“Knowledge without action is
like a bow without a string.” A relationship as close as blood relationship
must be established between knowledge and action. Knowledge is
acquired, because it is a ladder leading up to action, which is true
action only if it leads to God.”
– Franz Rosenthal
Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam
Knowledge is the most integral part of our human condition. It is the characterizing trait of mankind that makes us distinct from all of God’s other creations. It is what compels us to understand our existence in the cosmos. It is what moves our hearts and urges us to act. The void within us all which burns for answers to the existential questions of life can only be filled with knowledge of oneself and, ultimately, knowledge of our Creator.
In his book “Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam”, the American Historian Franz Rosenthal states that civilizations revolve around abstract concepts which in turn makes them distinct in their character. As for Islam, he concludes that the Islamic civilization was characterized by the pursuit of knowledge. Seeking knowledge was elevated to such a degree that no aspect of Muslim society had remained untouched by what Rosenthal describes as an “all-pervasive attitude towards knowledge as something of supreme value…” (p.2).
Cordoba, also known as Qurtuba in Arabic, was a remarkable example of a community where the sanctity of knowledge was venerated in every aspect of Muslim society. It was a city not only distinguished for its cultural diversity and scientific innovations, but also for the ground-breaking strides made in various fields of scholarship. Muslims thrived through innovations that were hundreds of years before their time. Along with many other centers of knowledge in the Muslim world, Cordoba served as a gateway into a realm of knowledge unknown to most of the world at the time. These momentous achievements not only influenced the course of history, but also served as a catalyst for the cultural and intellectual rebirth of western civilization.
Our rich intellectual tradition cultivated by men and women of great spiritual caliber serves as a mirror for us in the modern world. We are reluctant to hold up this mirror and take a good look at ourselves for fear of what we may see. A troubled figure deeply unsettled, exhausted, and unable to recognize itself. Our crisis is deeply rooted in our apathy towards preserving and honouring our tradition. One of the greatest calamities to befall this community is the very loss of this attitude Dr. Rosenthal speaks of. We have compartmentalized our faith to conveniently fit into our neatly corporatized routines. Where mention of God is only permitted so long as it is flavoured with political correctness and palatable to the masses. Where our lives as Muslims are no longer oriented towards God, but towards serving our lowest desires.
We are in desperate need of collective introspection. We must acknowledge how far we have strayed from God’s guidance, and how utterly we are in need of His light in every waking moment of our lives. Within every Muslim who has even an atom’s weight of faith, their hearts burn with an unrelenting need to connect with the Divine. It is through reviving and acting upon the sacred knowledge taught to us by our beloved Prophet ﷺ that this void in our hearts can be filled and we can become socially and spiritually conscious people once again.
Our predecessors, men and women who internalized this truth, laid before us a timeless representation of how we as Muslims must engage the world we live in. Whether it is tasteful to say or not, we Muslims are an integral part of our communities, and must begin to act as such. It goes without saying we must revive our culture of innovation and influence, and revive a deep reverence for sacred knowledge as a part of every Muslim’s daily life. As Shaykh Faraz Khan, a prominent contemporary scholar, once said quoting his teacher “our responsibility is not to rework the foundation laid for us, but to find where our predecessors left off and build from there”.
That is the spirit behind Qurtuba Online.
Written by Ilham Ibrahim