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Islam and the pursuit of true knowledge

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When a society begins to understand rights in terms of permissiveness or defiance of the divine law, it spells its own inevitable doom.


THE late Fazlur Rahman once remarked: “Obligation and rights are the obverse and converse of the same coin.” To use it as a currency, you cannot cut them into two; mutually inseparable and indispensable, one obviously cannot subsist without the other.


Written in the late 1980s, his major themes of the Quran also noted that the Quran primarily exhorts mankind to have a strong sense of moral responsibility instead of merely demanding for your rights.


According to him, this should lead to crucial consideration that a complete sense of responsibility can very well take care of all human rights.


Indeed, as he observed, when a society begins to understand rights in terms of permissiveness or defiance of the divine law, it spells its own inevitable doom. This is because submission to the law of God brings harmony to one’s natural inclination or fitrah, while going against it brings discord.


“No one in Islam has a right to do wrong – to do wrong is injustice (zulm) and this is not a right,” said the renowned scholar Prof Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas.


In a well-known hadith on the first and foremost responsibility in Islam, Prophet Mohamed stated that “the pursuit of knowledge (al-‘Ilm) is obligatory upon each and every Muslim”.


Here, it is incumbent to unravel some concerns pertaining to the hadith’s chain of transmitters.


Although there were some scholars who believed that because some “deficient” narrators were involved in transmitting this hadith, it is therefore considered a non-established (ghayr thabit) or weak (da‘if) hadith.


But other luminaries such as al-Muzani (d. 175/791) considered it a well-authenticated (hasan) hadith by virtue of the fact that there were various chains of narrators for it.


Moreover, in the evaluation of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911/1505) in the al-Ta‘liqah al-Munifah, this is a rigorously authenticated hadith (sahih), as he found that it had been transmitted by around 50 chains of transmissions.


Be that as it may, it is to be noted that there are various other more important considerations in order to do justice to this issue.


Whether the chain of transmitters renders this hadith sahih, hasan or da‘if is never an issue of grave importance for the aforementioned erudite scholars throughout the history of Islamic scholarship.


Indeed, it has been fundamentally accepted in the Islamic sciences that it is not logically impossible for a sound text of the Sunnah to be related correctly even by a transmitter with poor memory, or one unknown to the person who recorded the hadith.


According to the same principle, a weak hadith cannot simply be equated with false or forged hadith.


Specifically in this regard, as recorded by among others Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr al-Andalusi (d. 364/1071) and al-Nawawi (d. 676/1277) in his Fatawa, as far as the text and the meaning of this hadith is concerned, it is rigorously authenticated (sahih).


In effect, all genuine Muslim scholars, without exception, are in consensus and accept and commit to the aforementioned purpose and meaning of the foregoing hadith.

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