How to conduct research about Islamic topics

Conducting research about Islam is an important part of acquiring knowledge. It is essential to make sure that the right information from the right sources is chosen. There is a lot of inauthentic information that is commonplace nowadays. Because of the Internet, there is an even greater need to ascertain that the information is thoroughly researched and backed by authentic sources. This is because information is so easily distributed with the help of technology that anyone with or without knowledge can spread it. Proliferation of knowledge means both authentic knowledge and inauthentic made up stuff is out there.

Researching requires scrutinizing the material to see whether it is a work that has been referenced properly with primary sources of knowledge namely the Quran and Hadith directly or from secondary sources that take from works that are based upon the Quran and Hadith. This is no simple task. Very often well-intentioned people end up including questionable material in their works because they just couldn’t do the research or imagined that their sources were correct when they were in fact made up material. It can be confusing to a non-scholar to determine whether the secondary sources have been authenticated to be derived and based upon the accepted interpretation of the primary sources.

The safest way to do this research is to work with a few reputable scholars who will not shy away from providing you with the references when asked. As a rule of thumb, make sure to cross-references the sources yourself and not to rely on anyone blindly. As students of knowledge, we owe it ourselves to check and double-check information before accepting it.

Islamic knowledge has been preserved by Allah’s help. The Quran is protected against alteration as a promise of Allah. The Hadith is a primary source for Islamic knowledge right after the Quran. There has been a lot of work done by the scholars of Islam to authenticate Hadith. There is a fully developed science of Hadith which includes the chains of narrations, their content and the knowledge of the narrators of Hadith. The Prophet (ﷺ) explained the Quran to his companions and the reasons of the revelations of much of the Quran are preserved in the Hadith collections. Without the Hadith, the Quran can be interpreted incorrectly by people. Without the Hadith the knowledge of Islam is incomplete.

And Allah knows best.

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Akhlaaq and Muamalat

The religion of Islam is complete way of life for every individual, society or nation. It is the most a comprehensive way of life. It provides the most documented life instructions. The Quran and Sunnah provide the solutions for the problems of human individuals and societies. If we only bother looking into it. There are various aspects of Islam: Ibadah (worship – which has to do with our relationship with Allah), Akhlaaq & Muamalat (character and dealings – which have to do with our relationships with human beings). Worship is an important aspect of the religion of Islam but it is not the only aspect. There is the aspect of our conduct with other human beings. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the religion. People, particularly Muslims, tend to associate only the worship aspect with the religion and leave out the rest as not part of the religion.

Our character and dealings shape who we are as a person (Muslim individuals) and as a people (Muslim societies globally). It is a part of who we are. And our religion has complete and detailed instructions on how to interact amongst fellow human beings, how to conduct business, how the economy should work and how the government should work. Generally, Muslims have ignored or forgotten this aspect of Islam. They limit their understanding of the religion to the worship of Allah.

This is surprising for many reasons. The Quran specifically talks about these aspects of Islam. The Hadith are filled with examples from every possible aspect of life from interpersonal relationships to business, economy, government and more. If you can think of the situation, it is either directly or indirectly covered by Islam. Every aspect of life from human societies is covered. For instance, how the market should function, how the governments should govern, how the justice system should work and more. Furthermore, every aspect from interpersonal relationships that one can think of is covered such as marriage, divorce, children, women’s rights (way more than what the modern society awards women), neighbors, travelers, poor people and rich folk. Even seemingly trivial things such as how to enter the bathroom or put on clothing are included.

And Allah knows best.

