By Harun Saleh
In this article, I want to talk about studying Islam in the US (or in any western country). Many people have a passion to study Islam however life’s circumstances prevent them from dropping everything to move to a different country to study with ‘ulema. This does not mean that there is not hope. One can still do a lot where they are.
Taking advantage of your local teachers
This is one that you cannot overlook. While there are many online options for studying Islam should look to their local teachers first. Our tradition is taken from live interactions with teachers.
No amount of self-study can replace that.
In Siyar A’alam al Nubula, Imam al Dhahabi reported: Ibn Wahb, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “Were it not for Malik and Al-Layth, I would have been ruined. I used to believe that everything narrated about the Prophet, peace, and blessings be upon him, should be acted upon.” Ibn Wahb went on to become one of the main transmitters of the Maliki Madhhab. Your teachers were in the same situations you once were. They are more than just teachers, they are your advisers and fathers in knowledge. You will learn a lot from the mistakes they made when they were in your shoes.
Before you go overseas to study you must remember that no matter how much knowledge you gain you are indebted to your first teachers forever. Shaykh Fawzi Konate often reminds students in his classes that you surpassing your teachers back home is what you are supposed to do. If you do anything less than that you will return as a failed student. The only reason you will be able to surpass your teachers is due to the foundation they built up for you which they themselves most likely did not have when they traveled to study.
Taking advantage of online options
People should, in the age we live in, be taking advantage of all the online resources they can get access to. There are many great online initiatives for teaching Arabic and the Islamic Sciences. If one is serious they can get a lot done online including memorizing the Qur’an in multiple Qira’aat, learning Arabic to a high level including texts such as Alfiyyat Ibn Malik, learning fiqh, ‘aqida, and much more. It is important to note that with online studying one needs to be very self-disciplined.
Reading One should read in their spare time making notes of important points. In the time that I was not in classes, I would try my best to read books in Arabic in the subjects I am most interested in. I was buying books in Arabic before I could even read a sentence in Arabic. I would crack open those books and struggle very hard to get through a page. This was one of the best things I did for myself. Sometimes you need to be thrown in the deep end to learn how to swim. In a future article, I will put together a recommended reading list in sha Allah.
My studies in America For some practical examples, I will draw from some of my experiences studying in the US when I was studying in America I was working full time. With that in the years before I moved to Egypt I did the following;
The Safina Society Uwaylim program with Dr. Shadee Elmasry. This was 3 hours a week on Sundays and over 5 years we covered; uloom ul Qur’an, Uloom ul hadith, Aqida, Fiqh, Usul ul Fiqh, Sira, Tassawuf, Explanation of Hadiths, and tajweed.
I would also go to my Arabic teacher Shaykh Osamah Salhia to study Al Nahw al Wadih, Ajrumiyya, Tuhfat us Saniyya. I would go twice a week and we would spend 2–3 hours on Arabic specifically Arabic grammar (nahw). This was perhaps the most important part of my studies in America and if I could do it all over again I would have done much more Arabic.
In addition to that, I did part of the studio arabiyya Arabic program which was also a big help.
On Saturdays and Sunday’s after Fajr I did the Cordoba Academy Ibn Hajr Hadith diploma in which we covered the bayquniyya, 40 nawwawi, nukhbatul fikr, Muwqidha of Imam al Dhahabi, the introduction of Sahih Muslim, Tadkhkirat imam ibn al mulaqin, al awail al sunbuliyya, and more. We covered about 12 books over 3/4 of a year. You can see the full curriculum here.
For about a year straight every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night for 1–2 hours I studied Ashal al Masalik with Shaykh Mujahid Abdul Karim.
In addition to all of that, I was listening to the recordings of my current teacher, Shaykh Zuhayr to be on the same page as the other students when getting here. This really helped me hit the ground running.
There is much more that I was doing but this is all to give you an idea of what my schedule was like. This is all with working full time, including my 2 years working as an Auditor at Deloitte where the hours working a week would exceed 80 at times. I say this to make the point that if you are serious about going overseas to study get serious about studying at home making use of all the resources you possibly can. Every minute outside of your obligations needs to be dedicated to seeking ilm. I really liked one quote from a shaykh back home who, when asked how often should one spend a week studying Islam, replied that the correct question is how much time should you spend a week other than studying Islam. Once you are in that mindset you take off. While I was at work I had headphones with the Qur’ran or text I was memorizing on loop the whole day. Constantly hanging out with friends and wasting time will only keep you farther from your goals. This is not to say that you should not have time to relax, however, you should keep it to a bare minimum. Imam al Akhdari in his mukhtasar says “ The responsible one must not be content with that which satisfies the bankrupt ones.” Do not be content with what people who are not great are doing. Have high aspirations. You want to be able to get overseas and be able to join classes in Arabic that are going on right away. Even if your Arabic needs polishing up and some work you should still be able to attend and understand at least 70% of the classes you attend.
If you are not able to find teachers in person or online then you should take advantage of YouTube. There are commentaries in English of many of the books that I listed online as well as other texts. I am thinking of writing an article in the future of a detailed curriculum to follow with YouTube videos.
Ultimately everyone’s situation is different however there is no excuse for someone who really is passionate about seeking ilm to go out and do it. I could only imagine how our predecessors would have utilized today’s technology if they were living in this time.