How Do I Study Islam?
04 December, 2013
Update: I've fixed some of the broken links that were in this blog post, so there should at least be working links now, for those who are interested.
Assalāmu ’alaykum warahmatullāhi wa barakātuhu,
I’ve written a couple of emails recently to brothers and sisters asking how they can study Islam. Some are concerned that they don't meet the eligibility criteria for the Islamic University of Madeenah, and are therefore left wondering how they can study Islam.
One thing that I’ve learnt (and I’ve learnt it the hard way) is that you don’t really need Makkah or Madeenah to get knowledge of Islam, nor does travelling to Makkah and Madeenah guarantee you knowledge. They make it easy for you, but Allāh would not make this religion such that it was not possible for people over 25 (the official Madeenah age limit) to perform this immense act of worship. There are many institutes of study, and many ways of learning outside of an institute. But in reality, there are three things that you need right now to make things easy for you:
- A basic understanding of how to seek knowledge
- A good grasp of the Qur’an (it’s a condition not only in the religion, but also for many Islamic institutes of study)
- The Arabic language
All three of these you can get without even leaving your home town...after the help of Allāh, you just have to want them enough. Once again, I’ll quote one of my earliest teachers in Newcastle who said to me something along the lines of, “Muhammad, if you can’t even learn a little Arabic here, what makes you think that you will be able to travel thousands of miles, away from your family, and that you will learn there.” Subhānallāh, he spoke the truth.
Please note that I do not endorse any of the specific websites mentioned below. They just happen to have the content that I was looking for. Furthermore, I strongly encourage brothers and sisters to buy the books and support the authors and their families. These links should only be used as a preview to buying the book, or as an alternative for a book you've already bought.
For the first point, this is a good start, in shā’ Allāh: The Etiquette of Seeking Knowledge.
For the second point, find yourself a teacher and make a start. I think that almost anyone can memorise the Qur’an in 2-4 years, regardless of the strength of their memory. However, you do need a teacher, and you need to do a little bit every single day. You might even have to travel a little. For example, if you can’t find a teacher locally, find one within easy travelling distance and arrange to go and read once a week. If you can’t even find that, there are a lot of brothers teaching over Skype (although I don’t recommend this if you have any way to find a teacher in person). In terms of the way to memorise Qur’an, start from the very back and go backwards towards the front, until you have memorised at least up to Sūrah Qāf. Then, go from the front all the way to the back. Memorise whatever you can do easily in a day, and don’t stretch yourself. Until you have memorised 5 juz’ you need to read every single thing you have memorised, every single day. So, let’s say that now, you’ve memorised 20 surahs, and today you start no. 21. You need to read all 21 from memory every single day. Carry on like this, until you’ve reached so much that you physically can’t read it all from memory (about 5 juz’ depending on your time). From then on, you need to be reading about 1/6-1/8 of the Qur’an from memory every single day. With a good teacher, you’ll finish the Qur’an in no time in shā’ Allāh, and this is the beginning.
In terms of the third point, and this can be done concurrently alongside the Qur’an, start learning Arabic. If you don’t have a teacher, you can find plenty of courses online (like this one). If you can’t even do that, then just start memorising the vocabulary from Madeenah Book 1 (you can use the English key at the back to help). Don’t worry too much about grammar until you find a teacher, but vocab is easy to memorise without a teacher, in shā’ Allāh. Once you find a teacher, prioritise grammar rules and try to get a good grasp of how the language actually works, and how sentences are made.
At this point, when you feel that you’ve really done everything that you can in your home town, and you’ve exhausted its resources, you’re ready to consider travelling. You may not want to travel abroad right from the outset, you might just want to travel to another city or region, where you have better access to learning, and you can improve your Qur’an and your Arabic. Once you feel that you’ve taken all the benefit that you can from your home country, then consider going abroad. At this point, you already have good Arabic (maybe not quite fluent, but still good), and you have good Qur’an. That means that there are many opportunities for you in institutes around the world. For example, you could probably go to somewhere like Egypt (depending on the political climate) and do 6-12 months, after which you will be fluent in Arabic, in shā’ Allāh, because you’ve already done the hard work in your own country. You could probably get your official Qur’an certificate (ijaazah) because again, you’ve done the hard work in your own country. After that, all of the doors of seeking knowledge are open, because you can even go and spend a few months living with a scholar, or spend a month seeking knowledge in Makkah or Madeenah, and you’ll have all of the tools that you need, in shā’ Allāh.
If my memory serves me right, one of the scholars of Islam who wrote about the topic of studying Islam said:
"People who fail to gain knowledge of Islam are of two types: those who are intellectually not able to do so - and there is nothing we can do about that - and then there is the second group: those who have the intellectual ability to do so, but they simply don't know how."
