Reality of Knowledge | Habib Bilal

Habib Bilal

Every now and then, unfortunately, we see the practice of argumentation and contradiction. It has become so common that almost everyone seems to be involved in this menace. Under the banner of knowledge, a culture of ignorance has been prevalent, where people debate and discuss, things and ideas related to 'knowledge' related issues and finally enter in argumentation and confrontation which in many cases leads one nowhere. This is a fashion in almost every field of knowledge. However, there is no doubt that its effect is less pronounced in the field of scientific inquiry (not metaphysical) than in religious affairs.

Religious and non-religious people seem to be more involved in this menace everywhere. The main reason behind this chaos are the two kinds of people - the first ones are those who have little information and based on their meager information, they indulge in debates and discussions. Nonetheless, these people are very few in numbers. The second category of people is the one which possesses no knowledge at all and irony is that, even without having sufficient information they indulge in unending debates. And the unfortunate part is that they are quite many in numbers. This happens primarily because the majority of people are completely unaware of the reality of knowledge. Intentionally or unintentionally people often take uncertainty, doubt, assumption, and even ignorance as knowledge and with this doubtful mind enter in debates, discussions, and argumentation. 

While the truth of knowledge is completely different. Knowledge is the final stage, the destination of the journey of information which starts from the end point of ignorance, passes through various other stages/phases and gets completed at its destination which is 'knowledge'. The main feature of knowledge is that it removes every doubt and uncertainty. So if any doubt remains in our mind then whatever we know cannot be called as knowledge, as said earlier that, knowledge is nothing but the removal of ignorance, removal of uncertainty, removal of doubt and removal of assumption. 

A person is 'knowledgeable' only when he/she knows about a thing or an idea which takes him to the level of the certainty. When we know the absolute reality of a particular thing, the 100% of it, then only we can call it knowledge. Prior to that level of certainty, we have to go through various stages which begin after ignorance (0% certainty) and take one to the gates of knowledge (100% certainty).

1). In the beginning, we are ignorant. The stage is Ignorance - Jahl (جہل), in which we do not know anything. Ignorance means not knowing at all. It’s simply an “I don't know at all” situation or a condition of complete darkness. It also means having no knowledge, no idea about a particular thing or a concept. Ignorance is of two types:
•    Simple Ignorance (Jahl Al-Baseet): Complete mindlessness, completely blank, having no information at all. It’s like total negation and nonexistence of knowledge because of which no perception could be formed.
•    Complex Ignorance (Jahl Al-Muraqqab): Having wrong information, wrong conception and wrong perception. It’s like having such information because of which a perception could be formed which is completely against the reality. In this condition there is not complete darkness or negation, there is something but that perception is wrong.

In this state, we are at 0% and this is the sets the stage for the journey leading to the acquisition of knowledge.

2). The Second stage is Uncertainty - Wahm (وہم), in which we have come out of ignorance to a state of just a surmise or imagination. Where thought is coming to the mind, means we have a vague idea that the situation might be so and so. So, we have come out of the situation where we never knew anything at all, neither this way nor that way; neither like this nor like that... in fact, knew nothing at all. It was unknowingness or complete ignorance. Now we are a little bit out of ignorance and our intellect has started working, this is 'Wahm', an unfounded/unclear and indefinite thought. Even if we have come 10% out of ignorance, or 20%, or 30%, or even 40% - 45%, this all belongs to 'Wahm' (Uncertainty). This vague thought continued to grow stronger up to the level of 49%. In this state, we are between 1% to 49% and it has not turned into knowledge yet.

3). The third stage is of Doubt - Shakk (شک), in this state, we know half of the knowledge and do not know the other half. It's a 50-50 situation. Our 50% intellect says that is so and the other 50% say it is not so. After coming out of the state of uncertainty (Wahm) where the level of knowledge was between 1% to 49%, here it reaches at 50%, neither less than it nor greater than it. It is called as doubt (Shakk) or a state of doubtfulness. Doubt means in the middle, fifty/fifty, half towards ignorance and half towards knowledge. Here we are at 50%. It has also not become knowledge yet. When it was 'Jahl' (first state), it was not knowledge. When it was 'Wahm' (second state), it was not knowledge either and similarly when it is 'Shakk' (third state), it’s also not knowing. 

4). The fourth stage is Assumption - Zann (ظن), when we have come out of the state of the doubt (shakk) and reached above it, our thought has grown even stronger and started dominating then it is called as 'Zann' - Assumption/Supposition. That is which we call “more likely in my opinion”, as likelihood. This is the station of 'Zann'. It is not knowledge yet because it still has 25% room for doubtfulness and vagueness. We shall remain in this state up to the level of 90% or even up to 99% because still there is 1% remaining to know about it. Here we are between 50%-99%.

