Can Knowledge Be Acquired Solely by Reading Books Without a Teacher?

Answered by Shaykh Dr. Bassem Itani


Can knowledge be sought merely by reading books without a teacher?


In the Name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate.

It is not proper for a student of knowledge to suffice himself with reading books without taking knowledge from scholars. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

“Knowledge is only acquired through learning, and understanding is achieved through seeking it.” [Bukhari]

Knowledge must be taken from the mouths of scholars because relying solely on self-study from books entails many risks.

Some of these risks include:

1. An Inaccurate Understanding

The reader may misunderstand many points, leading to false interpretations. The Quran and Sunna texts have contexts that require the reader to have a firm footing in the Arabic language – having studied it, as well as a grasp of many terminologies.

Similarly, with Islamic books (subjects such as ‘Aqida, Tafsir, Usul al-Fiqh, Fiqh, and others), you can only unpack these scholarly terminologies with the help of a scholar specializing in these subjects.

2. Personal Interpretation

Whoever reads exclusively from books and tries to analyze and interpret texts without returning to a scholarly source may fall into personal interpretations that do not represent authentic Islamic concepts.

It is also possible for this approach to lead to both fanaticism and extremism in theoretical and practical matters. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace)  said,

“Those who go to extremes are doomed. Those who go to extremes are doomed. Those who go to extremes are doomed.” [Muslim]

This is directed at those who go to extremes in their religious and worldly affairs.

3. Wasting Time

The reader may spend much time in books without reaching the desired results. With the presence of a scholar, one can understand many complex matters in a significantly short time.

To avoid these risks, the seeker must take knowledge from reliable scholars, which is crucial in unpacking the sciences and building a solid foundation. After this stage, a person may independently delve into self-reading and research.

While a student is studying with scholars, there is no harm in reading other works outside of his curriculum if the enthusiasm is there. The condition is that he consults his teachers regarding what he reads. If he finds anything complicated in these works, he should return to his teachers and ask them. He should also ask his teachers which books are essential and relative to particular areas.

A person who has understood the various sciences well under his teachers’ tutelage and has studied a complete syllabus can then delve into extensive self-reading to further broaden his knowledge. This method ensures a balanced intellectual, scientific, and methodological approach allowing character development for the student of knowledge.

[Shaykh] Dr. Bassem Itani

Shaykh Dr. Bassem Hussayn Itani was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1965. He earned his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies in 2005. Among his mentors were Shaykh Muhammad Taha Sukkar, Shaykh Adib al-Kallas, Shaykh Mulla Abdul ‘Alim al-Zinki, Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri, Shaykh Abdul Razzaq al-Halabi, Shaykh Dr. Mustafa Dib al-Bugha, Shaykh Dr. Wahba al-Zuhayli, Dr. Muhammad al-Zuhayli, and others, may Allah have mercy on them all. 

Shaykh Itani has a rich background in both academic and administrative fields. He has held significant positions in many governmental and non-governmental institutions in Lebanon and abroad. This includes his role as a member of the Academic Committee at SeekersGuidance and a senior teacher with the free online global seminary.

From 2020 to 2021, he served as the Dean of the College of Da‘wa – University for Islamic Studies (Lebanon) – Postgraduate Studies. He was the Director of Dar Iqra for Islamic Sciences from 1998 to 2018. Shaykh Itani is a well-versed teacher in several academic subjects, including Fiqh, Usul, Aqida, and Tafsir. He has supervised and examined numerous Master’s and Doctoral theses at various universities and colleges in Lebanon.

His contributions to Islamic sciences are also evident in his writings and research. His notable works include “The Relied-upon Statements of Imam Zufar in the Hanafi School,” “Collective Ijtihad: The Sublimity of Thought in the 21st Century,” and “Custom and its Impact in Islamic Jurisprudence.” Shaykh Itani has actively participated in numerous scientific conferences and seminars, both in Lebanon and internationally. He is linguistically adept, excelling in Arabic, proficient in French, and comfortably conversant in English.