Piety & knowledge of God
Piety comes from the knowledge of God. The question here is, if someone doesn’t have knowledge of God, does it mean they are by default deprived by God from attaining other branches of knowledge?
Before we go further into our assessment of piety and knowledge another question needs to be explored: is knowledge independent of God? Or in other words let’s say as believers are we saying God only awards knowledge only to those who believe in him?
History suggests otherwise and we know many knowledgeable men were blessed with knowledge irrespective of their belief in God. The list is very long: Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), Michel Foucault (1926–1984), Karl Marx (1818–1883): John Rawls (1921–2002): Bertrand Russell (1872–1970): Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860): Sigmund Freud (1856–1939): Stephen Hawking (1942–): Alfred Nobel (1833–1896): Alan Turing (1912-1954) Francis Crick (1916-2004), Noam Chomsky (born 1928-) to name a few.
I observe many Muslims not keen at all in exploring the knowledge these scholars have contributed to advance humanity as a whole, depriving themselves of crucial knowledge from many fields and indulging in an ocean of ignorance by restricting themselves with religious texts. Yes this is a mere generalisation and I am aware of some Muslims who are indeed objective in acquiring knowledge, but they are not the mainstream and are fewer in numbers.
Piety & Living by Gods Instructions
The second condition of piety I mentioned was the importance of living by God’s instructions. One needs to understand God’s teachings before following it. We have all sorts of complexity here and history is blood-spattered with contentions of what God’s message is and how to understand and comprehend His instructions. Preserving, interpreting and understanding God’s first testament (Torah), second Testament (Bible) or Final testament (Quran) revealed to his messengers dominates religious and political history of the world, since Moses received the 10 commandments in Mount Sinai about three thousand years ago.
I would argue that in understanding God’s instruction it is important to remember the basics philosophy of knowledge as I have defined above. The changing of context and the time of enquiry is of paramount importance here. Otherwise we risk calling that object in the desert blue and disregard that it had to embrace different colours later on. It is important for new observers to renew their observation than rely on the previous observer’s descriptions and ignore the reality it confronts.
To a large extent comprehensive knowledge is independent of knowledge of God and rather God’s message is heavily dependent on human interpretation, linguistic ability, history, scientific evolution, understanding interactions, societal evolution, psychology, economy, geography, mathematics, astronomy, biology and every other branch of knowledge you could think of.
Another relevant question here is: what about those who believe in God but failed to comprehend God’s instruction, hence live an irreligious or in other word ‘impious’ life. Does this mean that by default are they are deprived of any kind of knowledge?
All three hypotheses on the knowledge of God, living by God’s guidance and being moral require comprehensive knowledge and are not entirely subjective to piety.
The third element of piety is the perception that by believing in God and following his instruction, someone becomes moral and this is the only path to true morality. Is human morality dependant on religious belief or believing in God? Many atheists would say no and embarrassingly can show evidence for it. But I would like to look at it from believers’ perspectives. As believers can we claim that God is unable to allow his creation to distinguish between good and bad and award morality irrespective of their belief in his existence? Of course not, thus morality exists and is not dependent on any spiritual or religious belief. God made it inherent for His creation - as it seems. In many war torn countries non believing aid workers are a great example of this and also the indiscriminate killing of them by the so-called believers of the scriptures shows the irony of this.
This is why the whole Judgement Day project is reserved by God and He allowed human beings to follow their conscience with Free will and it is for Him to judge not us His ‘subjects’. So, morality is not inevitably connected to the knowledge of God or being devoted to Him.
Comprehensive knowledge can guide humans towards morality and distinguish between good and bad, either by education or life experience. We Muslims better start living with this reality and promote this fact.
I have tried to provide explanations for my claim that piety is not a pre-requisite of knowledge. Comprehensive knowledge should supervise religious knowledge. Knowledge of God and His instruction is also not necessarily imperative to attain morality. It is absolutely important for religious individuals and groups to promote knowledge irrespective of what packaging it comes in and irrespective of their piety and spiritual status.
Muslims can and should learn and read from non-Muslims and any impious Tom, Dick or Harry as long as they are contributors to comprehensive knowledge. Muslims should not self-destructively deprive themselves of the available knowledge labelling them as ‘disbelievers of knowledge’.
It is true we should mot judge a book by its cover. But it is also true that a good book can suffer from having a bad cover. I see Muslims unfortunately being a bad book cover for God’s final revelation, the Quran, and that is because they are reluctant and afraid of contrasting the knowledge of the Quran and take up the challenge that comprehensive knowledge may impose.
Muslim organisations promoting Islam have an obsession with the knowledge of piety and depriving themselves of other knowledge that God has made available to them. They need not shy away from being critical and should ask more questions. Questions - that the foundation of Islam itself. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) had questions and sought answers to them, retiring and meditating in the Hira cave before God spoke to him and said Iqra – ‘read’ then he said ‘read in the name of thy Lord’. ‘Read’ here was not just about recitation but about observation and examination. Before the Quran was revealed to Mohammed, he was pious, he was religious and he was knowledgeable. The Qur’an and Sunnah can be a great foundation of comprehensive knowledge but not all of it.