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Tips for Students of Islam: Grasping Terminology


For many a student involved in the first two years of Islamic studies, one of the hardest things to grasp and remember is the variety of terminology that one is taught. For example, in the field of ‘Aqeedah, you need to learn what is Tawheed, Shirk, Kufr, Nifaaq, Bidah, Risaalah, Aakhirah, Rububiyyah, Asma Wa Sifaat, Ibaadah, Ta’weel, Tashbeeh, Riya and many other terms.

At the same time, your Arabic teacher expects you to grasp terms like Mubtada, Khabr, Marfoo, Mansoob, Majroor, Mawsoof, Sifah, Mudaaf, Mudaaf Ilaih, Ism, Faa’il, Harf, Harf Jar among others. Your Hadith teacher introduces you to terms like Saheeh, Da’eef, Mawdoo, Mursal , Shaaz, Ghareeb, Azeez, Mashoor, Mutawaatir, Ahad, Jahr and Tarjeeh, to name a few. In Tafseer, you learned about many things including Asbab An-Nuzool, Sab’ata Ahruf, Usool At-Tafseer, Uloom Al-Qur’an, Wahy, Uthmani Mushaf, Qira’ah, Naasikh, Mansookh, Muhkam, Mutashaabih, Haqeeqee and Majaaz. And of course, you can’t study Fiqh without learning about Taqleed, Madh-hab, Ijtihad, Ijma, Qiyas, Urf, Istihsaan, Aql, Usool, and Furoo among other topics.

This is just a glimpse at some of the terms and concepts students of knowledge need to grasp during their first two years of study. Many students feel overwhelmed by so many new terms and concepts, so insha’Allah, here are some tips which will facilitate learning and grasping Islamic terminology:

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1. Know that you can learn it!

For over a thousand years, thousands of Muslims have studied and learned these terms, including your own teachers, and if they could do it, so can you. Allah would not have placed you in the field of Islamic Studies if you lacked the capabilities to learn it. So set your mind to it and study hard, knowing that you can do it!

2. Make dua to Allah to help you:

Never underestimate the power of dua. Always make dua for increase in knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. I have read that some of the Salaf use to drink Zam Zam water and make dua for increase in these three things. I myself do this and know many other students who do so too. So remember to make constant dua and know that with Allah’s Help, you can do it.

3. Stay away from sins:

I am sure most of us are aware of the famous statement of Imam Shafi’ee which goes as follows:

???? ?????? ???????

???? ??? ???? ??? ???? ??????? ??? ??? ??????? ??????? ??? ????? ???

???? ???? ?? ???? ?????



Imaam Shafi’ee said, “I complained to Wakee about my decreasing memory and he advised me to abstain from sins, and he informed me that knowledge is light and the light of Allah is not receptive to the sinner.”

So my advice to my fellow students is to, day by day, gain closeness to Allah by decreasing the amount of sins we commit and increasing our good deeds. This effort will, insha’Allah, make our hearts more receptive to the knowledge of Allah’s Deen.

4. Keep a notebook only for terminology:

Divide the notebook into sections according to the field of knowledge (Hadith, Tafsir, ‘Aqeedah) and in each section record the names and definitions of all the terminology you have studied in that field. How you write it will depend on you, just make sure it is easy to browse through, find what you are looking for, read and understand. Keep it with you whenever you are studying, and remember that terminology is not limited to the field you learned it in. Terms learned in Fiqh or Hadith will be needed in Tafseer and Seerah as well, that is why I recommend keeping one notebook for all the terminology, but divide it into sections so it does not get crammed and is easy to access.

5. Associate each term with an example:

In your notebook, next to the definition of each term, write down one example that will help you understand that term better. When you are studying a concept in class, whichever example you found defined the term best, write that one down. The benefit of this is that if in future you can’t remember what a specific term meant, even after reading the definition, a good example can always bring the whole lesson back to you.

