Dear respected brother,
If someone is starting out learning about Islam, what program of study do you recommend. Note: this person is trying to avoid the group politics and influences. What should he do? At times he feels like he’s being torn to pieces and the sweetness of Islam is waining.
The best way to gain knowledge in the din, is to gradually build up a decent level of competency in the various subjects, before embarking deeply into one subject or another. It is admirable that you wish the study Islam without the influence of the various groups and have a balanced understanding. InshAllah the following will provide some benefit with this goal. We strongly suggest contacting the Islamic American University (http://www.islamicau.org/static/Default.aspx) and seeing if studying with them is an option for you. They have distance learning classes and you will get course material from them. They have a well designed syllabus and studying with them will give you a solid grasp of the subjects and a methodical path of learning.
If however this is not an option, we will highlight each basic subject here and a resource or two which will allow you to benefit in it. This list of subjects and books may seem varied to you, but it will build your understanding to a critical mass needed for knowledge and practice. After this, you will be able to move forward to higher studies if you wish. All of these books can be found on www.islamicbookstore.com or www.kalamullah.com.
One of the pitfalls that a student can fall into is to seek knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge is a desire like any other human desire. It can be sought for the pure pleasure of acquiring it and not for the sake of Allah. People love to discover new things. It is a natural human inclination. When a person strives long and hard to find something out, then comes upon the answer, it can be quite exhilarating. This book encourages him to study further.
B. We suggest first and foremost that you learn the fundamentals of purification, prayer and fasting. This is because learning to worship correctly and properly is integral to your spiritual advancement and your Islam.
The question may arise as to which madhab you should choose or how you should study these acts of worship. Regardless of the issue of whether or not one must/must not adhere to one specific madhab, it is recommended that you begin your studies while studying a specific one – as this will make it easy for you to quickly learn rulings for all the acts of worship and begin to implement them. Not doing so will likely result in jumping from opinion to opinion while reading the debates among various proofs, and spending vast amounts of time studying various views on a minor issue dealing with prayer. The focus is to learn how to pray and to focus on the prayer itself, not the myriad of opinions out there. Once you have studied more deeply and have access to a scholar, you can begin to learn about other schools. The Hanafi and Shaf’i schools have more adherents in North America than other the other two schools. We suggest learning the fundamentals from one of them as you will have access to a wider range of teachers. For a basic primer on Hanafi fiqh and then a more advanced book, you can read the following:
1. The Absolute Essentials of Islam – Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School
2. The Humility in Prayer: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali and 33 Ways to Concentrate in Your Prayer (Munajjid)
3. Al Fiqh al-Islami According to the Hanafi Madhab (Sh. Muhammad Akram Nadwi) (3 months – use as a reference and source for better understanding)
While studying these, be cognizant of the fact that there are many other valid opinions in the wide corpus of Islamic Law, and many Muslims who do not find it necessary to stick a specific school. We should respect all of these opinions and focus on one’s own worship, and on maintaining harmony and good relations with everyone around us.
C. Belief and Worldview (Aqeedah):
It is important that you study Islamic Aqeedah, as it is our fundamental beliefs that make us muslim, and beliefs related to our world view that give us an Islamic outlook on life. One detrimental thing many students do, is study Aqeedah as a study of opposition to other Muslims’ opinions on minor issues or unresolved arguments on advanced topics that have been debated by scholars for over a thousand years. Instead, it is best to study our creed as the Companions did, as a means of seeking a better understanding of Allah and His role in our lives. To develop a better understanding of this belief and the Islamic world view, I recommend the following books, in this order:
1. Islam: The Natural Way by Abdul Wahid Hamid (5-6 weeks)
2. The Book of Eeman According to Ibn Taymiyyah by Dr Mohammed Naim Yasin (3 weeks) (not to be confused with the original Kitaab al Eeman which is a completely seperate book on advanced theology and philosophy)
3. The Purification of the Soul (Hanbali, ibn al Qayyim, Ghazali, others)
4. Risalatul Mustarshidin by Al-Muhasibi, translation and commentary by Zaid Shakir (3 weeks)
5. Aqeedah at-Tahawiyyah – Translated by Hamza Yusuf, or any reliable translation (This is a text which by itself is agreed upon by all of the major Sunni theological schools, regardless of the interpretation of it’s specifics which there is no need to go into without a teacher)
It is recommended at this point that you read the book, “Drowning in Minor Details” by Sh. Salman Awdah.
