Islamic Studies

Mistake of The Future Student of Knowledge from the West

An 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 –,, 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:

Sarf– 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.

Nahw – 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.

Your motivation:

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.

About the author

Abdul Sattar Ahmed

Abdul Sattar Ahmed

Abdul Sattar Ahmed is a young IT professional from Chicago, IL. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2006 with a Bachelors in Finance with a second Major of Management Information Systems. He was a member of Young Muslims of North America for over ten years, serving in roles at the local, regional, and national levels with a focus on the organization’s educational program.

He currently works in the Software Engineering field in Chicago, and is receiving training in the Islamic sciences part-time at Dar ul Qasim Institute and the Islamic Learning Foundation’s Chicago Campus, and studies Islamic subjects independently with other scholars. He is a board member of the Islamic Learning Foundation and teaches Arabic and Islamic studies there under the lead of his teachers. His interests include software development, the study of the Qur’an, Islamic education, law, and history.


  • Subhanallah,

    When I read the first point, I felt the shaykh was addressing me directly. This was a “much” needed reminder.

    Baarakallahu feek Bro. Suhaib.

  • “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.”

    This is when you realise that every struggle to attain knowledge is worth it, no matter how hard it is and will ever be. This is when your heart melts, as Allah opens up your mind and heart to his words.

    I remember Imam Suhaib use to make us buy the Arabic Mickey Mouse comics, as they were in simple Fus-ha, and tell us to read it to improve our Arabic. Naturaly we had to get over our ego’s and not be embarassed to read them. He also use to remind us that knowledge does not start and end with Arabic (Arabic alone does not make you an ‘alim), but it is the miftah to the deen. JazakumAllahu khairan.

  • Asalamu Alaykum,

    MashAllah, i think this is what students of knowledge need to be reminded of before setting on their path to knowledge, because many people are blinded by the excitement of a new place and the adventure.

    Truth is, we run after the so called ‘big giants’, but forget that before the big, we need the smaller steps. Every step leads to another step. MashAllah, learning institutions for Muslims are progressing and ulemah of their own contries are trying hard to bring the message their, because everyone moans at the lack of it, but while we have it, our eyes are set further afield.

    I loved this article, really hit home.

    Allah preserve you.

  • Asalaamu Alaykum Warahmat’Ullahi Wabarakatuh!!!

    Jazak Allahu khair Abdul Sattar!

    That really did hit home, really moved me! I have been thinking exactly the same thing for the past half year since I started to actually start studying my deen seriously. And where am I? In the good ol’ UK! 🙂 Allah has opened up so many doors for me and others, and alhamdulillah I have the opportunity to learn about Allah, His messengers (alayhum asalaam), the fiqh for me to live every moment that pleases Allah, to learn how to recite Allahs words in a manner worthy of recitation etc.

    Alhamdulillah, theres alot I still need to develop on, and so much more I wish to learn, but alhamdulillah I have the opportunity. So I pray I can make the most of the local knowledge, and that my heart sincerely seeks Allah only, and nothing else. And who says its not possible to develop in your locality??? I also have every intention of traveling when the time comes, but as you said, we must make the most of what we have here and now. And for everyone reading this, I am speaking from experience: get out there and find out whats available in the local mosques and institutes, you’ll be really surprised!

    I remember hearing one of my fellow students say: what would Imam Nawawi think if he was to know these Muslims with English as their first language are studying his books in the West (ar-rum)! what an amazing thought!!! just think about it, im smiling 🙂

    May Allah preserve our teachers, and may He preserve you Abdul Sattar and your teachers for us, and make the path to Paradise for the student and teacher wide and easy!!! ameen 🙂

    bint Ali

  • Assalamu Alaykum

    Awesome article and a great reminder. Subhanallah. To me, knowledge is not something I want, it is something I need. It is a bare necessity. Especially in the time and place we live in in the West, it is absolutely necessary for us to know our religion.

    And honestly, I know a lot of people who want to be scholars, but when you think about it, being a scholar is the hardest job in the world. It is not for everyone. You are under so much pressure because people want answers and knowledge, and also, you are under so much criticism by people. And on top of that, you don’t want to misguide people. If you misguide people, because you are a scholar, it is way worse.

    Of course, many rewards can come out of it. But the burden is great.

    Obviously, though, that is the job of the scholar. However, we as Muslims should always keep in mind the burden of being a scholar. Scholars are the leaders of the Muslim Ummah. They are the ones practically in charge of us. Anything and everything they do will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment. Even the fact that they do nothing will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment.

    As Muslims, we should always be striving for knowledge, because knowledge is what strengthens our Imaan and allows us to grow. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be seeking scholarship unless we have absolutely exhausted our resources here, unless we have a secure means, and unless everything in our lives, marriage, school fees, etc. are settled, because you will need all the energy and attention for the journey to come.

    Assalamu Alaykum

  • I am the ‘Imam of the ICB, I am here for almost 2 years. I found, during my stay here, that there are two kinds of people:
    The first a person whose whole and ultimate concern about how to earn more and more money whether he is from this or that origin. He does not pay any attention to ‘Iman. He comes to the Juma’ah only to comfort himself that he did his duty and Allah has nothing to ask him about no more.
    The other kind is a Muslim who would like to learn more and more about his religion but deterred by life responsibilities here. While he is eager to attend classes and know more about his Deen, yet he is distracted by his commitments or obligations in his lab or work. So, could you tell which one will be the protector and the helper of Deen.However, there is still Khayeer ( good ) in both.

