“Seek knowledge – even if it takes you to China” was the instruction of Muhammad to his companions in seventh century Arabia.

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At a time when China was not a twelve hour flight away, the sentiment was clear: don’t stop striving for knowledge.

In Medina, Muhammad appointed teachers whose sole occupation was to teach the community. His wife Aisha taught men and women for more than forty years at the mosque, becoming the first of thousands of female scholars to teach throughout history, following the Quranic and Prophetic decree.

Free education and student accommodation was a feature in the early Muslim community: soon thousands of primary and secondary schools formed across the Muslim world, with the world’s first university in Karaouine, founded in 859. At a time when learning in Europe was confined to the monasteries, the education system under Islamic civilisation was even more significant in its access to all. Indeed European models we see today were inspired by early Islamic templates, which were the first to form the notion of graduation and diplomas.

Muhammad’s commitment to education led to a burst of scientific and philosophical thought in the medieval Islamic world. Muslim scientists of this period, including Averroes and Avicenna, developed new theories in physics, physiology, chemistry, mathematics, geology and almost every branch of science today. Ibn Khaldun is thought to be the forerunner of several social sciences such as sociology, historiography and demographics. Philosophers, like Al-Farabi, not only responded to the works of Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle but also formed their own theories of psychology and politics. Their advances in education were a clear response to the encouragement of Muhammad: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”.

Muslims today continue to advance Muhammad’s legacy by entering every field of education.

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