D. The Seerah – Life Story of the Prophet Muhammad (saw)
1. Muhammad: Man and Prophet by Adil Salahi
2. Fiqh Us-Seerah by Muhammad al Ghazali
3. Za’ad al Ma’ad – Ibn Al Qayyim
4. Ash-Shifa – Qadi Iyyad
A solid book which offers a comprehensive look at the story and lessons of the life of the Prophet (saw). It is critical to know the life of the Prophet as it provides us a context by which we can understand the Quran, the various aspects of islamic law, and develop a proper understanding of the meaning and message of the religion which the Prophet (saw) came to give us.
E. Understanding the Quran
There are hundreds of books on tafsir out there, explaining various aspects of the Quran through various points of view. I suggest starting with understanding those parts of Quran which will have a direct impact on our personalitiy and belief, and to move on from there. For this reason, it is important that one constantly have a relationship with the Quran and read it consistently everyday – the text by itself. But along with this, to develop an understanding of its meanings and message, I suggest the following course of readings:
0. Introduction to the Study of the Quran (Maududi) available online
1. The Seven Oft-Repeated Verses (Awdah) – An Explanation of Surah Fatihah
2. Study the last juz of Quran – Chapter 78 till the end – Chapter 114. Using an easy resource, www.englishtafsir.com.
3. The Quran: Essential Teachings – Kidwai
4. A Thematic Commentary of the Quran: Muhammad al-Ghazali (recommend reading this work while doing a full reading of the Quran in parallel to the chapter you are on in the book to get the proper benefit from this book)
5. An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran: Mufti Taqi Usmaani
With this, you will be ready to jump into reading more of the Quranic tafsir works available in English bookstores, while being assured that you have picked up the essentials needed to navigate around the Quran and generally pick up on clearly strange or undoubtedly erroneous interpretations. It is always a good idea to spend some time making sure that one’s recitation and pronunciation meets a basic standard. www.quranicsciences.com is a good place to try out your letters and pronunciation and work on them if needed.
It is important for anyone wishing to learn Islam, that he /she be familiar with not only the verses of Quran, but also the words, speeches, and sayings of the Prophet (saw). The Sunnah is the practical implementation of the Quran in the life of the Prophet, so it is important for a person to understand its importance, and learn some of the statements and sayings of the Prophet.
1. Tahdhib al Akhlaq : A Hadith Guide for Personal and Social Conduct (Sayyed Abdul Hayy al Hasani)
2. The Complete Forty Hadith : Revised Edition with the Arabic Texts (Imam an-Nawawi) includes commentary
3. The Authority of the Sunnah by Taqi Usmani (available online) or the Authority and Importance of the Sunnah by J. Zarabozo
4. Begin a casual, everyday reading of Riyadh us Saaliheen
With this foundation, one will have gained familiarity with many of the popular ahadith of the Prophet and continue to learn more of the traditions from his life
G. Basic Islamic History
1. Companions of the Prophet by Abdul Wahid Hamid
2. The Pious Caliphs
3. History of Islam
4. If you are a history buff and ready for some intense reading where you have an author who makes up his own words when he feels like it, but has written some of the most detailed historical analysis of the Muslim world, try Venture of Islam by Marshall Hodgeson after you have completed the above.
Please remember, it is not needed to traverse this plan subject by subject if this will be too monotonous. You can start with the “level” 1 books under each subject and read them together, and move on slowly through each “level”, thus doing multiple subjects at once. Or if you prefer, you can do this by doing all the books in one subject first, then moving to the next subject (not recommended).
After all these, you will be ready to move on to heavier books. I am not sure of your current knowledge level so if these are too basic for your taste, please let me know and we can revise it to include heavier material, inshAllah.
wa alaikum assalam
Answered by Ust. Abdul Sattar