Islamic sayings: زِدْنِى عِلْمًۭا Enrich me with Knowledge

Comments John Emerson on a thread over at Language Hat:

I have two favorite Koranic (or Hadith) quotations: “The ink of scholars is more precious than the blood of the martyrs’ and ‘Seek wisdom, even as far as China”.

I have managed to dig up the Arabic for both sayings, as well as a little background.

Seek wisdom, even as far as China

The China quotation I have heard before. It’s not in the Koran though.  It appears to be a “weak” hadith, that is, the chain of transmission or rememberers back to the life of the Prophet is not as reliable. Some more notes on authenticity here.

Even though this is a very common saying, the Arabic for it is hard to come by. A transliteration is given like this:

Utlub il ‘ilma wa law fis-Sin.

or in L33t or Arabic text language:

Utlub al 3ilm wa law bil Seen

And here it is in Chinese as wallpaper (the internet kind, not the interior decorating kind).

Finally a Turkish website gives us this bit of Arabic in its sidebar:

But “kana”? I don’t see that quoted anywhere else on the internet. So in Arabic it should be:

ﺍﻃﻠﺐ ﻋﻠﻢ ﻮ  ﻟﻭ ﻓﻲ ﺍﻟﺼﻴﻦ

That spelling gives 39,600 Google hits, so I think it’s a winner.

The saying even has a secret sufi meaning:

There is another significance to the allusion of China in this context. In his book, “The Sufis” Idries Shah says that, “Seek knowledge, even as far as China” is a traditional Sufi slogan which has a hidden meaning. According to Shah “China” is the code word for mind concentration, one of the Sufi practices that is an essential prerequisite to Sufi development. In Arabic the word “China” is SYN which decodes to form a word: QN. And this word represents, in Arabic, the concept of “scrutinizing, observing”, and is therefore taken as a symbol of concentration.

The ink of scholars is more precious than the blood of the martyrs

The Arabic for this saying is a little easier to come by. You can take your pick.

مداد حبر العالم أقدس من دم الشهيد


مداد حبر العالم أفضل من دم الشهيد

The first choice yields 62 google hits; the second choice yields 434 hits. So  by popular acclaim it’s

مداد حبر العالم أفضل من دم الشهيد

Although this hadith is very widely quoted as well, it appears to have even less authority than the China one.

Some other sayings about knowledge

This a bit creepy and attributed to Jesus (Isa) on an Iranian website . According to Imam Jafar, the sixth Imam

Isa [a] said, ‘I saw a stone on which was written, “Turn me over”, so I turned it over. Written on the other side was “Whoever does not act by what he knows will be doomed by seeking what he does not know, and his own knowledge will be turned against him.”

For anyone who is intrigued by this type of philosophy and wants more about this imam, check out this Shia group in England that is waiting for the coming of the Mahdi, the hidden Imam.

Then there’s this one.  I forget where I found it, but it’s not attributed to anyone.

The wealth that we have is not ours until we have spent it.

Sort of reminds me of the Arab notion about “having” years. Why don’t Americans say how old they are, I was asked. Years are something you have.

“Oh, Lord, Enrich me with Knowledge”

Finally, here’s one that’s actually from the Koran (three different translations):

فَتَعَٰلَى ٱللَّهُ ٱلْمَلِكُ ٱلْحَقُّ ۗ وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِٱلْقُرْءَانِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضَىٰٓ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُۥ ۖ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِى عِلْمًۭا

YUSUFALI: High above all is Allah, the King, the Truth! Be not in haste with the Qur’an before its revelation to thee is completed, but say, “O my Lord! advance me in knowledge.”
PICKTHAL: Then exalted be Allah, the True King! And hasten not (O Muhammad) with the Qur’an ere its revelation hath been perfected unto thee, and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.
SHAKIR: Supremely exalted is therefore Allah, the King, the Truth, and do not make haste with the Quran before its revelation is made complete to you and say: O my Lord ! increase me in knowledge.

Koranic commentary often notes that “knowledge” is usually regarded as religious knowledge, although in the case of the China saying, most say it refers to generalized knowledge as well, like the manufacture of paper that came from China.

For anyone who want more Arabic sayings, Wikiquote has an entry devoted to them.

13 Responses to “Islamic sayings: زِدْنِى عِلْمًۭا Enrich me with Knowledge”

  1. artandhistory Says:

    Yesterday was the one year memorial of the death of Noam Chomsky’s wife. He was at his MIT office where for a while at least he was eager to talk of Gaza and related matters.

  2. Nijma Says:

    I didn’t know she had passed. Some time ago I attended a function he was scheduled to speak at, but canceled because of her illness.

    Do you know if Chomsky’s remarks about Gaza were reported anywhere? I don’t see anything in the Boston Globe.

    In Jerusalem these days they are saying the Israeli settlers have won and there will be no Palestinian state and no two-state solution. If that is true, the settlers are cutting their own throats. Without a Palestine, can Israel survive even another hundred years, or will it go the way of South Africa?

