"Read / Proclaim! In the Name of Your Lord"
- Al-Alaq:1 -
This verse is the first revelation from Allah s.w.t. to the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and it is being discussed by scholars of the past as well as contemporary scholars to be the basis of seeking knowledge in Islam. In this verse, the word iqra' have a wide meaning and it does not limit the reading to any particular topic or area, whether religious or non-religious, whether academic or non-academic. It opens up the call to seek knowledge through reading.
The only condition of this verse is to read in the Name of Allah. That means the reader should first have the belief in Allah as his/her Lord and Creator. Thus when reading anything and seeking knowledge through reading, one will be blessed by Allah and he/she will receive 'ajr / reward both in the Heaven and also in this world as the form of knowledge.
When reading in the Name of Allah, the knowledge acquired will drive us to know ourselves better as His creations and be a better part of this world, and hence be closer to Him as our Creator by knowing Him and all His Creations around us.
Reading in the Name of Allah also encourages us to use our senses, especially sight (or fingers and touch for the blind) to acquire knowledge. When combined with the rational faculty He has given us, we are encouraged to think, inquire, reflect and contemplate on the knowledge we learn.
On the other hand, 'Read the Names of Allah' encourages us to know and remember Allah as our Creator. It is a form of remembrance or dzikr' that brings us closer to Him. When reading up His Names and Attributes, we are getting to know our Creator in depth.
In one of the verse of the Qur'an, Allah mentioned that by remembering Him, He will put peace and tranquility in our hearts. By reading up more on Him, we get to know our creator and Lord better, acquire more knowledge about Him to strengthen our faith in Him. It is also an important part of seeking knowledge, and with more knowledge about Him, it would be much easier to acquire all other kinds of knowledge and relate it to the Islamic point of view.
However, although we are encouraged to read the Names of Allah, many prominent scholars agree that we should not be thinking or questioning too much about Allah alone. Instead, we should contemplate more on His creations and other types of knowledge in order to be closer to Him. Whatever he has provided about Himself in the Qur'an and through Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. should be accepted as it is and there should be no further questioning.
In conclusion, 'Read in the Name of Allah' is directly related to seeking knowledge and it is actually the basis and philosophy of seeking knowledge when one believes in Allah. While 'Read the Names of Allah' with no doubt brings use closer to Allah but the knowledge will be limited to His Names and Attributes only.
Article written for Advanced Philosophy and History of Islamic Education, M.Ed.
2nd November 2016.