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Pursuing Islamic Scholarship Alongside Another Career? Guidance For Aspirants | Dr. Hatem El Haj


Islamic scholarship

Alhamdulillah. This article stems from a sequence of Facebook posts that many requested to be consolidated. The intention is to provide a centralized resource for students of knowledge pursuing Islamic scholarship.

The aspiration to become a scholar while maintaining another profession is commendable and not entirely unrealistic. Nonetheless, some might be driven by questionable or less-than-ideal motives toward this ambition, and many often overlook the sacrifices required and hesitate to make them. It remains vital to uplift and inspire aspirants. This is because some genuinely seek this path for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), or simply because they have a deep affection for acquiring knowledge. This affection, even if not the highest aspiration, is still sincere and not for mere posturing. There are numerous advantages in supporting, rather than discouraging, this inclination. Here are some:

  1. The cadre of individuals devoted exclusively to imamate roles and the instruction of Islamic sciences is notably sparse due to various reasons. Notably, many communities either lack the capacity or the willingness to properly support additional roles in this arena. This is bound to hinder the effective dissemination of Islamic knowledge and the revitalization of the ummah. While these dedicated individuals undeniably form the cornerstone of this domain, they also need assistance.
  2. Certain professions in various societies draw intelligent individuals, either out of personal choice or familial expectations. Denying them the chance to follow their passion is not just unjust to them, but also a disservice to the advancement of Islamic knowledge.
  3. Though only a few might achieve profound expertise and become true scholars, many can gain enough insight to positively influence the community’s overall understanding of Islam. Even if they ultimately do not impart any teachings, their mere presence will have a positive impact. An imam, tasked with educating a congregation lacking basic Islamic literacy, may feel less inspired to prepare or even further his own learning.
  4. Individuals proficient in both Islamic scholarship and other fields have a unique opportunity. They can bridge the gap between these disciplines, fostering a dialogue that would be otherwise not as accessible. Consider the intersections of economics with Sharia, or Sharia’s overlap with political science, medicine, psychology, and so forth.
  5. The effects of deepening one’s understanding of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His words, not only for oneself but also for one’s immediate circle, are profound. With pure intentions, the pursuit of ‘ma‘rifah‘ becomes unparalleled.

In this article, I will inshaAllah, provide my advice to individuals from various professional backgrounds who aspire to pursue Islamic scholarship.

The Essentials

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Imam Aḥmad raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) once stated:

لا ينبغي للرجل أن ينصب نفسه للفتيا حتى يكون فيه خمس خصال:

  1. أن تكون له نية، فإن لم يكن له نية؛ لم يكن عليه نور ولا على كلامه نور
  2. أن يكون له حلم ووقار وسكينة
  3. أن يكون قوياً على ما هو فيه وعلى معرفته
  4. الكفاية وإلا مضغه الناس
  5. معرفة الناس

A man should not take on the position of a mufti unless he has five traits:

  1. He should have a niyyah (intention); for without an intention, there will be no light for them, nor will there be light upon their words
  2. He should have forbearance, dignity, and tranquility
  3. He should be competent in his role and in his knowledge
  4. He should be self-sufficient; otherwise, people will “chew him up.”
  5. He should have awareness [of the conditions] of the people.1Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr ibn Ayyūb ibn Sa’d Shams al-Dīn Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, I‘lām al-Mawq‘īn ‘an Rabb al-‘Ālamīn, ed. Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Salām Ibrāhīm (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmīyah, 1st ed., 1411 AH/1991 CE), 4:152.

