The Difference between Obligatory Knowledge and Recommended Knowledge
The Difference between Obligatory Knowledge and Recommended Knowledge
Shaikh Muhammad bin 'Umar Baazmool
At-Ta'seel fee Talab-il-'Ilm" (pg. 10-14)
The First Foundation:
Seeking knowledge – which a Muslim needs in order to establish what is binding on him from worship of his Lord – is an obligation that is compulsory on him. As for what exceeds those limits, then acquiring knowledge of that falls under the collective obligations (fard kifaayah), and it is something recommended and extra for the student of knowledge.
The proof for this foundation is what has been reported from the Prophet (sallAllaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) that he said: “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.”
Another proof is the fact that this Religion is founded upon two basic principles, which are:
1. We don’t worship anyone except Allaah, and
2. We don’t perform worship except with what Allaah has legislated.
You cannot truly implement the worship of Allaah unless you first seek the necessary knowledge required for you to properly put into effect this worship that Allaah has made obligatory on you, and for which purpose He created you.
Elucidating this point further, Ishaaq bin Raahawaih said: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory, even though the report concerning it is not authentic. However, what it means is that the seeker of knowledge is required to acquire from it what he needs such as for (properly implementing) his ablution, his prayer, his Zakaat – if he has wealth, his Hajj and so on.”
He also said: “So whatever he is obligated to learn from that, then he need not ask the permission of his parents to go out and learn that. But as for what is in excess of that, he should not go out to acquire (knowledge of) that until he first gets permission to do that from his parents.” 
Ibn Taimiyyah, may Allaah have mercy on him, said: “Seeking religious knowledge is a collective obligation (fard kifaayah) except for that which is individually incumbent, such as every person seeking knowledge of what Allaah has ordered him to do and what Allaah has prohibited him to do, since this is an individual obligation.” 
This is one of the most important foundations, by which, the followers of Hadeeth are distinguished from those apart from them. It is due to this that the followers of innovation accuse the followers of Hadeeth by claiming that the highest objective of their speech is with regard to issues of purification, prayer and their likes!!
But in reality, this is not blameworthy, since it is with (knowledge) purification that you will have achieved the key to prayer.
The Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said: “The key to prayer is purification. Its tahreem (commencement) is the takbeer (i.e. saying Allaahu Akbar) and its Tahleel (ending) is the tasleem (i.e. saying As-Salaam ‘Alaikum).” 
He (sallAllaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) also said: “Islaam is built upon five (pillars): (1) The testimony that there is no deity that has the right to be worshipped except Allaah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allaah; (2) Establishing the prayer; (3) Paying the Zakaat; (4) Fasting in Ramadaan; and (5) the Pilgrimage (Hajj) to the Sacred House of Allaah for whoever is able to do it.” 
It is for this reason that the first thing a student of knowledge is advised to do is to strive to obtain the knowledge that is binding upon him first. This is why when Imaam Maalik was asked about seeking knowledge, he said: “All of it is good. However, look into what you need for (the transactions of) your day and night, and then seek (knowledge of) that.”
This is since you will not truly actualize the worship of Allaah until you first obtain knowledge of what Allaah has legislated for you in those matters (of worship). So once you obtain that knowledge, you will be aware of how to perform wudoo, how to pray, how to perform ghusl, how to give Zakaat – if you have wealth, how to perform the Pilgrimage (Hajj) – if you intend to perform it, the rules of marriage – if you intend to marry someone, the rules of divorce – if you intend to divorce someone, and so on.
This foundation consists of the following things:
1. The ruling of an obligation. This relates to a Muslim that is responsible for his actions. If he is young (i.e. under the age of puberty), then it is upon his parents to teach him the affairs of his Religion that he is in need of. This is since the Prophet (sallAllaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said: “All of you are shepherds and all of you are responsible as to his flock.” 
And Allaah says: “O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones, over which are angels that are stern and severe – they do not disobey what Allaah has ordered them to do, and carry out what they are commanded.” [Surah At-Tahreem: 6]
Therefore, it is binding upon the Muslim father and the Muslim mother to teach their children what they are required to know from the matters of the Religion and from manners.
2. The student of knowledge must give precedence to acquiring knowledge of what is obligatory upon him to know over what is recommended for him to know. Preoccupying oneself with learning the recommended forms of knowledge whilst neglecting the obligatory forms of knowledge is one of the obstacles and impediments of seeking knowledge.
So, for example, you may find a person speaking about the intricate issues of the Language, on Grammar, Terminology, the Science of Eloquence and Principles, yet he is not able to properly perform ablution in the same manner as that of the Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu 'alayhi wa sallam), nor is he able to perform the prayer properly like the Prophet (sallAllaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) used to pray…and so on and so forth!!
3. A seeker of knowledge should not oppose his parents by traveling abroad in search of knowledge that in his case is considered to be recommended. But in the case where that knowledge that he intends to travel abroad for is from the forms of knowledge that is binding upon him to know in order to worship Allaah during the night and day, then he may go ahead and travel, as was advised by Imaam Ishaaq in his previously mentioned statement: “So whatever he is obligated to learn from that, then he need not ask the permission of his parents to go out and learn that. But as for what is in excess of that, he should not go out to acquire (knowledge of) that until he first gets permission to do that from his parents.”
4. The supportive sciences, or what some scholars commonly call “The applied sciences”, such as the Arabic Language, the Science of Eloquence, the Science of Principles, Hadeeth Terminology, and the Sciences of the Qur’aan – a student of knowledge should acquire from these that which will enable him to actualize the primary objective, which is to properly worship Allaah – the reason for which we were created. And if this is not the case, then it falls under the realm of being from the extravagant forms of knowledge, and Allaah knows best.
So it is not required from a student of knowledge studying Grammar that he becomes like Seebawaih, nor from one studying the Arabic Language that he becomes like Al-Khaleel and Al-Azharee, nor from one studying the Science of Eloquence that he becomes like Al-Jirjaanee!! Rather, it is sufficient for him to only learn from all of that what he needs to properly understand the Book and the Sunnah and to implement what Allaah has obligated upon him from worship.
 Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilmi wa Fadlihi (1/9)
 Majmoo’-ul-Fataawaa (28/80)
 This is from the narration of ‘Alee (radyAllaahu 'anhu). It was reported by Abu Dawood in his Sunan: Book of Purification: Chapter: The Obligation of Ablution (no. 61); At-Tirmidhee in his Sunan: Book of Purification: Chapter: What has been reported about the Key to Prayer being the Purification (no. 3); and Ibn Maajah in his Sunan: Book of Purification: Chapter: The Key to Prayer is the Purification (no. 27)
 This is from the narration of ‘Umar (radyAllaahu 'anhu). It was reported by Al-Bukhaaree in his Saheeh: Book of Faith: Chapter: Islaam was built upon five things (no. 8); Muslim in his Saheeh: Book of Faith: Chapter: A Clarification of the Pillars of Islaam and its Great Foundations (no. 16)
 This hadeeth was reported by Al-Bukhaaree in several places in his Saheeh, such as the Book of Friday Prayer (no. 893), the Book of Leadership (no. 1829)