Necessity of Learning Other Sciences in the view of the Holy Quran and Sunnah
By: Prof. Dr. Mahdi Gulshani
There is no division of opinion on the necessity of acquiring knowledge particular to religious studies.
Accordingly, we shall abstain from any further discussion of the subject.  Instead, it is worthwhile to concentrate on the question of necessity of learning other sciences in the view of the Quran and sunnah. In this regard there are a number of arguments whose discussion we shall take up immediately.
1. If knowledge of a science is a preliminary requirement for attaining an Islamic goal as envisaged by the Shari ah, its pursuit is an obligation (wajib) since it entails the preliminary condition for fulfillment of a duty prescribed by the Shari`ah. For example, the physical welfare of individuals in an Islamic society is necessary, hence it is a wajib kifa'i for the Muslims to study medicine.
Some are of the opinion that in this context the duty to learn any specific science depends on the need of the society for it. For example, in our day, in order to succeed in large‑scale agriculture or commerce, specialized knowledge of these subjects is necessary. Accordingly, it is a wajib kifa’i for Muslims to acquire specialty in these fields.
Evidently, if the Muslims restrict themselves to the religious sciences and limit themselves to a minimum of what is necessary for their survival, they can never hope to overtake the non‑Muslim world in its scientific progress.
2. The society envisioned by the Quran is an independent society of majesty and grandeur, not one subservient to and dependent on the unbelievers, as can be seen from this verse of the Quran: ...and Allah does not grant the unbelievers any way (of domination) over the believers. (4:141)
In order to realize this goal set by the Quran, it is essential that the Islamic society should have cultural, political and economic independence; this in turn necessitates training of specialists of high calibre in every field and creation of the necessary scientific and technical facilities in Islamic societies. It is clear that one of the reasons of decline of Muslim societies in the recent centuries is that they left the study of those sciences to others which they themselves deserved to study most and made themselves dependent on others.
Should not the Muslims equip themselves in every way to defend themselves against the non‑believers as stressed by the following verse?
And prepare against them what force you can...so that you may dismay the enemy of God and your enemy and others beside them whom you know not; God knows them. Whatever you spend in the way of God it will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be cheated. (8:60)
And is it not true that in our world today, possession of defence facilities to face the enemies of Islam requires all kinds of scientific and technical know‑how? Then why don't the Muslims give the necessary attention to the issue of preparing themselves adequately for their self‑defence?
In the modern age, human life is inextricably linked with the effort for scientific advancement and the key to success in all affairs lies in knowledge. It is an obligation of Muslim scholars and researchers, living in the countries of the Eastern or Western block and are engaged in education, to acquire the latest and most complete scientific and technical knowledge. Otherwise their societies will inevitably remain under the domination of one superpower or another. Imam Ja'far al‑Sadiq (A) says: A knowledgeable man who is abreast of his time will not be overwhelmed by unexpected problems. 
To sum up, if the Muslims want to succeed in their struggle against the evil powers of this age, they should equip themselves with the essentials of scientific advancement and endeavour to make up their lag in scientific and technical fields. Whatever subject is essential for safeguarding the existence and vitality of the islamic societies should be learnt.