You might wonder about the relevance of this for a novice, asking why I cite Imam Ahmad raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) instead of Imam al-Shafi’ee’s raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) six prerequisites for learners. I’ll touch upon Imam al-Shafi’ee’s raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) points soon, but Imam Ahmad’s raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) words resonate deeply here, capturing the essence of what’s vital at both the beginning and culmination of one’s scholarly journey. He emphasized:

  1. Intention
  2. Character
  3. Competency
  4. Resources
  5. Situational Awareness

 – Intention: This embodies your devotion to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). It is paramount for the acceptance of deeds alongside adherence to the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) way. They collectively symbolize the spirit of the kalimah. If you struggle with your daily awrâd, your prayers, or attending to your parents’ needs, it may be time to reassess your intentions. While volumes have been written about maintaining and purifying intention, here’s a brief guidance for the student of knowledge: Strive for humility, introspect if increased knowledge causes arrogance, seek the companionship of the righteous, be diligent in acts of devotion, and adjust your learning focus if you doubt your intention, but never cease learning.

 – Character: Beyond the important traits highlighted by the Imam, steer clear of conceit, arrogance, jealousy, and recklessness. New knowledge might be exhilarating, but let it remind you of the vastness of what remains unknown. Recognize that while you might excel in two fields, others, with the same aptitude, dedicated to a single field haven’t been idle. Show great respect to those wholly committed to Islamic education and community service. In scholarly gatherings, mention your other profession only when truly pertinent. Understand that forgoing community compensation isn’t necessarily a magnanimous act. Those who accept such earnings often forego other lucrative opportunities to serve the deen and the community. Should you later be offered honoraria as a teacher, accept gracefully, and use them as you wish; it’s likely more halal than other sources of income, and you should not disrupt the customary conventions. Finally, avoid audaciousness and recklessness, and never speak or advise on matters beyond your knowledge.

 – Competency/Aptitude: Imam al-Shafi‘ee raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) highlights six prerequisites for scholarship in his poem: intelligence, eagerness, diligence, resources, guidance from a teacher, and a long time. Three pertain to personal aptitude, and the remaining to external resources. It’s essential to introspect and gauge your own strengths and limitations without drawing comparisons to others. Ensure your physical and emotional wellness and approach your studies strategically. If you like lengthy rest, ample socialization, and “play”, this scholarly journey might be challenging. Also, learning Islamic sciences requires mental resources—perhaps even more than other academic fields. If you struggle in “secular” studies, this should signal caution as Islamic studies can be even more demanding. Instead, consider focusing on foundational areas that will help you be among those who have true belief and act righteously آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات, like aqeedah, fiqh, suluk (including sira here), as well as the tafseer of the Quran and hadith. If Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) facilitates this learning for you, go back and study the technical supportive sciences.

 – Resources: Your scholarly journey will demand both time and financial investment. Striving for excellence in your profession is paramount, as anything less not only undermines the knowledge you’ve acquired but is also unbefitting of a dedicated Muslim. Having said that, let us also be honest. While it’s vital for Muslims to achieve prominence in their respective fields, you’ve chosen to prioritize Islamic scholarship over complete professional dedication. This choice indicates that you may not reach the pinnacle of your profession. It also means that you should select a profession or specialty that offers the flexibility required for dedication to Islamic studies. This might mean opting for part-time positions at times or taking extended breaks for immersive study experiences. Although technological advancements like online courses offer invaluable resources, the traditional mentor-student relationship remains irreplaceable, and journeying in pursuit of knowledge will never become obsolete.

 – Situational Awareness: Recognize both your strengths and the community’s needs. For instance, if living in the US, becoming the leading Mâliki or Ḥanbali faqeeh might not be your calling. Seek breadth before depth in knowledge, tailoring it to community needs.

At the Crossroads

Circumstances vary widely, but I’ll still try to address the frequently asked questions at the start of the journey to Islamic scholarship:

  1. Should I learn Arabic first?

Islamic scholarship

PC: Debby Hudson (unsplash)

It depends. If you’re close to the required competency for studying Islam in Arabic, go ahead and focus on reaching that level. If not, there are two choices. If you’re completely determined to be a scholar, start with Arabic and study all Islamic sciences in it. I say this despite dedicating years to the cause of facilitating Islamic studies in English. Teaching Islam in English still has value, especially for those who simply want to be teachers and preachers. Completing a BA in traditional Islamic studies in English, coupled with enhanced Arabic skills upon program culmination, is likely better than a degree from a conventional mainstream university. Also, some who want to become scholars may lose patience starting with Arabic, and give up before learning enough about Islam. It’s like waiting in line for utensils when food is ready. If you let them progress in both, they may continue wanting to learn and perfect their Arabic. Those studying in Arabic also need good Islamic English vocabulary if they plan to teach English speakers.

