(Windsor, ON, Canada)
The religion of Islam began with ONE significant word: “Ikra!” – the arabic word that means “Read!” It is a word that is as literally impactful as it is motivational. Muhammed, as the world knows, was illiterate and so he could not read. Yet what would follow that strange encounter of his with the Voice, would translate into the Wonderful Force behind the faith of ISLAM, and the zeal and the undeterred faith of his countless followers to the Message that would follow would, eventually, change the course of human history. In fact, the vibrant history of Islam in the world as “a religious force” speaks for itself.
Indeed, it is a historical fact that the first verse of the Holy Qur’an that was revealed to Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), began with the word “Read!” as he sat lost in meditation, like he used to in the cave of Mount Hira, or Jabal Nur, near the City of Mecca, during the month of Ramadan to which the unlettered Muhammed — soon to be Prophet and Messenger of God (Allah) — could only answer: “I cannot read!”
The Voice, which was that of the Angel Gabriel, urged Muhammed (pbuh) him again to read: “Read! In the name of thy Lord, who is Most Generous, who taught by the pen– taught Man what he knew not!”
Angel Gabriel then announced to Muhammed (pbuh) that he was chosen by God (Allah) to be His “Rassul-Allah (Prophet of God/Allah.”) And a new page in the history of mankind began! The year was 610 A.D.
And that, as the world knows, became one of the defining moments in the history of Mankind. It was the beginning of Islam — the religion revealed to Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) by Allah (God) through Angel Gabriel.
Sure, Muhammad (pbuh), who was a quiet, gentle and a most endearing character, loved and admired by all who knew him, was deeply shaken by the experience at cave of Mount Hira. He rushed home to share the unusual experience with his wife Bibi Khadijah and his uncle Abu Bakar and nephew Ali ibn Talib – who would all believe his assertion that he had been chosen to be the Prophet and Messenger of God. In fact, they would be the first believers in Islam.
Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), was accordingly advised by Angel Gabriel that he would be the last Prophet and Messenger of God. Thus, despite himself, he would be put to the grueling task of convincing his fellow Meccans, great adepts of ’idol-worship’ and ‘polytheism,’ to worship the One and Only God/Allah, Creator and Master of the Universe. In other words, Muhammed (pbuh) was asking his fellow Meccans to give up altogether bowing to their many gods and to worship the One and Only God (Allah), Creator and Master of the Universe, who was also the God of the Prophets: Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus (peace be upon them all). In other words, what Muhammed (pbuh) was asking his fellow Meccan was to give up the worship of idols for the one true and only God/Allah. Muhammed (pbuh) thus became a revolutionary to his fellow Meccans, who saw in him an iconoclast and a destroyer of their long-established traditions and cultural and religious norms of their society.
Thus, Muhammed (pbuh), suddenly, emerged as a destroyer with his new monotheistic message from Allah and which was in sharp contrast to his die-hard fellow Meccans, who were inveterate idol-worshippers. He surged against the worship of idols. Understandably, Muhammed (pbuh) came to face strong opposition and made himself many enemies among his fellow Meccans, who would not give him peace and who would continue to harass him and oppose him at every step of the way. Yes, Muhammed (pbuh) knew what he had to do and, despite the brutal challenges his opponents put up against him, he was never one to be deterred from his divine mission.
Muhammed (pbuh), the Prophet of Islam, who would later, however, educate himself and prove himself to be one of the most gifted “teachers” of mankind. In fact, “Education”, to him, would ever be a guiding light and he never ever ceased to stress the value of “Education” in the life of his followers. As a matter of fact, some of his most inspiring (‘Ahadiths (Sayings) –quotes — would be on “Education,” which would be a theme that he would ever emphasize to his followers. Little wonder then that Muhammed’s followers would become leaders in “Education, in Learning” themselves and come to revolutionize the study of the arts, sciences and philosophies, among others, and eventually, would help usher in the Age of Renaissance that would literally help transform Western civilization as we know it.
Ever stressing the need to seek Knowledge and Education, Prophet Muhammed’s (pbuh) would make some of his most striking utterances about ‘Education’ and Knowledge. Little wonder then that he advised his followers to: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” There is no better way to progress in life than with knowledge and education. Indeed, one of the famous advices of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) about acquiring knowledge, has been: “Go to China if one has to seek knowledge.” And many Muslim scholars did, indeed, heed his advice and some even went further as far as … India, which was the other ‘the cradle of civilization.’
Everybody knows that it was the Muslim mariners, sailors and scholars who journeyed far and wide in search of knowledge from the East, notably from ancient Chinese sages and Indian gurus. The Arabs learned from these Chinese and Indian sages about astronomy, philosophy and science and copied that knowledge and added to it their own interpretations — and later translated them into Arabic and also into Latin – which would pave the way for the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. Thus, it would be the Arab-Muslims who, directly or indirectly, helped Europe move out from the Age of Darkness to a new era of Enlightenment.