Students of Knowledge Stepping

Special Advice for Students of Sacred Law (Fiqh) by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed

Shaykh Dr. Amjad Rasheed (Jordan)

Recorded and transcribed. 

The company of the knowledgeable and righteous bears many fruits. On a recent trip to Jordan, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani recorded a special counsel from Shaykh Dr. Amjad Rasheed on mastering the science of Sacred Law (Fiqh). Shaykh Amjad Rasheed is a Jordanian Shafi`i faqih and PhD in Islamic Law. He has studied under top scholars in Jordan, Syria, and Tarim, and obtained ijazas from his teachers. His counsel was transcribed (below). Share this with a student of knowledge or anyone interested in studying Islamic Sciences.

When a student of sacred law (fiqh) wants to master the knowledge of sacred law, what would you advise?

From the beginning, by reading the smaller primers or introductory texts? He would love to gain mastery in the knowledge of Fiqh. What would you advise?

Shaykh Dr. Amjad Rasheed:

In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, The Especially Merciful.

First, in fact, first and last is to be keen to learn from the scholars. 

Second, Imam Al-Nawawi says in the introduction of his book, Al-Mihaj. “All praise is for God, the One who assists or facilitates and assists, Tafaqquh (gaining an understanding of religion). He notes that ‘Tafaqquh’ is in the verbal form ‘Tafa‘ul’, i.e. there is some difficulty or effort therein, that is to take something (learn Sacred Law) gradually, one step or level at a time.

Start With Fundamentals

You should start with the fundamentals before venturing into more advanced knowledge. This is the rabbaniyya’ about which God says “Be Rabbaniyyin” [Quran, 3:79].

The fundamentals in terms of Sacred Law refer to the introductory primers (matn). The important issue with introductory primers, Sayyidi, is the first step that the student of sacred knowledge should pursue is to select the primer that the scholars have relied upon, spent their time and efforts with, and studied.

The Primers that they explained, taught, and wrote about in commentaries. The well-served book will serve the student of Sacred Knowledge. In other words, the well-served primer will serve the student in gaining knowledge.

Read Repeatedly and Consistently

The other issue with concise works or monographs is to repeatedly read them and not grow tired or bored of studying them, reading them with scholars in revision and study. 

Something interesting, we’ve heard about our Master, Shaykh Muhammed Bin ‘Ali Al-Khatib (may God preserve him) is that he read the introductory primer Safinat Al-Naja will with his teachers about 40 times (the basic primer Safina is considered among the most basic). But the Shaykh has memorized texts. SubhanaAllah (Perfect is God) gave Shaykh Muhammed Bin ‘Ali Al-Khatib a foundation. Safina and other works prepared him to be a Hafiz in the School.

Master the Memorization of Fundamental Definitions and Meanings

The first focus of the primer that a student should concern himself with is to master the memorization of fundamental definitions. Then mastery of the memorization, of what he is able to, in terms of the limitations of the matters at hand, so as to not overlook them. Basic concepts, in other words, since a primer does not usually cover all the principles or limitations.

He should memorize the primer and master its meanings. Its apparent meanings and implied or inferred meanings. This is the foundation, then you should progress to the explanatory notes or Shuruh to expand his knowledge of the basic principles in the primer in question.

Know the Restriction and Precautions of the Primers

One of the most important matters is to know the (muḥtarazat) precautions of these primers. The student must not neglect the knowledge of the basic conceptualization of an issue, the apparent and the inferred, then the (quyud) restrictions, then the (muḥtarazat)  precautions.

When a student wants to study (mustalahat) technical jargon, like ‘mantuq al-nass’, ‘mafhum al-nass’ or ‘quyud’ or ‘muḥtarazat’ and what that ‘muḥtarazat’ preclude, then he has attained all of the basic knowledge of that subject.

All of this, when added to what we mentioned sayyidi, there is no doubt that he will reach what you have mentioned a moment ago. If you were asked a thousand questions about the text, Matn Al-Maraqi, and you don’t answer, then you can say goodbye to this student. These sayyidi, are the most important matters a student should be concerned with in studying the basic primers. Thereafter he may progress to another primer, then another.

Teach to Test Your Knowledge

The most important way to reinforce the understanding of the student, of this primer, after that, is to teach. Teaching is the true test of knowledge, in reality.

It is the place of putting students to the test so when someone reads any book, any subject and he reads and reads – I usually have a comparison for such a beginner student who thinks of himself as a scholar without lessons.

He is, sayyidi, like the one who loves singing poetry. So he listens to the artists, and within himself, he sings as if his voice sounds like theirs, and that his tune is like theirs, in his mind. But if he were to be recorded and playback the recording, he would hear his voice, and he would get a very different perspective.

Similarly, the student reads books and enjoys a deeper understanding of sacred law, etc. And concepts like hidden defects. Then he starts thinking he is Ibn Hajar or Kamal Ibn Al-Humam (Allah be pleased with him). He reads thinking he is like that, thinking that he understands. But in reality, if the matter went beyond soft talk to actual spoken word, then the defects of the student will be exposed and the disparity between his self-talk and reality will be apparent.

Revise Revise Revise

It is a must for the student to repeatedly revise what he has learned and memorized. He should connect with other students. So they may study together what was read with the students, and not have room for self-talk, confining themselves to their thoughts, thinking that he’s got it and he has understood rather he should verbalize it.

