Hadith on Quran: Equal Opportunity and Knowledge

📖Sahih Muslim 817 a
‘Amir b. Wathila reported that Nafi’ b. ‘Abd al-Harith met ‘Umar at ‘Usfan and ‘Umar had employed him as collector in Mecca. He (Hadrat ‘Umar) said to him (Nafi’): Whom have you appointed as collector over the people of the valley? He said: Ibn Abza. He said: Who is Ibn Abza? He said: He is one of our freed slaves. He (Hadrat ‘Umar) said: So you have appointed a freed slave over them. He said: He is well versed In the Book of Allah. the Exalted and Great, and he is well versed In the commandments and injunctions (of the Shari’ah). ‘Umar said: So the Prophet (ﷺ) said: By this Book, Allah would exalt some peoples and degrade others.

From this hadith in Sahih Muslim (817a), we can derive the following lessons and insights:

  1. Equal opportunity: The hadith highlights the principle of equal opportunity and meritocracy in Islam. It shows that someone’s social status, such as being a freed slave, does not hinder their ability to hold positions of responsibility and authority.
  2. Importance of knowledge: The conversation between ‘Umar and Nafi’ emphasizes the significance of knowledge and competence in leadership roles. ‘Umar acknowledges Ibn Abza’s expertise in the Quran and Islamic teachings, indicating that knowledge and understanding of the Book of Allah and the Shari’ah are crucial for leadership.
  3. Fairness and justice: The hadith underscores the importance of fairness and justice in decision-making. ‘Umar questions the appointment of a freed slave out of concern for ensuring fairness and competence in governance.
  4. Status based on piety and knowledge: The hadith indirectly suggests that individuals’ worth and status should be determined by their piety, knowledge, and understanding of Islam rather than social or economic backgrounds.
  5. Allah’s decree: The hadith concludes with the Prophet (ﷺ) stating that Allah, through His Book (the Quran), exalts some people and degrades others. This serves as a reminder that Allah is the ultimate arbiter of honor and status, and He elevates individuals based on their faith, piety, and knowledge.

Today, this hadith reminds us of the importance of equal opportunity, meritocracy, and the value of knowledge in leadership roles within Islamic societies. It encourages us to prioritize competence, fairness, and justice when appointing individuals to positions of responsibility. It also reminds us that true honor and status come from piety and adherence to the teachings of the Quran and the Shari’ah.