Science and the Muslim Ummah

Sciences whose Knowledge is Wajib Kifa’i

Here we do not intend to enter into a discussion about sciences whose learning is obligatory (wajib ayni) for every responsible Muslim individual (mukallaf). Rather, we propose to discuss those sciences whose knowledge is a wajib kifa’i for all the Muslim Ummah. To begin with, we consider some of the opinions of Imam Al‑Ghazzali and Muhaqqiq Kashani in this regard as disputable and shall proceed to examine them. However, before we start, we think it will be beneficial to revert to certain important points mentioned by Mulla Sadra in his commentary on Usul al‑Kafi under the tradition:

طلب العلم فريضةٌ على كل مسلم

Acquisition of knowledge is an obligation of every Muslim.

  1. The wordilm (knowledge or science), like the word “existence” (wujud) has a broad range of meanings which vary from the viewpoints of strength or weakness, perfection or deficiency.9 The word's generic sense covers this whole spectrum of meaning in which it has been used in the prophetic tradition. This broad sense of the wordilm is common to all its varied meanings.

Accordingly, the tradition intends to state that whatever stage of knowledge one may be in, he should strive to make further advance. The Prophet means that acquisition of know­ledge is obligatory for all Muslims, scholars as well as ignorant men, beginners as well as learned scholars. Whatever stage of knowledge man may attain, he is still like a child entering into adulthood as far as this tradition is concerned; i.e. he should learn things which were not obliga­tory for him before.

  1. The tradition implies that a Muslim can never be relieved of his responsibility of acquiring knowledge'.10

  2. No field of knowledge or science is undesirable or detestable in itself; for knowledge is like light and so it is always desirable. The reason that some of the sciences have been regarded as “undesirable” is because of their occasional misuse.11

We do not accept the division of knowledge into “religious” and “non‑religious” sciences; for, as the Martyr Murtada Mutahhari has rightly pointed out, this classification may bring about the misunder­standing that the “non‑religious” sciences are alien to Islam. And this is not compatible with the comprehensive unity held up by Islam in all affairs of life.

A religion which claims the ability to bring about condi­tions for perfect felicity of mankind and considers itself to be self­-sufficing cannot estrange itself from things which play a vital role in the provision of welfare and independence for an Islamic society. Accord­ing to the late Mutahhari, “Islam's all‑inclusiveness and finality as a religion demands that every field of knowledge that is beneficial for an Islamic society be regarded as a part and parcel of the “religious sciences.”12