Acquiring knowledge of Allah is the most important obligation on every Muslim because Allah ordered seeking knowledge (i.e. the knowledge of Himself) prior to declaration of the Shahadah. He said: And know that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah then seek forgiveness for your sins... [Al-Quraan 47: 19]
To emphasize seeking knowledge before doing any action, Imaam Al-Bukharee used the above verse as a basis for a chapter in his all famous Sahih. He entitles that chapter: "Knowledge before speech and action". Book of Knowledge:[Sahih Bukhari Vol: 1 Ch 11]
Allah said: Allah (Himself) is witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Him, and the Angels and the men of learning (are also witnesses to this). Maintaining His creation in justice, there is no god save Him, the Almighty, the Wise [Al-Qur'aan 3:18]
Notice that Allah (AWJ) in the Ayat started the witnessing to the fact that "there is no deity worthy of worship but Himself" with Hismelf, then He follows it saying that this is also the witness of His Angels and then He follows it by the people who possess knowledge. This verse definitely emphasizes the position of the people who are endowed with knowledge above those who are without it.
Allah said ...Are those who know equal with those who do not know? But only men of understanding will pay heed. [Al-Qur'aan 39:9]
He said ...Indeed those who fear Allah from his servants they are the knowledgeable, Indeed Allah is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving. [Al-Qur'aan 35:28]
He said And these similitude we coin for mankind, but none will grasp their meaning except those of knowledge.
In the above cases we clearly see the very high rank that Allah Himself endowed upon those who possess knowledge. (The knowledge above is only in reference to knowledge about Islam.)
Allah said: Ask the people of Rememberance if you do not know.
This is because understanding Allah's Rulings is based upon the investigation and deductions of the learned. Abu Dardaa said that the Messenger of Allah said Those people endowed with knowledge are the inheritors of the prophets. [Hadeeth Hassan, Abu Dawood, ibn Majah, At-Tirmithi, ibn Habaan].
He also said: Whosoever Allah wishes good for, He bestows upon him understanding of the Deen. [Bukhaari and Muslim].
He bestows upon him an understanding of the Deen means that He will allow him to be taught the Quraan and the Sunnah. It is common knowledge that there is no higher position than that achieved by the prophets and that there is no greater honor than that of inheriting from that noble position [i.e. inheriting from the prophets (on them be peace)].
To acquire this very coveted position needs serious striving to acquire the knowledge they came with (i.e. the knowledge of Allah's deen).
He a1so said: The superiority of a learned man over a worshipper is like my superiority over the ordinary men from among my companions. [At-Tirmidhi. Hadeeth Hassan].
Looking at this Hadeeth you will observe (a) how he linked knowledge with the position of prophethood, and (b) how he lowered the level of the person who does action without knowledge. Any worship ('eebadah) that a worshipper performs must be based on knowledge, because if it is lacking then the action would not be 'Eebadah but mere ritual.
The messenger also said: "The superiority of a learned man over a worshipper is like the superiority of the full moon over the other stars." [This Hadeeth is Hassan].
`Ali said to Kaamil: "O Kaamil, knowledge is better than wealth. Knowledge protects you while you have to protect your wealth. Knowledge is a judge, while wealth have to be judged on. Weealth decreases when it is expended, while knowledge purifies when it is given.
`Ali said in a poem:
"Glory is for none but the learned,
Guided are they - and proofs for seekers of guidance.
Every person is measured based on how much of it (knowledge) he mastered,
The ignorant are to the learned their enemies,
Succeed with knowledge and live energetically forever,
Men are all dead, only the possessors of knowledge are truly alive."
Allah said And the believers should not all go out and fight. Of every troop of them, a party should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in religion, and that they may warn their folk when they return to them, so that they may beware. [Al-Qur'aan 9:122]
And His saying: ...Ask the people of Rememberance if you do not know. [Al-Qur'aan 16:43]
The Messenger of Allah said: Whoever treads a path seeking knowledge therein, Allah directs him to a path leading to Al-Jannah (Paradise). [Hadeeth Hassan]
He also said: The quest for knowledge is a compulsion on every Muslim. [Hadeeth Hassan]
N.B. The knowledge referred to above is knowledge in Deen because that is the only knowledge that is Waajib. The people who use this hadeeth to represent seeking afler every type of knowledge are misusing it.