  1. Should I delay marriage, and what if I’m married?

If married, be a good spouse; it might bring barakah to your learning. Around three decades ago, I encountered a student who contemplated divorce to devote more time to the pursuit of knowledge. To me, it seemed counterintuitive to start a path to the pleasure of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by obeying the Shayṭân. For unmarried individuals who have the flexibility to postpone marriage, considering a delay of a few years to gain a solid foundation in learning could prove advantageous.

  1. Should I enroll in a program?

Traditional study with mentors is like homeschooling. You need motivation, organization, and resolve. Still, I suggest enrolling in a program for a degree. The degree opens doors, and a structured program ensures balanced studies.

  1. In-person vs. online, university vs. madrasa?

Given the option, I lean towards in-person learning; however, online study provides valuable flexibility, with certain programs offering a well-balanced mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction. No matter what you choose, face-to-face with scholars is still irreplaceable and journeying for the pursuit of knowledge will never become obsolete. Regarding the university vs. madrasa question, curriculum and faculty matter more than names.

  1. Studying with Salafis or Sufis?

Although I’m against forming rigid groups, I don’t advocate for relativism and my epistemological, creedal, and fiqhi orientations are clear. However, the matter at hand is not simply a binary distinction. “Rabbani Salafism” and “Sunni Sufism” frequently converge, transcending their more extreme elements (and many scholars do not use those denominators). By the time you decide to pursue scholarship, it’s improbable that your stance hasn’t formed. Yet, if still uncertain, take more time to make an informed decision. In the interim, occupy your time with universal treasures: memorize the Quran and Hadith. Regardless of your eventual choices, these will always prove invaluable. In your chosen program, absorb as much as possible, honoring and loving your mentors while remaining open to learning beyond program confines.

  1. Taking a gap year(s)?

Depends on circumstances and career. Gap years can be useful, focusing on Arabic and Quran memorization and understanding. If not feasible now, do your best and hope for opportunities later.

  1. Should I study abroad?

Yes, if possible. But you can make significant progress without travel. Immersive study experiences help, and living in an Arabic-speaking country improves spoken Arabic. While not crucial for comprehending Islamic texts, this skill holds value in diverse societies and international Islamic engagements.

Navigate these crossroads with careful consideration, yet avoid becoming paralyzed by indecision. It is never too late or too hard. Strive with determination, pursuing your unique potential within your unique circumstances, and refrain from competition with others for prominence. Remember, if this is being done for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and the betterment of your soul, the acquisition of knowledge is always beneficial and knows no limits. If it is not, you risk becoming among those who labor tirelessly but in vain. عاملة ناصبة May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) safeguard both us and you from such a compounded loss.

What Are We Learning?

Islamic scholarship

PC: Masjid Pogung Dalangang (unsplash)

This religion centers around faith and righteousness (al-imân and al-‘amal al-ṣâliḥ). Consequently, the core sciences encompass the following end sciences (علوم المقاصد أو الغايات – ‘Ulûm al-Maqâṣid or al-Ghâyât):

  1. ‘Aqîdah (العقيدة – Creed): Rectifying our beliefs.
  2. Fiqh (الفقه – Jurisprudence): Directing our exterior actions, inclusive of al-‘Adâb al-Shar‘îyah (الآداب الشرعية): Etiquettes, such as dressing, eating, recitation, hosting, etc.
  3. Tazkiyah (التزكية), also known as Taṣawwuf: Centered around spirituality and character traits like devotion, goodwill, and humbleness to refine our inner being or al-‘amal al-bâṭin (actions of the interior). The sira and shamâ’il (Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) biography and physical and moral character) also largely fall into this category. A component of this is also adopting the correct methodology or guidelines for acquiring and applying this knowledge.

