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'Read,' said the Prophet

Islam stresses on education for everyone. Prophet even talked about educating the prisoners of war.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2006 14:05 IST

The very first Divine revelation the Prophet of Islam received on the Mount Hira in the 7th century AD from the Angel began with the command to read and learn: Iqra bismi rabbik-al-lazi khalaq Khalaq-al-insana min alaq Iqra wa rabbuk-al-akram-al-lazi allama bil-qalam Allam-al-insana ma lam ya'lam. Read in the name of thy Lord, the Creator Who has created man from a clot of blood; Read, and thy Lord is the most kind who taught through the pen And let man learn what he knew not.

Faithfully conveying this Divine command directing all men and women to educate themselves, the great Prophet emphatically declared: Talab-ulilma faridat-un ala kulli Muslimun wa-Muslimatun — “To get educated is a sacred obligation of every Muslim man and woman.”

Not specifically limited to youngsters, this command indeed implied also adult education. And certainly the Prophet was not talking of religious education only, but wanted all men and women among his followers to also acquire worldly learning. This is evident from his other meaningful exhortation: Utlub-ul-ilma wa lau kana bisSeen — “Acquire knowledge even if you find it in China.” Clearly, China was not a place he would ask his people to go to learn theology.

After his victory in the celebrated Battle of Badr the Prophet decided to free without ransom the educated prisoners of war if they could impart reading and writing skills to the illiterate among his own followers. Even a non-Islamic society was thus fit enough for learning, and the services of even enemies fit enough to be used for education.

Despite these great teachings of Islam, today not only higher-level education but even literacy is not common among the Muslims of India. The National Education Policy of 1986 identified Muslims as educationally the most backward community in the country. This state of affairs is indeed shameful for a community whose religion is replete with such forceful principles and precedents on the right to be educated and the duty to educate others. To be true to their noble faith, Indian Muslims have to put their house in order.

First Published: Jun 08, 2006 14:05 IST