The Most Destructive Force: Ignorance

Often when we think of things that cause massive destruction and chaos, common images that spring to mind are guns, bombs, war, violence, and so on.  Yet while all of those are indeed destructive, their use does not happen randomly and without reason.  These are all symptoms of a greater cause – which is often ignorance.  Indeed those who are in power may not be ignorant but are instead in pursuit of power, wealth (resources), and so on, but the tool they use to garner the support of the population is almost always ignorance and disinformation.  Without the support of citizens, it can be very difficult for governing powers to wreck havoc on the world.  Thus, ignorance is our biggest enemy, and all of us must do our best to first identify the ignorance in ourselves, then second, seek knowledge to rid ourselves of the ignorance, and finally, do our best to spread truth to our utmost ability.

Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (as), one of the early descendants of Prophet Muhammad (saws), so eloquently discusses ignorance that I will simply quote him and not attempt to paraphrase:

“Ignorance is a form whose composition is of this world.  When it advances, there is darkness; when it retreats, there is light.

Sometimes you find that he [man] is ignorant of his own qualities and praises them, while he recognizes their faults in others and criticizes them.  At other times you find that a person knows his own nature and criticizes it, while praising the same in others.

The key to ignorance is being satisfied with the knowledge one possesses, and placing all one’s trust in it.  The key to knowledge is the desire to exchange one level of knowledge for a higher level, together with divine grace and guidance.

The lowest quality of an ignorant man is that he lays claim to knowledge which he does not deserve; his most common characteristic is ignorance of his own ignorance, and the most extreme aspect of his ignorance is to reject knowledge.”

(Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, Lantern of the Path p. 44).

In essence, when we feel satisfied with our knowledge and decide to stop learning, this is a big indicator that we are not knowledgeable but are in fact ignorant.  One thing I have experienced in my 9 years of higher education is that the more I learn, the more I realize that I know very little.  Delving beyond the surface and probing deeper and deeper into a subject opens our eyes to the unending facets and subleties that we had no concept of previously.  It then becomes a lifelong task to discover the world around us – there is far too much to learn in one single lifetime.  As the Prophet (saws) aptly exhorted, “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”

Being in constant pursuit of knowledge prevents us from living in the darkness of ignorance, and keeps us from making grievous errors against ourselves and others.  What a different world we would live in if we all just took the time to carefully research everything before adding it to our list of beliefs!  Discrimination against race, color, background, religion, and country would fade away and as a result, would avert so much violence, hatred, and bloodshed in the world.


2 thoughts on “The Most Destructive Force: Ignorance

  1. Thanks for this post; I completely agree.

    I heard an interesting take on American ignorance of Islam from Seyyed Hossein Nasr on the radio program Speaking of Faith a few years ago, and I return to it often. Here’s the quote from the program.

    “I’ve always said half-joking and half-seriously that ignorance is bad, but what’s worse than ignorance is applied ignorance…I mean if Brazilians have no historical sense, they do not understand the Islamic world, they do not understand Asia, so what! It’s just a shortcoming in their educational system; let’s hope in the future they’ll learn. But America affects the life of those areas about which it is ignorant.”

    Because we are a country that “applies” our ignorance by engaging in wars and supporting and upholding oppressive governments, America must learn about and come to understand Islam. And like you said in your post, it is not only the government officials that need to be educated, but also the public, who drive the decisions our democratic government makes.

    • Thanks for your articulate response! Very true – American ignorance is much more deadly than Brazilian ignorance (as per your example), or any other country, as our country most definitely applies its ignorance through oppression, unjust wars, and rampant bloodshed. We have to do our best to spread the truth of not only Islam, but of what the real world is actually like beyond the US borders. People have families, send their kids to school, try to make a decent living and have a fulfilling life – shockingly for some, just like everyone in the US!

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