Within the last decade, Muslims have experienced a massive shift in the way they study Islam. In this advanced technological age, Islamic knowledge is available for mass absorption at the end of our fingertips through online. Twenty years ago, scholars and students had to search through their books. Today’s online portal to Islamic knowledge has given students the chance to learn without leaving their homes. However, while our access has benefited us greatly, it also comes with its own pitfalls.
Online Learning: A Reality Check
Many Muslims do not realize that studying Islam through the internet requires a lot of self-discipline. Not only do you have to sit in front of a computer (a big distraction), online students are not accountable to anyone but themselves. Those who are interested in beginning a course online need to figure out why they are willing to spend this time learning and what they wish to achieve out of it. If students do not have their intentions ironed out and their drive ready to go, they will not have the self-discipline needed to move forward properly. Studying Islam online is not the best method for everyone, so it is up to each student to prepare themselves before they commit to a program.
The most important thing students should know is that knowledge is a means, not the goal. Knowledge is a means for us to gain Jannah (Paradise), and this is how we should view it. It is also important for us as students to remember that knowledge is gained in stages. One of the righteous predecessors said, “Whoever gains knowledge all at once will lose it all at once!” Gaining knowledge is a gradual build-up which takes years. In fact some of the scholars viewed seeking knowledge as a lifelong commitment. Abdullah ibn Mubarak (rahimahullah) was asked, “How long will you seek knowledge?” His response was, “Until I die, for probably I have not yet learned the things that will benefit me most.” Going through the stages of knowledge also requires patience and a very high commitment level to remain consistent. As online students are not accountable to anyone but themselves, they require even more patience and commitment than students who study “live.”
It is very easy to commit to online programs because of the initial hype it draws. After a few classes, the number of students slowly starts to dwindle. This initial phase is separating the committed students – those who have the self-discipline to study online – from those students who weren’t as serious or realized online studies was not for them. Students who are starting to take online classes should internalize the fact that they will be tested during these first few classes to see if they are able to commit.
The biggest drawback to studying online is the lack of interaction with a teacher. In many of the books on seeking knowledge, the longest chapter is how a student should behave with their teacher. A teacher is not only the source of knowledge, but also the source of manners. It is important for students who study online to focus on improving their character since they lack valuable interaction with the teacher face-to-face. It is said that knowledge is a tool that needs manners to make it run. The best way for students in online programs to learn manners and character is to read books and listen to lectures on the character of the Prophet ﷺ, the Companions and the lives of the scholars. Remember that knowledge and manners go hand in hand, and without manners, your knowledge will not take you far.
Etiquette for the Modern Student of Knowledge
There are countless books written on the etiquette of seeking knowledge; however much is not applicable to us in the West because we live in a different time. For most of us, we do not study at the feet of scholars, or have daily lessons in the masajid. Due to our different circumstances, we should ‘modernize’ some of the etiquette of the students of knowledge to be applicable for us now.
- Punctuality. We should give knowledge the respect that it is due.
- Complete focus. One of the biggest challenges for online students is focusing during their lesson and not distracting themselves with chatting, browsing and reading websites.
- Respecting your teacher. Respect for teachers is hard when you are not facing them. The student does not think about the time and effort the teacher put into preparing their lesson because it is online. Respect your teacher’s time and efforts.
- Dress to impress. If we were attending a live class, we would dress in a presentable manner. Although no one can see us at our computer, we should still look presentable because it affects how we revere the knowledge we’re seeking.
- Stay in contact with your teacher. This could be through emails, discussion forums or interacting in class.
- Do not record without permission. Students should take permission from their teacher about recording classes, even if they are not sharing it with others.
- Giving your online studies the same importance you give to “live” classes. Since our online classes are in the comfort of our own homes, it is very easy to forget that we are in a serious commitment. We should treat it as so and not as a marginal past time. Students should have the intention of starting and finishing their classes.
- Have patience with what you already know. In a lesson you may get distracted if you are devaluing a particular part of the lesson. When your teacher covers something you’ve already learned, think of the benefit of repetition and be humble: you always need more knowledge. This repetition will only make you more grounded in what you already know.
There is much more to be said about netiquette, but these are some of the main points for online students.
Tips to Maximizing Your Online Learning Experience
- Have a “study buddy.” This will increase your motivation and keep you accountable. This person can also share notes with you if you happen to miss a session.
- Close all tabs or websites that are not related to your class until it is over. If you find this hard to do, then move the computer away from you or block all other programs.
- Take notes on paper if you know the computer will be a distraction for you.
- Do not sit on your bed or a couch when you are learning. Sit at a desk, which will help you focus more in a study-like environment.
- Prepare yourself for class like you would for a “live” class. Have your pencils/notebook ready, turn off your cell phone, and go to a quiet area.
- Keep a journal of “gems” of what you have learned to keep yourself motivated.
- Teach your family or roommates what you have learned after each session, even if it’s only one thing.
- Time management. Balance your time studying online and other life commitments to make sure you are giving each its due rights (huquq).
- Review and implement what you have learned before your next class. It is important to make sure you have enough time to understand, review and apply what you’re learning.
- Make du`a’ that Allah benefits you through your knowledge and allows you to complete your program/classes.
Insha’Allah this basic overview will help both of us maximize our online Islamic studies.