Edited by Abbas J. Ali
Chapter 2: The ethics of knowledge
In the effort to build a vital state, the Prophet Mohammed and his senior companions underscored the role and significance of knowledge. The people at the time had neither an adequate understanding of the new Islamic message nor had developed the capability to grasp the motives and underlying forces essential for achieving qualitative societal changes. The Prophet sought to cultivate and expand the size of informed citizens; citizens who could perform their religious and economic duties without violating the ethical precepts of the religion. By widening the base of those who were knowledgeable, not only formal religious leaders, Islam, from the early days, attempted to set itself apart from other religions in the area, especially Judaism. In Judaism, Neusner (1986) argues, the Jewish people for the entire history of the West continued to conduct life in accordance with the Torah as explained by the rabbis. This placed knowledge of the religion in the hands of a few, the rabbis. In contrast, in Islam, direct knowledge of the religion was promoted so there was no need for an intermediary between God and people. Knowledge was viewed as an instrument for deeper social and cultural change in the society and a mechanism for creating tangible benefits for the widest possible segment of the population. For these reasons, the Prophet gave considerable attention to knowledge and underscored its ethical dimension.
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