The Knowledge: ILM علم‎

‘Ilm (Arabic: علم‎ “knowledge”) is the Arabic term for knowledge. However central the idea of ‘ilm to Islamic intellectual culture, it was an essentialist concept, assumed to be a fixed and identifiable (if undefined) object or fact.

Meaning of knowledge


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word knowledge refers to “Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

“In this work on the concept of knowledge, Franz Rosenthal collected a number of definitions of ‘ilm, organizing them according to what he saw as their essential elements (admitting that the list was ahistorical and did not necessarily conform to categories the medieval Muslim scholars themselves would have used). Among these definitions, we find the following: Knowledge is the process of knowing, and identical with the knower and the known.

Knowledge is that through which one knows.

  1. Knowledge is that through which the essence is knowing.
  2. Knowledge is that through which the knower is knowing.
  3. Knowledge is that which necessitates for him in whom it subsists the name of knower.
  4. Knowledge is that which necessitates that he in whom it subsists is knowing.
  5. Knowledge is that which necessitates that he in whom it resides (mahall) is knowing.
  6. Knowledge stands for ( ‘ibarah ‘an) the object known ( ‘al-ma lum).
  7. Knowledge is but the concepts known ( ‘al-ma ani al-ma luma).
  8. Knowledge is the mentally existing object.”

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” 



Islamic Meaning

Knowledge in the Western world means information about something, divine or corporeal, while In Islamic point of view ‘ilm is an all-embracing term covering theory, action and education, it is not confined to the acquisition of knowledge only, but also embraces socio-political and moral requires insight, commitment to the goals of Islam and for the believers to act upon their belief. Also it is reported in hadith that “Knowledge is not extensive learning. Rather, it is a light that God casts in the heart of whomever He wills.”


Shiism and knowledge

Doctrine about necessity of acquiring knowledge

  • According to Allameh Muzaffar, Allah gives humans the faculty of reason and argument. Also Allah orders human to spend time thinking carefully on creation while he refers to all creations as his signs of power and glory. These signs encompassed all of universe. Also there is similarity between human as little world and universe as large world. Allah doesn’t accept the faith of those who follow him without thinking and only with imitation but also Allah blames them for such an action.

In other words, humans have to think about the universe with reason and intellect, a faculty bestowed us by Allah. Since that there is more insistence on the faculty of intellect among Shia, even evaluating the claims of someone who claims prophecy is on the shoulder of intellect.

  • The Qur’an is said to demand the acquisition of knowledge. It explains the study and development of sciences during the Islamic Golden Age.

‘Ilm is a complex, multifaceted Arabic term used in various derivations to denote the many aspects of knowing and knowledge acquisition, production, and dissemination, including teaching and learning, education, and science, as well as comprehension, perception, feeling, experience, and familiarity. From ‘ilm also comes the term ‘ālam,“world,” signifying that the divine act of creation is fundamentally an act of knowing and an expression of knowledge. Through the Qur’an and prophetic traditions, Islam has placed a strong emphasis on ‘ilm, considering the seeking of knowledge to be obligatory on all Muslims. Accordingly, the enterprise of knowing has been central to all aspects of cultural production in Islam, particularly in the fields of science, religion, and the arts. On the one hand, ‘ilm fuses science and religion together into an indissoluble whole, and on the other, it makes art an act of knowledge before being an expression of feeling. Historically, there has been no specific word for “science” in Arabic, and early-modern and modern Arab intellectuals, linguists, reformers, and “scientists” did not coin a new term for it to help delineate the territories of modern science from that of traditional ‘ilm in Arabic thought. The Arabic word ‘ilm (pl. ‘ulūm) has continued to be used to describe both religious and non-religious pursuits of knowledge, that is, the devotional and intellectual engagements with the divine revelation as well as the rational and empirical study of nature. It has also continued to be associated with art (fann), imagination (khayāl), and artistic creativity (ibdā’). As both science and religion have formed the common foundation of artistic production in the Islamic tradition, ‘ilm has acted as a unifying cultural force throughout Islamic history.

‘Ilm: Science, Religion, and Art in Islam presents an opportunity, at the national and international levels, to examine the concept of “knowledge” in Islamic culture in order to explore and generate innovative perspectives on its role in science, religion, and the arts. It invites reflections on and discussions of the idea of ‘ilm and its role in pre-, early-, and post-modern Islamic culture. How is ‘ilm engaged with and experienced by Muslim communities today? What are the practices, territories, and histories of ‘ilm? How does ‘ilm continue to shape Islam’s past, present, and future within the Muslim world and beyond?

‘Ilm: Science, Religion, and Art in Islam will bring together a broad group of scholars, artists, designers, curators, conservators, and higher degree researchers across the fields of Islamic intellectual history, history and theory of Islamic art and architecture, history of Islamic science, and Islamic studies to address key issues of concern and to highlight points of intersection between science, religion, and the arts.


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “A servant of GOD will remain standing on the Day of Judgment until he is questioned about his (time on earth) and how he used it; about his knowledge and how he utilized it; about his wealth and from where he acquired it and in what (activities) he spent it; and about his body and how he used it.” 



Ilm in Qur’an

In the Qur’an the word ‘alim has occurred in 140 places, while al-‘ilm in 27. In all, the total number of verses in which ‘ilm or its derivatives and associated words are used is 704. The aids of knowledge such as book, pen, ink etc. amount to almost the same number. Qalam occurs in two places, al-kitab in 230 verses, among which al-kitab for al-Qur’an occurs in 81 verses. Other words associated with writing occur in 319 verses.


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, God will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge. The inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and (even) the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave (no monetary inheritance), they leave only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion. 

Sunan of Abu-Dawood


The Prophet sws also said: “Knowledge from which no benefit is derived is like a treasure out of which nothing is spent in the cause of GOD.” 

– Al-Tirmidhi

Beside various Qur’anic verses emphasizing the importance of knowledge, there are hundreds of Prophetic traditions that encourage Muslims to acquire all types of knowledge from any corner of the world.

‘Ilm is referred to in many Quranic verses as ‘light’ (nur), and Allah is also described as the ultimate nur. it means that ‘ilm in the general sense is synonymous with the ‘light’ of Allah. This light does not shine for ever for all the believers. If is hidden sometimes by the clouds of doubt arising from the human mind. Doubt is sometimes interpreted in the Quran as darkness, and ignorance also is depicted as darkness in a number of its verses. Allah is depicted as nur, and knowledge is also symbolized asnur. Ignorance is darkness and ma’rifah is light. In the ayat al-kursi Allah says:

(ALLAH is the Light of the heavens and the earth … ALLAH is the Master of the believers and He guides them out of the darkness into light)

Muhammad sws said, “If ALLAH wants to do good to a person, he makes him comprehend the religion and of course knowledge is attained by learning.”

Saheeh Bukhari.

In Islam ‘ilm is not confined to the acquisition of knowledge only, but also embraces socio-political and moral aspects. Knowledge is not mere information; it requires the believers to act upon their beliefs and commit themselves to the goals which Islam aims at attaining.

 Allah’s  Messenger (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)  said, “A believer is never satiated with gainful knowledge; he goes acquiring it till his death and entry into Paradise.”  



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