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Avoiding Shirk & Bid’ah

Worshiping anyone aside from Allah in any way shape or form is shirk. Allah is the one and only God, and we must not direct our worship to anyone but Allah. Shirk is the only unforgivable sin in Islam, if one dies without repenting from it. Any other sin, can be forgiven at the discretion of Allah. Allah has informed us in the Quran:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَن يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا

Saheeh International English Translation: “Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly gone far astray.” [the Quran, chapter 4 (an-Nisaa), verse 116]

Therefore it is supremely important for us to avoid shirk. Worship must only be directed to Allah. Not only that, we must not intend from our worship to show off or to gain respect or for any other reason other than to please Allah alone. Always, ensure our worship is performed for the sake of Allah alone. Make our intentions pure for every worship, reviewing it before, during and after our worship.

Bid’ah is doing our worship in any way shape or form other than the way shape or form that the Prophet (ﷺ) taught, did himself, recommended or approved.

Bid’ah worship is rejected no matter how much we do it, how focused or how sincerely we do it. Intentionally or unintentionally, we see a lot of worship done by Muslims that have no basis in the Sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ) but were innovated much much later by people that came afterwards. Therefore, it is very important to ascertain that the worship is as it was taught by the Prophet (ﷺ). Furthermore, every bid’ah is leads to misguidance and every misguidance leads to the hellfire:

أَخْبَرَنَا عُتْبَةُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ أَنْبَأَنَا ابْنُ الْمُبَارَكِ، عَنْ سُفْيَانَ، عَنْ جَعْفَرِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ جَابِرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ فِي خُطْبَتِهِ يَحْمَدُ اللَّهَ وَيُثْنِي عَلَيْهِ بِمَا هُوَ أَهْلُهُ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ ‏”‏ مَنْ يَهْدِهِ اللَّهُ فَلاَ مُضِلَّ لَهُ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلْهُ فَلاَ هَادِيَ لَهُ إِنَّ أَصْدَقَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابُ اللَّهِ وَأَحْسَنَ الْهَدْىِ هَدْىُ مُحَمَّدٍ وَشَرَّ الأُمُورِ مُحْدَثَاتُهَا وَكُلَّ مُحْدَثَةٍ بِدْعَةٌ وَكُلَّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلاَلَةٌ وَكُلَّ ضَلاَلَةٍ فِي النَّارِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ ‏”‏ بُعِثْتُ أَنَا وَالسَّاعَةُ كَهَاتَيْنِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ وَكَانَ إِذَا ذَكَرَ السَّاعَةَ احْمَرَّتْ وَجْنَتَاهُ وَعَلاَ صَوْتُهُ وَاشْتَدَّ غَضَبُهُ كَأَنَّهُ نَذِيرُ جَيْشٍ يَقُولُ ‏”‏ صَبَّحَكُمْ مَسَّاكُمْ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ مَنْ تَرَكَ مَالاً فَلأَهْلِهِ وَمَنْ تَرَكَ دَيْنًا أَوْ ضِيَاعًا فَإِلَىَّ أَوْ عَلَىَّ وَأَنَا أَوْلَى بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ ‏”‏ ‏

It was narrated that Jabir bin ‘Abdullah said: “In his Khutbah the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to praise Allah as He deserves to be praised, then he would say: ‘Whomsoever Allah (SWT) guides, none can lead him astray, and whomsoever Allah sends astray, none can guide. The truest of word is the Book of Allah and best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The worst of things are those that are newly invented; every newly-invented thing is an innovation and every innovation is going astray, and every going astray is in the Fire.’ Then he said: ‘The Hour and I have been sent like these two.’ Whenever he mentioned the Hour, his cheeks would turn red, and he would raise his voice and become angry, as if he were warning of an approaching army and saying: ‘An army is coming to attack you in the morning, or in the evening!’ (Then he said): ‘Whoever leaves behind wealth, it is for his family, and whoever leaves behind a debt or dependents, then these are my responsibility, and I am the most entitled to take care of the believers.'”

And Allah knows best.

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How to Get Our Hearts at Peaceful Rest

We all cherish peace of mind. Indeed we all need it. And when we are not at peace with whatever, we crave that peace of mind with all of our body and soul. We have such a big need for it as human beings. So it is only natural that our Creator, Sustainer God has given us precise instructions of how to get this peace and tranquility that our hearts desire so much. We find these instructions in the Quran and the Sunnah.

