when they fail to perform. We should do that by democratic and constitutional means, of course. We must put to an end to this prevailing culture of impunity. We must no longer allow corrupt and incompetent leaders to remain in power. Otherwise, Malaysia will degenerate into a third rate nation, no longer respected by the community of nations.

It takes hard work to be great again. Greatness is not a stroll in Taman Tasik Perdana, or an excursion to National Park in Pahang.

3 thoughts on “Knowledge and Action: The Twin Pincers of Progress

  1. Hi Bro,

    Enjoyed this post.

    One question that has always nagged me is this.

    God in the Qur’an confirms that everytime a revelation descended upon the Prophet, his response was always ‘I hear and I obey’.

    Yet I am told that when he was commanded to read, instead of ‘I hear and obey’, he is supposed to have said ‘I cannot read’.

    This, for me, has always represented a contradiction with God’s confirmation that the Prophet was obedient to every command.

    I then begin to reason it out. Even if he could not in fact read when the command came, would not the obedient Prophet have immediately made efforts to learn to read? And if my son could learn to read in 6 months….

    My 2 sen.

  2. Brother Haris,

    The Prophet pbuh was a successful businessman and travelled widely on business. Surely he was not illterate. He could count and write contracts. When his calling came he was 40 years old.

    So read is not like asking and teaching a kid to read. It means to acquire knowledge. Knowledge is useless unless it has utility value, and leads to action for the benefit of the ummah. It is not knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Of course, there are Islamic philosophers, and sufi poets, etc.

    I am not a deeply religious man, but I understand Islam as a source of inspiration and spiritual guidance. Not too much into the rituals of it. I try to do good, although I make mistakes at times.

    Take care. Din.

  3. Bro,

    If, as you say, ‘Iqra’ means to acquire knowledge, the reported response of the Holy Prophet to this command that ‘I cannot read’ would be inconsistent. I have always thought so.

    Like you, I too have always had difficulty accepting the mainstream contention that the Holy Prophet was illiterate.

    Again, my 2 sen.

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