Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: "Seeking Knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim." (Related by Ibn 'Adiyy, Al-Bayhaqi & Al-Tabarani)
If it is true that the knowledge incumbent upon every Muslim pertains to religious knowledge, or al-'Ilm al-Shar'i, how deeply does one have to pursue his quest of this knowledge to fulfil 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 Deen?
1. TYPES OF KNOWLEDGE IN ISLAM
Muslim scholars classify knowledge into two categories:
Obligatory Knowledge (fardh 'ayn)
This refers to knowledge of the fundamentals of Islamic beliefs which every Muslim must know Seeking this knowledge is an obligatory duty upon every Muslim. All obligatory knowledge deal exclusively with al-'Ilm al-Shari'i, that is, knowledge pertaining to Islamic faith, acts of worship, and the necessary transaction in the daily dealing of a Muslim.
Optional Knowledge (fardh kifayah)
This is not a duty required of every individual, but rather it falls upon the community as a whole. Hence, if a group of individuals in the community undertake to acquire this kind of knowledge, all other individuals will be exempted from this duty, and the whole community will be free from responsibility or negligence to acquire this kind of knowledge. Examples of such knowledge include studying Islamic law and other basic sciences, industries and professions which are vital for the welfare of the society.
Unlike obligatory knowledge, optional knowledge covers part of Islamic knowledge and all worldly knowledge. The former is called al-'Ilm al-Shar'i al Kifa'i (optional Islamic knowledge), while the latter is called al-Ilm al-dunyawi (worldly knowledge).
Religious sciences: These cover all branches of Islamic Shariah, such as: tafsir (Qur'anic exegeses), fiqh, hadith sciences (known as mustalah al-hadith or 'Ilm usul al-hadith), seerah (the Prophet's biography), Islamic political science, (As-siyasah al-shar'iyah), Islamic history, etc.
Each of these sciences may require knowledge of other sciences to fully and comprehensively cover the substance of the matter studied. For example: tafsir needs Arabic grammar, Arabic literature, and other linguistic skills; Hadith sciences need the science of criticism (which looks at the narrators' credibility, trustworthiness, power of memorisation, etc.), called 'Ilm al-jarh wat-ta'deel.
The natural and applied sciences: These are all the basic sciences, industries and professions which are of vital necessity for the welfare of the community. Examples of such fields include: engineering; agriculture, fisheries, food sciences, etc.
Leaders of every Muslim community should always do their best to procure the necessary number of scholars, professionals and qualified men and women in all fields of optional knowledge needed by the community. For example, Muslims in America must train sufficient number of Shariah scholars to answer questions raised by members of the community. They must also prepare enough educators – administrators, teachers and counsellors to fill the growing needs of Islamic schools in this country. Both male and female Muslim doctors are needed in every city to care for male and female Muslim patients, respectively.
From the above discussion, we can fully understand the responsibility that lies upon the shoulders of Muslims in this continent. Any community which does not take the necessary steps to satisfy its own needs in all fields of optional knowledge becomes subject to the punishment of Allah. Consequently, all its members will share the blame and the sins for their shortcomings.