The first divine revelation received by the Prophet of Islam was the chapter of the Qur’an entitled Al-‘Alaq (The Clot). It begins with these words: Read! In the name of your Lord, who created… who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know. (96:1-5)
This was the first message given to the Prophet by God. It tells us that according to the Qur’an, learning has the greatest importance in human life. In fact, learning is basic to all our hopes and aspirations: the greater the learning, the greater the progress in life.
According to a tradition, one night in the year 610 A.D., the Prophet of Islam was secluded in the cave of Mount Hira. Suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared and said: ‘O Muhammad, read!’ The Prophet Muhammad being unlettered, said, ‘I cannot read.’ The angel again said: ‘O Muhammad, read!’ The Prophet repeated the same answer. For the third time, the angel said: ‘O Muhammad, read!’ But again the Prophet Muhammad said he could not read.
According to the tradition, the angel embraced him and then he began reading the revealed words. This story gives a great lesson: a lesson of struggle. It should be interpreted as meaning: Read even if you cannot read, learn even if you cannot learn. This was the first piece of guidance given by the Qur’an. This revolutionized the minds of the Prophet and his companions, and they did their best to avail themselves of every opportunity to acquire learning and education. This is illustrated by the following sequence of events. After the migration to Madinah in 622 A.D, the Prophet of Islam and his companions were attacked by the Quraysh of Makkah. It was a one-day war, which was won by the Prophet and his companions. They were able to capture seventy of their opponents, who were brought to Madina as prisoners of war.
Learning is basic to all our hopes and aspirations: the greater the learning, the greater the progress in life. But the Prophet of Islam meted out no punishment to them. They were educated persons, by the standards of those days. The Prophet of Islam said to them that any one of them who would educate ten children of Madina would have this service rendered by him accepted as ransom and he would be set free. It was more than likely that these people might again start a war against the Prophet. But, judging by this incident, the Qur’anic message is that, even if you are unlettered, try to learn, and learn even if you have no teachers other than those with whom you do not have good relations.