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Response to Islam For Sale – How to Seek Knowledge


confroomThe following post was compiled by various members of the MuslimMatters staff and guest writer AbdulHasib. The final installment of this series will be on Monday with an article focusing solely on marketing of Islamic programs.

Part 1 – Islam For Sale | Part 2 – This article | Part 3 – Marketing Islamic Programs

Jazakallaah khayr to the author for their contribution and may Allah bless her for bringing to the forefront addressing problems and allowing us to increase in good and work in righteousness together. May Allah accept it and increase us all in goodness and understanding.

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There are a few strong contentions when it comes to identifying the correct understanding of different formats of seeking knowledge. The questions that need to be asked first and foremost are, do different formats of seeking knowledge need to be catered to for different audiences? When attempting to understand the best format for seeking knowledge, we have to realize there is a difference in the audience that is receiving such knowledge and in lieu of this, the format must be tailored to fit each individual audience. Within the audience there exists a difference between:

  1. The average Muslim,
  2. The one that wishes to be grounded in having a foundation in the Islamic sciences, and
  3. The serious student of knowledge that dedicates the required effort, training, and methodology in gaining knowledge.

Often times the target audience is not clearly identified, resulting in a confusion amongst the attendees. This also creates animosity because people may assume its tailored to one or the other.  One critical distinction that should be made in light of the Islam for Sale article is that the seminars and conferences are seemingly criticized for not producing serious students of knowledge – who read books and attend masjid classes.  Different programs have different objectives for different audiences.  Most seminars are designed to expose as many people as possible to basic religious issues and give them a taste of what is there in the ocean of ‘ilm that is in our scholarly heritage.

When assessing why people come to these types of events –  in an ideal world everyone would come solely for the knowledge, but other factors impact whether students participate.  How strong is the instructor as a presenter?  Are my friends going?  What were the reviews of this class?  Can I afford it? What’s the venue like?  These are not “intention” mixing issues – they’re quality and logistic issues.  Many halaqahs lose out because they don’t attend to these details. Because programs are not promoted in a manner of, “this class is for average Muslims” or “this class is for serious students only” it becomes easy for people to misrepresent the true goals of a program.

Exposing oneself to and engaging in the different formats of seeking knowledge (masjid halaqah’s, private study with a teacher, and seminars) helps a person expand the scope and depth of one’s knowledge and builds a foundation for learning at a deeper level.  Making the commitment to being a serious student of knowledge means understanding the priorities of systematic learning, and knowing that sacrifices that must be made (from time, to traveling, etc), and understanding the relevant lifestyle decisions that have to be made. Serious knowledge does not come from just a “once/twice-a-week” event or your “weekend plan” option. This is not said to demotivate people from seeking ilm, but to understand the gravity of the matter and take steps in properly meeting a person’s goals for  playing their part in the service to Allah ‘azza wa jal and His deen.

The real question is, are seminars designed to fulfill the role of the full time systematic learning?  Many who attend such programs would contend that the very instructors of these seminars are the first to point out that these types of classes will not produce students of that level and caliber. What they will do though, is teach essential basics of the deen in an accessible format, and hopefully motivate some of the students to become more studious and serious.  They also produce solid activists who participate in many community projects, motivated by what they are learning of the deen.

With this in mind, we must realize that there exists certain formats of learning for each type of audience. We must see what is best fitted for each of us and at which level we wish to aim for.  Here again, as we highlight an example, we must realize that sitting at home with books alone and attempting to seriously seek knowledge is not really acceptable. The format of serious learning must be diverse, and personal reading and listening are OF the formats that are needed, but cannot be 100% stand-alone relied upon.

It is most important to understand that knowledge is that which is inherited.  The matter is in the hands of teachers who teach not only information, but a school of intense training, a code of conduct, an etiquette, and an understanding that is endowed – not just simply information that is exchanged.  We can never undermine the importance and downright necessity of the human teacher as a part of the methodology of imparting Islamic education/knowledge.

Our own Prophet [sal Allahu alayhi wasallam] had reserved a day in the week for the women exclusively, on their request.  He also spoke to and taught the Muslims on events besides the Friday sermon, using methods such as asking questions, drawing in the sand to illustrate a point, teaching by practical example (such as putting a twig broken in two on top of a grave to denote the time it might take for the torment of the grave to be stopped), and of course, facilitating the dedicated learning of a group of youths – the Ashaab Al-Suffah – in his very own mosque.