The Quran tells us that the real peace that our hearts desire is found in the remembrance of Allah. Not meaningless utterances of remembrance but conscious, meaningful remembrance of Allah. Our hearts do indeed find peaceful rest in Allah’s remembrance. Allah explains this in the Quran in this famous verse:

الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

Saheeh International Translation: Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.

Obviously, a pre-requisite to all this is to have full faith in Allah alone. In order to have proper faith in Allah, learn about Allah and remember Allah with the proper etiquette. The remembrance of Allah is in the five daily prayers, the recitation of the Quran with meaning, the many duaa and zikr that have been related to us by the Prophet (ﷺ) during his life and recorded by his companions. These remembrances are readily available in authentic books of Azkaar and Duaa. Read them after learning their meanings. Read them daily during the mornings and during the evenings. Pray the five daily prayers on time. Recite the Quran daily even if just a little bit, with understanding. Once we establish a connection with our Lord, we will definitely have discovered the peace that our hearts so desire.

Without this peace of mind, peace of heart, peace in general, we feel that queasy feeling of being disturbed to our core. This feeling has nothing to do with material possessions, health or even family. This is much deeper than that. We could have all the wealth in the world, be healthy and have a loving family around us, we would still not be at peace in our core if we don’t have the guidance to have faith in Allah. This might be hard to imagine for some but it is the God honest truth.

And Allah knows best.

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Reading A Book a Month

I’m trying my hardest to read a book a month. This month I have finished reading Dr. Israr Ahmed’s (May Allah have Mercy on his soul) book Rasul-e-Kamil (in Urdu). Although the book is only about a hundred pages, it packs the essence of the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) highlighting his special purpose in this world. Allah sent him as a mercy to mankind. His character, his example and his being in and of itself was such a supreme example of what Allah wants every one of us to aspire to. He lived a humble life and brought the Message of Allah through the Quran. He also lived the Quran so we have an example to follow.

This book is about the life and times of the last Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) [may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). This is known as a book of Seerah (or the biography of the blessed Prophet (ﷺ) of Allah). Although I have read a few books on the Seerah already, it is always beneficial to read more. I recommend reading a book on the Seerah once every year. I also recommend everyone read a book of Tafseer every year. This is to keep us connected to the book of Allah (the Quran) and the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).

Islam has two fundamental sources. The Quran and the Sunnah. The Sunnah is stored in the collections of authentic Hadith. The Seerah contains the biography of the Prophet (ﷺ) from these two sources. The Quran, Sunnah and Seerah of the Prophet give us the complete context for understanding the message of Islam. Taking any of these sources in isolation will only create an incomplete understanding of Islam. An incomplete understanding is usually an incorrect understanding and can lead people in the wrong direction. May Allah protect us from an incorrect understanding of Islam.

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Quality vs. Quantity in Islam

Quality is regarded very highly in Islam. The quality of our faith, our worship, our struggle to be the best we can be is very important in Islam. Quantity does not matter as much as quality. We as Muslims need to understand these fundamentals. Our charity of a small date is valued a lot in the sight of Allah if done purely for gaining the pleasure of Allah. But making charity of thousands of dollars to show off and make a name for themselves in front of people is rejected by Allah and rendered useless.

Let’s take a closer look at worship in Islam. First and foremost, for any act of worship to be accepted, it has to be done purely for the sake of Allah alone and must be done in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet (ﷺ) otherwise it is not accepted. Secondly, the deed has to be done consciously (not absentmindedly) with understanding and acknowledgement that it is being done to please Allah and to obtain reward and to protect ourselves from the punishment (in case of obligatory acts of worship). If it’s done as a matter of habit or tradition, not done for the pleasure of Allah or not done as taught by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) then it is not accepted.