The hadîth of Jibreel about Islam, Îmân, and Iḥsân indeed alludes to these three divisions.

All these derive from revelation: the Qur’an and its clarifier, the Sunnah of the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Thus, naturally:

  1. Tafsîr and Tajwîd (التفسير والتجويد Exegesis and the art of correct recitation) of the Qur’an and
  2. Shurooḥ al-Sunnah (شروح السنة – Commentaries on the Sunnah)

are two pivotal core sciences, which may be called (علوم المصادر – ‘Ulûm al-Maṣâdir or sources).

For the average Muslim, a good basic understanding of these five core branches of knowledge is typically sufficient. Apart from memorizing a portion of the Qur’an in Arabic, they can be learned in any language.

For the dedicated student, additional auxiliary subjects enhance the understanding of the above. These can be segmented into alât (tools) and mukammilât (complements).

 – Arabic Sciences: The Foremost Tool

  1. Imlâ’ (الإملاء – Writing rules/Spelling).
  2. Naḥw (النحو – Grammar).
  3. Ṣarf (الصرف – Morphology).
  4. Balâghah (البلاغة – Rhetoric), incorporating three subdivisions: البيان والمعاني والبديع Bayân (Clear Expressions and Figures of Speech), Ma‘âni (Meanings and Semantics), and Badee‘ (Rhetorical Embellishments). (Having a foundation in Naḥw is a prerequisite.)
  5. Al-‘Arooḍ (العروض – Patterns of Meter in Arabic poetry): a complementary science.

 – For Qur’anic comprehension:

  1. ‘Ulûm al-Qur’ân (علوم القرآن – Quranic Sciences).
  2. Uṣool al-Tafsîr (أصول التفسير – Principles of Exegesis).
  3. Qirâ’ât (القراءات – Recitations of the Qur’an): It’s only essential to know their impact on interpretations.

 – For Hadîth comprehension:

‘Ulûm al-Hadith and Hadith terminology (علوم ومصطلح الحديث). Ibn al-Ṣalâḥ identifies 65 of them, but they primarily fall under:

  1. al-Riwâyah (الرواية – Narration): Concerning what’s attributed to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his companions in terms of transmission and articulation.
  2. al-Dirâyah (الدراية – Understanding): Involving the Isnâd (chain of transmission) and the Matn (text or actual content), delving into their conditions. Part of hadith sciences are التراجم والطبقات tarâjim and ṭabaqât to recognize narrators and chains, and الجرح والتعديل jarḥ and ta‘deel to evaluate the credibility of the narrators and علل ‘ilal to detect subtle defects/irregularities in the matn or sanad.

 – For Fiqh:

  1. Madâkhil (كتب المداخل): Introductory books that could familiarize you with a subject or a madhhab. For example, al-Madkhal by Ibn Badrân gives you an overview or bird’s-eye view of the Ḥanbali madhhab and its terminology.
  2. Târikh al-Tashree‘ (تاريخ التشريع – History of Legislation).
  3. Uṣool al-Fiqh (أصول الفقه – Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence).
  4. Al-Qawâ‘id al-Fiqhîyah (القواعد الفقهية – Jurisprudential Maxims).
  5. Maqâṣid al-Shari‘a (المقاصد – Objectives or Goals of Islamic Law).
  6. Takhreej al-Furoo‘ ‘ala al-Uṣool (تخريج الفروع على الأصول – tracing particular rulings to the principles). One might think of it as the study of “applied uṣool”.
  7. Fiqh al-Wâqi‘ (فقه الواقع – Understanding of Reality). Basic understanding in related subjects in disciplines like medicine, psychology, math, astronomy, economics, political science, etc., is essential for fatwa-related matters, for the phase of تحقيق المناطات (ascertainment of effective causes in the object of fatwa).

