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People of Knowledge in the Quran

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One of the aspects discussed in the vast topic of knowledge is the people of knowledge in the Quran and some of the attributes and positions that these people hold. In the following article, we will discuss a few of the related verses.

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People of Knowledge in The Quran: Equals of Angels

شَهِدَ اللَّـهُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ وَأُولُو الْعِلْمِ قَائِمًا بِالْقِسْطِ ۚ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ ﴿18﴾

Allah, maintainer of justice, the Almighty and the All-wise, besides whom there is no god, bears witness that there is no god except Him, and [so do] the angels and those who possess knowledge. 1

In this verse those who possess knowledge are considered in the same rank as angels and this is a distinction for them. And the verse shows that this distinction is due to their affirmation and acknowledgement of God’s unity and uniqueness which is the greatest reality. 2

Therefore, one of the attributes of the people of knowledge, according to the Quran, is belief and attestation to monotheism.

People of Knowledge in The Quran: Fearing God

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ وَالدَّوَابِّ وَالْأَنْعَامِ مُخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهُ كَذَٰلِكَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّـهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ ﴿28﴾

And of humans and beasts and cattle there are likewise diverse hues. Only those of Allah’s servants having knowledge fear Him. Indeed Allah is all-mighty, all-forgiving. 3

The verse previous to this speaks of the signs of God in creation and this verse explains that the only people who take lessons from these signs are the scholars and they are the only ones on whom these signs have an effect which is true faith in God and fear/awe of Him in every sense of the word; they do not have an effect on the ignorant.

The scholars in this verse refers to those who have knowledge of Allah and know Him by His names, attributes, and actions, a recognition through which their hearts are at peace, doubts are eliminated, its effects show in their actions, and through which their actions are in accordance with their words.

The khashyah (خشیة) or fear/awe mentioned in this verse refers to fear/awe in its true sense which entails inner and outer humility. 4

People of Knowledge in the Quran: Humility and Submission

قُلْ آمِنُوا بِهِ أَوْ لَا تُؤْمِنُوا ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ مِن قَبْلِهِ إِذَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ يَخِرُّونَ لِلْأَذْقَانِ سُجَّدًا ﴿107﴾

Say, ‘Whether you believe in it, or do not believe in it, indeed when it is recited to those who were given knowledge before it, they fall down in prostration on their faces. 5

In the verse, those who were given knowledge before it, refers to the scholars from among the Jews and Christians who brought faith after listening to the verses of the Quran and witnessing the signs that had been mentioned in the Torah and Gospel (Bible). These people became part of the true believers and scholars of Islam.

Verse 109 of this same chapter states: and it increases them in humility, which shows that they do not remain in one state; rather, they are always progressing towards the peak of development and perfection.

The verse also shows the connection between faith and knowledge and contrary to what some people believe that religion is related to human beings’ ignorance; the Quran claims the opposite and in many instances emphasizes that knowledge and faith are always together, deep or strong faith is not possible without knowledge, and that knowledge also is helped by faith in the higher levels. 6

People of Knowledge in the Quran: The Firmly Grounded in Knowledge

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ ﴿ ﴿7﴾

It is He who has sent down to you the Book. Parts of it are definitive verses, which are the mother of the Book, while others are metaphorical. As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they pursue what is metaphorical in it, courting temptation, and seeking its interpretation. But no one knows its interpretation except Allah and those firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; all of it is from our Lord.’ And none takes admonition except those who possess intellect. 7

The word taʾwīl (تأویل) in the verse literally means to return something. Therefore, any act or words that we bring to its ultimate goal is known as taʾwīl. In the context of the verse it refers to the reality that there are verses in the Quran that possess profound meanings and secrets. However, those whose thoughts are deviated and have corrupt intentions make up incorrect explanations and meanings for those verses to deceive themselves or others and rely on them. 8

People of Knowledge in the Quran: The ‘Firmly Grounded in Knowledge’

This expression has been used twice in the Quran; once in this verse and another time in verse 162 of surah Nisa. In its literal meaning, it refers to those who are firm in knowledge and experts who hold views in this regard.

Even though this phrase holds a vast meaning and could include all scholars and thinkers, among them there are a group who are distinguished, who are particularly luminous and brilliant and, therefore, they would be the instances the Quran is referring to first and foremost.