We want to avoid from being from that second group of people that so many of us fall into.
This is really a pretty big topic, but I think we can make a start by understanding a few simple points:
- In Islam, there is a way to learn, just like there is a way to pray, a way to fast, and a way to perform Hajj.
- We need to start at the beginning, moving slowly.
- We need to cover each sub-science of Islam in a basic way.
- We mustn't jump between different topics or jump between different levels, until we are ready.
- We need to combine memorisation and understanding, because the one who memorises and doesn't understand is like a donkey who carries books, and the one who understands but doesn't memorise has no weight in their arguments.
- We need to begin with what the Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) began with - namely correcting our belief - before anything else.
So, if we look at the sub-sciences of Islam in a basic way, we have the following (just a rough list):
- Methods of learning
- Qur'an Memorisation
- Qur'anic Sciences
- The Arabic Language
- Hadeeth Memorisation & Understanding
- Hadeeth Sciences
- The Biography of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) & His Companions, Islamic History
- Fundamental Principles of Fiqh (Usool-ul-Fiqh)
So, we should try to learn each of these to a very basic level before moving on. This basic level should include memorisation of some simple rules and proofs for the basics of each science. However, in reality we are always going to be at a higher level in some sciences rather than others. For example, when you come to the basics of 'aqeedah, you might already know them, in which case you can just make sure that you've memorised all of the requisite proofs, and then move on from there.
In terms of learning from someone, this is ideal. However, technology has given us a good second alternative which is to watch a video or listen to an audio lecture, follow that by reading one or more books on the topic, and then ask questions regarding things that you want more information about.
So, let's look at the sub-sciences again, and this time look at introductory books and videos (I reiterate that I don't necessarily recommend all of the websites, I'm just using them for the links, some may be good, some may not be - likewise the authors/translators of various books: I’m recommending the book, nothing more):
[Once again, please do buy printed copies of the books, or buy ebooks, so that the publishing houses can continue to produce the material that we so badly need]
- Methods of learning. I've explained the basics in this email. Follow it up with this book: The Etiquette of Seeking Knowledge - try to memorise the main points, along with one or two aayaat from the Qur'an which relate to each point in the book.
- Start with something like this series on the Fundamental Beliefs of Islam http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCElRawTGSzuVPGs5Sk1Tg9A/videos - follow it up by studying the following books (most of them can be found here: http://www.kalamullah.com/aqeedah.html): The Fundamentals of Tawheed by Dr. Bilal Phillips, The Islamic Creed Series by Dr. Umar al-Ashqar, Three Fundamental Principles of Islam, Concise Commentary on the Book of Tawhid, Removal of Doubts, and the Four Principles of Shirk. Once again you will need to memorise as many of the proofs as you can; try to focus on the main headings and one or two proofs for each one, as they are mentioned. For example, you should know what the "three fundamental principles" are by heart, and you should know the proof for them.
- Start from Juz 'Amma backwards to Sūrah Qāf, and then from al-Baqarah until you complete the Qur'an. Make your intention to memorise the whole of the Qur'an with the best possible recitation. Try to find a local Qur'an teacher. If you can't think about finding one on Skype. If you have to learn on your own, try to listen to a good example of recitation, like Muhammad Ayub (http://www.islamfactory.com/quran/mp3/muhammad-ayyub), not a reciter who just sounds really nice (leave that for your spare time).
- Begin with tajweed, and later on you can go on to other Qur'anic sciences.
- Start to learn Arabic, if you don't already know it. Try this for a start
- Begin with the 40 hadeeth of al-Imam an-Nawawi with a good explanation. Something like this. Try to memorise each of the hadeeth in Arabic - don't worry if it takes you a long time.
- This video should be enough for you to begin with.
- Start with something like When the Moon Split.
I'll leave no. 9 and 10 for now. I need to do a bit more research for them, as they aren't in the list of topics that I've recorded a complete series on since coming back to the UK. However, this should be at least a little bit to get you started. Bear in mind that I’ve posted a lot of my own videos in this list. That’s not because I think they are necessarily the best available to you, but I honestly don’t listen to many English lectures, so I have no idea what else may be available. Pick a reliable speaker who is known for their adherence to the Sunnah, and I’m sure you’ll find many resources that are better than these.
This is just a very quick blog post, based on a couple of emails that I’ve sent out. in shā’ Allāh, it will get tidied up and made into a permanent article on the website in the future.
Wa ’alaykumussalām warahmatullāhi wa barakātuhu