6. Use these terms often in conversation with other students:

I would encourage all students to always use the Arabic terms when studying together or discussing the topic with each other. The more you use these terms, the easier they become to remember. Personally, there are quite a few Hadith terms which I have trouble remembering because I don’t use them often, while Fiqh, Grammar and Tafseer terminology are fresh in mind because I am always teaching these subjects.

7. Always revise and refresh your memory:

Utilize your spare time and holidays to revise terminology. It is also important when studying to study these terms for life, and not just for the lesson or exam, as you will also need them later in research, further studies and insha’Allah one day when you are teaching as well.

These are just a few tips from my side which I hope can facilitate your studies and make things easy for you. If anybody else has any good study tips, please feel free to share them in the comments.

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Shaykh Ismail Kamdar is the Books PO at Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research. He is also the founder of Islamic Self Help and Izzah Academy. He completed the Alimiyyah Program in 2006, and a BA in Islamic Studies in 2014, specializing in Fiqh, Tafsir, and History. He is the author of over a dozen books in the fields of Islamic Studies and personal development.



  1. Faiez

    April 20, 2011 at 1:06 AM

    I disagree.

    • Qas

      April 20, 2011 at 1:10 AM

      Disagree with “Make dua to Allah to help you”? :s

    • Ibn Masood

      April 24, 2011 at 8:08 AM

      I agree with this disagreement (apart from Dua’a and tawakkul of course). From personal experience the best method is to study a particular topic/read on it with either a teacher or from a book multiple times, and to understand it well, so you don’t just memorize terminology word for word, your focusing on actual internalization, comprehension and application of that terminology and its’ corresponding concepts.

      As for Arabic…

      Juhd, Juhd, Juhd lol. Just like memorizing Qur’an.

      • Ismail Kamdar

        April 24, 2011 at 8:14 AM

        I did not say one must not study with a teacher or internalize the terms. It seems you have misunderstood what this post is about.

        This post is directed at students who are studying at universities/Darul ulooms under teachers but having a hard time remembering everything. The tips here are meant to be study aids/revision tools for such students, not a substitute for studying under a teacher.

        • Ibn Masood

          April 24, 2011 at 8:22 AM

          I wasn’t commenting on the teacher bit akhi :) (sorry I may have overstated that), but more on going over concepts multiple times in different methods. It’s a much more efficient and beneficial way to remember things. Even reading the same text/book multiple times is better.

        • abdul azeez

          March 12, 2013 at 5:37 AM

          shukraan barakallahu lak

    • abdul azeez

      March 12, 2013 at 5:29 AM

      as salaamu alaykum theses tips are very useful and act as a meduim to drawing near our goal. which is to gaint he good pleasure of Allah ta ala. any effort toward that should be met with open arms. best contruction and thanks. may Allah inccrease us all in ilm. aameeeeen

    • Hussein umar

      October 10, 2016 at 11:02 AM

      please how can I get the contact of this Arabic school I want to start

  2. Student

    April 20, 2011 at 3:57 AM

    I think the biggest thing to emphasize is “Learn Arabic.”

    As someone who spent so many years with people not emphasizing this fact to the point of ‘grilling it’ into students, I felt was the biggest detriment.

    Out of the FEAR of ‘de-motivating’ students – they are not pushed to learn the original language so they can be taught and learn it.

    So I, just like many others, amassed a massive english library only to realize at the end of the day – wait a minute… why am i WAITING for the ‘latest translation’ to come out.

    The phrase “If i don’t Learn Arabic, I’m not even beginning to be a Student of Knowledge” should be written first and foremost on EVERY notebook before we go into it in depth.

    I find the biggest problem to show this is – even if students memorized terminologies… they don’t understand the MASSIVE loss of not understanding arabic that the scholars DISCUSSED the meanings of those same terminologies that so many rulings are based on!

    May Allah help us to learn the language of His deen, to become the memorizers of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and implement in our actions, and children’s actions as well. Ameen.