In numerous narrations, this group of people refers to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his household) and the Infallible Imams (peace be on them).

It is narrated from one of the Infallibles that the Holy Prophet is the greatest of the firmly grounded in knowledge and knew all that God had revealed to him of tanzīl (apparent meanings) and taʾwīl (esoteric meaning). God definitely did not reveal everything to him and did not teach him of its taʾwīl and he and his successors had knowledge of all of this. 9

People of Knowledge in the Quran: Higher Status

یا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمْ تَفَسَّحُوا فِي الْمَجَالِسِ فَافْسَحُوا يَفْسَحِ اللَّـهُ لَكُمْ ۖ وَإِذَا قِيلَ انشُزُوا فَانشُزُوا يَرْفَعِ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ ﴿11﴾

O you who have faith! When you are told, ‘Make room,’ in sittings, then do make room; Allah will make room for you. And when you are told, ‘Rise up!’ Do rise up. Allah will raise in rank those of you who have faith and those who have been given knowledge, and Allah is well aware of what you do. 10

Being raised in rank refers to being closer to God and, therefore, the verse is clearly referring to believing scholars as a disbelieving scholar has no rank in terms of closeness to God. Believers, then, are divided into two groups: believers who are scholars and those who are not.

The believing scholars are closer to God than those who are not by several degrees and this shows the status of believing scholars; those who gain knowledge of the path of tawḥīd themselves and guide others to it too. 11

Praying For Knowledge

فَتَعَالَى اللَّـهُ الْمَلِكُ الْحَقُّ ۗ وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضَىٰ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ ۖ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا ﴿114﴾

So exalted is Allah, the True Sovereign. Do not hasten with the Quran before its revelation is completed for you, and say, ‘My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.’ 12

There are a few messages we can take away from this verse in terms of knowledge:

  • We should seek knowledge from the true knowledgeable, that is, God
  • There is no end to knowledge and learning
  • Seeking an increase in perfection is valuable and worthy
  • Quran is the real and true knowledge
  • Knowledge is a means for a person’s growth
  • The knowledge that is valuable and valid is the one that, along with its learning, also increases one’s capacity and, as a result, one grows through it
  • Even though God can bless us with His grace without supplications, He asks His Prophet to ask and supplicate from Him
  • In asking from God, we should do so using the word Rabb (ربّ) and through His Lordship. 13

People of Knowledge in the Quran: Scholars in Hadith

Knowledge is also a topic that is extensively discussed in Islamic narrations. Some examples are the following:

Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be on him) has stated:

“The reward of a religious scholar is greater than the reward of a person who fasts during the day and establishes prayers during the night and fights in the Holy War for the sake of Allah. And, when a religious scholar dies, there will appear a gap in Islam which cannot be compensated except by a replacement of that (kind).”

Hussain ibn Ali (peace be on him) has said:

“Verily, the paths to Muslims’ affairs and the religious ordinances are in the hands of the godly scholars who are the trustees of Allah in His lawful and unlawful things…” 14


The scholars have a high status in Islam and according to verses of the Quran they have been attributed with having a higher status to God and being closer to Him, beings equals of angels, fearing God, being humble, and submissive to God.

The verses also talk about the people firmly grounded in knowledge. Previous articles in this tag also mentioned the people of remembrance (Ahl al-Dhikr [اهل الذکر]). In both instances and many more which we have mentioned, these verses refer to the Infallibles (peace be on them).


  1. [3: 18]. Qarai translation
  2. Tafsīr Namūna. Vol. 2, p. 468
  3. [35: 28]. Qarai translation
  4. Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 17, p. 59
  5. [17: 107]. Qarai translation
  6. Tafsīr Namūna. Vol. 12, pp. 320, 321 & 322-323.
  7. [3: 7]. Qarai translation
  8. Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 2, pp. 437 & 438.
  9. Ibid. pp. 439-440.
  10. [58: 11]. Qarai translation
  11. Qarashi, A. A. Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth, 3rd ed. Bethat Publications. Vol. 11, p. 69
  12. [20: 114]. Qarai translation
  13. Tafsīr Nūr. Commentary of surah Taha. Verse 114
  14. Bundle of Flowers from the Garden of Traditions of the Prophet & Ahlul-Bayt (a.s.). Chap: The Excellence and Importance of Scholars

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