‘Ask those that have knowledge if you do not know’
This statement is arguably one of the most hashed, misquoted verses of the Holy Quran and a justification by many Muslims that knowledge can only be sought or derived from ‘special learned people’ and ‘those that possess knowledge’.
WHAT DOES THE QURAN ACTUALLY SAY?
Two verses are used to support this concept, verse 16.43 and verse 21.7. Both verses are nearly always partially quoted and torn out of their proper context.
16.43 “And before you also the messengers We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: if you do not know, ask of those who possess the Message”
21.7-8 “Before you, also, the messengers We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If you do not know, ask of those who possess the Message. Nor did We give them bodies that ate no food, nor were they exempt from death”
In both verses, one notes the almighty God informing the Prophet that before him Prophet’s were only men like him who God had granted inspiration. They consumed food and they were not exempt from death. This was clearly a measure of reassurance for the Prophet so that there would remain no doubt in his mind that he was indeed a Prophet.
These verses are not directed at anyone but the Prophet and are context specific. What sense would there be to ask the ‘believers’ to consult ‘people of knowledge’ if the messenger himself was amongst their midst? This would also contradict many verses where God clearly asks the believers to refer their matters to the Prophet, especially in disputes! (4.59)
Also these verses are one of the most powerful support for verification. Even though God is revealing the message to the Prophet, he is still being asked to verify it for himself. This is one of the most powerful cues for the use of volition and self verification. In this verse, God Himself is asking the Prophet to verify a particular claim.
If any wisdom is to be extracted, it is one of verification not of blind following!
WHAT THE QURAN ACTUALLY ASKS ONE TO DO IS TO SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH BY USING ONE’S OWN FACULTIES TO VERIFY AND NOT TO FOLLOW BLINDLY
17: 36 “(O man), do not follow that of what you have no knowledge. Indeed! the hearing and the sight and the heart – of each of these it will be asked”
From this verse it is clear that we must not follow any matters of which we have no knowledge or have not sought any verification with our own faculties. We will clearly be questioned with regards this. Any groundless assertions about other people or events, statements based on conjecture and unsupported by evidence, matters of inherited faith and doctrine or indeed unverified matters of society, all fall within the ambit of this verse.
Those familiar with the story of Abraham will undoubtedly realise that this is exactly the approach Abraham employed when he left the ways of his forefathers. He questioned his inherited beliefs and searched for the truth using his own faculties which put him at odds with his father and his people who even set up to destroy him in a pit of fire!
BLIND FOLLOWING OF YOUR LEADERS
There is a powerful lesson to be learnt from the people of the previous scriptures. It seems that many may have only repeated the action by taking the opinions of men and their leaders over the message of God and what He has revealed in His scripture. In essence and by doing so, many have set up rivals with their Lords. What is one actually doing when the word of their Sheikh / Leader / Imam contradicts or overrides a particular message from the Quran and is not supported by it?
9:31 “They have taken as Lords beside God their Rabbis and their Monks and the Messiah son of Mary , when they were bidden to only worship One God”
LEADERS AND GREAT MEN WILL NOT HELP ONE ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT
33:67 “And they shall say: O our Lord! surely we obeyed our leaders (Arabic: Sadatana) and our great men (Arabic: Wakubaraana), so they led us astray from the path”