3. The Holy Quran invites mankind to study the system and scheme of creation, the wonders of nature and the causes and effects of all things that exist, the conditions of living organisms, and in short all signs of God discernable in the external universe and the inner depths of the human soul. The Quran enjoins thought and meditation about all aspects of creation and requires human beings to apply their reason and perceptual faculties for the discovery of the secrets of nature. Few of these verses we shall quote here: What, have they not beheld heaven above them, how We have built it, and decked it out fair, and it has no cracks? And the earth‑We stretched it forth, and cast on it firm mountains, and We caused to grow therein of every joyous kind for an insight and a reminder to every penitent servant. (50:7)
What do they not consider how the camel was created, how heaven was lifted up, how the mountains were hoisted, how the earth was outstretched? (88:18‑21)
Say: Journey in the land, then behold how He originated creation; then God causes the second growth; God is powerful over everything. (29:20)
In the earth are signs for those having sure faith; and in yourselves; what, do you not see? (51:20‑21)
Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and day there are signs for men possessed of minds who remember God, standing and sitting and on their side, and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: `O Lord, Thou hast not created this out of falsehood. Glory be to Thee! Guard us against the chastisement of the Fire..' (3:190‑191)
Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day and the ship that runs in the sea with profit to men, and the water God sends down from heaven therewith reviving the earth after it is dead and His scattering abroad in it all manner of crawling thing, and the turning about of the winds and clouds compelled between heaven and earth‑‑surely there are signs for a people having understanding. (2:164)
As can be seen from the foregoing verses, God refers to all existing things in the universe as the "signs" of their Creator, and the system of the universe as the imprint of an omniscient designer and programmer. The study of the universe and what exists in it is considered one of the most important means for knowledge of God and recognition of the majesty of its Creator. The prophets also based their invitation to belief on this point. The Prophet Moses (A) makes a similar argument in his confrontation with Pharaoh. The Quran quotes Moses as putting his argument in these words: He said, `Our Lord is He who gave everything its creation, then guided it... He who appointed the earth to be a cradle for you and therein threaded roads for you and sent down water out of heaven, and therewith We have brought forth diverse kinds of plants. (22:50‑53)
Prophet Noah (A) is quoted in the Quran as saying to his people: He said, "My Lord, l have called my people by night and by day, but my calling has only increased them in flight...and I said, Ask you forgiveness of your Lord; surely He is ever All‑forgiving...u7zat ails you, that you look not for majesty in God, seeing He created you by stages? Have you not regarded how God created seven heavens one upon another, and set the moon therein for a light and the sun for a lamp? And God cause you to grow out of the earth, then He shall return you into it, and bring you forth. And God has laid the earth for you as a carpet, and thereof you may tread ways, ravines.' " (71:5‑20)
Obviously, it is not for everyone to be able to read the "book" of the universe. The Quran considers only men of knowledge to be capable of benefiting from the book of nature as can be seen from the following verse: Hast thou not seen how that God sends down out of heaven water, and therewith We bring forth fruits of diverse hues? And in the mountains are streaks White and red, of diverse hues, and pitchy black; men too, and beasts and cattle‑,diverse are their hues. Even so only those of His servants fear God who have knowledge; surely God is Almighty, All‑forgiving. (35:27-8)
The Quran regards only men of knowledge as being capable of discerning the majesty and magnificence of God's creation and as possessing the humility produced by their knowledge of Divine power and greatness. This point is stressed in other verses of the Quran: And these similitudes‑We strike them for the people, but none understands them save those who know. (29:43)
Nay; rather it is signs, clear signs' in the breasts of those who have been given knowledge; and none denies Our signs but the evildoers. (29:49)
Obviously, as implied by the abovementioned verses, understanding of the "signs" of the Creator, is considered possible only for the learned and the men of knowledge who have strived to fathom the secrets of nature and have acquired knowledge in their fields of study. Otherwise, only a superficial acquaintance with the "book of creation" is not very revealing. A suitable initiation into this book of nature can only be achieved through such sciences as mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, botany, zoology (which we shall refer to as `natural sciences'). It is with the aid of these and the rational sciences that we discover the laws of nature and unravel the wonderful order and scheme of creation that underlies nature. It is in this light that we should read the verses of the Quran as the following: Thou seest not in the creation of the All‑merciful any imperfection. Return thy gaze; seest thou any fissure? Then return thy gaze, and again, and thy gaze comes back to thee dazzled, aweary. (67:3‑4)
It means that the further does human knowledge make progress in understanding God's creation, the more His Greatness and Majesty will become obvious to men. Consider the following verse: We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves, till it is clear to them that it is the truth. (41:53)
In the above verse God promises revelation of His signs, in the universe ‑without and the world of spirit within, to mankind in future so as to make them convinced that it (the Quran) is indeed absolutely the Truth.
