Islamic scholars have traditionally placed an emphasis on education. According to Islamic beliefs, the Prophet Muhammad was sent with the message of the Quran to enlighten a people living in ignorance. During his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad preached that salvation was possible through the abandonment of ignorance and belief in strict monotheism.
Although pre-Islamic Arabia was largely illiterate, the advent of Islam encouraged literacy in the region. Islam teaches that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, who many believe to have been illiterate, through the angel Gabriel, and that the Prophet Muhammad received his first Quranic revelation while reflecting upon the world in a cave. In the Quran -- in surah, or chapter, 96, verses 1 through 3 -- Gabriel tells the Prophet Muhammad to "Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth, createth man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous."
Righteousness Through Knowedge
Islam teaches that the right path can be discovered through knowledge. Conversely, ignorance is the cause of many vices, including polytheism, idol worship, limitless greed, female infanticide, classism and racism. This is alluded to in the Quran, which refers to the pre-Islamic era in Arabia as the "Jahiliyyah," or "period of ignorance."
The Prophet Muhammad taught that the sharing of knowledge was one of the greatest acts a person could do, and as such was a gateway to paradise. In other words, beneficial knowledge taught to others continues to garner rewards for the one who taught it even after the person's passing. The importance of teaching for Muslims is underscored by the story of the Battle of Badr -- which occurred in 624 C.E. during the early clashes between Muslims and Arab pagans -- in which Muslims allowed the captured enemy combatants to earn their freedom by teaching Muslim children how to read and write.
Education for All
Because Muslims believe that learning the Quran is incumbent upon every person with the mental faculty to do so, literacy was encouraged for all and not just the privileged. This is examplified by the Prophet Muhammad's directive that seeking religious knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim. Therefore, women, the poor and the elderly were all encouraged to not only learn to read the Quran, but also get educated about acts of worship, such as prayer, and other religious rituals.
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