A year ago, I sent my niece to register as a freshman at Dewan Gemilang, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in Bangi. As I was about to leave the registration hall, the then Higher Education Minister, Dato' Mustapha Mohamed and his entourage were there to greet the new students and their parents.
As the minister shook my hand, he whispered in my ear: "Congratulations to have a daughter at the university!" He smiled and I smiled back. Even though she was not my daughter, I was very proud indeed to have her as the first child among my siblings to enter university.
During the good old days, university education was the passport to have great and good jobs with thick wallets but nowadays the situation is different. It was reported that 70 percent of graduates from our public universities have not secured jobs. Such a stunning statistic naturally raises a whole range of questions about what is wrong with our universities and, the graduates themselves.
Many are pointing their fingers at the graduates themselves. They said the graduates have not acquired the required expertise or there is a redundancy situation in certain sectors.
Even though the issue of graduates without jobs is frightening, but in my opinion our society has to accept that universities aren't places to produce merely workers but to train and polish young men and women as future intellectuals.
To seek knowledge is different from being equipped with the necessities and requirements needed by the work force. In my opinion, university should be a place to seek knowledge and not a place to merely produce future workers.
So, to my niece and the thousands of other freshmen in the local universities, I would like to wish them a warm welcome to the sea of knowledge.
Tertiary education is just the beginning of the never-ending process of gaining knowledge. Remember the saying, seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave and pursue it even if one had to go to faraway places such as China.
For an ordinary person like me it is difficult to define what knowledge is. So I put forward what the scholars and intellectuals had to say about it.
The New International Webster's Pocket Thesaurus defines 'knowledge' as 'information, learning, lore, wisdom, enlightenment, expertise, awareness and insight'.
The 'Kamus Terjemahan Inggeris-Melayu Translation Dictionary' by Ainon Mohd and Abdullah Hassan defines it as 1) 'ilmu pengetahuan; kefahaman. 2) makluman. 3) cam; kenal; mendapat tahu', while 'knowledgeable' is defined as 'berpengetahuan'.
Ibn Hazm mentioned that from the benefits of knowledge is that it repels evil whispers from the soul and it rids one of the worries and troubles.
This is especially true for the one who loves knowledge, who studies constantly, and who applies in practice what he has learned. The student of knowledge should distribute his time between memorizing, reading, revising, researching, and reflecting.
Knowledge is the key to serenity and ease, said 'Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni in his book Don't Be Sad. "Knowledge and an easy-going nature are like two inseparable companions: if the first is present, the other can be counted upon to accompany it.
"If you study the lives of Islam's greatest scholars, you will find that they led simple lives and that they were easy to deal with. They understood the purpose of life and knew which issues were paramount and which were less important.
"Meanwhile, you will find that the most obstinate of people are those who, without having knowledge, are ascetics. They misunderstand revealed texts and are ignorant of religious issues."
Muslims were also taught about beneficial knowledge and the fruitless ones. In the Qur'an 30 : 56 Allah SWT says, "And those who have been bestowed with knowledge and faith will say: 'Indeed you have stayed according to the Decree of Allah, until the Day of Resurrection, but you knew not'.
There is knowledge that is useful and there is knowledge that is harmful. As for the knowledge that is useful, the believer's faith strengthens as a result of it; on the other hand, the disbeliever does not reap any benefit whatsoever from gaining this kind of knowledge; though the information required is the same, the results are very different.
Allah SWT says of His enemies: "They know only the outside appearance of the life of the world (i.e. the matters of their livelihood, like irrigation or sowing or reaping, etc.) and they are heedless of the Hereafter." (Qur'an 30: 7).
So to my niece and other freshmen, gaining knowledge is important but the most important is how to use or handle it accordingly for the benefit of oneself and others, not only in this world but in the Hereafter.
It is useless to gain knowledge if the person involved only thinks about his or her personal benefits derived from it or becomes ignorant, proud and doesn't remember Allah (swt) at all.
Nowadays how many times have we witnessed people with higher education being brought to the courts for misconduct such as being involved in bribery, breaching trusts and stealing monies and being involved in various scandals.
During their university days, the undergraduates are very vocal in championing the people's rights and issues, but the majority of them choose to be silent when they become somebody in the corporate or public sectors.
How strange when they step on the ladder of higher achievement they only think about their bungalows, flashy cars such as choosing between Mercedes Masterpiece or Kompresor. For the Muslim men, maybe they were thinking about getting a second, third or fourth wife.
I know only a few former students leaders who are still fighting for the rights of the ordinary 'rakyat' - the estate workers, fishermen and squatters (setinggan). The rest just fade away, maybe they are now resting on their laurels.
The 'tidak apa' or 'kacang lupakan kulit' syndrome among former student leaders was rampant and nothing to shout about. Maybe those who entered the corporate world were busy 'counting their money' while those in the public sector were tied up with 'Akujanji' and those who entered politics were busy thinking about 'upgrading' or 'uploading' their properties.
So to my niece and the thousands of freshmen, remember what Allah has to say about the Jews who had abundant knowledge but became ignorant.
"The likeness of those who were entrusted with the Torah, but who subsequently failed in those (obligations), is as the likeness of a donkey who carries huge burdens of books (but understand nothing from them). How bad is the example of people who deny the Ayaah (proof, evidence, signs, verses, etc.) of Allah. (Qur'an 62 ; 5).