This is a guest post we received by Umm Abdullah, and will be the first post in a 3 part series. Tomorrow we will post a follow up to this article from our staff members giving another viewpoint on the format of seeking knowledge, and on Monday we will have a follow up article specifically discussing marketing of Islamic programs in detail, so stay tuned inshā'Allāh.
Part 1 – This article | Part 2 – Format of Seeking Knowledge | Part 3 – Marketing Islamic Programs
My greatest complaint about 'Īd prayer is that there aren't enough trash cans that I can easily get to to chunk all the fliers that are handed to me in the prayer hall. Somewhere in between saying salaam after my prayer to getting done saying salaam to all of my friends, I find my hands filled with fliers for all the Islamic conferences, classes, and events going on. With each postcard I receive, the marketer also delivers a sales pitch before I scurry away:
“Register today and receive a 10% discount!”
“Sign up with 5 friends, get $5 off!”
“Come to the lecture everyone's talking about!”
Lectures, speeches, lectures, speeches, lectures, speeches. They never end and we should be grateful. We are. But since when did this become our main source of attaining Islamic knowledge? What do I mean? Well…
Our bookshelves at home are caked with dust, but I'm not here to write about how we don't pick up the Qurʾān and read it enough because there are a stack of books lying beneath the Qurʾān. These books are shut tight because rarely have they been opened. We may not even know their titles. These are tafseer books by Ibn Kathir, aqeedah books by Abu Ameenah Bilal Phillips, and maybe even the Muwatta of imām Malik. But we don't pry them open to soak in the comprehensive, profuse amounts of knowledge that are waiting to flood off of the pages and into our minds. And why should we when we can, well, just buy Islam?
We should clear off our bookshelves and make room for the hundreds of fliers, emails, and Facebook invitations we receive about these Islamic knowledge events. I mean, there's no use in keeping the books we have on there. Right?
My question today is why has our primary route for gaining knowledge of Islam become through classes, conferences, and seminars? Anyone hitch a ride to a masjid or pay a hundred bucks to attend a class, but not just anyone can and does crack open a book of knowledge. We begin to rely on someone to stand and talk to us. We wait for the knowledge to come to us, we don't go to it.
Islam is a religion meant to be easy and therefore Muslims set up organizations to deliver Islam to brothers' and sisters' locales. This is all fine until those same brothers and sisters then stop learning Islam on their own because they figure they can just buy it in the form of Powerpoint slideshows, class notebooks, and conference badges – all giving access to wide selections of religious entertainment.
Pretty soon it's no longer about going to such-and-such seminar to learn about the fiqh of fasting. It's about going to Organization X's event for the sake of it being an X lecture with speakers A and B. Fame is in the name.
Umar: Man are you going to that new X event? EVERYONE is going!
Hassan: Oh cool! What's it about?
Umar: Uhh I don't know but Organization X is hosting it!
Hassan: … But what are they going to teach us? Praying? Fasting? Hajj? … Marriage?!
Umar: OMG maybe it's about marriage! I don't know but it's X so it's gotta be good!
Umar: Come on man, don't you want to learn about Islam FOR THE SAKE OF Allāh? What would you rather do, play basketball??? How are you going to answer for that on the Day of Judgment when you could've been learning from speaker A and speaker B!
Hassan: [Feeling guilty] Oh I guess. What are their credentials?
Umar: Credentials? Dude they're Shuyūkh!
Hassan: But where did they learn about Islam from? Do they have PhD's?
Umar: Why are you questioning our scholars of Islam? These guys do lectures all over Canada, the US, the UK, they're awesome!
Hassan: Umm… I'm sorry..?
Then we parade behind the banners of all the Organization X's out there which turn into X Groupies. All other Muslims who feel a little pushed away from these cliques don't dare to enter an X event and therefore walk away from X with a bad impression. What just happened here? Knowledge of Islam became all about Organization X and Shaykh A and Shaykh B.
Read! Iqra! Paro! Lea! Lire! 阅读!
Slowly we lose sight of the old-fashioned yet effective ways of learning. There's nothing wrong with being traditional. Why can't we learn without someone standing in front of us with a mic cracking jokes here and there while explaining the principles of the Oneness of Allāh? Why can't we simply open a credible book and learn from it? Besides, how did the hundreds of speakers who we study under gain their knowledge no matter which culture, nation, or language was native to them? They read. When imām An-Nawawi was studying Islam, he had stacks of books towering up to the ceiling of his room!
Of course it isn't necessary to solely read to enlighten ourselves; we can and should listen to lectures as well. But I'm simply pointing out lectures alone aren't enough either. We walk into Islamic classes expecting to learn all about how to pray according to the Sunnah by sitting there and listening to a speaker, when in reality we can't learn all there is on the topic by doing so. There is just so much to our magnificent religion that can't be covered in a couple of lectures. We have to go home and research on our own. Investigate the different opinions, learn about the fiqh issues involved, and choose to follow the path we find most plausible. When we have questions about what we read, we can always ask those who have more knowledge than us. This is a beneficial middle ground solution for all the Organization X or Shaykh A/B fan boys and girls.
Remember this is how Islam first began. It started with the command to read. It's how Islam was spread, passing on copies of our Scripture. It's how Islam will be preserved and carried on forever, imprinted in hearts and pages. Through this action of reading there's a lot we can gain, perhaps more than what can be sought from only sitting in auditorium seats trying to attend every one of the events on fliers we receive during 'Īd prayer. :)