In the iconic movie The Dark Night, the Joker exclaims “If you’re good at something, don’t do it for free!” I will propose a slight alteration to that suggestion: If you’re good at something, don’t let it go to waste.
In this month’s Sunday Seminar, Sheikh Abdalla urged those in attendance to apply their expertise to fields of Islam. He was speaking in the context of Prophetic Medicine, and encouraging doctors to perform medical research about it, but the suggestion applies to everyone. When we hear the idea of Muslims using their skills to benefit the community, we often think of it in a utilitarian sense. A skilled musician can help further a unique Islamic cultural identity, something Muslims in the West are gravely lacking. A programmer can create innovative apps such as Iqra, an app that can find a verse for you in the Quran by listening to you recite a portion of it. An industrial engineer can design more efficient parking systems at our mosques. All of these are undoubtedly true —every skill you have has an application that can be put to use to improve our community in some way.
But what is new in this suggestion is not just to use your skills to improve the community in a material sense, but yourself in a spiritual one. Allah SWT asks about the disbelievers in the Quran: “Have they, then, never journeyed about the earth, letting their hearts gain wisdom, and causing their ears to hear?” (22:46). In Surat Al Baqara, Allah SWT tells us: “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day: and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man: and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had, been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon: and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason” (2:164).
What both these verses tell us is that the material world can provide signs to further our spiritual connection to Allah SWT. By extension, what this tells us is that learning and developing practical and material skills can provide us with a better understanding of the Quran and our religion. A mathematician will be affected differently by the Quran than a historian. An artist will be affected differently than a doctor. But all of these skills and specializations will only enrich our experience with the words of Allah SWT. Learning about the psychological process of visual processing makes the Quranic verses about the blessing of sight even more striking. Learning about the rules of logic makes the argumentation of the Quran even more powerful. So yes, let’s use our skills to excel in our professions and benefit the community through them. But let’s also excel in the fields we enjoy because they will give the Quran special meaning.