- The student should be mindful of his/her intention and try his/her hardest to make it for the sake of Allah alone and for His Pleasure. Our main goal should always be to come closer to Allah through this knowledge and not to show off, be praised, debate or look down on others. As the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever seeks knowledge in order to compete with the scholars, to prove himself superior to the ignorant, or to make the people look up to him, he is in the Fire” (al-Albani graded it authentic in ‘Sahih Ibn Majah’ (205)).
- A student needs to have a sound approach to acquiring knowledge. His desire for knowledge should not let him get carried away collecting information randomly. This may afford him some measure of “culture”, but it does not lead to any real knowledge. You want to make sure that you have a structured approach to seeking knowledge that brings benefit, result and moves you forward.
- A student of religion should not indulge himself/herself into advanced or secondary issues until and unless he/she has learned the basic primary issues fully with comprehension. The fundamentals of religion should be the first thing a student learns.
- A student needs to focus first and foremost on learning the obligatory (wajib)duties in Islam before moving into the recommended (mustahab) duties. Similarly, a student should focus first on the prohibited (haram) actions before indulging into the disliked (makruh) ones.
- A student should hasten to learn that which the scholars agreed upon first and foremost before moving into that in which they differed. Otherwise, it will only cause a student to be lost and confused.
- A student of religious knowledge should take his knowledge from trustworthy scholars. He should sit before them in humility and show them courtesy and deference so he can learn from them both knowledge and proper conduct.
- The first two things a student should focus on in the beginning of his quest are aqeedah and fiqh. These two branches of Islamic knowledge are a result of all other sciences. They are the goal of all the other sciences and are sought for their innate nature. The other sciences are studied in order to arrive at the knowledge of aqeedah and fiqh.
- A student should know that as with all sciences, in order to become proficient and have a strong comprehension of a subject, he/she will need to make time, be patient, be consistent, read numerously and listen (ideally attend) to lectures continuously from authentic and qualified sources.
- A student should not start reading a new book in a particular science while still engaged in a previous book. A good student first completely finishes one book and then moves on to a new book. The student should try to focus his energy on thorough comprehension of the first book before moving forward.
Choosing a Teacher
Ibn Jama’ah said:
The student should look forth and consult Allah in regards to who to learn from, and he should seek to gain good manners and character from whoever he chooses. If he can, he should find one who is completely qualified to teach, concerned with his students, displays manhood, is known to be pure, has a good reputation, has a good teaching style, and is easily understood. The seeker of knowledge should not just seek out the one who is most knowledgeable, and who might lack caution, piety, and good manners. Some of the Salaf said: “This knowledge is religion. So, look who you take your religion from.”
You should also beware of restricting yourself to those who are famous, as al-Ghazzali and others counted this as arrogance towards knowledge, and considered it to be from the lowest of traits. This is because knowledge is the prize of the believer, and he should take it from wherever he finds it, and should take the blessing from whoever wants to give it to him. He runs from ignorance just as he runs from a lion, and the one running from a lion will accept help from whoever offers him a way to escape.
So, if one is not well-known and you can still expect good from him, he will be more beneficial and helpful. If you read about the lives of the Salaf, you will find that none of their students would benefit from a shaykh unless he had a fair share of taqwa, and his concern and advice to his students was a clear proof of him having this. Likewise, if you look through the various books, you’ll find that you gain more benefit from the author who has more taqwa and zuhd, and will spend more time reading and gaining from his books.
Make sure that your shaykh is fully aware of all of the Shar’i sciences, and is known to havestudied at length with the trustworthy scholars of his time, and did not merely study from the depths of the pages of a book. ash-Shafi’i said: “The rulings will slip away from whoever gains knowledge from the depths of books.” And some of them said: “From the greatest of tests is that one gains knowledge just from books.”
Ettiquettes of the Seeker of Knowledge, 54
We would like to conclude with advice from Shaykh Uthaymeen:
It is obligatory upon the student of knowledge to seek assistance from Allah, then from the people of knowledge, and seeking assistance from that which they have written in their books because confining oneself to sheer reading alone requires a lot of time, which is contrary to sitting with a scholar who explains and sheds light upon matters to him.
I am not saying he will not attain knowledge except by taking from the scholars, since a person is able to attain knowledge by reading and researching, however, in most cases if he does not persevere day and night and is not blessed with understanding, then he is liable to make many mistakes, and because of this it is said: One whose guide is his book, then his mistakes are more than his accuracies; having said this, in reality this is not always the case.
However, the most exemplary way is to take knowledge from the scholars. I also advise the student of knowledge not to “grab” from every scholar knowledge of the same subject. For example, to study fiqh with more than one scholar, since the scholars differ in their techniques of inference from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and they also differ in their opinions. So assign yourself a scholar from whom you can take knowledge in fiqh or balaaghah (poetry) and the like, i.e. take knowledge in one subject from one scholar. If the scholar has more than one field of knowledge, then continue with him, for if you took knowledge of fiqh for example from such-and-such and then such-and-such, and they differed in their opinions, what would be your position since you are still a student!? Your position would be that of confusion and doubt! However, your continuance with one scholar in a particular subject will lead to peace of mind, insha Allah.
The Book of Knowledge, 86-87
This can be done in the west by taking classes at your local mosques or online from a trusted shaykh (teacher), attending Islamic conferences, listening to audio/video lectures, attending Islamic institutions in the west, etc. For those who are far away from scholars, they should refer to their commentaries, writings and audio formats (CDs, tapes, etc.).
Resources on How to Seek Knowledge
- Advice to Students of Knowledge by Nouman Ali Khan (video)
- Creating and Sustaining North American Muslim Scholarship by Yasir Qadhi and Faraz Rabbani (video)
- Islam and Ego by Nouman Ali Khan (video)
- Beyond Ilm Summit by Yasir Qadhi, Yasir Birjas, and Waleed Basyouni (video)
- Intellectual Humility by Nouman Ali Khan (video)
- People of Pure Mind by Nouman Ali Khan (video)
- Lofty Intentions: Having Noble Visions and Goals by Yasir Qadhi (video)
- Keeping it Real: Student of Knowledge Superstars by MuslimMatters.org
- Classical Advices on Knowledge by MuslimMatters.org
- Top Ten Things Every Student of Knowledge Should Know by MuslimMatters.org
- The Pitfalls in the Quest for Knowledge by Salman Fahd al-Oadah
- Manners of the Knowledge Seeker by Muhammad Raslan
- How to Read the Books of the People of Knowledge by Saalih Aalush-Shaykh
- The Excellence of Knowledge: The Virtue of the Salaf Over the Khalaf by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali
- Knowledge Mandates Action by Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdaaddee
- The Book of Knowledge by Imam An-Nasaa’i
- The Book of Knowledge by Muhammad ibn Salih al-Uthaymeen