Wa `alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
A Muslim should spare no efforts to be successful in his or her study and career. One may join any well-reputed college or university as long as it does not have negative impacts on his or her faith and values.
Answering your question, Dr. Wael Shehab, PhD in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and currently the Imam of the Downtown Toronto Masjid in Canada, states:
First of all, you are advised as a Muslim to seek beneficial knowledge and to do your utmost to be successful in this regard. You are to benefit yourself, your community, and all people, Muslims and non-Muslims, with your knowledge.
Islam praises and commends seeking knowledge and therefore scholars are highly appreciated and estimated. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Allah will raiseup, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted (mystic) knowledge.” (Al-Mujadalah 85:11)
Commenting on the above Qur’anic verse, Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) said:
“Scholars will have higher degrees seven hundred times than the other believers; the distance between each degree and the other is five hundred years of marching.”
Also, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Surely, Allah, His Angels, the inhabitants of heavens and earth, and even the ant in its nest, and the whale in the sea pray for him who teaches people virtue.” (At-Tirmidhi)
“Knowledge” praised in the above texts is not confined to a specific kind of knowledge; rather, it applies to all types of beneficial knowledge and sciences.
Therefore, merits of seeking knowledge are applicable to students and scholars of every beneficial field of science and knowledge as long as they have good intentions to benefit people and their own selves with their knowledge.
Given the above, your efforts to study “biochemistry” are Islamically praised and commended in order to benefit yourself, your community, and all people of the world. You may study at any well-reputed university or college as long as it doesn’t have negative impacts on your faith or Islamic values.
It is noteworthy that the noble Qur’an and the Sunnah call on Muslims to seek beneficial knowledge and cooperate with all human communities—irrespective of their cultures, faiths, or races—on goodness for the sake of peoples’ wellbeing and interests. The Qur’an says, “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)
Also, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “If one treads a path in order to seek knowledge, Allah will make easy for him the (way) to enter Paradise.” (Al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami`)
The above hadith indicates that a Muslim may travel and leave his or her homeland to seek knowledge. Well-reputed Muslim institutions and universities such as Al-Azhar used to send eligible students to various parts of the globe, including Europe and the States, to pursue their higher education.
Western and Eastern education systems and universities have positive and distinguished features. We, Muslims, may refrain from some educational courses or systems that contradict our religious or cultural values. However, we do not reject all sciences or educational systems that come from the East or the West.
Allah Almighty knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.