Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 32
They said, ‘May You be glorified! We have knowledge only of what You have taught us. You are the All Knowing and All Wise.’ (Chapter 2: Verse 32)
If every field of knowledge requires a teacher, then the first teacher has to be God. This vast knowledge that we have today is the result of the intellect that God granted man, and the result of the materials He placed at our disposal. Indeed Allah is the first teacher in the universe, and from His teachings and gifts all inventions and innovations emerged. For instance, the existence of water and the energy of the sun is primordial. Man utilized heat and fire for water evaporation and used steam as energy. This scientific leap brought on what is known as the steam age -civilizations powered by new machines and trains-. This progress came forth from pre-existing elements, and through the growth of knowledge; above all, it came through the mental competence and intelligence granted by God to man. Another example is the invention of the wheel. It most probably came from observing a fallen tree log while it rolled down a hill. In fact, scientific progress is based on previous knowledge and astute observation. For this reason, Islam came to draw our attention towards the Creator of the universe, and to re-introduce and encourage the observational and experimental science. Allah asks each one of us to reflect on His signs and to use our intellect and perception. He says:
How many a sign there is in the heavens and the earth which most men pass by and ignore (12:105)
Throughout the Quran, Allah directs you towards His signs in the heaven and on earth so that you may work your mind in advancing the human race. You and I are encouraged to continue and build upon the knowledge which God taught Adam. History is full of examples of disbelievers who excelled in science and innovation. Sir Isaac Newton, for instance, discovered gravitational force through the observation and the contemplation of objects falling and hitting the ground. He was able to formulate the theory of gravity. It should be incumbent upon us as Muslims to observe and contemplate God's signs that He placed all around us.
Take the example of the seed of a date. It contains within its core the complete map for a palm tree. Whenever the seed is sowed into proper ground, a palm tree grows and comes into existence. God has put this knowledge before us to observe and mull over. It should lead the thoughtful mind to formulate theories and carry experiments. The first theory leads to a second, and then to a third and so on. Keep in mind that the very beginnings of these sciences did not start with a theory, rather it came from what is known as axioms -that which self-evident and does not require proof-. Axioms are the things God created in the universe and upon them we build. Thus, every discovery and invention made by man originated from Allah, just as every cell, branch and fruit of a palm tree originated from its seed. Shawqi -a famous modern poet- said:
All praise to You, You encompass all, the Best Teacher...
...You taught with the pen the earliest creature
You sent Moses along with Torah as a guide...
…and the son of the virgin you taught the Gospel
And Muhammad -a spring of eloquence you caused to flow-
…and brought the Quran and Hadith for all to know
Shawqi, the poet, attributed all knowledge to God alone. Likewise, the statement of the angels: ‘May You be glorified! We have knowledge only of what You have taught us. You are the All Knowing and All Wise’ attributes all knowledge and wisdom to God. The phrase 'All Knowing' means the one who has perfect and comprehensive knowledge of everything whether it is hidden or declared. ‘Wisdom’ on the other hand, refers to the ability to use this knowledge properly and assign it where it truly belongs. In the Arabic language, the word ' ΝίγΙ' 'wisdom' originated from the word 'bridle'. It is the piece of leather and iron that is placed on a horse’s mouth so the rider can take control and aim the animal towards the desired destination. Without it, the animal would wonder aimlessly and may take the rider wayward. Similarly, wisdom sets a proper goal for each action thus producing harmony and progress. It is with wisdom that the universe becomes a place governed with justice. Allah, the all Wise, is the one who identifies for each creation its bounds, and places each entity within its proper framework. Lets clarify this point with an example, wisdom in medical treatment calls putting the doctor's knowledge to use for proper diagnosis of the disease and proper prescription of the medication that will treat it. Without wisdom, the Doctor's knowledge has no value, and may even cause more harm to the patient. Wisdom in interior car design lies in proper ergonomics; labelling each button and placing it within easy reach of the driver.
Keep in mind that God's attribute ‘The all-Wise’ also requires being 'All-Knowing.' because this comprehensive knowledge is what allows for perfecting everything as wisdom entails. God granted each of His creations the proper knowledge and instinct according to its need and mission in life. It is not from the nature of angels, for example, nor it is required for their mission in the universe, to know what man will do on earth in the future. Allah distinguished man by blessing him with intellect to discover the signs of God in the universe according to the needs and advancement of life. All this is perfectly summarized in the following verses:
Glorify the Name of your Lord, the Most High: Who creates and fashions in due proportions, And Who determines and guides (87:1-3)
Therefore, everything is created with a destiny and the path, and each is guided and provided with whatever is needed to facilitate this journey.