Advice Regarding Being a Student of Knowledge and Taking Notes

Answered by Sidi Tabraze Azam

Question: I have problems with taking notes in Islamic lectures and classes. What methods would you recommend using? Or what advice could you give in order to improve this problem?

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I hope you are in the best of health and spirits insha’Allah. Jazakum Allahu Khayr for your excellent question.

The Proper Etiquette (Adab) of the Seeker

Our tradition is deeply rooted in proper manners (adab); or the right way of doing things. For this reason, the scholars have always stressed its importance in training new generations of students in order that they may be fit to receive the Prophetic light.

Imam Zarnuji (Allah be pleased with him), the author of the excellent work Instruction of the Student and the Method of Learning (Ta`lim al-Muta`allim fi Tariq al-Ta`allum), writes that it is of the utmost importance that one has deep respect for the knowledge one is studying and its people.

It is narrated that Sayyiduna `Ali (Allah be pleased with him) said, “I am the slave of the one who teaches me a single letter.”

Imam Ghazali (Allah be pleased with him) mentioned that, “We didn’t attain unto this knowledge except by way of humility”. Similarly, Imam al-Halwani (Allah be pleased with him), a great Hanafi, is reported to have said, “We didn’t attain unto this knowledge except by way of exaltation (i.e. of the knowledge and deeming it something great); for I have not touched a single piece of paper except in a state of ritual ablution (wudu)”.

Furthermore, Ibn Jama`ah (Allah be pleased with him) noted in his work, Memoir of the Listener and the Speaker in the Training of Teacher and Student (Tadhkirat al-Sami` wa’l Mutakallim fi Adab al-`Alim wa’l Muta`allim), that one should appear before one’s teacher in a state of purity, of clothing and body. One should be focused in one’s state, not tired, hungry, or otherwise. This is in order that one can fully benefit from the teacher and his instruction.

When one realizes the greatness of that which is being sought, those it is being sought from and that one is seeking to attain a portion of the Prophetic inheritance, one humbles oneself, is in awe of knowledge and its people and gives one’s all.

The etiquettes (adab) to follow are many. The more one adheres to them, the greater the benefit one attains. “Act upon that which one knows, and Allah will grant one knowledge of that which one knows not.”

Taking Notes

Below are some general guidelines which may be of benefit:

[1] Jot down key topics/words;

[2] Divide one’s paper into sections;

[3] Use headings and bullet points to organize one’s notes for each particular topic;

[4] It is useful to have a different coloured pen, or a highlighter, available to highlight key points;

[5] Write up one’s notes as soon as one can (with detail);

These are simply general guidelines. Here are some useful links related to note-taking and “systems”:

[i] How to Take Notes like Thomas Edison

[ii] How to Take Lecture Notes

[iii] Geek to Live: Take study-worthy lecture notes

Some Recommended Readings

[1] Instruction of the Student: The Method of Learning

[2] Memoir of the Listener and the Speaker in the Training of Teacher and Student

[3] Imam Ghazali’s Book of Knowledge

[4] The Book of Knowledge from The Gardens of the Righteous (Riyad al-Salihin)

[5] The Path of Muhammad: A Book on Islamic Morals and Ethics

[6] Ten Adab of Seekers of Knowledge – Notes by Ayaz Siddiqui

May Allah grant us all the divinely granted success (tawfiq) to benefit from the knowledge we learn and its people. Amin.

And Allah alone gives success.


Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani