I felt this article was directed to myself in many ways (a longish read but worth it!). For a couple of years I put off seriously learning about Islam with the thought that 'one-day' I'd be able to go off to al-Azhar or a famous Islamic institute and learn there. While that is still my hope inshaAllah, I can't believe I wasted so much time not learning anything and putting it off for the future, when right here and now I can learn so much - we honestly don't know when death will come.
Advice for the Serious Future Student Who Wants to Go Overseas
Many of us have a desire or a dream to go overseas to study Islam. We have images in our heads, of basking in the glow of the minarets of Madinah, or sitting in the shade of the courtyard of Al-Azhar, or kneeling in a village in Mauritania, or sitting in the musallah at Deoband, and hearing the Heirs of the Prophet – the ‘ulama – pass their inheritance to us. Many look forward to the days that they will be able to seek knowledge and grow in their Deen.
Many of us however, while professing to love knowledge, and aiming to seek it (one day), have made a fatal mistake that may hamper us for the rest of our lives (if we believe in opportunity cost), or will at least
hold us back from what we could have achieved. How?
In our dreaming about the future, our hoping about studying in the days to come, our planning about seeking this blessed life-giving water, we have completely, utterly, and carelessly neglected to seek knowledge – in the present. In the here, and now.
“Time is the substance of life, the sphere in which man exists, the citadel of his spirit, and his subsistence-him benefitting himself and others.” -Sh. Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah
1. Many of us ignore our local resources (scholars), some of them giants in the Islamic sciences, thinking that one day we will sit overseas and seek knowledge. Yet, if we truly loved knowledge, if we truly loved it – would we not aim to get every drop that we could get? If we knew that something from the inheritance of the Prophet was available in our cities, would we not rush to make some time in our busy lives that we might partake from its blessing? So is it the knowledge of Allah’s deen that we love, or have we fallen in love with the journey to a far away land where we think we will find enlightenment? Is it the knowledge of the Prophet’s Sunnah that we love, or is it the romance, mystery, excitement, and adventure of going to a place where we think we can disconnect from our lives and find some guidance?
If it was the knowledge that we sought, and not simply an adventure to fulfill our desires, would we not rush
to the knowledge in our cities and towns, as we rush to the prayer when the muezzin says: “Hayya ala al-Falah?” (Hasten to Success)?
When there are ‘ulama, organizations, halaqaat in our cities and localities, resources available online with live teachers, so much wealth at our fingertips – how
is it that I can profess to want knowledge – yet ignore it when it is laid at my feet? Time is slipping away from you and me, every second, and each second in which we did not seek to learn testifies
against our saying: “I love to learn about Allah’s deen.” Each second in which we found some reason or another to say: “I don’t like any of the scholars in my area” is another second that testifies against our saying” “I wish to study Islam”.
Do our hearts not respond with every verse of Quran that we hear in Arabic that we do not understand crying: “If only I could understand you!”
How then, when we know this knowledge can be found in our own cities in the West, have decided that other things are more important and not at least dedicated SOME spare time to seeking out this knowledge?
Perhaps it is simply that we were not made aware of these resources or thought they weren’t available. In that case, there is no problem. inshAllah we can make the effort to seek them out and find them, attaching ourselves to them and grow in our understanding of Allah’s Deen.
2. It is understandable that many of us have lives to live, rizq to earn, families to feed, and education to gain.
However, our spare time, the weeks we have on our breaks, the weekends, those commute times to school or work, those moments in the car, – we have discarded them as if they didn’t exist for the seeking of ilm – precious seconds of life and breath that were gifted to us.
If we understood what it meant to seek knowledge, as Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybani, the great Hanafi jurist and one of the founders of the school did – we would fall asleep as he did reading the books of knowledge, and everytime we became bored of one subject or felt drowsy, we would switch to another, and another, and another until sleep overcame us, using cold water to stay awake.
If we understood that that seeking ilm is not a one year, two year or five year oddessy overseas, but a commitment to build our understanding of the deen every day of our lives, we would take the time to organize ourselves, seek a scholar, a halaqa, an organization, a system, that could take us and provide us a better understanding in an organized, methodical, and goal-oriented fashion. We must ask ourselves, “am I truly so occupied that I do not have time (and this is possible), or am I lazy, or do I have so much pride that I do not like the background, speaking style, or opinions of the scholars around me so I will take nothing from them?”
SubhanAllah dear brothers and sisters, so many resources we have that we can have such an experience in our spare time. Let us make the intention to take advantage of them. We have fallen into the trap of seeing the seeking of knowledge as an event, or a phase in our lives, a future endeavor – instead of an obligation, a love, a mision to be undertaken from now until the day that we die. Instead of a process of self-improvement to be sought from today until our last breaths. And in this trap, we have ignored all of the many opportunities to grow in our understanding of His Religion.
3. It is the Sunnah of the ‘Ulama and the Salaf to seek knowledge in their locality FIRST, and THEN to travel, and this is the most sensible option for the student.
We should be aware of the power, blessing, and greatness in travelling for knowledge. Verily, according to the Prophet (saw), the fish in the seas and the beasts of the Earth supplicate and pray for the travelling student of knowledge! Ya Allah! But we should also know that it is the tradition of the scholars that they would first seek knowledge from the people around them as much as they could, and then travel to increase their knowledge.