The presence of a role-model serves the purpose of inspiring students to better character and action, and the coming together of a group of people – physically – to learn from a teacher in one single setting, has exclusive benefits over and above that of learning solely from books. The latter, I might add, is actually a higher, more self-actualized stage of learning – the scholarly level – which can not be reached until and unless the initial phase of learning-from-teacher-A-at-Organization-X is passed. A learned scholar can have stacks of books lined up to the ceiling – but what about when he was young and not as learned? Did our pious predecessors not undertake arduous journeys to get ahadith from their narrators, or to learn from other scholars?  Have you witnessed the surge of warmth and faith that is felt after a class taken from an actual teacher? Why is it that, if the same class is taken sitting in the row furthest from the teacher, as opposed to the front seat right under his or her nose, the level of knowledge gained and the enlightenment felt by the soul is very different?

One thing needs to be kept in mind though – methods of communicating that knowledge should not be confused with the format of seeking knowledge. The effectiveness of the system in a particular environment is something that will obviously differ from environment to environment. When a person endures over 15 years of education full time with a certain style and set of expectations for themselves and from their instructor, then it does not make sense to try to teach them Islam in a different format than they are used to.  Realistically speaking, for a niche of the Muslim ummah, particularly our youth, Islamic education has to be modernized and imparted in ways that are in sync with contemporary educational  methodologies, teaching tools and audio-visual technologies. What works for one niche might not be best suited to another.  One Muslim might enjoy learning more through masjid sermons, classes, or privately-held halaqahs.  For others, a weekend seminar or conference might be what the doctor ordered to get their faith level up. When the youth are in college or they are working at entry-level positions, they probably can’t squeeze out enough time during the week to attend classes or read books.  These seminars are the perfect solution for them, to not just learn, but to also become part of a students’ community, which can lay the foundation for life-long friendships for the sake of Allah.  Reading books in seclusion, however, is becoming, as rightly pointed out, a dying pastime that can and should be rejuvenated, especially by parents, who can make their children read on a daily basis, and the best way to do that is for themselves to be avid readers.

One point that also goes without saying is that learning the basics in various formats will provide the foundation to better read and understood books. It is easy to read an advanced book on a subject, but after taking even the most basic class on that topic can dramatically impact the level of understanding someone would get were they to read that book again.

We must therefore realize the good seminars are bringing.  As long as we make the intention to be sincere to our own goals and objectives, these seminars and halaqaat are bringing rise to our next generation of activists and, insha’Allah, students of knowledge. This does not prevent us from continuously seeking to take account of such problems and identifying them. We need to keep checking and rechecking ourselves and following up on literature (such as Obstacles in the Path to Knowledge by Salman al ‘Awdah, for example) and writing articles to continue asking tough questions, rigorously aim to reach for ihsan.

Virtue is achieved when our teachers choose the method that best communicates the material to their students.  Having said that, it’s important to note that what has worked in seriously gaining knowledge for hundreds of years cannot be tossed away and re-invented.  There is a precedent behind us and a shining light that we can build on, and so we must seek to build a cohesion between traditional and modern formats in order to move forward.

Finally, we should never forget to appreciate what others have done for us.  Due to the tireless effort and work of so many of the people that have come before us – many have, after the guidance of Allah, been guided through these halaqaat and seminars. Let us make our criticisms constructive, and raise our hands to Allah to increase them in good and help them overcome their shortcomings, multiply their rewards, and continue to bless them for the indebtedness that they owe to such people.

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  1. Iam

    October 2, 2009 at 8:28 AM

    MashaAllah, excellent points discussed and extremely well articulated. The point about using teaching methods the people are already use to really hit home. In all school systems, just reading books is never enough. One needs an environment of knowledge and a role model to show them how to bring that knowledge to life. JazakAllahu khairan for the balanced views.

  2. Siraaj

    October 2, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    One thing to keep in mind is that in the “Islam for Sale” article, the author never says that we shouldn’t go to seminars and turn only to books – the author’s point is that there is too much emphasis on seminars / halaqahs, and not enough on reading. What she advocates is bringing back the reading aspect of it.