5). The fifth and the final stage is Knowledge - ilm (علم):- After coming out of 'Shakk' and entering into 'Zann', we have grown our thought stronger and accumulated more information, struggled more, now it has become a certainty. Then finally we reach the level of 100% and if the conception was so strong and perfect, then it is called knowledge. So knowledge is that level where intellect becomes completely satisfied and it certifies that this matter is 100% like this.

The summary is that the journey of knowledge begins from its first station i.e; Ignorance (Jahl), where we were ignorant, we have no knowledge regarding something, we were in a state of complete ignorance. Where after addition of more information leads us to the next station i.e; Uncertainty (Wahm) then we step forward and continue to progress until we reach in the middle where it becomes Doubt (Shakk), it is the central station of the whole journey. Now after this we strive further, we accumulate more information and do more research we reach our next station which is known as Assumption (Zann). The assumption is the condition where we are more close to the Knowledge and more away from the Ignorance. Finally after getting further information and by doing more study and research ultimately we arrive at the level of certainty, at our destination which is now called Knowledge. So, the knowledge is comprehension and condition where there is no space for any doubt, guess, vagueness or assumption.

The whole processes of the acquisition of knowledge and its different stages mentioned above were discussed in detail by early scholars and philosophers of Islam such as Al-Jurjani in his work Al-Tarifaat, Al-Amidi in Kitab Al-Ahkam, Al-Razi in Al-Mahsul and others like Al-Juwayni and Taqi al-Din Al-Subki.  It’s a subject of Ilm-ul-Kalaam which literally means “Science of Discourse” and sometimes also called as “Islamic Scholastic Theology”.  Philosophy has also discussed this topic, in philosophy the study of knowledge is called “epistemology”. 

The philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as “justified true belief”, this definition specifies that a statement must meet three criteria in order to be considered knowledge: it must be justified, true and believed. Some claim that these conditions are not sufficient and some other analytic philosophers thought it to be problematic. However, several definitions and theories of knowledge explain it exists. So even according to the philosophy acquisition of knowledge involves cognitive processes: perception, communication, and reasoning which results in a justified and true conception which is the level of certainty.

Now, when we see around us our condition is completely opposite. A majority of us has taken Assumption (Zann) for knowledge, some other has taken Doubt (Shakk) for knowledge, some more has taken Uncertainty (Wahm) for knowledge and there are many others who have taken Ignorance (Jahl) for knowledge. Whatever one has in his mind he believes that this is a piece of complete knowledge, for this reason, each declares the other one who differs from him as ignorant. This is the calamity & damage of lacking the true understanding of knowledge. Most of our scholars (ulama) and seekers of knowledge develop an inclination and a disposition that whatever they know or if I think whatever I know and I understand, it is a complete knowledge and I have never conducted research whether I have fulfilled all the conditions and requirement of gaining knowledge or not? Lest it should be the case that my ‘knowing’ is still wandering at the station of vagueness. It could be the case that my ‘knowledge of something’s reality’ is still at the station of doubt or at the station of assumption and still there can be some space for mistake or misconception? But we don't do that, we don't analyze because we are not honest with ourselves and with the knowledge as well. All that we have come to know, even if it is in a small amount or we have just read it only in one book, or we have just gone through some pages of a small book, that's it. After that, with great enthusiasm, a great deal of proud and anger, in a wrathful manner, we start debating, indulge our self in argumentation and confrontation and say harsh words and issue verdicts, we declare the other one who is differing from us to be ignorant and sometimes to be a disbeliever. This is not knowledge, this is nothing but the height of ignorance. The person who thinks and behaves like this is ignorant of the highest grade. That's the reason why the majority of people think that only they have the knowledge and all others are ignorant. A man by nature is argumentative and this is one of the characteristics of the lower self which we are commanded to suppress, in the Qur’an Almighty God states:
"And We have indeed put forth in the Qur’an repeatedly for mankind every kind of example (alternating the styles), but man is far ahead in contention (argumentation) than anything else." (Al-Qur’an 18:54)

"No nation goes astray after being guided except they indulge in arguments." (Jami'at Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 3253)

 Therefore we should remain humble, polite and calm from inside and should not speak out or should not comment on any topic related to knowledge until and unless we have a complete grasp over that topic or we have complete information and complete knowledge regarding that particular topic. It will lead us towards the right understanding of knowledge and make us beneficial for ourselves as well as for others.

About the author: Habib Bilal is an MBA and an M.A in Islamic Studies. He belongs to the Surankote tehsil of district Poonch. He can be reached at

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