Seeking knowledge is an integral part of Islam. It is, in fact, a religious duty upon Muslims to seek and spread beneficial knowledge to others. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ has said that seeking knowledge can lead to paradise.
قَالَ فَإِنِّي سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ
مَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيقًا يَطْلُبُ فِيهِ عِلْمًا سَلَكَ اللَّهُ بِهِ طَرِيقًا مِنْ طُرُقِ الْجَنَّةِ
[Sunan Abi Dawud 3641]
Narrated Kathir ibn Qays: AbudDarda’ said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise.
Who is supposed to seek knowledge? And can one ever be too young or too old for seeking knowledge? The answer is anyone can seek knowledge to the best of their ability, and seeking knowledge should be a lifelong endeavor.
There is a saying about being a life-long seeker of knowledge. This saying is often confused to be a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ by many people. However, the correct opinion is that it is among the wise sayings of the Arabs.
اطْلُبُوا العِلْمَ مِنَ المَهْدِ إِلَى اللَّحْدِ
Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave
Sought, Searched for, or Looked for
Cradle or baby’s bed
Knowledge Brings Benefit and Prestige
This proverb is telling us to seek knowledge as early as possible to achieve the benefit and prestige knowledge gives. It is said, “seek knowledge, no human is born knowledgeable”. Allah says in the Quran:
وَاللَّهُ أَخْرَجَكُم مِّن بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ ۙ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
And Allah has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful.
It is encouraged to start early because, in the early stages, a child’s brain is fresh and ready to accept whatever is put in it. Likewise, the mind is not occupied with burdensome affairs and obligations at this stage. There is another statement that says:
العِلْمُ فِي الصِّغَرِ كَالنَقْشِ عَلَى الحَجَرِ
Knowledge at a young age is like engraving on stone
Age is Not a Barrier
On the other hand, age should not be a barrier to seeking knowledge as some people think. As long as a person is living, he is still in the cradle of knowledge. The Prophet ﷺ started receiving the knowledge of revelation at the age of 40 and did not stop until his death. Allah says:
فَتَعَٰلَى ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡمَلِكُ ٱلۡحَقُّۗ وَلَا تَعۡجَلۡ بِٱلۡقُرۡءَانِ مِن قَبۡلِ أَن يُقۡضَىٰٓ إِلَيۡكَ وَحۡيُهُۥۖ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدۡنِي عِلۡمٗا
So high [above all] is Allah, the Sovereign, the Truth. And, [O Muḥammad], do not hasten with [recitation of] the Qur’ān before its revelation is completed to you, and say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.”
Al Qurtubi said, “If there was anything more glorified than knowledge, Allah would have told the prophet to obtain it in increments just as He asked him to seek increments in knowledge”. In the Quran, Allah asked the prophet to ask for knowledge in increments. Allah didn’t mention to the prophet to seek anything else in increments other than knowledge.
That is why those who have found a taste of knowledge never wish to leave it and those who leave it have misplaced priorities. Something similar to this was said by scholars of the past like Imam Ahmad may Allah have mercy on him when he was asked, ‘O Abu Abdillaah! You have reached this age; you are the Imam of the Muslims and you still carry this inkwell. He replied, ‘with the inkwell to the cemetery.’
May Allah increase us in beneficial knowledge and make the path to seek knowledge easy upon us, Ameen.