The tribe of Qoraish, and especially that branch of it called the clan of Sa'd, among whom Muhammad spent his childhood near Mount Taif, situated to the east of Mecca, were renowned in Arabia for the purity and eloquence of their language. William Muir writes in "The Life of Mohammad" (London, 1923, p. 7) that, "His speech was formed upon one of the purest models of the beautiful language of the peninsula." Such milieu could not fail to make him a man of some refinement and good taste; and no doubt it was this which enabled him to attract to himself men much more learned than he. Muhammad preached of an inestimable value of knowledge, and brought his followers out of the darkness of ignorance to the light.
It is recounted that a man came to Muhammad and asked, "What is ilm?" He replied, fairness (insaf). The man asked again, "And what more?" He replied, listening (istima). The man asked, "And what more?" The Prophet said, keeping in mind (hifz). The man asked, "And what else?" He replied, acting (amal) in accordance with knowledge. Then the man asked, "And what more?" Muhammad replied, spreading it (nashru-hu).
Muhammad's interest in education can also be judged from the tradition as quoted by Ibn Sa'd in "Tabaqat" that among the Meccan prisoners taken in the battle of Badr, there were many who could not pay for their liberty; and the literate among them however were ordered by the Prophet to teach at least ten illiterate Muslim children as a ransom. Zaid bin Thabit, who later one became famous as one of the scribes of the Koranic revelations, learned reading and writing in this way. It is also worthwhile to mention that Muhammad encouraged the learning of foreign languages, and thus Zaid bin Thabit is also reputed to have learnt Persian, Greek, Ethiopian, Aramaic and Hebrew. According to H.E. Barnes in "A History of Historical Writings"(Oklahoma, 1937, p. 93), "In many ways the most advanced civilization of the Middle Ages was not a Christian culture at all, but rather the civilization of the people of the faith of Islam."
The Holy Koran is no barren in this context. In Koran alone there are 704 verses in which either the word ilm or the words of the same derivation are used in the following order:- a'lam 49 times, al-ilm 80 times, a'lamu 11 times, alim 162 times, a'lim 13 times, ilman 14 times, i'lamu 27 times, ma'lum and ma'lumat 13 times, ya'lamun 85 times, ya'lamu 93 times, ta'lamun 56 times. Pen and books are essential aids of knowledge, and for them, the qalam occurs 2 times and al-kitab 230 times. In addition, a number of words related to writing, like kataba, katabna, kutiba, katib, yaktubu, naktubu are used in a number of verses. The total number of the Koranic verses using the words related to writing is 319, and the word kitab for the Koran is used on 81 different occasions. This is enough to show to what extent knowledge and the means of its acquisition are emphasised in the Koran, that had been excellently elaborated in the precious sayings of Muhammad.
Hence, it may be remembered that the advanced civilization in the Middle Ages originated by the Muslims was solely the outcome of the Koranic teachings and the recorded sayings of Muhammad in acquisition of education. Few fragments of Muhammad's teachings are also given below:-
* Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.
* The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of martyr.
* The acquisition of knowledge is a duty incumbent on every Muslim, male and female.
* He does not die, who takes learning.
* The worst of men is a bad learned man, and a good learned man is the best.
* To listen to the words of the learned and to instil into the lessons of science is better than religious exercises.
* Acquire knowledge; it enables the possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends, and an armour against enemies.
* Go in search of knowledge even into China.
* Excessive knowledge is better than excessive praying.
* Whoso honours the learned, honours me.
* One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshippers.
* The superiority of a learned man over an ignorant worshipper is like that of the full moon over all the stars.
* People are like mines of gold and silver. The more excellent of them in Islam are those who attain knowledge.
* Knowledge is maintained only through teaching.
* The learned ones are the heirs of the prophets. They have knowledge as their inheritance; and he who inherits it, he inherits a great fortune.
* The only cure for ignorance is to ask.
* One scholar has more power over the devil than a thousand devout men.