The Quranic Word Series: ‘Ilm

Today’s Quranic Word of the Day is ‘Ilm = عـِلـْم

‘Ilm means knowledge. 

In Islam, seeking knowledge is compulsory upon the believer. No other religion or ideological thought emphasises seeking knowledge as an obligatory deed as Islam does. The Prophet ﷺ said:

طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ

[Sunan Ibn Majah 224]

“Seeking Knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.”

Knowledge encompasses both worldly knowledge and religious knowledge. It’s not about shunning the world and only seeking knowledge of the deen. Neither is it about seeking knowledge of the world without the guidance of faith.

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Sources of Knowledge

The two primary sources of knowledge are the Quran and the Sunnah. These sources are considered revealed knowledge. They are the only kind of knowledge that can develop our spiritual progress for it comes from Allah SWT who is the Most Knowing.

وَٱللَّهُ أَعۡلَمُ بِمَا يُوعُونَ

[Quran 84:23]

And Allah is most knowing of what they keep within themselves.

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SubhanAllah, the knowledge found in the Quran and the Sunnah is complete and covers every area of life, including many aspects of science, history, psychology, philosophy, and worldview. It also gives us knowledge of the hereafter and the unseen. 

قُلۡ إِنَّ ٱلۡأَوَّلِينَ وَٱلۡأٓخِرِينَ

لَمَجۡمُوعُونَ إِلَىٰ مِيقَٰتِ يَوۡمٖ مَّعۡلُومٖ

[Quran 56:49-50]

Say, [O Muḥammad], “Indeed, the former and later peoples,”

Are to be gathered together for the appointment of a known Day.”

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Secondary sources of knowledge, on the other hand, are derived from human reasoning in matters of the world. Even this knowledge can only come with the guidance and permission of Allah SWT. For Allah has said:

قَالُواْ سُبۡحَٰنَكَ لَا عِلۡمَ لَنَآ إِلَّا مَا عَلَّمۡتَنَآۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ ٱلۡعَلِيمُ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ

[Quran 2:32]

They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.”

.ٱقۡرَأۡ وَرَبُّكَ ٱلۡأَكۡرَمُ. ٱلَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِٱلۡقَلَمِ. عَلَّمَ ٱلۡإِنسَٰنَ مَا لَمۡ يَعۡلَمۡ

[Quran 96:3-5]

Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous. Who taught by the pen. Taught man that which he knew not. 

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How Can Knowledge Benefit Us?


In Islam, knowledge goes beyond what you know. ‘Ilm covers the theory, action, and education (i.e. passing on the knowledge to others). Only by implementing knowledge in this way can we derive the benefits of it. 

Allah and His last messenger have stated numerous benefits of knowledge such as:

For protection

The Prophet ﷺ said:

حَدَّثَنَا رَوْحُ بْنُ عُبَادَةَ، عَنْ هِشَامِ بْنِ حَسَّانَ، عَنِ الْحَسَنِ، فِي قَوْلِهِ ‏:‏ ‏(‏ ربَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِي الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً ‏)‏ قَالَ فِي الدُّنْيَا الْعِلْمَ وَالْعِبَادَةَ وَفِي الآخِرَةِ الْجَنَّةَ ‏.‏

[Jami` at-Tirmidhi 3488]

Hisham bin Hassan narrated from Al-Hasan :concerning the saying of Allah: O our Lord, give us good in this world, and good in the Hereafter. He said: “Knowledge and worship in this world, and Paradise in the Hereafter.”

Increases us in taqwa (fear of Allah)

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ وَٱلدَّوَآبِّ وَٱلۡأَنۡعَٰمِ مُخۡتَلِفٌ أَلۡوَٰنُهُۥ كَذَٰلِكَۗ إِنَّمَا يَخۡشَى ٱللَّهَ مِنۡ عِبَادِهِ ٱلۡعُلَمَٰٓؤُاْۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ

[Quran 35:28]

And among people and moving creatures and grazing livestock are various colours similarly. Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Forgiving.

Helps us to recognise His signs

وَمِنۡ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ مَنَامُكُم بِٱلَّيۡلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ وَٱبۡتِغَآؤُكُم مِّن فَضۡلِهِۦٓۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَأٓيَٰتٖ لِّقَوۡمٖ يَسۡمَعُونَ

[Quran 30:22]

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.

