(4) What Every Muslim Should Know about His Dîn
Prophet Muhammad œ said,
Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim. (Bayhaqi and >abarâni).
Though this ^adîth is known and memorized by most Muslims, the essence, the amount, and the kind of knowledge to which it refers is misunderstood by many. If it is true that the knowledge incumbent upon every Muslim pertains to religious or sacred knowledge, or al-¢ilm al-shar¢i, then how deeply does one have to pursue his quest for this knowledge so as to fulfill his duties and discharge the learning obligations placed upon him? In other words, what are the minimum teachings that every Muslim —male or female— is required to know about his or her Dîn. Here is a very brief exposition of this question.
Types of Knowledge in Islam
Muslim scholars classify knowledge into two main categories:
- Individually Obligatory Knowledge (far\ ¢ayn): This refers to knowledge of the essentials of Islamic beliefs that every Muslim must know. Seeking this knowledge is an obligation on each and every Muslim. All obligatory knowledge details al-¢ilm al-shar¢î, that is, knowledge pertaining to Islamic faith, acts of worship, and the regulation of transactions in the daily dealings of a Muslim.
- Communally Obligatory Knowledge (far\ kifâyah): Possession of this category of knowledge is not a duty required of every individual, but rather falls upon a “sufficient number” within the community as a whole. Hence, if a group of individuals in the community undertake to acquire this kind of knowledge, all other individuals are exempt from this duty, and the community unit is free from negligence in regard to the responsibility of acquiring this type of knowledge.
Examples of such knowledge include studying Islamic Law and other basic Islamic sciences, industries, and professions, which are vital for the spiritual, social, and functional welfare of the society.
Unlike obligatory knowledge, communally required knowledge covers a part of Islamic knowledge and all worldly knowledge. The former is called al-¢ilm al-shar¢i al-kifâ’i (Religious or Sacred Knowledge of Sufficiency), the latter al-¢ilm al-dunyawi (worldly knowledge).
(1) The Religious Sciences (¢Ulûm Al-Dîn)
The Religious Sciences include all branches of Islam’s Sharî¢ah, such as:
- Tafsîr (Quran Exegesis),
- Fiqh (The Jurisprudence of Islam),
- ±adîth (known as Mu|~ala^ Al ±adîth or ¢Ilm Al-±adîth),
- Sîrah (the Life Narrative of the Prophet œ),
- Revelation-Based Politics (Al-Siyâsa Al-Shar¢îyyah),
- History of Islam, and so forth.
Each of these sciences will require knowledge of other sciences to fully and comprehensively understand the substance of the specific matter being studied.
For example, Tafsîr needs Arabic (grammar and literature), and other linguistic skills. ±adîth requires Textual/Narrator Criticism (known in Arabic as ¢Ilm Al-Ja^ Wa’l-Ta¢dîl), which assesses and categorizes the credibility, trustworthiness, precision, memory retention, etc. of ^adîth narrators.
(2) The Natural and Applied Sciences
These, of course, are the basic sciences, industries, and professions vital to the self-sustaining welfare of the community: agriculture, engineering, animal husbandry, food sciences, and medicine (although Imam Al-Shâfi¢i categorized medicine as part of the Sharî¢ah sciences).
It is part of the wisdom of leadership to promote and ensure a sufficient scholarly and professional presence in all fields of communally obligatory knowledge.
For example, Muslims in non-Muslim societies must ensure a sufficient numbers of Sharî¢ah experts from that society’s Muslim population to properly address legal questions in context, those that require special application, as well as issues that appear novel.
For example, there should be a sufficient number of Muslim educators, administrators, teachers, counselors, and the like to satisfy the growing needs of the Muslim institutions of learning in these countries.
There is, for example, a need for male and female Muslim physicians to attend to the preventive and treatment healthcare of Muslim patients.
Minimum Requirements for Islamic Sciences
The first requirement of, and foremost prerequisite for, learning Islam’s Religious Sciences is that one understand the foundational principles of îmân, or faith, called in Arabic: ¢Ilm U|ûl Al-Dîn, Knowledge of the Principles of the Religion, or simply ¢Aqîda, Creed, or Faith of Islam.
It is worth restating that every Muslim must have a general knowledge of all matters pertaining to his personal faith; even more so the student of religious knowledge. One should have a clear understanding of the Lord one worships, the Prophet œ one follows, and the Dîn to which one has committed oneself. Obviously, one is to exert the best of one’s efforts to acquire these essentials or integrals of faith.
Second, the student of knowledge must understand Precepts of Law (Fiqh Al–A^kâm). This includes all aspects of the rites of worship in Islam that are necessary for the correct practice of one’s ßalâh (Ritual Prayer), Zakât (Alms), ßawm (Fasting), and ±ajj (Pilgrimage). It also covers all aspects of family issues, such as marriage, divorce, children’s education, as well as rules and regulations for one’s business transactions —including buying, selling, borrowing, lending, and so forth.
A Muslim is obligated to learn from Fiqh Al–A^kâm only matters that are related to the ¢ibâda (ritual worship) —since Allah requires him to perform these— as well as the precepts of any particular transaction he or she intends to undertake.
