Many times young Muslims decide they want to become scholars and embark on the path of knowledge with little knowledge of what to expect. I was such a youngster who signed up for an “''ālim” course with no idea what an ''ālim is or where it would lead me.
In order to help my fellow Muslims prepare themselves psychologically and not repeat the mistakes I made, I present to you ten things I feel every student of knowledge must know (in no particular order):
1. A few years of study does not make one a scholar:
Too often, young Muslims study a few books or for a few years and then develop a “scholar” complex. They begin to force their opinions on others as if they can't be wrong. They become intolerant to other views, and they write anybody off who disagrees with them as deviant.
We need to realize, before we even begin our journey of knowledge, that the sciences of Islam are many and deep; the variety of opinions in fiqh are multiple, and the chances of always being right are slim. I advise all of my fellow young Muslims to tread carefully, keep egos in check, approach differences with the possibility of being wrong, and never forget to say “Allāh knows best”.
2. Manners come first:
In the past, most scholars would train their students in good manners before teaching them Islamic knowledge. Parents, too, would encourage their children to learn manners before the Islamic sciences.
Sadly, today many institutes do not teach good manners to their students, expecting them to automatically gain them through their study of Islam. This leads to Islamic teachers with bad manners, which in turn chases people away from Islam.
In this regard, anybody who is studying or teaching Islam must learn the proper manners of dealing with people, mercy, tolerance, and being non-judgmental and must possess a personality that attracts people; otherwise, we might do more harm than good.
3. Studying Islam does not make one immune to sin:
Some people have the misconception that if they study Islam, they will reach a level of piety from which they can't slip. The reality is that Shaytan tries even harder to lead people of knowledge astray as it has a more detrimental effect on the community as a whole.
So instead of temptations growing less, they are more likely to increase and intensify as Shaytan tries to use every means at his disposal to lead us astray. We need to realize this, prepare for it, and never let our guard down as the Shayateen try very hard to make a knowledgeable Muslim fall astray.
4. People will judge you:
While we should not be judgmental to people as Islamic teachers, the reality is that people will still judge you. Many people are intimidated by practicing Muslims. When they see a practicing Muslim, they see their own flaws and deficiencies and so they search for fault in that individual. We should not be surprised if people judge our clothing, mannerisms or weaknesses; it is their way to try and console themselves or justify their sins. We need to always keep this in mind and be able to respond appropriately.
5. You represent your Faith:
When a person chooses to study Islam, especially once they earn a title, they automatically become a representation of the deen. When people see an imām or a Shaykh, they expect to see a living example of Islam. If people see such a person sinning, they will either lose respect for him and become disillusioned about Islam, or they will take it as proof that it can't be that big a sin. Either way, for an Islamic teacher, our lives represent our deen, so we should always be careful not to give a wrong impression of Islam.
6. You will be tested:
Undoubtedly, life is a test and every human is being tested all the time in different ways. However, one should not think that because one is studying Islam and teaching it, Allāh will grant a life of ease and comfort. Rather, history proves that those closest to Allāh are the most severely tested. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The most severely tested people are the prophets, then those closest to them in piety then those closest to them.”
Be prepared to be tested and take it as a sign that Allāh loves you and wants to test your love for Him. Remember that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever embarks on a path to study Islam has embarked on the path towards Paradise.” It is not the information alone that takes a person to Paradise; it is his fulfillment of its rights by understanding, practicing and preaching it to others and dealing with all the problems that go along with this that ultimately leads to Paradise.
7. Studying should not be an end; rather it should be a step to a higher goal:
I have met many Moulanas, Imams and Shuyūkh with no goals or aspirations. Despite the ummah having so many issues that need dealing with, these men don't seem to care. Upon further analysis, I realized that they set out to study with one of the following goals: to please their parents, to get a title, or to get the knowledge. Once they obtained the knowledge, they did not know or care about what to do next, so they carried along with their lives like donkeys carrying books.
Any person who studies Islam should be introspective and find a good motivation to study. Perhaps you would like to become a da'ee and a means of guidance for non-Muslims. Perhaps you would like to establish an Islamic centre in an area that needs one. Perhaps you would like become a mujtahid in a field that is lacking many quality scholars. Whatever you decide, it should be something noble that you wish to do for the sake of Allāh after completing your studies. In short, studying should not be a goal but a means to help accomplish higher goals.
8. You can't change everyone:
In life, we do not always get what we want. Similarly, in Islamic work things don't always go our way. Remember that not everybody you meet will agree with you, listen to you or accept your message. Rather, there will always be people who will disagree with you or flat out reject you. This is reality and we have to be prepared for this by realizing guidance is only in Allāh's Hands, and we are only responsible for conveying the message.
9. You will make mistakes:
Many of us study Islam to make up for the sins of our past. Yet, being humans, we are never free from sins and mistakes and so some people become depressed and give up Islamic work when they realize that they are now knowledgeable but still occasionally fall into sin.
The truth is that the Shaytan wants us to quit and by doing so we are just playing into his hands, but Allāh is Most Forgiving to those who repent. Every time you fall down and make a mistake, pick yourself back up, turn to Allāh in repentance and try again to be a good Muslim, and never EVER allow your sins or mistakes stop you from doing Islamic work. Rather, it should motivate us to do more Islamic work so that our good deeds outweigh our sins on the Last Day.
10. The reward for studying and teaching Islam is worth it:
While most of the above make it seem like Islamic Work is a difficult field, that is not the purpose of this article. The purpose was solely to prepare for the many challenges and responsibilities we face while trying to serve Allāh.
The reality is that the reward of dealing with all of the above is truly worth it, whether it is the rewards in this world or in the akhirah. As far as the akhirah goes, we know that the path of knowledge leads to Paradise but additional to that is the fact that inshā'Allāh you will get the rewards for the good deeds of those you teach or inspire to do good.
In this sense, it is one of the only good deeds we can do where the reward keeps multiplying. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “When a person dies, all their deeds end except three: charity which continues to benefit, knowledge he left behind which people benefit from, and righteous children who pray for him.”
As far as this world goes, the greatest reward an Islamic worker can receive in this world is seeing the fruits of his efforts. When a person tells you they changed and became a better Muslim because of your influence or when a person takes their shahadah at your hands, there is no feeling equal to it, and any sacrifice you have being through for the deen feels worth it.
So, my beloved brothers and sisters, let us study Islam, seeking its rewards yet knowing the responsibilities and trials that go along with it. I wrote this firstly as a reminder to myself as well as to anybody else involved in the field of Islamic Studies. May Allāh keep us all steadfast on His deen. Āmīn.