    WAllahu ‘Alam

    • Ismail Kamdar

      April 20, 2011 at 4:12 AM

      Wa Alaikum Salaam Wa Rahmatullah

      Jazakallah Khair for mentioning this very important point.

      I did not mention it in the article as it is generally addressed towards students who are in the process of learning Arabic Nahw (Grammar) and Sarf (Morphology) as indicated by the first paragraph.

      Of course, this depends on the institute, some institutes teach Arabic first for two years then other sciences while others teach both simultaneously. However, any institute that ignores Arabic is doing their students a great injustice!

    • Ibn Masood

      April 24, 2011 at 8:14 AM

      I agree 90%. Although I’m doing Arabic intensive right now and slowly starting to read books and attend/listen to Arabic lectures, I think what brother Ismail said is important.

      Depending on what intellectual fitnah you possess, Arabic can either be an immediate priority or one that can wait for a while until you learn other things.

      Myself, coming from an secular Muslim/Darwinist background (yeah that’s heavy), I found it beneficial to read up quite a bit on different Usul in our deen. I find it even more beneficial now because when in beginners lectures or reading beginners books, I’m focusing less on understanding concepts and more on understanding the grammar or siyaak/balagha/ta’beer of the text.

      Regardless, there comes a point where you have to stop. There is no point in reading Malik’s Muwatta or Fath Al-Bari in English. However when it comes to unique works in English there can be tremendous benefit because you will understand something that you would not understand until after at least 2-3 years in an Arabic Islamic Studies environment.

      • Ibn Masood

        April 24, 2011 at 8:21 AM

        Hastily I want to add… memorizing Qur’an is KEY. Or AT LEAST, reading, understanding and reflecting on the meaning of at least 1-2 juz a day through English translation/tafsir, so you can at least get a feel for the language.

        The Qur’an is the highest level of literature in the Arabic Language, if you’re working on studying/understanding it while learning Arabic your progress will jump, as well as your proficiency in the language itself.

        It’s like learning English through reading Classical literature (Ernest Hemingway/Lewis Carroll anyone?)… although in this case of course the Qur’an is incomparable in its standard to any literature in any other language.

  3. Javed

    April 20, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    Jazak Allah Khairan for the useful tips. I better make that notebook soon, before the terms start flying over my head!

  4. Naseer

    April 20, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    JazakAllahu Khair. As a student of knowledge this post is helpful. Every bit of assistance when learning is appreciated. May Allah reward you and help us all to become students of knowledge. Ameen.

    Asaalamu Alaykum.

  5. Hayat

    April 20, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Very helpful ! Machalla thank you jezakellah jenetul ferdos I forwarded for those learning and all made dua for you . Keep up we need more of this kind of reminder and good advice for someone like us who is learning deen.

  6. Umm Sulaym

    April 20, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    JazakAllahu khayran for the beneficial tips.

    I agree as well with what’s said above (by Student) regarding learning Arabic. A lot of people don’t understand that the proper understanding of Islam cannot be initiated unless one learns the language of the Quraan. This way they won’t be misled by groups who have misinterpreted some of the fundamental concepts of Islam just because of not having the proper understanding of Arabic linguistics.

    I personally no longer would want to depend on a translation anymore. I too have been in the process of waiting for translations to be published only to find out that they were ‘weak’. After learning a bit of Arabic by the extreme Mercy of Allah SWT, I have personally found errors/incomplete translations in popular English translations of the Quraan and some scholarly works. I was really upset when I found that out because it felt as if the ‘true complete message’ hadn’t been conveyed to me all this while. In addition, with translations the Quraan loses its beauty. It’s just that no other language can translate Arabic text of the Quraan properly.How can then students of knowledge lean on an ‘intermediary’ to learn about the Book of Allah SWT or any Islamic Science for that matter?