 – For ‘Aqîdah:

  1. Study of Firaq and Niḥal (الفرق والنحل) – Sects and comparative theology (and you may add unorthodox philosophies affecting beliefs here as well).

  – Islamic History:

The sîrah of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his shamâ’il are integral parts of Tazkiyah. However, a comprehensive understanding requires knowledge of battles, geographic landmarks, and significant events. It’s also important to be acquainted with the history of the rightly guided caliphate, the expansive Muslim empires, and contemporary situations. Additionally, learning about the biographies of the Companions, eminent scholars, devoted mujahids, and worshippers further enriches Tazkiyah.

  – Sciences for Educators and Muslim Apologists:

  1. Al-Ta‘beer wa al-Inshâ’ (التعبير والإنشاء – Expression and Composition).
  2. Khaṭâbah (الخطابة – Oratory or Public Speaking).
  3. Research Methodologies (مناهج البحث).
  4. Adab and Poetry (الأدب والشعر): This pertains to literature and poetry in Arabic as well as the chosen language for delivery.
  5. Contemporary Islamic Thought and Movements (الفكر الإسلامي المعاصر والحركات الإسلامية): This encompasses مناهج التغيير, which refers to the proposed methodologies for reform and renaissance.
  6. Uṣool al-Da‘wah (أصول الدعوة): Whether or not you view it as a distinct discipline, recognizing it separately ensures it receives its deserved attention.
  7. Logic (المنطق): In my view, its significance is somewhere between Imam al-Ghazali’s passionate advocacy and Imam Ibn Taymiyyah’s brilliant reservations. (Interestingly, I’m currently writing a book on Aristotelian logic, integrating Taymiyyan critiques. The goal is to offer like-minded students an opportunity to reap the benefits of this field without becoming unduly trapped by it or adhering to antiquated notions—as pointed out not only by Imam Ibn Taymiyyah but also by contemporary logicians.)
  8. Philosophy (الفلسفة): It might be surprising coming from a Ḥanbali, but I firmly believe that those who have deeply immersed themselves in Islamic sciences, and whose intellects and hearts are illuminated by the divine revelation, would benefit from delving into philosophy. While not every philosophical thought diverges from orthodoxy, understanding even the more unorthodox theories by some of us is essential. This knowledge equips some of us to address and counter these ideas, especially given their pervasive influence on public thought.

Once you’ve grasped the fundamental tenets of scholarship, a plethora of advanced sciences awaits exploration. Consider, for instance, the Fiqh branch known as النظريات الفقهية (legal theories). This discipline provides a theoretical underpinning for understanding the law and its nuances in specific scenarios, like contracts or ownership. In the Western tradition, legal theories delve into the very nature of law, the intricacies of legal systems, and the logic of jurisprudential reasoning. Such discussions bear similarities to the subjects of maqâṣid and uṣool. However, it’s advisable not to delve into this during the initial stages of study. According to Ibn Khaldun’s three-tiered categorization, this would fall under level 3. Yet, in a more segmented system, it might be positioned further along the learning curve.

Lastly, consider utilizing an Excel sheet to monitor your progress. On the X-axis, enumerate the subjects, while on the Y-axis, denote 3-5 tiers of proficiency (or the other way around!). This visual representation can be a valuable tool in tracking your growth and achievements. The specific texts to study within each tier should come recommended by your instructors.

Practical Tips

Expanding on the suggestion to utilize an Excel sheet to monitor your advancement across various subjects and proficiency tiers, we’ll start our tips by delving into the role of technology.


Quran phone

PC: GR stocks (unsplash)

Remember, احرص على ما ينفعك – “Be keen on what benefits you.” Avoid getting caught up in mere formalities (رسوم) and ritualism. Don’t be swayed by the sarcasm of those who relish negativity. You might not possess the memory of al-Bukhari or the tranquility of our predecessors. Hence, utilize what’s available to you:

YouTube and various recordings can be invaluable. Videos often have an edge over audio, but both are valuable. Inquire about the most insightful shurooḥ. The best isn’t necessarily the most comprehensive. If you’re at a beginner’s level and the instructor spends half an hour on the letter “bâ’ – ب” in Bismillah, consider exploring another series.

