Author: Dr. ‘Abdul-Kareem Bakkaar
Allah, The Exalted, inculcated in mankind inquisitiveness and love for exploration, and this allowed them to develop themselves as “cognitive beings” and to be always prompted to acquire more knowledge without any limits of saturation or repletion.
In the past, the process of knowledge acquisition relied on the “transmission” of information, and so learning and teaching were time-framed actions that were done in a chronological order. Whenever a knowledgeable person died, it was possible that the best of his knowledge would die with him. When people developed alphabets for the various languages and relished the blessing of writing, the dissemination of knowledge moved from the scope of time to that of place. The preservation, documentation, retrieval and promotion of the available knowledge became accessible to the broadest extent possible. This enabled people to develop their knowledge in an astonishing way, and thus humanity came to have a new history.
There are many reasons that require a person to learn, read and gain life-long experiences. Those reasons include the following:
1- What urges people to gain more knowledge is knowledge itself. The greater the available knowledge becomes, the wider the unknown area gets! Also, progress itself increases man’s pressing need for knowledge, as delving deeper into knowledge fields opens up new possibilities and horizons and generates new motivations to achieve the most extensive progress.
A cultured intellectual, who seeks to honor the value and dignity of his culture, is required to regrow his knowledge on an ongoing basis. Whenever he feels content with his share of knowledge, he will be placing himself on the brink of degeneration.
If he is a specialist, the waves of successive scientific advances and breakthroughs in his specialty would throw him to the shore, to find himself ultimately outside of that specialty (were he to fail to keep abreast of what is new therein).
The mental state of an averagely cultured person – let alone one who is weakly cultured – declines and degrades due to the accumulation of theories, ideas and doctrines to which he can no longer contribute, even if he shows interest in them.
In fact, the scope of our ignorance widens with the advancement of knowledge, just as the area of surface contact between a ball and the outside world increases as the ball’s diameter increases, and this creates increasing challenges for every reader.
2- In the past, people did not have a strong sense of the correlation between earning a living and the extent of knowledge they acquired, but today the situation has dramatically changed. The occupations and jobs that the illiterate and the culturally weak people can perform are progressively diminishing.
A nation whose children fail to improve their level of knowledge continuously will find itself qualified to be subordinate to advanced nations and be exploited by them at all levels!
3- The knowledge and experiences that we possess today do not have absolute fixed values. The inhabitants of Earth make up a unified world, and the importance of each part of that world always stems from that part’s resilience in the face of challenges, its ability to contend with rivals and solve problems, and its weight in the global arenas.
The prevalence of alphabetic and civilizational illiteracy has caused the Muslim ummah problems that are much bigger than what we think them to be, and this is not limited to the scope of earning a living and production only, but rather extends to the understanding of Islam as well. Being a sophisticated civilizational edifice, Islam cannot fully manifest itself except through a pioneering cognitive and civilizational experience. This means that the backwardness from which we are suffering has blinded us to perceiving the divine methodology as required.
4- The human mind always tends to build habits and draw frameworks for its work, and they inform and ‘program’ the mind with the passage of time. The surrounding environment, with all its various kinds, provides the elements of such programming.
The more culturally shallow a person is, with limited sources of knowledge, the narrower the scope of his perceptions and the more local his models and visions become, as he becomes unable to go beyond the incorrect inputs that he absorbed from his society.
Extensive reading in various fields of knowledge maximizes a person’s awareness through comparison and broadening of his scope of vision. Our early scholars did not trust the knowledge of a scholar who did not travel and strive in the pursuit of knowledge, as they were aware of the perils of cultural programming that is based on limited local inputs.
5- The enormous gush of information and the accumulation of scientific research products are continuously increasing, and the direct result of this phenomenon is the obsolescence of our knowledge and information. According to some estimates, about 90% of all “scientific knowledge” was introduced in the last three decades, and this knowledge is set to double in about 12 years.
A researcher contended that a contemporary specialist has to keep in mind that about 10-20% of his information has become outdated and needs renewal.
Another researcher held that information goes through an aging process, by 10% per day for newspapers, 10% per year for magazines, and 10% per year for books.
6- The obsolescence of information manifests in various forms; sometimes by proving its falseness or inaccuracy, sometimes by its incompatibility with the new plans, sometimes by dropping out of attention because it is no longer valuable for the knowledge structure, and sometimes by proposing a new perusal of it; i.e., reproducing it in a different way that changes its initial purports.
The remedy for all these problems is continuous reading and keeping abreast of what is new, so that our knowledge does not deteriorate and we do not drown in the falsehoods and illusions that spread as side products of scientific progress.
Reading and other information sources:
We live in an era of knowledge explosion; the huge numbers of scientists involved in scientific research, the advanced means of data processing, transfer and dissemination, and the unique and increasing global communication; all of this has overwhelmed people with news, information and concepts that bombard them every moment from various parts of the globe.
This situation led people to question whether there is any role left for reading and books, and it also prompted many intellectuals to speak out and vehemently complain about the abandonment of books and the infatuation with the varied cultural programs and materials presented by the various media outlets.
The truth is that this complaint is justified, as there are clear indications that people are reluctant to read and buy books, and they spend longer times in following the various media outlets.
It is enough to know that the average number of printed copies of books in the Arab countries does not exceed three thousand copies per book!
This limited number of printed books are not usually sold out in less than three years, whereas the distribution numbers in developed countries are much bigger, leaving no room for comparison!
The media outlets produce highly elaborate shows, which gives them a huge attractiveness. If we add to that the lack of motivation for reading and the lack of cultural traditions that promote book acquisition, we will realize the (saddening) status of reading in our Muslim world!
The media provides fragmented information that are seldom related to the real cognitive need of the followers. Moreover, it is well known that the dense information flow about anything might impede its proper understanding, just like the case when there are only a few facts and little information available about it. The human brain has limited capacity to analyze, classify and filter the inputs, and whatever exceeds its processing capacity confuses and distracts it.
On the other hand, modern media have caused significant harm to people’s feeling of the need to think; media writers and program editors have taken on this task on behalf of the recipients.
The TV viewer, the radio listener, and the magazine or newspaper reader receive a full blend of carefully selected data and statistics, presented in an ingenious rhetorical style that amazes the recipient and prompts him to surrender to it and comply with its orientation without exerting any personal effort to process it. This is contradictory to the requirements of modern scientific and social development, which requires us to be able to be creative and rationalize mental judgment rather than being preoccupied with understanding and memorizing some items of knowledge.
All this should not make us deny that the massive media and information flow has given rise to some sort of public enlightenment and raised the level of awareness among people as well as giving them a good amount of general knowledge.
The margin separating entertainment from true education is narrow, and it is quite possible that what we listen to and watch is a form of entertainment and a means to pass time while we (mistakenly) think that we are learning!
I believe that books remain the primary means of good education, as we get to fully exercise our freedom to choose what we need. Moreover, books do not require assisting devices to read them and they are cheap compared to other means.
However, I am not trying to underestimate other sources of information. What counts is that our objectives with regard to education and knowledge development should always be clear, and then we may look for the tools and means that help us realize those objectives.
May Allah grant us success!