    In the meantime, Jerusalem banks have their cash stations inside the settler areas, and young Palestinian girls tell their mothers they are going to the settler area to hang out, just like here they go to the mall. Actually, that’s where the mall is. Arab women are more comfortable in the settler area because it is a place they will not be harassed by Arab men.

  3. artandhistory Says:

    Quick reply: Friday was a private Chomsky conversation. But about 2 weeks ago he spoke at a small Episcopal church in Watertown, MA. To put his bottom line crudely, situation in Gaza clearly rests in US hands. Talk was moved to Watertown because original venue was convinced to cancel – -pickets, etc.

    I’m not surprised at lack of Globe, etc. coverage. He’s pretty much taken for granted here, ignored. We were colleagues at MIT — different departments.

  4. Nijma Says:

    I’m always skeptical of those who expect America to somehow magically fix everything, especially since they never say exactly how they want to see it fixed. The same people tend to be the “drive them into the sea” crowd. If they are waiting for America to kill all the Jews, it’s already been tried unsuccessfully elsewhere; they will be waiting a long time. In fact, Israel is a sovereign nation, one that presumably has nuclear weapons, and one which has publicly embarrassed the U.S. on a number of occasions–Jonathan Pollard comes to mind.

    This also gives me an excuse to paste this old chestnut again:

    O Brother in Islam, the pillars of Zionism in Palestine are three: the Balfour promise; the European nations that have decided to expel the Jews from their lands and direct them to Palestine; and the extremists among the Arabs who do not accept any solution, but simply weep and howl, calling for help from those who cannot do them any good. So behold Palestine, breathing its last!”
    -King Abdullah I, Jordan, 1932

    Chomsky’s stance is less irritating if you consider it in the context of someone taking an extreme position in order to offset another extreme position that is already on the table. In theory at least, there is supposed to be a thesis-antithesis-synthesis action that takes place, but in practice the followers tend to interpret the academics’ posturing at face value and become even more entrenched in their intolerant positions.

    That said, Chomsky’s stance is also one that requires some courage, especially in the face of the power of the conservative Israeli lobby in the U.S. and the settler movement in Israel. I’m certainly glad that someone of his stature is speaking up, even if I wish his utterances were more pragmatic.

  5. 1 Muslim Nation Says:

    mashallah well researched article. great work. may allah bless you.


  6. 1 Muslim Nation Says:

    dear Nijma, i noticed you have linked to a horoscope site and seem to promoting it. correct me if i’m wrong as far as I know horoscope is haram. only Allah knows about the future and stars or heavenly bodies are mere objects, they cannot interfere with our fates or prodict our destiny. I think a great sin, a shirk an act of associating partners with Allah almighty. I know many muslims believe in horoscope but i fear for their fate in the hereafter. allahu alaam.

    look into this matter for yourself in the quran & hadeeth and I ask to be correct me if i’m wrong. thank you

  7. Nijma Says:

    1 Muslim Nation, I have heard of this before. It is said to be based on injunctions not to worship other gods, such as the one in Koran 17:23 and similar passages: “Your Lord has decreed that you shall not worship except Him”.

    I have met many Moslems who enjoy horoscopes, also reading the coffee grounds in the bottom of the coffee cup to pass the time. They don’t think this is the same as idolatry or polytheism. They say it is is fine for entertainment as long as you don’t believe in it and substitute it for Allah.

  8. سعید.امیرصادقی Says:

    some love one

    some love tow

    i love one

    that is you

  9. Nur Says:

    Well, Horoscope is forbidden…. even if we don’t believe in it. The prophet said, ” Whoever has gone to a fortune teller has committed shirk – (association of partner with Allah), so please avoid it… Jazakallah Khayr

  10. Nijma Says:

    Where is this written? What is the meaning of “partner of Allah”? Does it mean Allah getting married? How can horoscope be connected with Allah getting married? This is very confusing.

    • Nur Says:

      Oh sorry for not clarifying…
      this means worshipping or giving any characteristics of Allah to anyone else…. In case of horoscope, the person predicting the future is claiming that he has knowledge of the future which only Allah has… and if we believe it, we are supporting that claim (thus giving that person Allah’s attribute of knowledge).
      If we read it, but not believe, it still could be a big sin, because of the statements of the prophet i mentioned above.

      • Nur Says:

        Sorry once again, I misquoted the statement of the prophet..
        It is:
        ‘Whoever wears an amulet has committed shirk.”
        (Narrated by Ahmad, 16969)

        However the hadith relating to fortune-telling is:

        “The Salaah (daily prayer) of whoever approaches a fortune-teller and asks him about anything will not be accepted for forty days and nights.”
        [Reported by Hafsah and collected by Muslim (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol. 4, p. 1211, no. 5440).]

        “Whoever approaches a fortune-teller and believes in what he says, has disbelieved in what was revealed to Muhammad.”
        [Reported by Abu Hurayrah and collected by Ahmad and Abu Daawood (Sunan Abu Dawud (English Trans.), vol. 3, p. 1095, no. 3895).]


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