Another reason for the study of the natural phenomenon and the scheme of creation is that the knowledge of the laws of nature and characteristics of things and organisms can be useful for improvement of conditions of human life. This aspect is emphasized by numerous verses of the Quran of which we quote a few: And He subjected to you the night and day, and the sun and moon; and the stars are subjected by His command. Surely in that are signs for people who understand. And that which He has multiplied for you in the earth of diverse hues. Surely in that is a sign for a people who remember. It is He who subjected to you the sea, that you may eat of it fresh flesh, and bring forth out of it ornaments for you to wear; and thou mayest see the ships cleaving through it; and that you may seek of His bounty, and so haply you will be thankful. And He cast on the earth firm mountains, lest it shake with you, and rivers and ways; so haply you will be guided; and waymarks; and by the stars they are guided. (16:12‑16)
Have you not seen how that God has subjected to you whatsoever is in the heavens and earth, and He has lavished on you His blessings, outward and inward? And among men there is such a one that disputes concernig God without knowledge orguidance, or an illuminating book. (31:20)
And He has subjected to you what is in the heavens and what is in the earth, all together, from Him. Surely in that are signs for a people who reflect. (45:13)
He who created the pairs, all of them, and appointed for you ships and cattle such as you ride, that you be seated on their backs and then remember your Lord's blessing when you are seated on them, and say, `Glory be to Him, who has subjected this to us, and we ourselves were not equal to it.' (43:12‑13)
According to the Quran, the study of the book of nature reveals to man its secrets and manifests its underlying coherence, consistency and order. It allows men to use the agency of knowledge to uncover the riches and resources hidden in nature and to achieve material welfare through his scientific discoveries. God has appointed man His vicegerent or deputy upon the earth and provided him with unlimited opportunities. It is for him to recognize his own possibilities and benefit from his opportunities and acquire the power and wisdom befitting his role as a `deputy' of God and a `sign' of His wisdom and omnipotence: It is He who has appointed you viceroys in the earth, and has raised some of you in ranks above others, that He may try you in what He has given you. Indeed your Lord is quite in retribution, and He is Forgiving and. Merciful. (6:165)
In fact, this station of being God's viceroy or deputy upon the earth has been bestowed upon man as a result of his capacity for acquisition of knowledge as borne out by this verse: He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels; then He said: `Tell me the names of those if you are right.' (2:31)
Unfortunately Muslims have since long tended to overlook such verses of the Quran as quoted above, while this matter was appreciated by non‑Muslims who afterwards monopolized the scientific tradition.
Heretofore we have tried to establish that the injunction to acquire knowledge as found in the Quran and prophetic traditions is not restricted to the knowledge of the teachings of the Shari `ah, but equally applies to all fields of knowledge that are beneficial for mankind. We have tried to make the point that every science that serves as a preliminary to the performance of a religious obligation or serves the necessary requirements of an Islamic society, or helps in our understanding of the creation and the knowledge of God, or allows us to benefit from Divine blessings that are provided to man, should necessarily be regarded as useful knowledge by Muslims. Now in the light of the verses quoted below, we may as well assert that the basic criterion for the utility of a scientific discipline is that it should be an equivalent of worship of God, be instrumental in obtaining His good pleasure and bring man closer to His Creator. Here are the Quranic verses: I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve Me. (51:56)
They were not commanded but to serve in all sincerity of their religion. (98:5)
Knowledge is useful and beneficial for mankind only if it is seen as an instrument for obtaining knowledge of God, His good pleasure and nearness; otherwise knowledge itself is an iron curtain, a great inscrutable veil (hijab akbar), whether it is linked with the natural sciences or the sciences of the Shari`ah. The great Prophet of Islam (S) has said: Anyone who seeks knowledge not for the sake of God and uses it not in the way of God, should be certain of his place in hell. 
A scholar who seeks knowledge for the sake of God will receive the reverence of everything; whereas a scholar who seeks knowledge as a means to amass wealth will be awed by everything. 
God, the Most exalted, has said: `Learned discussion between My servants enlivens their hearts if it leads them towards My command.’ 
. Although even in this case it may be said that the religious information of most of the Muslims is very scanty, and unfortunately most of the laws of Islam have, in practice, lost their social relevance.
. Tuhfat al‑`uqul, p. 261; also see al‑Majlisi's Bihar al‑anwar, vol. LXXVIII, p. 80.
. Munyat al‑murid, p. 28, Najaf 1370.
. Mukhtar al‑ahadith al‑nabawiyyah wa al‑hikam al‑Muhammadiyyah, p. 99.
. Muniyat al‑murid, p. 53, Najaf 1370.