By Samir Hussain
As we thankfully continue to hear more Muslims in our generation utter this phrase, it becomes necessary to discuss the topic of “studying Islam” in detail. Over the years, I have come to realize that most people like myself were clueless as to how to study Islam. Thanks to a plethora of unqualified individuals ascribing knowledge to themselves (some, unfortunately, held in high regard by many Muslims), this critical problem does not seem close to a resolution. We all understand why Islam needs to be studied; the benefits in both this life and the next are mentioned in enough sources, classical and modern, even online. But very few people today have actually done it properly and then been able to convey effectively why that method was the “proper” way to do it in the first place. Also, older recommendations from the books of usool-ul-fiqh (the science of deducing and inducing rulings and meanings from the texts) may be irrelevant for the vast majority whose goal is not to become a mufti (scholar of Islamic law) or a scholar.
Let’s look at the process one step at a time.
The most important question to discuss is: “What do you want to achieve through your study of Islam?”
I will use this to organize the rest of this series, as differing goals in studying Islam necessitate different methods of studying it. For the sake of brevity, let us suppose that there are 3 categories here:
1) You want to study to be an Informed Muslim and survive the day-to-day challenges of holding on to your faith in a scary world where extremism in all forms is abundant and the demands of a modern lifestyle constantly occupy your attention.
2) You want to be a Muslim Activist, someone who helps to clarify misconceptions about Islam, teach Muslims the basics of their religion and call people to the truth, and help with social issues within the community.
3) You want to be a Scholar, someone who is eventually able to do proper scholarly ijtihaad (original or independent interpretation of Islamic law) and give fatwa (a scholarly religious ruling or opinion on Islamic law) (at some level), raise new generations of scholars, and help the ummah (Muslim community) as a whole deal with novel issues.
I will deal with each separately in turn. As you have obviously noted, the first category consists of the vast majority of Muslims. The second are a small minority and vary in their capability, and the third are a rare few whose names are often obscure to most people and only known to a handful of senior students of knowledge pursuing higher studies. It is important to note that this categorization is specific to levels of knowledge and qualification to speak about the religion only. As for implementing Islam properly, having taqwa (consciousness of God) and being a righteous individual, this applies to all Muslims regardless of the level of knowledge, as both a housewife and a faqih (expert of Islamic law) are obliged to follow the same obligatory and supererogatory actions according to the Qur’an and sunnah (teaching and practices of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him).