Alas, this is not very well understood by the majority of Muslims. The Muslim ummah is engaged in worship done without understanding, too quickly or absentmindedly. The Muslims are often after worship quantity rather than quality of worship. As a result, we find that Muslims are praying a lot but the prayer is devoid of meaning and missing the essence. Furthermore, a lot of the worship is not done in accordance with the Prophet’s (ﷺ) sunnah, so it consists of Bid’ah (innovated worship practices) which have no place in Islam.

We need to take a step back, learn the worship properly, understanding its meaning, and work on the quality of our worship. May Allah guide us all into becoming conscious of our deeds, making them purely for the sake of Allah alone and doing them according to the Sunnah.

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How do I start learning the Quran?

The Quran is a divinely revealed book containing the speech of Allah as revealed to the Prophet (ﷺ) by the angel Gabriel (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It is a special book. Every Muslim should aspire to learn and make it their most important project in life. Learning the Quran is a lifelong journey. Everything you learn in your journey toward learning to read and understand the Quran for the purpose of getting closer to Allah and understanding the religion of Islam is rewardable. There are numerous rewards, but that’s a different blog post. For this post, I’m outlining what I believe to be the essential steps for learning the Quran. Start from the very beginning, in the following order:

1-The Arabic Alphabet – learn the names, shapes & how to pronounce each alphabet properly. Apart from the individual letters, learn how to join the letters with vowels to form complete words. This will be very handy to have done early in your journey as everything will build on top of this. Make sure you get it right the first time, with as good a teacher as you can possibly find. This will be the foundation. Consider this successfully completed if you can read the Quran.

2-The Tajweed Rules – learn the rules of Tajweed to truly understand proper pronunciation of the letters correctly when reciting the Quran. Simply learning to read is not enough, learning to read with the rules of Tajweed is mandatory for properly reciting the book of Allah. Tajweed rules should be learned with the help of a qualified teacher.

3-The Arabic Language – learn enough Arabic to be able to understand the Quran in its original language instead of relying on translations. It isn’t hard, ANYONE can do it if they put enough effort into it. There are courses available for this, so it’s a great idea to enroll in one of those and learn it properly.

4-Tafseer – learn the meanings of the Quran by studying from a basic Tafseer, something like the popular Tafseer of Ibn Katheer. A well written Tafseer relies on the authentic Hadith and the Quran itself to explain the Quran. Tafseer that doesn’t rely on Quran & Hadith should be avoided. Ideally this should be read in its original Arabic but if that’s not possible, there are translations available in English, Urdu and possibly other languages as well.

5-Bringing it all together – Once you have learned to read with Tajweed, have learned enough Arabic to know the meanings of what you’re reciting, have invested enough time to study from a reliable work of Tafseer, then you are truly on the path to understanding Islam inshaaAllah. You still need to refer to the Hadith, Sunnah and the works of the Seerah (the recorded works contain authentic descriptions, actions and sayings of the Prophet (ﷺ)  as well as his blessed life to bring it all together.

May you find the journey of Quran studies be an easy and fruitful one. Ameen.

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Studying the Hadith Sciences

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of learning the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) known as the Seerah. His teachings were recorded in by his companions, the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them all), and passed down to their children and recorded in the collections of Sunnah and Hadith. We have an amazing amount of detail recorded about the personal and public aspects of the Prophet’s life, so much so that there is no one in history, specially from fourteen centuries ago, whose life is so meticulously recorded and preserved.

The science of Hadith is simply amazing. I’m not just saying that. Check it out for yourself. There are books on the Science of Hadith written by qualified scholars that are available in English. I recommend Dr Bilal Philips’ book entitled Usool Al Hadith to get you started. Or watch the lectures on YouTube on the subject, the Sciences of Hadith (also by Dr Bilal).