  • As-salaamu alaykum,

    Studying overseas has its advantages… why do people go to college far from their homes. Focus, Focus, Focus… I do agree that we must obtain as much as we can close, to gain Literacy NOT scholarship. But again scholarship, I believe will come by removing yourself from your comfee home.. and traveling..

    Wa Allaho Alim

    As-salaamu alaykum

  • “SubhanAllah dear brothers and sisters, so many resources
    we have that we can have such an experience in our spare time.”

    I live in a small town and we only have one Masjid, but for us to have a Masjid in this
    little town is Alhamdullilah a blessing. Resources are somewhat limited but the brothers and sisters
    of the commuity have been mashallah very active.
    The issue with resources is that people seek information online but their authenticity
    can not be validated by the lay/average person. Is there a list or can we create a list of
    Islamically sound websites?

    Jazakum Allah khair

  • Asalamu alaikum,

    Jazakullahu Khairan bro.

    Couple of Q’s for you all.
    1. What are some examples of good basic readers to increase our vocabulary?
    2. What is a good method of Memorization for one who is going to school or working? How much per day? When in the day should we memorize and/or review?
    3. This is one is mainly for Shaykh Suhaib: Is it appropriate to memorize material of different books if we have not memorized Quran? If we are in the process of memorizing Quran, is it appropriate to memorize hadith? There are hadith that state clear rewards for memorizing Quran (elevation in paradise etc.). Is there any specific reward for memorizing other sources of knowledge…or is reading and understanding sufficient for reward (ofcourse with implementation)?
    4. After Quran, Hadith, and Arabic what is next in priority for the student at home?

    Jazakum Allahu Khairan

  • I’ll try to answer your questions Arif

    1. newpapers and books. Newspapers in any lanuage it written for average person. They tend to use not dumb it down for readers but not include highly barely used words either. It’s a good mix to see how lanuguage is used.

    As for books arabic translations of ENGLISH books. there a couple english islamic books translated into arabic. By having both you can see how to use the language.

    2.As I always say consistency breeds proficiency. Studies have shone early morning before noon is the best time for the brain to used at its full potential. it’s remarkable how Allah has created the world the brain works similar to the sun. It gradually gains power(sunlight) and then it starts to wane as the sun sets. However time set aside everyday at whatever time of day for study will cancel out any advantage you would receive by studying everyday before noon. So study everyday even if its a two minute review of what you studied the previous day. It’s all about consistency.

    Time wise it should but too long nor to short. About 20minutes a day is good an hour would be better.

    As far as memorization. I can’t really say i pick up things pretty quickly but I hear mnemonics are good.

  • SubhanAllah what a powerful and important reminder
    That was exactly what i needed alhamdulillah.

    About 2 years back i made the intention to study arabic abroad thinking that this would be my “soul searching journey” about a month ago the time finally came where i was able to travel to Syria to study. As a sister from the UK I had some reservations about staying out in Damascus without a Mahram but i enquired about the permissability, made istikharaa and put my trust in Allah.

    I arrived in Syria and started my lessons the 2nd day, my brother and his wife had come out for the first week to settle me in. The 5th day in my brother asked me to reconsider my decision and to make istikharaah as he did not feel comfy with leaving me out there on my own for the remainder of my time

    SubhanAllah what a test; this was one of the hardest decisions I had to make in life, I was out in Syria, my 2 years wait had finally arrived and I had made the intentions to study….but I made istikharaah and decided to come back to the UK just 7 days into my trip. At that time i really had to question my intentions and weigh up my duties to my mother and family and i realised that if I really want to and I am committed I can study arabic and get closer to Allah in the UK inshaAllah. Yes it would be harder and may take longer than the 6 week intensive i had planned out for my life, but Allah is the best of planners.

    From start to finish the process was a test for me and Alhamdulillah a purification for intentions, it may be that i needed to go to Syria for myself to understand some of the hikmah behind the decision but I have put my trust in Allah and I am trying to spend the next few weeks at home studying arabic inshaAllah.

    I thought i would share this with any sister thinking of going abroad to study etc inshaAllah and also to highlight what a much needed reminder the article was

    May Allah (swt) give us the tawfique to be steadfast and seek knowledge in the fi sabilillah inshaAllah and not let a day go by that we have not increased in our understanding of thise beautiful deen inshaAllah

  • Selam Alejkum waRahmetulahi waBarakatuh.

    JazakAllah Khayren a great reminder indeed!
    Really felt it was speaking to me directly.

    To remind myself and others:
    We should try to make Du`a to Allah, to increase our ilm. For example:


    Glory be to Him Who does not treat the citizens of His Kingdom unjustly and harshly. Glory be to Him who does not let torment and pain come suddenly upon mankind. Glory be to the Compassionate, the Merciful. O Allah fill my heart and mind with true enlightenment, discerning intelligence, quick understanding and knowledge. Verily Thou are able to do all things

  • Asalaamualaykum.
    Great article.
    I can highly recommend the following website to learn Arabic/Quran from home!
    The teachers are native Arabs and its a great way to kick start the process or for the more advanced student to further their learning.
    I believe its also very reasonable prices. I know i benfitted.

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