Embrace apps like Anki to aid memorization. I sometimes wish we had access to these during our younger years; they might have been more beneficial than traditional card decks. But if you’re partial to card decks, go with what works best for you.

There’s an array of helpful software out there. The keyword, however, is “helpful.” Set clear goals. If you come across software showcasing trees of narrators, temper your excitement if the time isn’t right.


While it’s tempting, you can’t purchase every book that piques your interest. Utilize platforms like al-Shâmilah to save money and space. These can also expedite your research and search processes. Nonetheless, there will always be certain editions and unique books not available on these platforms.

Engage with the books of turâth. The continuity of this knowledge shouldn’t suffer from epistemic disruptions. We mustn’t sever our ties with tradition. However, at times, contemporary authors offer invaluable insights that enhance your understanding. Al-Naḥw al-Wâḍiḥ, written by authors who weren’t even sheikhs, is a case in point, as is al-Balâghah al-Wâḍiḥ. Study al-Agurromiyyah, but also works by modern scholars. If your mentor suggests moving from al-Naḥw al-Wâḍiḥ to Qaṭr al-Nada, heed their advice. Not every “traditional” book demands your attention.

Always seek the best editions; inquire before purchasing. When you read a version of ṣaḥeeḥ al-Bukhari, such as those printed by Dâr al-Ta’ṣeel or Bayt al-Sunnah (all indebted to al-Sulṭâniyah), you’ll find fewer errors in ḍabṭ (tashkeel) and gain added insights from footnotes discussing manuscript variations, among other aspects.

Memorization vs. Understanding

Individual strengths vary. Some are endowed with photographic memories, while others possess analytical prowess. Age is also a factor. If you’re in your late teens or early twenties, strive to memorize some essential mutoon. For those older, prioritize understanding, but attempt to memorize crucial pieces: the Quran and about 1,000 hadiths of aḥkâm and 1,000 in assorted fields. Selections from Bulugh al-Marâm and Riyâḍ al-Ṣâliḥeen are excellent sources, especially if you filter out repetitions. If this seems daunting, begin with the forty hadiths and ‘Umdat al-Aḥkâm, expanding as you delve into relevant topics. The essence is to persevere, but not to squander excessive time fruitlessly.

إِذا لَم تَستَطِع شَيئاً فَدَعهُ وَجاوِزهُ إِلى ما تَستَطيعُ

“When a task eludes your grasp, leave it and pursue that which is attainable.”

Always remember, you’re essentially competing against your own potential. Some individuals may surpass you in intellect or memory. If you precede them to paradise, that’s the ultimate victory. If not, seek to enhance your position therein or, at the very least, secure a place.

Studying Methodology and Techniques


PC: Andrew Neel (unsplash)

Prioritize books in the genre of madâkhil. These can simplify your subject comprehension. Before diving into a subject, consult your mentors regarding the best introductory resources. Madkhal, after all, signifies “entrance.”

Reading a single book thrice is often more beneficial than exploring three separate books on the same topic. Noteworthy scholars have revisited seminal works, such as al-Bukhari, countless times. Some were even eponymously identified with specific books due to their mastery and frequent teachings, e.g., al-Faṣeeḥi, al-Tanbeehi, al-Wajeezi, al-Minhâji, al-Kâfeeji, al-Ta‘jeezi, and so forth.

Maintain your focus on the current study. Avoid excessive ḥawâshi (marginalia) and try not to out-prepare your instructor. Over-preparation can lead to imbalances in your knowledge, reduce exposure to other subjects, and possibly foster arrogance, diminishing your respect for mentors.