We know what he looked like, what he liked, disliked, approved or disapproved, what he did and didn’t do, what he avoided and didn’t avoid, what he said and didn’t say with remarkable certainty because of the great work done by the Hadith collectors in authenticating and preserving the authentic Sunnah along with the chains of narrations so we not only have the knowledge about the Prophet’s life but we also know how that knowledge reached, who originally recorded and who passed it down and how it came to be in the authentic collections of Hadith books. This is better recording than ANY literature, religious or scientific or others, specially from that long ago.

When we try to understand the Quran and Islam itself from the lens of western authors or authors who have been influenced by westerners, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. It’s akin to trying to understand how to cope with winter in Canada from the point of view of someone who has never been to Canada or any other country where the winters are harsh. Just a crude example but you get what I mean. In reality there is a hidden agenda behind western explanation of Islam by so-called Orientalists to undermine Islam by writing about Islam in a negative manner. In order to avoid falling into that trap, we need to read literature after choosing it carefully.

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Studying the Life of the Prophet (ﷺ)

The Quran is the book of guidance for all of humanity. The Prophet (ﷺ) was the practical embodiment of the message contained in the Quran. The blessed life of the last Prophet & Messenger of Allah (may the peace & blessings of Allah be upon him) is a source of guidance for all of us. He showed us practically how to live life according the teachings of the Quran.

In order to understand the Quran and really appreciate the message of Islam, we must invest the time and energy to study the life of the Prophet (ﷺ). We have to understand Islam from the lens of the Hadith (which is essentially the recorded actions and sayings of the Prophet (ﷺ). Learning Islam from the right context is extremely important. This is particularly true these days when a lot of made up propaganda and false information is heavily marketed and readily available.

We are extremely lucky to have many books on the subject in every language available to us these days. These are called books of Seerah (books on the life of the Prophet (ﷺ). The books that are written by qualified scholars taking only from the authentic sources (Quran and authentic Hadith) should be read by every Muslim to personally learn about the life of the Prophet (ﷺ). There are also audio and video materials available online today that are very useful in acquiring this much needed knowledge.

One of the best books available in English is the Sealed Nectar (which is the English translation of the Arabic book Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtoom by SafiurRahman Mubarakpuri). There are lectures on the Seerah by prominent lecturers in English. The most detailed ones are by Dr Sheikh Yasir Qadhi available on YouTube.

There are plenty of other resources available as well but these should get anyone get started on this journey of acquiring knowledge. Start today and learn. May your path to knowledge be easy and fruitful.

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Being Good to People

Being good to people is part and parcel of being a good Muslim. If we understand Islam, we would realize that behaving well with fellow human beings is one of the most fundamental requirements of Islam. As a matter of fact, being good to all creatures is required by Islam. It is really unfortunate that Muslims, just like people of other religions, go about treating each other unfairly in all kinds of ways. If only they realized that good character is not optional in Islam. This includes the words we use when speaking to others as well as all of our actions. We cannot use hurtful words or hurt anyone physically or emotionally as a Muslim.

People are generally good.

It seems like common sense. People already know this innately. Being good is liked by people in every society. Being bad is disliked. Nobody likes to be lied to or cheated. Yet people do lie and cheat. Without regard to the consequences of their sins.

Bad character is commonplace.

What needs to be done to change this? Specially when it comes to Muslims since we know that sins carry a punishment in the hereafter that is much greater than any harm that we could imagine in this world. Still, we see Muslims in Muslim societies ill treating other Muslims, just like people of any other religion. This seems to be due to a lack of awareness and a lack of the effort needed to create good habits. People know that lying is evil, but they have developed lying as a habit over many years without consciously thinking about it.

So many people lie as a rule.

We need to remind each other to fight this habit and break out of it completely. Fight the urge to habitually lie or cheat or be bad to others. Make it a point to be good to others on purpose. Even when it seems odd. Learn the Quran and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) to find out how important good character is and teach it to our families. Without this effort, the societies will go from bad to worse.

Be good to everyone.

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