In the first revelation of the Holy Qur’an, Allah instructed the Prophet (ﷺ pbuh) to read, and then He informed the Prophet (pbuh) about learning through the use of the pen; why did Allah tell an Unlettered Messenger about learning to read and write?
We all know about the importance and value of learning to read. Allah tells us that when we learn to read the Qur’an we shall be able to know the best of stories contained in the revelations. So that through reading, we become knowledgeable about events and incidents that took place long, long before the coming of Islam. Also, through reading; especially of the Holy Qur’an, will man be able to know about events that are to come, and about the things of the universe, as Allah says that, He has made available to man, whatever is in the skies and the earth.
About the use of the Pen, in the first revelation, Allah informs human beings that through the use of the Pen will a person get formal knowledge, as it is only when things are recorded will others be able to access the knowledge contained in it.
We need to understand that knowledge can be formal or informal. Informal knowledge is that which is passed on from generation to generation through personal contact. It may not necessarily have a purpose, method or connection between one people and another. For example, the cave dwellers would have known how to use certain roots, etc, to cure a disease, and this they would have taught some of their children. So this type of informal knowledge was handed down.
When Allah revealed about the use of the Pen, Allah is speaking of the acquisition of Formal Knowledge; that is the organization of research and drawing conclusion in a particular way by adhering to specified rules and regulations. This can be summarized as the Inductive method of the acquisition of knowledge.
What we understand is that from the very beginning of Islam, Allah was emphasizing the necessity for man to read and do research; but keeping in mind, all the time that knowledge comes from Allah and what we acquire of it is because of His Mercies to us.
It is because man is able to put on record his discoveries that others can build upon what is recoded to advance further in knowing the things of nature. In addition, when the knowledge acquired by one person or group is recorded, others throughout the world, at that time and in the future will have access to it, thereby building upon the legacy of the ancestors.
In the very first revelation that Allah gave to the “Unlettered Messenger” He (Allah) was telling the Prophet (pbuh) that through the acquisition of knowledge through research, will man become honourable, as the revelation is as follows:
Read in the name of thy Lord Who created; created man from a clot; read and thy Lord is most honourable, Who taught with the Pen, taught man what he did not know. (96:1-5)
This revelation had an immediate impact on the Arabs at the time and all those who joined Islam, as later on it was the Muslims who collected the writings of all the then civilizations, translated them into Arabic, and built upon them, thereby opening up the era of growth which resulted in the beginning of the western civilization. As the Prophet (pbuh) told his companions at that time that they should: seek knowledge, even if they had to go to China.
From the very beginning, Islam placed emphasis on scientific investigations and using the inductive system of inquiry to get information of the unknown.