    I like how the 1st point is ‘knowing that you can do it’. If scholars all around the world for ages have been investing their efforts in understanding the language, inshaa’Allah we can do it as well. We just need purify our intentions and do it sincerely seeking His Face. Everything else becomes easy in the process because Shaytan can’t misguide a sincere slave of Allah SWT [reference-Surah 38, verse 83].

    My advice (in addition to the writer’s) would be:
    (1) master the Arabic language-so that you can grasp the terminology better and not get overwhelmed by it
    (2) memorize the Quraan and hasten in committing it to your memory–> Allah SWT will not only reward you (obviously) but inshaa’Allah He will put barakah in your memory and time + you’ll remember proofs better for whatever concept you study as you seek knowledge because it’s a life-long process.

    Thought I’d add a few words to motivate students of knowledge (or potential students of knowledge) even more to study Arabic and memorize Quraan.

    And Allah SWT knows best.
    Wasalamu alaykum warahmatullah.

  7. Cartoon M

    April 20, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    Nice post mashAllah. A lot of the advice you gave can be used for any subject.

    I remember having a problem with terminology when I took my first al maghrib class. The teacher was talking about mu’tazilites and I was very confused because I never heard of them before. Alhamdulillah, I eventually got a hang of it and benefited immensely from the class.

  8. أخوكم

    April 22, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    جزاكم الله خيرا

  9. Umm 'AbdAllah

    April 24, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    As salaamu ‘alaikum,

    This post has been really beneficial mashAllah! The post and the comments make things interesting.

    BarakAllahu feekum for giving us advice and sharing this piece of information with us!

  10. shiney

    April 25, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    jazakallah khair so much for these great tips! May Allah Reward you and May He Forgive all of our our sins and accept our good deeds and help us be the best students of knowledge that we can be! AMEEN

  11. abu sofiyyah

    September 29, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    great article akhee

  12. Rehana Sher

    March 12, 2013 at 10:58 PM

    JazzakAllah khair for sending an inspiring article/advise.

  13. Muna

    March 13, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    jazakallahu khair Akhi for the was timely as a first year student i have found these tips encouraging and directional.

  14. aboo khadijah

    March 15, 2013 at 12:27 AM

    jazaakallahu laka khayran. that is very important because without understanding and remembering relevant terminologies it will be very difficult for a student of knowledge to comprehend the subject and perfect its application.

  15. Noor

    March 17, 2013 at 2:15 AM

    Masha’Allah jazakhallahu khairn, excellent tips

  16. rizwana

    March 20, 2014 at 6:20 AM

    subhanAllah this will work out these are excellent tip and sheikh has understood the point where students are struggling they pass one semester enter the other but forget the past semester this noted book will always help us to quick revision of the terminologies. which is needed in each level.

  17. Aiman Ammarah Khan.

    March 21, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    mashaAllah , very benificial all the tips. i’ll try to follow them inshaAllah, specially the zamzam one .
    I think remembering the arabic terminologies is easier for me having urdu as my first language , in comparison to others. because we almost use many of these words while talking in Urdu. …
    And I remember 1 more example from Imam Ashshafiee (probably) , when his performance was not as good as always, and the reason he told to his teacher was that he saw ankle of a women that day, which affected his memory.
    jazakallahu khairan katheer ustaz.

  18. Mirah

    November 14, 2015 at 5:13 AM

    In some comments it is mentioned that we should not simply learn the definition by heart as “indicated in the artcle”. However, the Shaykh mentioned also that we should write an example with it to “understand” the term, so I don’t understand how ppl can just write “disagree” without giving proper arguments and alternativs… This is not the way we should behave.

    as for me, I think it is best to do some research on each term about its literal meaning, technical meaning, definition and examples, distinguish it from other things not belonging to this term. (Example for distinguishing: a tea cup is something that you can drink from. However, a glass from which you can drink as well is not a tea cup because…). Take this in a special notebook and revise it regularly.

  19. Rashida Hussein

    March 2, 2018 at 2:39 AM

    Jazak Allah Khair Brother. Very helpful for me as I’m very new to the journey of Islamic studies.

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