AbuDardaa' said: "To learn of one issue (in deen) is better for me than to pray the entire night" He also said: "The scholar and the seeker of knowledge are the partners in the sharing of good. Other men are hungry and there is no good in them."
Fath Al Musilee (RA) said: "Would the sick person who is not fed or given anything to drink or given any medicine, not die?" The people replied: " Surely!" He said - "It is the same with the heart, it would die if knowledge and wisdom is with held from it."
Indeed he spoke the truth because the nourishment and enlivening of the heart is through knowledge and wisdom, just as food is nourishment for the body. Whoever does not acquire knowledge of the deen of Islaam, has a sick heart and its death is inevitable. However, he is not aware of it, because his love for this world destroys his perception.
Allah said:... and that they may warn their folk when they return to them, so that they may beware. [Al-Qur'aan 9:122]
What is implied here is teaching and guiding them. And the saying of Allah And (remember) when Allah took a covenant from those who received the Scriptute, (He said): You are to expound it to mankind and not to hide it... [Al-Qur'aan 3:187] This ayat demands that those who are endowed with knowledge should teach it. While the verses that follow shows that it is Haraam to conceal it.
Allah said: ...But verily, a party of them knowingly conceal the truth. [Al Quraan 2:146] And He also said: ...He who hides it, verily his heart is sinful [Al-Qur'aan 2:283]
Allah praises the one who invites with knowledge. Allah said: And who is better in speech than he who invites to Allah and does good works... [Al-Qur'aan 41:33]
And the saying of Allah: Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and good exhortatlon, and reason with them in the better way... [Al Quraan 16:125]
`Ali said that the Messenger of Allah said to him: If Allah guides a man through your help, it is better (for you) than red camels. [Bukahari and Muslim]
N.B. Red camels at that time were from among the people's most precious possession. He also said: Whoever acquires knowledge and keep it concealed Allah will bridle him with a bridle of fire on the Day of Resurrection. [Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah, At-Tirmidhi]
He also said: Verily Allah, His angels, the inmates of the heavens and the earth, even the ant in its hole and the fish in the sea send salutation on the one who teaches good to the people. [Its chain is Hassan]. He said: If the son of Adam dies, all his works is stopped except three. A charity that is continuous, useful knowledge or a righteous child who supplicates for him. [Muslim]
The messenger of Allah said: Whoever guides or directs to good, then he gets the same amount of blessing as the one who does it. [Related by Muslim]
And Allah censures those who speak on His behalf without any knowledge and some of the scholars consider it an even more henious sin than shirk based on the following verse. Allah said: Say (O Muhammad): My Lord has only forbidden indecencies, those of them that are apparent, as well as those that are concealed, and sin and rebellion without justice, and that you associate with Allah in worship that for which he has sent down no authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know. [Al-Qur'aan 7:33]
Therefore, speaking on behalf of Allah without knowledge is the greatest sin with Allah and the one for which He will assign the severest punishment.
The messenger of Allah said: Seeking knowledge is a compulsion on every Muslim. This Hadeeth is referring to the knowledge of that aspect of the Deen that will save someone from the Fire. Therefore, what is important for each one of us is to be certain that we know what Knowledge is compulsory for each person to save himself from the Fire. Before discussing this, however, it is important to know that we must keep on doing righteous deeds until death, otherwise if any one changes then all the worship that he did before is going to be worthless. If a person fasts a long hot day and then breaks his fast a few minutes before Maghrib, then his fast is void. Likewise, if a person prays a long Salaat and before making Tasleem passes wind, his prayer is nullified.
Life may look like a long journey, but if a person apostatizes before the end, he loses everything, and all his deeds are rendered worthless and he would be subjecting himself to dwell in the Fire forever.