For those people who wish to study seriously and understand the Quran through its own language, they should know that there are many basic sciences that can be understood to a very decent level, by studying with the many institutions in their own localities, especially in major cities with large Muslim populations, such as Sarf, Nahw, and basic vocabulary. Why go to a great university to study multiplication tables when you can go there to study engineering? But if we are too lazy to learn the basics at home, or cannot find the discipline to place it into our lives, it is our loss.
As our mentor Imam Suhaib said:
“The way of the salaf was to seek knowledge in their localities, then move out. Waiting to study with scholars overseas could be a sign that one lacks sincerity to the knowledge since, at that point, they may be following their desires instead of following the knowledge. In other words, if one is sincere to the knowledge, he will seek it even in Kansas. In addition, if one loves the knowledge, he will take it wherever he can like Musa. In other words, by failing to use local resources, this could be the greatest sign of spiritual malaise, intellectual deficiencies and riya (showing off).”
It is our own seconds that have passed without a deeper understanding of God and His Revelation. Our own prayers that have passed with verses we could not comprehend.
4. Death approaches…
We all know that the Angel of Death has an appointed time at which he has been ordered to take our spirits from our bodies. Do not let your good intention remain a good intention such that his order might come before you were able to go and study ilm. Instead, keep supporting your family, continue your education, keeping earning the halal rizq Allah gave you – but start learning now
. Make it a priority in your life to begin studying the Deen of Allah and take advantage of your local resources immediately. No matter how slow it seems, how difficult, most
of us have the ability to give the rights to our families, our work/school, and also spend a little
organized time seeking knowledge with a scholar, organization, halaqa, or institute. Let us say Bismillah and begin!
Imam Abu Yusuf, the other major student of Abu Hanifah, as he died, was discussing an issue of Hajj Fiqh with his student Al-Qadi Ibrahim ibn Al-Jarrah! Yet he had had a lifetime of teaching and learning behind him. We do not want to be stuck on our death beds, having had opportunities, with nothing to show for them but good intentions.
5. HOW (And this specifically for the one who wishes to go overseas and study Islam formally living in a major city in the West)
A. Begin with learning the Arabic language, as it is the key to the Quran and the key to Knowledge. Find a mode of learning and stick with it consistently with a teacher or institute. There are many online resources as well, with live teachers and distance learning – shariahprogram.ca, http://www.islamicau.org/
, Sunnpath, and many others. A live teacher is best.
Learning Arabic at an introductory level has three aspects that your Arabic class will provide you:
– the Science of Morphology, how the Arabic letters can be placed into specific forms to create words and meanings. One can consider this similar to learning the multiplication tables. It is difficult sometimes, but without those tables, there is no engineering, no computer, nothing. Similarily, knowing this science, no matter how one learns it, is the foundation of one’s understanding.
I remember three years ago, I was studying my lessons in Sarf and was irritated at how annoying it was to learn all the different forms, until one day I was learning the pattern of مُفَعَّلٌ and realized that it was from this pattern and its meaning that the word مُحَمَّدٌ comes – the name of our beloved Prophet, whose very name means “The One Who Is Praised” because of the way his name is formed. I remember a tear going down my eye as I sat on my dining table and resolved to finish learning my lessons. No matter how hard or mundane it may seem to begin with, it is worth sticking through it.
If Sarf is learning the multiplication tables, Nahw is like learning Algebra and Trigonometry. It is here that we begin to understand the structure, heart, and system of the Arabic language so that we can dive into the ocean of the Quran.
Basic Reading and Vocab –
No matter how much grammar and how many rules one may know, it is useless if one doesn’t know any words, and is not used to reading or speaking the language. Thus, Arabic classes will have a reader or children’s text that we can use to practice our reading and build our skills as we grow in the language.
B. Begin to study the Quran, sitting in a tafsir class (if you have time) that may be available in your area or masjid, and memorizing it, starting with the 30th and 29th juz, and then starting with the 49th Surah of the Quran till the end (al-Mufassal). One of our mentors (hint hint look at the site address bar!) told us that one cannot even be considered a student of knowledge without memorizing the Quran. This should not discourage us or make us feel inadequate, rather, we should feel the importance of committing the Quran’s words and meaning into our hearts. It doesn’t matter how much you finish
– what matters is that your heart is constantly
increasing in how much Quran it holds, and that your limbs increase in how much Quran they implement.
C. Begin to seek knowledge consistently, and constantly, in an organized fashion. Do not simply seek Iman boosts any longer, but begin to seek those things which will increase your understanding of the Deen and place your roots deeper into the ground. Find a teacher in your area and begin learning.
Imagine standing in Salah in Ramadan during Tarawih, as each verse, each word, opens up its meaning to you and imparts to you the message that your Lord gave to you. Imagine knowing the meaning of the words, and imagine knowing what your Lord is asking you to do as you hear them.
InshAllah my beloved brothers and sisters, if we make the effort, this will be a reality for us, but it is something we must earn.
And Allah knows best