When transitioning from one level to the next, if a significant amount of time has passed since you last read the book from the previous level, take a moment to quickly review it. Transitioning to advanced levels necessitates revisiting foundational concepts, allowing knowledge to develop in concentric layers, with foundational concepts serving as the nucleus. Organizing information mentally and proper archival is crucial.

Some scholars advise focusing on one subject at a time; this may be too difficult for someone enrolled in a program. However, aside from your revision of the Quran and a dedicated time for revision or other محفوظات maḥfoożât, do not study more subjects than what is covered in your program. If you are not enrolled in a program or paced by your instructors, study one or two subjects at a time, giving them your entire focus (until they feature in your dreams)!

If you are enrolled in a program, follow the order they give you. If not, scholars have different focuses and views on the order of learning various subjects. I will defer to your instructors. However, Manṭiq (logic) is a bit problematic. The advice is to learn it after immersion in the revelation illuminates your heart and mind. However, it is considered a tool for the other sciences, which should naturally be learned early. Honestly, you do not need it for the required knowledge or level 1 of the scholarly path. When you read it before level 2, approach it as a way to organize your thinking, knowing that most of the Aristotelian logic taught in different seminaries and by various teachers has outdated concepts, and some are based on metaphysical concepts contrary to ours. Should you read Imam Ibn Taymiyyah’s Response to the Logicians along with your first reading of Logic? Maybe not. However, remain cautious until you can read it, or Imam al-Suyooṭi’s abbreviation of it, or some contemporary taqreeb (simplification) of it.

As a general rule, be balanced, and do not advance to level 2 or 3 in one subject before finishing level 1 in all. The one exception is probably Arabic; based on the advice of your teachers, you might finish more than one level after you have learned al-‘Ilm al-Wâjib (Required knowledge).

Teaching for Retention

Teach the subject you are learning to your spouse or bring a few teenagers to the masjid and try to simplify it for them. No, you are not using human beings as a means. You are benefiting them with this exposure. If there is a subject that you don’t find someone who can benefit from now, pretend to prepare a lecture and try to organize your thoughts, either in your mind or on paper, which is better. Use diagrams and visual aids, especially if you are a visual person.

Balance between End and Auxiliary Subjects

Do not skip over ‘Uloom al-‘Âlah (Tools). However, do not waste your life studying them beyond the reason for which you embarked on studying them. If you live in the West, it may not be your calling to be the Ibn Hishâm al-Naḥwi of your time, unless you so wish; then that is different!

Ibn Khaldūn raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said,

وأمّا ‌العلوم ‌الّتي ‌هي ‌آلة ‌لغيرها مثل العربيّة والمنطق وأمثالهما فلا ينبغي أن ينظر فيها إلّا من حيث هي آلة لذلك الغير فقط. ولا يوسّع فيها الكلام ولا تفرّع المسائل لأنّ ذلك مخرج لها عن المقصود إذ المقصود منها ما هي آلة له لا غير. فكلّما خرجت عن ذلك خرجت عن المقصود وصار الاشتغال بها لغوا مع ما فيه من صعوبة الحصول على ملكتها بطولها وكثرة فروعها. وربّما يكون ذلك عائقا عن تحصيل العلوم المقصودة بالذّات لطول وسائلها.

“As for the sciences that are tools for other objectives, such as the Arabic language, logic, and their likes, they should only be considered insofar as they are tools for that other purpose. There shouldn’t be excessive discourse about them because that would divert them from their intended purpose. Their primary aim is what they serve as tools for, nothing else. Every time they deviate from this, they stray from their true objective, making engagement in them pointless, especially given the difficulty in mastering them due to their length and numerous branches. Sometimes, this can be an obstacle to acquiring the knowledge that is intended in and of itself because the means to that end become too lengthy.”2[Abd al-Raḥmān Ibn Khaldūn, Al-‘Ibar wa Dīwān al-Mubtada’ wa al-Khabar, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1401 AH/1981 AD), v. 1, p. 739.]

