Criteria for Selecting Islamic Texts for Study

There is an incredible amount of books on every subject available nowadays. It is very easy to pick up a book on almost any subject, religious or otherwise. Publishing has become very easy and literally anyone can do it. There is really no way to only allow books that contain reliable material to be published. Although, this is not a new concept, but just the sheer amount of content these days is dizzying to say the least. As a student of knowledge, it is vital to be able to distinguish between books that are beneficial and good and books that are harmful and misleading.

This book is really a guide to get students of knowledge to get on the right path of acquiring the authentic Islamic Knowledge to get to a point where you are well read about the religion, understand the foundations of Islam and are equipped with the necessary knowledge to carry on studying throughout your lives on. Life is a journey and we all want to know how Allah wants us to lead our lives according to the Islamic teachings.

How do you tell which books to read and which to avoid? Is there any criteria that we can use to filter out the garbage and focus on the real good stuff? It turns out that there are a few resources available to help us in this regard. Here are some general guidelines:

Find books from recognized “Muslim” publishers
Avoid publishers who regularly publish negative material about Islam
Take the time to look up who the author is and what their background is, where they studied and what else they might have written
Read the reviews online if available on the bookstore web sites such as amazon.com
Take a look at the table of contents to figure out the structure of the book
Read the preface or introduction to see what the purpose of the book might be
Take a look at the references included in the footnotes or in the bibliography

And Allah knows best.

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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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Finding and reading quality books on Islam

There’s tons of books to read and never enough time to read them all. So how does one decide what to read and what to skip? One of the best ways to choose the best books to read for the biggest value for your time is to ask scholars. Often they will tell you the best book in any given Islamic topic. They might even caution you against certain books that maybe misleading or harmful. There are also book recommendations from booksellers or librarians and these days there are also reader ratings on a bookseller’s web site. There are many ways to choose. The idea is to get a well rounded education on Islamic topics from a wide range of quality books by a variety of recommended authors.

Frequent bookstores and good libraries if you’re lucky enough to have good libraries where you live. Browsing through the many books is a joy in and of itself, but I digress. If you have good book recommendations from scholars, keep a running list of books to read and a record of the books you’ve already read on each topic. Read from a wide range of categories for Islamic topics such as Aqeedah, Quran/Tafseer, Hadith/Sunnah, Seerah, Fiqh etc. Furthermore, try to read from various authors’ works instead and where possible, read the same topic from at least two to three authors to get different perspectives on the topics.

Develop a good reading habit that you’re always reading one or two or more books at a time. Read in a way that you’re distilling the information contained within them to notes that you can actually read and refer to later on. Find a method that works for you for reading and getting the most out of the books you read and keep at it until it becomes a habit. If something is not working out, try an alternate method. If some book is too difficult to read, move on to the next one. There’s likely a better written book on the same topic.

And Allah knows best.

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Reading the Quran Daily With Understanding

I advise myself and you all to make reading Quran daily with understanding a part of life. Even if it’s just a little bit daily, do read it. Regularly. And read it with understanding. Just as we feed our bodies daily with food, Alhamdulillah, we need to feed our souls. Therefore, don’t delay and start today. Reading the Quran daily with understanding will help us be connected with our Creator & our Sustainer Allah. The goal is to establish a lifelong relationship with the Quran so we are familiar with the Quran enough to go to it first for answers, guidance, comfort and to make sense of this life.

In order to do this successfully, we definitely need to know enough Arabic to understand the Quran properly. Start today on the journey to learn Arabic. Everything we do in order to get closer to the book of Allah, the Quran, we are rewarded for it. I shall provide a list of ready to use resources for learning Arabic in an upcoming blog post.

Quran is not read like other books (not like a story book or a science book). The Quran is read with an intention to listen and obey. To seek to understand. To find answers to our questions. To seek comfort knowing that the Quran is the actual speech of Allah, our Creator, Sustainer God.

Seeking knowledge is a great form of worship. What is a life that is lived without learning the purpose of our own existence but groping in the darkness of ignorance? All the answers to what ails individuals and society are present in the Quran. We should refer to the Quran for answers to our deepest questions such as “Who created me?” Or “Why was I created?” are answered in the Quran. If we refer to other sources for answers to these questions, then we will definitely go astray. May Allah protect us all from misguidance.

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A Muslim is a Student of Knowledge for Life

As Muslims, we are never done acquiring knowledge about our religion. For as long as we live, we should be in pursuit of acquiring the various disciplines of knowledge within Islam. That is not to say that every Muslim should become a scholar of Islam but rather know as much as possible about what is needed for us to live life according to Islam. The more time and effort someone puts into learning about Islam, the better it is for the benefit of learning about the religion is everlasting. We are rewarded for acquiring Islamic knowledge if our intention is to seek the pleasure of Allah, to be more informed about how to please Allah, to practice it in our own daily lives and to convey it to others by doing Da’wah.

Certain knowledge is mandatory for everyone: this includes the fundamentals, the belief system, the mandatory worship practices and what is allowed and what is not allowed. Still other knowledge is mandatory for some but not for others: this includes knowledge that is applicable to individuals because of their role, their means of livelihood, their living conditions, their family circumstances and so on. For instance, a business man must learn about how to conduct business within the limits of Islamic law (in addition to the knowledge about conducting business within the law of the land (which is also mandatory to obey within Islam). If someone is about to get married, it is mandatory for them, to learn about the issues regarding marriage, what is allowed, what is not allowed and how to live a married life with one’s spouse within the confines of Islamic law. Similarly, a father or mother must learn parenting according to Islam, whereas someone who is not a parent does not need to.

In other words, acquiring knowledge regarding issues relating to any other situation are mandatory if the person is in that situation or planning to get into it. Since life changes often, a Muslim must also equip himself or herself with the necessary knowledge in order not to stray outside the practices allowed by Islam.

And Allah knows best.

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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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