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The 3 Ingredients of Seeking Beneficial Knowledge

Knowledge can be beneficial or not beneficial. What is the difference between them?

In short, beneficial knowledge is any type of knowledge that, when acted upon or implemented, brings us closer to Allah SWT. Knowledge that isn’t beneficial moves us further away from Allah. An example of knowledge that does not benefit is when being knowledgeable leads to arrogance or makes us feel like we are better than others. 

Seeking beneficial knowledge thus requires three key ingredients: effort, supplication (du’a), and sincerity.

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Making effort to seek knowledge

Seeking knowledge is an active act. You cannot see results without first having the desire to attain it and putting in the effort. 

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had said:

حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ يَحْيَى التَّمِيمِيُّ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ يَحْيَى بْنِ أَبِي كَثِيرٍ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبِي يَقُولُ، لاَ يُسْتَطَاعُ الْعِلْمُ بِرَاحَةِ الْجِسْمِ ‏.‏

[Sahih Muslim]

‘Abdullah narrated it on the authority of his father Yahya: Knowledge cannot be acquired with sloth.

In essence, seeking knowledge is not a passive path wrapped in comfort. It needs effort and hard work.

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Making supplication (du’a) to seek knowledge

Our effort is just one part of the equation. We also need to supplicate to Allah for Him to give us knowledge, for He is the source of knowledge. Even Allah’s messengers, may peace be upon them all, would raise their hands and supplicate to Allah to increase them in knowledge and wisdom. 

The Quran states that Prophet Ibrahim (AS) made the supplication:

رَبِّ هَبۡ لِي حُكۡمٗا وَأَلۡحِقۡنِي بِٱلصَّٰلِحِينَ

[Quran 26:83]

[And he said], “My Lord, grant me authority and join me with the righteous.

When making supplication for knowledge, we should supplicate for knowledge that will benefit us. Parents can also continuously make supplications for their children to increase in knowledge that will benefit them in this world and the next. 
It was narrated that Rasulullah ﷺ said:

وَعَنْ أَنَسٍ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- قَالَ: { كَانَ رَسُولُ اَللَّهِ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏-يَقُولُ:” اَللَّهُمَّ اِنْفَعْنِي بِمَا عَلَّمْتَنِي, وَعَلِّمْنِي مَا يَنْفَعُنِي, وَارْزُقْنِي عِلْمًا يَنْفَعُنِي } رَوَاهُ النَّسَائِيُّ, وَالْحَاكِمُ .‏ 

[Book 16, Hadith 1608]

Anas (RAA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to say, “O Allah! Grant me benefit in what you have taught me, and teach me useful knowledge and provide me with knowledge that will benefit me.” Related by An-Nasa’i and Al-Hakim.

Allah also said in the Quran:

فَتَعَٰلَى ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡمَلِكُ ٱلۡحَقُّۗ وَلَا تَعۡجَلۡ بِٱلۡقُرۡءَانِ مِن قَبۡلِ أَن يُقۡضَىٰٓ إِلَيۡكَ وَحۡيُهُۥۖ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدۡنِي عِلۡمٗا

[Quran 20:114]

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.”

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Seeking knowledge for the sake of Allah

Sincerity can protect us from knowledge that does not benefit us. The scholar, Ibn Ata’iilah As-Sakandari, had said in his famous book, ‘Al-Hikam’, “The best knowledge is the one accompanied by fear (al-khasya)”.

When we fear Allah and seek knowledge for His sake only, the knowledge will not harm us. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had warned us:

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ مَنْ تَعَلَّمَ عِلْمًا مِمَّا يُبْتَغَى بِهِ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لاَ يَتَعَلَّمُهُ إِلاَّ لِيُصِيبَ بِهِ عَرَضًا مِنَ الدُّنْيَا لَمْ يَجِدْ عَرْفَ الْجَنَّةِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ يَعْنِي رِيحَهَا ‏.

[Sunan Abi Dawud 3664]

Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: If anyone acquires knowledge that should be sought seeking the Face of Allah, but he acquires it only to get some worldly advantage, he will not experience the arf, i.e. the fragrance, of Paradise.

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Knowledge Leads to Wisdom

Seeking knowledge with sincerity and supplications leads to wisdom. Knowledge comes from learning while wisdom comes from experience. Wisdom, however, cannot exist without the foundation of knowledge. This is why the two need to go hand in hand.

The theme of knowledge and wisdom can often be seen in the Quran and hadith. 

