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.