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How to Self-Educate – Part 2

Part 2 of this series continues the discussion on self-education with respect to Islamic knowledge and involves far more caution.

Learning one’s deen is not simply picking up a few books or attending a few lectures. It is not reading through the Qur’an or a translation/interpretation and learning some ahadith. It is a lifelong process that requires commitment, discernment and guided study. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on every Muslim to have this knowledge. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) told us, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah) And indeed, Allah (SWT) has provided us with du’a in the Qur’an to help in our search: “My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (Taha:114)



Much has been written on the high esteem placed on knowledge and scholarship and the necessity of scholarly guidance in our tradition. In fact, the first ayat revealed to our beloved Messenger (SAW) state as translated:
Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created,
Has created man from a clot.
Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous,
Who has taught by the pen,
Has taught man that which he knew not. (Al-’Alaq:1-5)



Although a thorough discussion of scholarship in Islam is beyond the scope of this article, a few examples from the Qur’an and hadith are illustrative:

Say: “Are those who know equal to those who know not?” It is only men of understanding who will remember. (Az-Zumar:9)




He grants Hikmah (Wisdom) to whom He pleases, and he, to whom Hikmah (Wisdom) is granted, is indeed granted abundant good. But none remember (will receive admonition) except men of understanding. (Al-Baqarah:269)




And it is not (proper) for the believers to go out to fight (Jihad) all together. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may get instructions in (Islamic) religion, and that they may warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware (of evil). (At-Tawbah:122)




Do not wish to be like anybody except in two cases: The case of a man whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it in the right way; and that of a man whom Allah has given religious wisdom (i.e., Qur’an and Sunnah) and he gives his verdicts according to it, and teaches it to others. (Bukhari)




Acquiring knowledge in company for an hour in the night is better than spending the whole night in prayer. (Tirmidhi)




If Allah desires good for someone, He gives him understanding in the deen. Knowledge is gained by learning. (Bukhari)




The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets. (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ahmad, and others)




So, how does one learn the deen if not on a traditional, scholarly, educational path? Fortunately, as with acquiring secular knowledge, technology has opened up opportunities that just a few years ago did not exist.




Choose topics to study in order of importance and necessity

In Islam, there is knowledge referred to as fard ‘ayn, which each individual must know. Prayer is one example, and the importance of knowing how and when to pray cannot be overstated: the Messenger of Allah (SAW) told us, “The first thing one will be held accountable for on the Day of Judgment is prayer.” (Abu Dawud, al Nasa’i) Similarly, if someone is getting married, he or she should know the fiqh of marriage; if a person is starting a business, they should learn what Islam teaches about commercial transactions. Scholars repeatedly tell us that one should not delay learning the necessary knowledge whilst in pursuit of obscure matters of the deen.



Learn only from reputable sources
The term “Shaykh Google” has stuck with me ever since I heard a scholar use the term. Learning about the deen on the Internet requires a great deal of caution. People can hold themselves out as knowledgeable and really know very little. Many people have gone astray by reading something on the Internet and assuming it is legitimate. Of course, the same thing is true with respect to knowledge gained directly from another person. There are many imams who give incorrect advice and many well-meaning community members who try to correct other people’s errors with errors of their own. Alhamdulillah, access to scholars is becoming increasingly easy with the online courses that are now available. You no longer need to wait for a scholar to come to your area or for you to travel far for knowledge. But one should be very picky when choosing whom to learn the deen from. It is essential to know the professed scholars’ credentials – where they studied, how long they studied, do they follow the majority opinion, etc.





Never rely on only one source
I do not believe I have read any book or listened to any lecture on Islam in which I accepted everything that was written or said. Every book has at least one mistake as nothing humanly created attains perfection. Additionally, reputable scholars sometimes differ over aspects of the deen. You might read something in one book and remember reading a far more persuasive argument for a different view by a different scholar. To learn a particular topic it is best to seek out several reputable sources.





Include study in your daily routine
Learning anything well requires commitment and perseverance. A way to accomplish that is to make studying a habit – something that is part of your daily routine. Choose a time or times during the day when you study the deen, so it becomes second nature and something that your heart and mind longs for if it is missed for even one day.




Pace yourself
Our beloved Messenger (SAW) told us, “The most beloved of actions to Allah are those which are the most constant, even if they are little.” (Bukhari) If you try to learn too much too quickly you will overwhelm yourself. In fact, it states in Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas that Abdullah ibn Umar took eight years to learn Surat al-Baqarah (15.4.11). It is also reported that the sahaba would learn 10 ayat at a time and then implement them before learning more. Don’t overdo it. Set up a daily routine that is reasonable and works with other obligations that you may have.




Enjoy the process
Unlike secular knowledge in which a subject can be exhausted, there is no end to what can be learned of the deen. For example, Musa (AS) knew that Khidr (AS) had knowledge that he did not have, asking him, “May I follow you so that you teach me something of that knowledge which you have been taught (by Allah)?” (Al-Kahf:66) Thus, no matter how much anyone studies, there will always be more to learn. With that in mind, the process of learning should be enjoyed, knowing that one is following the command of Allah (SWT) and the example of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and that you are trying to elevate your level in the deen.





Know that you do not know
A final but extremely important point is to understand that no matter how much you study on your own, you are not a scholar, able to issue fatwas and interpret the Qur’an and Hadith. To reach that level, you would need to embark on a more defined educational path under far more guidance and tutelage. Knowledge gained if acted upon is a blessing, but it also carries the risk that one will dispense information that he or she is not qualified to dispense. One way to temper that inclination is to heed the warning of Allah (SWT), “Then who does more wrong than one who invents a lie against Allah, to lead mankind astray without knowledge” (Al-An’am:144), and our beloved Messenger (SAW), “Do not tell lies about me. Whoever falsely attributes a statement to me will enter the Fire.” (Bukhari)






J. Samia Mair explores the delights of self-education and offers a few tips to get you started.





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J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions and The Great Race to Sycamore Street . She is currently working on sequels to both. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.