Studying Islam: Going Beyond Requirements
I have been studying Islam since the age of thirteen across a variety of institutes. During this time, I have observed the study habits of different students. I have also observed the impact these habits have on that student’s life.
In doing so, I noticed a very important trend: The students who became the leading scholars of their communities are…Those students who not only excel at the prescribed work but went beyond that and dedicated extra time to studying Islam.
Curriculum and Limitations
Every Islamic institute has a set curriculum. The curriculum serves multiple benefits. These include giving students a structured approach to learning. As well as taking them from elementary knowledge progressing upward towards more complicated books. And finally providing a framework of reference to evaluate learning.
However, many people misunderstand the purpose of a curriculum. They look at it as all they need to study. As a result, they never study anything outside the curriculum. The problem with this approach is that it leads to a limited understanding of the subjects. The danger is compounded when the student thinks he is knowledgeable in the field.
Students of knowledge must realize that their prescribed curriculum is not a comprehensive study of everything there is to know of each topic. Rather the curriculum usually includes introductory level books to familiarize the student with each science and field.
The people setting the curriculum do so with the understanding that the chosen book will give the student the necessary tools to explore advanced books in the field on their own or with other teachers. It was never meant to be a limit on their knowledge intake.
Types of Students:
The few students who realize this are the ones who truly excel and become the leaders in their field. Imagine for example, if a university is offering an introductory level course on Fiqh Maxims.
In such a course, it is common to find three types of students:
1) The lazy student who just passes the exams by memorizing the minimum that is necessary to pass. Such a student is most likely to forget that knowledge afterwards. And will not be able to apply it outside the examples mentioned in the textbook.
2) The dedicated student who limits himself to the textbook. This student will likely do well in the exam. Maybe even be able to benefit from the knowledge and utilize it outside the classroom. However, such a student may not be aware of the detailed application of the principles, the differences of opinion and the intricate details because he limited himself to an introductory textbook.
3) The student who is dedicated to master the topic. This student will not only learn what is in the textbook but will go beyond that. He will ask the teacher for recommended resources on the topic, ask questions about differences of opinion and intricate issues, study each topic from multiple angles and viewpoints, and emerge from the course with a stronger understanding of the topic.
This is the kind of student who is most likely to become a Mujtahid and utilize his knowledge to solve contemporary Fiqh issues and lead his society in reformation.
Why it matters
While studying on this level is not obligatory, it is definitely beneficial and something that the ummah is in dire need off today.
We live in a time when the majority of Muslims are confused and do not have scholars who are qualified to solve their problems. The current generation of students need to make it their objective to grow into such scholars.
We need to dedicate our lives to going beyond what is expected of us and to go deeper into every field we study. Our objective being to benefit the ummah through that knowledge.
How to go deeper
There are many ways to go deeper into a field while studying the textbook with your teacher. The following are some of the most practical methods:
1) Study longer hours than the average student. There is big difference between someone who studies two hours a day and someone who studies five hours a day. The latter is likely to end up with more than double the knowledge of the former in the same time-frame. Make it a habit to go the distance and dedicate extra time to study.
2) Ask a lot of questions. The leading students of knowledge throughout history were known as inquisitive students before they become scholars.
Even among the companions, Ayesha Bint Abi Bakr (RA) and Abu Hurairah (RA) were known for asking deeper questions. This led to them become the leading scholars of their generation. The same method applies today. If you want to understand a concept deeper, ask your teachers the kind of questions that will give you a stronger understanding of the topic.
3) Study beyond the textbook. Ask your teachers or the senior students for recommended resources in the field that you are studying, make it a point and study those resources.
If there are four famous books on a topic, don’t limit yourself to the one prescribed as your textbook. Make time to read the other three as well. Studying such resources will give you a deeper understanding of the topic as well as open your eyes to differences of opinion and different approaches.
4) Attend supplementary classes. Research and find other classes on the topic you are studying, even if it means requesting a scholar to teach you a deeper book privately. Many scholars teach private classes outside their work time for the dedicated students and will be happy to accommodate such a request.
5) Never stop studying. This final point is crucial. Many people never study beyond the curriculum for the rest of their lives and are content with the introductory level courses. This limits your ability to benefit from your knowledge or benefit others with it.
In order to become a true scholar of Islam, you must embark of a life-long journey of seeking knowledge. You must be dedicated to being a student of knowledge for life. The thirst for knowledge should never feel quenched. There should always be a desire to learn more, to understand deeper, and to get closer to Allah through such knowledge.