Allow Critique From Others

Giving expression to knowledge is half of knowledge. And perhaps it is more than that, that is to express it well.

Thereafter, he can critique or problematize his expression with others, they can also critique it. The one listening and speaking at the time of speaking can perceive that he does not have a thorough grasp of the issue. He can then try and try again. The student can benefit from expressing the issue with dialogue, study, revision, and teaching. He can benefit by developing the ability to express the issue in a comprehensive and sound manner with speech. His expression should be correct in terms of Sacred Law, while being suitable to address the intended addressee, he will attain knowledge.

The Guidance of Scholars

The issue after that, I advise the students of knowledge; if they want to attain a portion of mastery by themselves, is to move to the next stage with the guidance of scholars.

Read Classical Legal Rulings (Fatwa) With the Guidance of Scholars

Read some of the concise classical fatawa works. The benefit of that is that at the time of the question, if we read the question, it’s not clear. You’ll find that in the response of the Mufti, the question becomes clear. The student perceives that there is knowledge even in the application of the Mufti and his understanding.

The student perceives that there is knowledge even in the application of how the Mufti understands and directs the questioner. He will also benefit from the answer. Where did the Mufti reference the answer from? Whether he responded based on the apparent wording or the inferred understanding, or if there was a hidden defect, or external evidence or principle.

The student will see the application he will see differences of opinion in the School, and he will see practical extrapolation of the issues and how the substantive laws are extended. He will see the evidence, and whether the evidence is from the expressions of the companions of the School or the Jurists, or from a particular book and how to draw from them and branch off. This is reading concise fatawa, not lengthy research pieces. That is another stage.

Comparing One’s Own Understanding to Learned Scholars

By reading them (fatwas), the student can reinforce himself by reading the questions, trying to answer them, and comparing his answers to that of the Mufti and see the difference or the people and see the difference of the problems and shortfalls and see the differences are the problems and shortfalls. You will often find from the defects that resulted, that he overlooked, when he understands the question and when he knows where the place of the answer is, you will find that many of his mistakes or oversights are a result of not mastering the limitations and restrictions (the basics).

So the shortfalls or mistakes in the answers are often a result of not understanding the basic limitations. Imam Nur Al-Din Ali Al-Zayyadi, the Shaykh of the Shafi‘iyya in Egypt (God have mercy on him) – when he gave a ruling on an issue of Ijarah (whether the Ijarah was valid or not), he gave a ruling. And some of those listening to his fatwa were jealous of Shaykh Nur Al-Din. They were students of knowledge, but with ulterior motives, and they said in this fatwa that the Shaykh made a mistake.

The fatwa was spread among the scholars of the Azhar. Some of the scholars of Azhar were dragged into it by this critic, accusing the idea of making a big error. The critic’s proof that the Imam had made a mistake was the words of Imam Al-Nawawi in the Minhaj.

The matter went about in the Azhar University that the Shaykh of the Madhhab has made such a mistake. He doesn’t know the fatwa in the madhhab while the issue is contained in the Minhaj. When this matter reached Imam Zayyadi, he heard the accusation. He became annoyed and reproached the critic, who was ignorant of the matter, as well as the scholars he had dragged into it with him. He said to them, “the issue is in the Minhaj, it is well known and understood. But it is also further qualified through its Quyud in the commentaries.”

Because of this, he forbade giving Fatwa from the Minhaj! For whom, though?  For those who did not master the (quyud) limitations and qualifications of the Minhaj which are found in the words of the commentators. He said, “no one should give fatwa according to the Minhaj, not because it is not the relied upon work, but because the scholars at times mentioned something in unqualified forms, while they are, in reality, qualified. They did so by relying on the reader or student, to not only read from one source but from many, and take from the scholars and commentaries and fatawa works, etc, which clarify each other.

So knowledge is holistic and not atomistic, taken from a plethora of sources and not confined to one book. God knows best.

So these things, reading to the scholars and with the scholars, is a foundation.

Conclusion

Having prolonged benefits from the company of the scholars is the foundation, gradually moving up from the basics and gradually moving up from the basic works.

The student does not fatigue from studying the basic work, that is a foundation. The third matter is that taḥqiq or, reinforcing the reading of these primers, whether through learning the common nomenclature, the apparent and inferred meanings of the limitations/ restrictions, or the precautions of these.

The other matter we mentioned is that he expresses this matter the knowledge that he has received, and that he does not leave his knowledge, confined to self-talk. He should talk about it in front of his teacher with students when Allah facilitates for him to teach other beginners, as training, not that he is a mufti, he is training his expression.

This is good, but of course, with the guidance of the scholars. The other matter was to read the concise classical fatawa works after the stage of reading these primers. God knows best Sayyidi.

Biography

Shaykh Amjad Rasheed is a Jordanian Shafi`i faqih and PhD in Islamic Law. He has studied under top scholars in Jordan, Syria, and Tarim, and obtained ijazahs from his teachers. He is a student of Shaykh Nuh Keller, and is currently teaching the Shariah sciences, including high-level texts in fiqh and usūl at the Faculty of Shariah in Tarim (Hardamawt, Yemen) under the guidance of his teacher the noble faqih and mufti Shaykh Muhammad al-Khatib.

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