Still, when you move to the end sciences, focus on concepts. One of the obstacles to learning, according to Ibn Khaldun, is the fascination with terms, minutiae, and subtleties with no practical utility. Do not get trapped by that. And if you fear that someone will mention a term you didn’t know, your heart is not in the right place. When they do, ask them what they mean by it. No one knows all those terms. So, focus on practical concepts; life is short.

Stay Focused and Motivated

While some of this has been mentioned before, it’s worth reiterating. Pay attention to your intention and stay focused. Monitor your progress and remain motivated. Find peers to accompany and assist you during your journey until you can proceed on your own. Read about the biographies of great scholars and the virtues of knowledge. Stay fit physically, mentally, and more importantly, spiritually. Every time you learn something, try to implement it. Imam Ahmad raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) hired a ḥajjâm and gave him one dinâr because he related a hadith from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that he did. Make plenty of du‘â’ for it is He who bestows all good and withholds.

واتقوا الله ويعلمكم الله And fear Allah, and Allah will teach you. [Surah Al-Baqarah; 2:282]

Muwaffaqoon insha-Allah

وصلى الله على محمد والحمد لله رب العالمين



A Guide for Studying Arabic and Quran in Morocco –

On Maintaining Work-Life Balance While Memorizing The Quran –


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Dr. Hatem Al-Haj has a PhD in Comparative Fiqh from al-Jinan University. He is a pediatrician, former Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Mishkah University, and a member of the permanent Fatwa Committee of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).



  1. Mohammed

    September 7, 2023 at 3:07 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Jazakallahu khair to the Shaykh. Great comments and advise. As someone who is trying to study part time with family and work commitments, I wanted to add a couple of points:

    1. Many of us just want to study part time to get closer to Allah. We may never reach the level of a scholar and that’s ok. I think its important to encourage the average Muslim to pursue a part time path of study based on whatever level of commitment they can give. For some, it may be a weekly one hour halaqa that improves their faith, quality of salah, and basic understanding of Quran and Hadith. Others might be able to pursue the equivalent of a part time associates, etc. Not necessarily becoming a scholar or Mufti, but still part time study as a student of knowledge.

    2. Its important to know your boundaries especially as a part-time student. Many people gain a bit of knowledge and think they are qualified to give religious rulings, which is very dangerous. Part time Islamic study can be very beneficial and provide inspiration to the individual and the community, but knowing one’s boundaries and limitations is essential. Someone who is seeking knowledge should not become a harm to the community by overstepping their limits

  2. Dawood

    September 19, 2023 at 8:54 AM

    It’s evident that you’ve shared a detailed and thoughtful passage about the prerequisites and considerations for pursuing Islamic scholarship. Here’s a short comment to summarize and provide some additional insights:

    Your passage provides a comprehensive overview of the prerequisites and considerations for embarking on the journey of Islamic scholarship. It emphasizes the importance of intention, character, competency, resources, and situational awareness, all of which are crucial for success in this path.

    Furthermore, your breakdown of the core sciences and auxiliary subjects is highly informative and helps aspiring students understand the breadth of knowledge they need to acquire. The practical tip about using an Excel sheet to track progress is a useful tool for students to stay organized and focused on their goals.

    Overall, your passage offers valuable guidance for anyone interested in pursuing Islamic scholarship, from the foundational principles to practical tips for effective learning and progress monitoring.

  3. bakhat yar

    March 22, 2024 at 10:26 PM

    Hey there, Dr. Hatem El-Haj! Just finished reading your article on pursuing Islamic scholarship alongside another career, and I gotta say, it’s spot on! As someone who’s been navigating the complexities of balancing religious studies with a career path, your insights really hit home.

    I love how you emphasized the importance of intentionality and sincerity in seeking knowledge. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but your reminder to approach the pursuit of Islamic scholarship with a pure heart is something we all need to hear. Your practical advice on time management and prioritization is gold – I’ll definitely be implementing some of those strategies myself! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and guiding us aspiring scholars on this rewarding journey. Looking forward to more of your insightful articles in the future!
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