What’s the Point in Studying Islam?

By AFIFA JABEEN | Saudi Life

DRIVING back from my last final exam of the semester, my thoughts were quickly arranging themselves into a list of all the ‘to-do’ things and ‘to-read’ books that I can now give attention to. But before that, the elder with whom I was riding home had a very peculiar question for me. It all began with him simply enquiring about how I did my paper, when do I have my next semester and then, how long is the course. “Four years?” was his startled response on being told the course duration. Then came the bomb. “Why are you studying this? Will it get you a job?”

I have found myself in this spot a few times before, having to explain to people what good a four-year Bachelors degree in Islamic Studies would do for me. I fail to understand why the answer to this—which appears as rather obvious to me —is not so easily comprehensible for others. Clearing my throat, I gave him two answers, one to convince him and another to convince myself. “Of course, you could get a job. Any school would be ardent to get me on board as an Islamic Studies teacher,” I said quietly, remembering when a few months back I ended up in a small school for an interview for an Islamic Studies teaching job. I hadn’t brought along my CV, but on learning that I was doing a course in Islamic Studies, the school’s owner looked sufficiently pleased at her discovery and handed me books to prepare myself for class next day. I never returned the next day, given that I considered teaching as “not my cup of tea.”

Next, I stated the obvious to my relative, who by now appeared slightly more convinced. “See, when you are studying such wonderful subjects like Aqeedah, Seerah, Hadith, Tajweed, isn’t it great to derive so much knowledge about Allah SWT and His religion out of it?”

More often than not, we measure the suitability of an academic program in terms of profit and loss – financial at that – and/or our own interests. Will it get me a good job? What does the industry look like in the next 10 years? Does the subject interest me? Is it my passion?

Talking of interests, Islam is our Fitrah, which we are born with. So by default, we should be naturally inclined to improve our practice of the Deen by studying and perfecting it.

As for profit and loss, Ibn Al-Jawzi رحمه الله said: “It happens that a person has good health, but does not have free time because of his being engaged in earning his livelihood; or he is rich but has no good health. So, if these two (good health and free time) are gathered in a person, but laziness overtakes him from fulfilling his duties, then he is a loser. (Know that) this world is the harvest field of the hereafter; and in it there is business, the profit of which will be visible in the Hereafter. So, whoever utilizes his free time and good health in the obedience of Allah, he is the blessed one. And he who utilizes them in the disobedience of Allah, he is the one who is unjust to himself, because the leisure time is affected by business and health is affected by sickness.” [Fath al-Bari 11/23]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) made seeking knowledge an obligation upon every Muslim. (Ibn Majah and Bayhaqi) It is true that gaining detailed Islamic knowledge is a responsibility of a few in society (Fard Kifaayah), and when they (scholars) pursue it, others are not obliged to. However, it is in the interest of each one of us to study the practical aspects of our Deen – be it ourAqeedah (The Prophet (peace be upon him) preached only matters of Aqeedah for thirteen years in Makkah, this is how important Aqeedah is!), or Fiqh issues, such as those related to our prayer (Can we pray Isha after midnight? Or knees first or hands first in Sujood?), or just who wouldn’t want to acquire a beautiful Tilawah (recitation) of the Qur’an, knowing where to pause at the right places and with the right intonation and teach it to our children?

These issues are even more important to most of us because our belief systems, methods of prayer, Qur’anic recitation, and so on are so culturally influenced that they may contradict true Islamic teachings. Therefore, this is all the more reason to strive to correct ourselves.

The contemporary seeker of Islamic knowledge is probably seeing one of the best times in recent history, as authentic knowledge is now easily available at the click of a button and just a website away, no matter in where he or she resides. Every now and then I receive online invites to ‘live sessions’ by well-known scholars on Aqeedah, Tajweed and various other Islamic sciences. The best part is that most of these are free and short-term, making it easy for busy individuals to take advantage of them.

I see a lot of interest among my friends, some working mothers, some stay-at-home moms, and some students, who whenever I share an update on Facebook or Twitter about an impending exam or an assignment, enquire about the course.  It pleases me that so many find the prospect of studying Islam in a well-organized academic manner as practical, yet I don’t know how many of those queries actually translate into enrolment. I have now drafted a document with all details of my course of study so that whenever someone asks me about it, I simply copy-paste the document to share with them—and I add that I would be more than happy to share more if they like.

However, some of these Islamic university programs may not be accredited (though many are in the process of gaining accreditation). I went into one such program knowing this, and so are many other seekers of knowledge, who enrol in these courses only for the wealth of knowledge that can be gained even without any ‘official’ recognition.

It is important to remember that your intention to study is to please Allah SWT, for He will ask about the knowledge you attained and how you used it (in your actions) and not about your worldy ijaazahs or certificates.

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullah), one of the great Islamic scholars, said: “Seek knowledge because seeking it for the sake of Allah is worship. And knowing it makes you more God-fearing; and searching for it is jihad, teaching it to those who do not know is charity, reviewing and learning it more is like tasbeeh (glorifying Allah). Through knowledge, Allah will be known and worshipped. With knowledge, Allah will elevate people and make them leaders and imams, who will in turn guide other people.”

How do we know if a Sheikh is holding an online course or if a university is open for admissions now? A common grumble among many is that they simply are not aware of online classes, institutes or schools that they can benefit from. Well, to be acquainted with all the necessary information, I say surround yourselves with (i.e. “friend” and “follow”) all the right people on Facebook and Twitter. Just like a friend would share a latest Rihanna song, these friends love to share with you beneficial information. And it goes beyond copy-pasting Qur’anic verses andahadith with or without pondering over them. So when I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed, it’s not unusual to find myself tagged in a sisters’ Tajweed class or an Islamic lesson taking place somewhere in the city and so on.

Thus, there remains no excuse to deprive your soul of its essence – enrich it with the knowledge of your Deen, of your Lord. It is sweet and gratifying. Alhumdulillah.

As for my elder relative who asked what’s the point of me studying Islam, despite his busy schedule, he continues to volunteer to take me to my exam center, which is on the other end of the city. Perhaps, if I am able to show signs of better behaviour (READ: more humble, patient, respectful and less-ranting), then I am sure he would see the good in furthering his Islamic knowledge. After all, knowledge that is not acted upon is non-beneficial knowledge—and actually becoming a better person is the point of studying Islam.

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