    There are some undercurrents of disliking marketing techniques and payment for knowledge, but that really isn’t her main point.

    Our point is that different mediums exist and each type of “student” has his or her own needs and preferences, depending on their level of seriousness and commitment to seeking knowledge. There is nothing wrong with a student going only for seminars, and there is nothing wrong with books only, and there’s nothing wrong with a combination of the two if they are producing the desired results – practicing Muslims with good manners (which I realize is a redundant statement, in theory, but not in practice).


    • Shoeb K

      October 2, 2009 at 2:26 PM

      dont we already have “enough” religion? The issue is that our people do not have enough of other knowledge and training. Are we rushing towards AD 650?

      We are spending our time on Niquab, hijab, beard, how much Quranic knowledge, etc etc while our countries are fast regressing — name one OIC country (other than Turkey, but we do not “recognize” Turkey anyway) which has peace, and which has a high degree of educated peopel.

      We are in fool’s paradise if we go on talking about the nonsensical stuff. Let us eb good Muslims internally.

      • Abu Rumaisa

        October 2, 2009 at 4:04 PM

        If we do have enough religion.. why can’t we see it around?

      • Siraaj Muhammad

        October 3, 2009 at 6:35 AM

        I guess it depends on what you consider “enough”. Does everyone pray 5 times daily? No? Then we don’t have enough.

        There’s no such thing as being “good internally” – that’s a lazy man’s way of saying I’m going to pursue my life’s goals, maintain good relationships with people, and forget that my purpose of creation is worshiping Allah.

        The actions a “good” person does externally is a part of their Iman, it’s not a separate component, and it potentially demonstrates its strength or weakness. I say potentially because I acknowledge there are externally religious looking people who are not internally so, they may be show offs. And there may be internally religious people who are ignorant, but mean well.

        The balance is the person who maintains his relationship with his Creator internally and externally, and who maintains a good relationship with himself internally and externally, and the same for society. Neglecting one for the other is an imbalance, and neglecting Allah’s commands is surely imbalanced – knowledge is the key to proper worship and life priorities, and it’s why we’re so keen on it.


    • Ibn Masood

      October 2, 2009 at 10:30 PM

      Hmm… maybe the author of the first article should have written a bit more strategically, because it seemed like they shared this perspective that you stated, but only mentioned it ever so briefly in one or two sentences.

  3. Atif

    October 2, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    One thing I would like to see more out of seminar style classes is an available textbook covering the concepts of the class.

    In universities, most of the classes have a textbook that you buy, which the class i based on, that are you required to read and study out of. In fact, university professors expect to you read the chapter beforehand before coming to class, so you come with questions and a basic understanding.
    Even in traditional circles, the teacher usually teaches out of a book, or gives a commentary/explanation on it.

    The problem is, many of these seminar classes don’t have such a book, or much of the material isn’t available in English, or it’s scattered throughout several books.
    So I think the balance would be to attend the classes, and then follow up by reading your notes and the book (which would go into more detail than the class).

    That’s one factor: ease of access to the material. Other factors still have to be addressed: lack of discipline/priorities etc. One thing I feel is lacking that American muslims need is a comprehensive, order, prioritized booklist for Islamic studies.

    Perhaps it is just a matter of time, that institutes start providing or giving access to this type of material? As people in the other article had commented, there was a time when no one was going to classes or reading books. At least now, they are going to classes of some sort. Hopefully, inshAllah, the next step will be following up those classes with independent study.

    • Ahmad AlFarsi

      October 2, 2009 at 1:23 PM

      yes, I agree 100%! It would be very nice if AlMaghrib could give a textbook or pre-written notes (the size of a book) prior to each class that students should read before the class. (Arees Institute largely does do this for most of its classes, alhamdulillaah… but of course, the style of teaching is entirely different (full-time semester long classes vs. weekend seminars).)

    • ukhtee

      October 3, 2009 at 2:27 AM

      good point!