For example, if a Muslim has not reached the age for prayer or fasting, he does not have to learn about them at that point, though he may be encouraged to do so.
Also, if one does not have the necessary means to perform ±ajj, one is not required to learn its rituals until one becomes able to undertake the ±ajj journey, although one must know what ±ajj is generally and that it is obligatory upon one, and upon what conditions it becomes obligatory upon one.
Now, by learning ¢Ilm U|ûl Al-Dîn, Knowledge of the Principles of the Religion and Fiqh Al–A^kâm, the Precepts of Law, a Muslim will know His Lord by all His beautiful names and most high Attributes. He will renounce all imperfections that ignorant and deviant people attribute to Allah. He will know the status, function, and rights of Allah’s prophets and, thus, will neither elevate them to divine status nor degrade them to a station or category unbefitting of their prophethood —for such has been the bane of many a heretic in the history of humanity.
The educated believer will follow a similar course of learning and verification when it comes to other beliefs required of him or her, such as belief in the angels, the revealed Books of Allah, Allah’s Predetermined Decree, the Last Day, torment in the grave, and so on.
In addition, as previously stated, prior to performing any act of worship, a minimally-learnèd Muslim will know the requirements, the conditions, and the desirable actions pertaining to that act which he or she is about to perform. Hence, one will never practice any act of worship or undertake any transaction not sanctioned by the Quran or the Sunnah.
Yet our own observations of the degree and reliability of Islamic knowledge possessed by, might we say, the overwhelming majority of Muslims today tell us how great is the extent of our neglect (as individuals and as a community) of these two disciplines, by which is meant the study and implementation of the Quran and of the Sunnah, and at the most basic level of mandatory faith and of obligatory ritual and transactional practice.
Notwithstanding their requirement by every Muslim, we have egregiously neglected them, that is, when we have not totally ignored them. Unfortunately, there are many otherwise worldly educated Muslim professors, physicians, and engineers—and others who hold the most advanced academic or professional positions in their respective fields and institutions—who nonetheless do not possess even the minimum, individually mandated knowledge of the Islamic sciences.
Would that it were ironic that while it takes only a few weeks or even a few days to acquire this obligatory Islamic knowledge, two years is generally the minimum time investment required to obtain even a basic degree in almost any worldly field. Indeed, many a condensed training course for a particular operation or function demands upwards of 20 hours, and often many times this. We may duly commend and encourage our brothers and sisters for their worldly endeavor. Yet, they are undoubtedly remiss and ultimately sinful before Allah because of their shortcoming in learning the Islamic knowledge required of them.
So then, let every Muslim know that once he has corrected his beliefs and ¢ibâdah (worship) through study and the acquisition of knowledge, and cleansed his devotions from any type of shirk (i.e., showing off, pleasing other than Allah, and the like), he can aspire and hope for his reward from Allah.
Indeed, it is only upon the wings of knowledge and sincerity (by Allah’s grace) that one can enter the Gardens Everlasting. This is how we can understand the ^adîth of our beloved Prophet œ:
Whoever adopts the path of seeking knowledge, Allah eases for him the way to Paradise. (A^mad and Abû Dâwûd)
Muslims Should Teach What They Learn
A Muslim who has learned the requirements of his individual duties is responsible for disseminating the knowledge he has acquired to his family members first, then to his friends, coworkers, neighbors, and so on.
O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are [designated] angels, dreadfully stern and severe. They do not disobey Allah in whatever He commands them. They do whatever they are commanded. [Sûrat Al-Ta^rîm, 66:6]
The only way to save one’s family members from Hellfire is to teach them their obligations of faith and religion and to instruct them to observe them consistently.
The Messenger œ also emphasized this responsibility. He said:
Every one of you is a steward and is accountable for that which is committed to his charge. The ruler is a steward and is accountable for his charge. A man is a steward in respect of his household and is accountable for his charge. A woman is a steward in respect of her husband’s house and his children and is accountable for her charge. Thus every one of you is a steward and is accountable for that which is committed to his charge. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
The following ^adîth is a strong reminder for anyone of us whom Allah has blessed with some knowledge of Islam:
Whoever is asked about knowledge he possesses and he conceals it, he will be bridled on the Day of Judgment with a halter of fire. (Aḥmad and Tirmidhi)
Choice to Study Further
After one has acquired the requisite knowledge and committed him- or herself to spreading it, then, whether one will further one’s study or be content with maintaining that which one has acquired is left to one’s personal decision. One should realize, however, that not all people possess the aptitude and diligence to plumb the depths of Islam’s knowledge, for this is a favor that Allah gives to whomever He pleases. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind the virtues and merits of disseminating knowledge of Islam.
In the end, we shall do well to remind ourselves with the statement of the Prophet œ:
Allah, His angels, and all those in the heavens and in earth, even the ants in their holes and the fishes in water, pray for Allah’s blessings upon those who instruct people in beneficent knowledge. (Tirmidhi)
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So then, may Allah forgive us for any past neglect, bless us in the present with the study and acquisition of the ¢ilm we owe Him, and admit us on the morrow with the prophets and the righteous to His Paradise. Âmîn.