“The one who seeks knowledge is like a warrior in the cause of religion for the way of Allah,” said Imam Ali (peace be upon him).
Hands up, by this definition, who thinks (s)he is a warrior of Islam? If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re most likely grouped with the majority of Muslims who have unfortunately overlooked the necessity of obtaining and retaining Islamic knowledge.
Sure, we all have the inner passion to study and explore Islam, yet the little “Muslim study bug” inside us remains dormant despite our efforts to activate it. We try to be attentive in lectures and are willing to learn when knowledge comes knocking on our front door, yet we find it hard to fit in the time to make an effort to seriously learn, revise, and spread our knowledge of Islam.
For most of us, it was the Islamic education that our parents gave us or perhaps the few years we spent at the weekend Islamic school that marked the peak of Islamic knowledge in our lives. But how much of that knowledge have we actually retained? Without really realizing it, the information we once learnt has been slowly seeping away from us. Studies show that knowledge can only stay fresh in the human mind for a short period of 24 hours, after which the knowledge needs to be revised in order to remain completely retained.
Most of us don’t feel the need to acquire knowledge, as we can always access it when we need it, and as a result, we continue to remain dependent upon others for our basic Islamic knowledge. When we are in need of information, we often chase after the religious leader, parents, knowledgeable friends, pious siblings, or the active people from the Islamic center. Of course, it is encouraged to seek knowledge, yet it is mandatory to have the bare minimum level of knowledge in certain areas of Islam so that we may be able to live our lives in accordance with our religion.
The obvious thing to start off is knowledge of our beliefs. Many of us often don’t know enough Islamic history to follow along during lectures, and when we get into a heated discussion with Muslims from other sects of Islam, we can’t recall the necessary verses/narrations or historic incidents to prove our point. Similarly, how many of us could prove the existence of God to a non-Muslim/non-Shia? Or the necessity for God’s Justice? Or the concept of intercession?
Islamic law and jurisprudence (Fiqh) is the other big one. With so many tiny details and specifications, it’s so difficult to remember everything. God forbid, if someone departs from this world, would the friends and family members of the deceased be able to perform the obligatory funeral rites? Forget someone else passing away, what if it were YOU leaving this world? Would the people around you be able to correctly carry out your funeral rites so that your transition from this world into the next is a proper one? Those doubts we sometimes have while offering prayers, which of those doubts invalidate our prayers and which have no effect? If the time for offering prayers is running out, what are the 11 obligatory actions we need to perform in order for our prayers to be valid? What exactly invalidates the ablution we perform prior to religious activities? Only a few days ago, there was an unexpected earthquake in Melbourne. It didn’t occur to most of us that Salat al-Ayat (Prayer of the Signs) had become obligatory upon us, and those of us who did remember to offer it were doubtful of the procedure.
Unfortunately, this is where Satan comes in. While many of us think that we are simply unintentionally forgetful, it’s this enemy of Islam who is really preventing us from reaching a spiritual and piety level of perfection. As Muslims, we need to safeguard ourselves against the one who showed direct disobedience towards Allah, with our expertise and practice of religion being our number one defense against Satan.
So now that we’ve reflected upon the lack of upkeep and continuation of our Islamic education, where to next?
There are so many areas of Islamic knowledge that need revisiting that just thinking of the entire process seems overwhelming. Depending on whom we ask, we will more than likely receive plentiful creative suggestions and ideas on how to go about polishing up our religious know-how. The easiest way that I found to go about executing the Islamic study plan was to start from scratch. Literally.
Madressa.net is famous across the Shia community worldwide for its well-structured and easy-to-follow Islamic curriculum. This comprehensive set of notes (covering the subjects of jurisprudence, history, Qur’an, and morals) starts from class one, which is targeted at four-year-olds, follows through to educate newly- or almost-Baligh students, and then finishes off with a senior class which is targeted at 16-year-olds and adults. Available online, all you need is access to the Internet for a few minutes every day to go through a lesson from one or two subjects and gradually work your way through the syllabus. Initially, it may not seem too appealing to be revising the same content as four-year-olds, but as you graduate each class in a matter of days, you will experience a sudden inclination towards completing the syllabus, and it will take you a fraction of the time to learn, since you’ve most likely been previously exposed to the content.
After completing this basic curriculum, reading books which explore various topics of Islam will make much more sense. An online Islamic library such as Al-Islam.org has everything from online lectures all the way to literature composed by great scholars, our Imams, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Similarly, Maaref-Foundation.com, Najaf.org, and Rafed.net are excellent sources for many wonderful books on most Islamic subjects. Set aside a few hours a week, which you can spend reading a book on history, beliefs, or any other area where you might be a little weak.
Besides the fully-fledged academia touch ups, we can also take on the practical side of things, like listening to online lectures once a week on topics of our own interest. ShiaTV.net, IslamiCentre.org, AIMIslam.com, and YouTube are only a few among many sources for lectures on different topics in various languages. Since it is recommended to listen to the tragedy of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) on Thursday nights, perhaps we can devote an hour of our Thursday evenings each week to listen to a lecture (on a topic of our own choice!) that also contains the tragedy narration at the end.
Similarly, it is highly recommended to recite the Holy Qur’an after Fajr prayers, so devoting half an hour every morning to memorizing short verses, brushing up on Tafseer, and occasionally reading the translations is a good idea. (The Qur’an with English translation and commentary is available online.)
In regards to brushing up on our knowledge of Islamic laws, we know that it is strongly advised to learn a little bit of Fiqh every Friday. So maybe we can set aside an hour or two each Friday when we pick up our Religious Authority’s code of practice and revisit vital rules of jurisprudence.
If you haven’t gotten into Islamic studies for months or years now, it’s best to take it slowly, start off with the basic curriculum of each subject, and gradually move on to the practical side of things. The scheduling mentioned above was only a guideline, so you should plan your weekly Islamic studies based on your needs and in whatever manner works out best for you.
Making an attempt to improve, expand, and refresh our Islamic knowledge makes us fit to be warriors in the way of Islam, as described by Imam Ali. Surely we are not only benefiting ourselves, but also our families, friends, and entire the Islamic community at large when we strive to maintain and increase our Islamic knowledge. As Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) said, “Were people aware of what lies in the obtainment of knowledge, they would pursue it even though they had to make voyages and endanger their lives to obtain it.”