Allah said: Verily, Allah forgives not (the sin of setting up rivals in worship with Him but He forgives (sins) other than that to whom so ever He pleases... [Al-Ouraan 4:116] This verse establishes that Allah does not forgive shirk (i.e. setting up rivals in worship with Him), therefore the most important knowledge that a Muslim must seek is the knowledge of Shirk and all that relates to it, from Tawheed and `Aqeedah (beliefs) etc. It is mandatory on every Muslim to learn these aspects before anything else and not listen to those who say: "These are theoretical issues, instead keep busy with matters that have action."
Our answer to them is that 'Aqeedah (matters relating to Eemaan) is the greatest of all matters in Islaam because Eemaan comprises of the follawing three aspects (a) believing in the heart, (b) stating with the tongue and (c) acting with the limbs upon what is believed in and stated.
Know, my brothers and sisters, that all acts of worship would be rewarded based on what the heart intends for that particular action thus making it (the heart) the most important organ of the body. Belief is a practical matter because it is the action of the heart. The proof of this statement is the saying of Allah: ...But He will call you to account for that which your hearts have earned.... [Al-Qur'aan 2:225]
This verse indicates what the heart earns. What is earned is the action and it is this that we will be called to account for. Therefore, we can conclude tbat the action of the heart, which is the beliefs present in it are the most serious action.
Is there not a difference between two persons who say. "Laa ilaha illa Allah" (there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah), while one has a heart filled with correct beliefs, and the other is a hypocrite who disbelieves in everything in Islaam? Surely there is, the first will go to Al-Jannah (Heaven) and the other will be in the lowest depth of the Fire of Hell. Why is this so? Because of the beliefs in his heart, which are its action.
The messenger stayed in Makkah for thirteen years inviting to 'Laa ilaha illa Allah', and all those things that relates to it, from Tawheed, 'Aqeedah and Shirk. When the messenger sent Mu'adh to Yemen he said to him: You are going to a people who possess a Book, so let the first thing you call them to be to testify to 'Laa ilaha illa Allah' and if they acknowledge this, then tell them that Allah made obligatory on them five Salawaat every day... From the above examples we can conclude that knowing Allah and performing Tawheed of Allah is the most glorious knowledge in existence. Therefore, the most glorious action a person has to occupy and fill his heart with is knowing his Lord. The glory of any knowledge is based on the thing studied. Is there anything more glorious than Allah the Glorified? Definitely not. Therefore, the knowledge that relates to the study of Allah, what are His rights on us His creation, what He loves and what He does not would therefore be the most glorious knowledge there is in this universe.
Above we have proven what is compulsory knowledge for every Muslim, male or female to seek i.e. any knowledge that helps him or her to perfect their worship for Allah.
That knowledge which helps us to know Allah and teaches us His rights on us. This includes the knowledge of the 'Tawheed of Allah' in all its various forms i.e. Tawheed of Lordship, Tawheed of His Names and Characteristics and Tawheed of 'Eebadah. It also includes any knowedge that would help us to understand anything that would negate any of the above aspects of Tawheed. This would fall under the category of Shirk. Every Muslim must learn about Tawheed and Shirk.
Allah said: VeriIy we sent to each nation a messenger to invite to the worship of Allah and to avoid Taghoot.
As for knowledge which is Fard Kifayah; i.e. that which is a collective duty, meaning that it is not a duty on every individual, but if a group of individual undertakes to acquire this knowledge, all other individuals will be exempted from this duty, and the entire community will be free from negligence to acquire this branch of knowledge. If no one embarks on seeking this type of know1edge then the entire community is accountable.
Examples of this type of knowledge are:
The Muslims have definitely gone astray in their understanding of their priorities as to which knowledge they must concentrate on and as such we find them put a priority on a knowledge that is not compulsory on them to know about. The messenger warns us of this, he said:
From among the potents of the Hour are
The messenger of Allah said: Allah does not take away the knowledge, by taking it away from (the hearts of) the people, but takes it away by the death of the religious learned men until when none of the (religious learned men) remains, people will take as their leaders ignorant persons who when consulted will give their verdict without knowledge. So they go astray and they will lead the people astray. [Al-Bukharee: Vol 1 No. 100].