      The last page of seminar notebooks should have “Recommended Reading Material” and classify: 1) easy 2) medium 3) difficult for those who like to and want to read

      • Ahmad AlFarsi

        October 3, 2009 at 10:47 AM

        Actually, Shaykh YQ regularly recommends reading material in his classes. And Sh. YB does so as well. But, it would be nice if it could be streamlined and made official for all classes, and if there would be an official text for a class to study for before the class begins. (and often times, the book lists HAVE been published before class, but I mean in terms of standardizing a specific text and making it like that across the board (for all classes)).

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  5. nouman ali khan

    October 2, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    This is a healthy discussion. Here are some constructive suggestions I’d like to add:

    1. Educational seminars if executed properly create an interest in learning for those who may never have seen themselves as students of the religion in any capacity (reading, lectures, classes etc.). I think a distinction needs to be made between enrichment and formal education. Most seminars to my knowledge, serve the role of enrichment which isn’t an end but the means to an end. An enriched experience can jump start the journey of an individual that will hopefully make them take advantage of resources such as the local imam, books, audios, lectures, and yes, god forbid, seminars conducted by other organizations :)

    2. My personal philosophy on Islamic institutions charging tuition is a cross between idealism and pragmatism, or so I think. Major institutions of learning, secular or religious are typically funded by grants, governments and contributions by students. This is true in the West and in the Muslim world. It would be naive to think financial contribution doesn’t play a major role in the existence of Islamic learning institutions elsewhere in the ummah. We in the west however do not have endowments from governments or major charitable institutions allowing us sustain our activities the way we would like to. We’re talking about adult education here, but just look at our Islamic schools and their collective financial crisis as a small sample of the problem . Here’s the bottom line as far as I’m concerned, and Allah knows best:

    a. There should be tuitions for such programs but they should be reasonable.

    b. An honor system should be in place by virtue of which those who can’t pay don’t have to without going through embarrassing background checks or disclaimers. Even their lack of payment without a comment should be taken as a dignified attempt to express their financial inability.

    c. Those who attend and can afford to should be encouraged to sponsor those who couldn’t anonymously. I don’t believe in forceful fundraising. So this would be a simple announcement, nothing more.

    d. Those spearheading the organization should trust that Allah SWT the Provider in the end will ensure that the program stays afloat so long as their intentions are to serve Him. I think it is this sincerity in speech and practice that in and of itself generates good will among the community in turn giving the program more credibility but even if it didn’t, there needs to be that financial ‘leap of faith’. I only speak of this point because that’s been the case with my own organizational experience.

    • Ibn Masood

      October 2, 2009 at 10:28 PM

      :) JazakAllah khair Ustadh!

    • Abu Sauleh

      October 2, 2009 at 11:07 PM

      Jazaak Allaah khayr, I loved your point ‘d’… I think this is something we often forget.

    • mystrugglewithin

      October 5, 2009 at 5:01 PM

      I don’t believe in forceful fundraising.

      I can’t agree more.. and it’s good to know this being your opinion :)

    • IlmQuester

      October 5, 2009 at 11:44 PM


      InshAllah all institutions should apply this, especially point “a”.

      BarakAllahu feekum

  6. Dawud Israel

    October 2, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    Finally, we should never forget to appreciate what others have done for us. Due to the tireless effort and work of so many of the people that have come before us – many have, after the guidance of Allah, been guided through these halaqaat and seminars. Let us make our criticisms constructive, and raise our hands to Allah to increase them in good and help them overcome their shortcomings, multiply their rewards, and continue to bless them for the indebtedness that they owe to such people.

    Well put, ma sha Allah.

  7. Siddiq

    October 4, 2009 at 4:33 AM

    I love you Abdul Hasib

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  9. a student of knowledge inshallah

    October 6, 2009 at 7:13 AM

    regardless of the method used to learn whats important as was mentioned in the article is to learn from a teacher and not from a book. books can be misunderstood or tampered with! moreover its equally important that said teacher has learned from reliable teachers with a chain all the way back to the prophet, peace be upon him. only in this way can our knowledge be preserved but technology should def be used appropriately in aid of such a worth goal!

  10. Al Sunna

    October 30, 2009 at 6:10 AM

    Assalam walakum,

    This blog is a very nice blog, I have found it very beneficial to know more about Islam. Thanks for sharing the information.

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