Allah is the source of knowledge and wisdom


In humans, knowledge is not always paired with wisdom. But Allah SWT is both All-Knowing and Most Wise. Two of Allah’s perfect names are Al-A’lim (All Knowing) and Al-Hakim (The Most Wise).

وَيُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمُ ٱلۡأٓيَٰتِۚ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

[Quran 24:18]

And Allah makes clear to you the verses [i.e., His rulings], and Allah is Knowing and Wise.

وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِي فِي ٱلسَّمَآءِ إِلَٰهٞ وَفِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ إِلَٰهٞۚ وَهُوَ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ ٱلۡعَلِيمُ

[Quran 43:84]

And it is Allah who is [the only] deity in the heaven, and on the earth [the only] deity. And He is the Wise, the Knowing.

وَمَا تَشَآءُونَ إِلَّآ أَن يَشَآءَ ٱللَّهُۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمٗا

[Quran 76:30]

And you do not will except that Allah wills. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.

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Allah gives knowledge and wisdom to whom He wills

We can only make the effort to seek knowledge and wisdom, but the result always lies with Allah SWT. 

يُؤۡتِي ٱلۡحِكۡمَةَ مَن يَشَآءُۚ وَمَن يُؤۡتَ ٱلۡحِكۡمَةَ فَقَدۡ أُوتِيَ خَيۡرٗا كَثِيرٗاۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّآ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَٰبِ

[Quran 2:269]

He gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding.

وَلُوطًا ءَاتَيۡنَٰهُ حُكۡمٗا وَعِلۡمٗا وَنَجَّيۡنَٰهُ مِنَ ٱلۡقَرۡيَةِ ٱلَّتِي كَانَت تَّعۡمَلُ ٱلۡخَبَٰٓئِثَۚ إِنَّهُمۡ كَانُواْ قَوۡمَ سَوۡءٖ فَٰسِقِينَ

[Quran 21:74]

And to Lot We gave judgement and knowledge, and We saved him from the city that was committing wicked deeds. Indeed, they were a people of evil, defiantly disobedient.

فَفَهَّمۡنَٰهَا سُلَيۡمَٰنَۚ وَكُلًّا ءَاتَيۡنَا حُكۡمٗا وَعِلۡمٗاۚ

[Quran 21:79]

So We enabled Sulaiman to understand it And to each one of them We gave wisdom and knowledge

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Beneficial Knowledge is a Continuous Good Deed

Knowledge is so important that the benefit it brings becomes a continuous deed for us.

For example, if we teach someone a verse of the Quran, the act of teaching others will be recorded as our good deed. However, the good deed from this act doesn’t end there. If the person we teach benefits from the verse, implements it, and teaches it to others, we will continue to receive the rewards for as long as the chain continues.

This promise has been reported in the following hadith:

عَنِ الْعَلاَءِ بْنِ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ، أُرَاهُ عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ إِذَا مَاتَ الإِنْسَانُ انْقَطَعَ عَنْهُ عَمَلُهُ إِلاَّ مِنْ ثَلاَثَةِ أَشْيَاءَ مِنْ صَدَقَةٍ جَارِيَةٍ أَوْ عِلْمٍ يُنْتَفَعُ بِهِ أَوْ وَلَدٍ صَالِحٍ يَدْعُو لَهُ ‏”‏ ‏.‏

[Sunan Abi Dawud 2880]

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) as saying: When a man dies, his action discontinues from him except three things, namely, perpetual sadaqah (charity), or the knowledge by which benefit is acquired, or a pious child who prays for him.

May Allah SWT increase us in beneficial knowledge that will be recorded on our scale of good deeds. Ameen.

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Conjugations of ‘Ilm (عـِلـْم) found in the Quran

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مَّعۡلُومٖ
Known
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الْعِلْمُ/عِلۡمَ
Knowledge
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ٱلۡعَلِيمُ
The Knowing (one of Allah’s names)
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تَعْلَمُ
You know, You have knowledge of
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عَلَّمَ
Taught, Teach
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ٱلۡعُلَمَٰٓؤُاْۗ
Those who have knowledge, Scholars, Teachers
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Discover More Quranic Arabic Words

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2 Comments

  1. Hassana Ibrahim Waziri

    Jazaakal Allahu khair. May Allah increase us in knowledge. Amin

    Reply
  2. Miraj

    masahallah, jazakallah khair

    Reply

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