Is Historical and Cultural Knowledge Important for a Scholar?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

Is it important for an islamic scholar to know about history and cultural background to better understand the people he is advising or the world he is living in, or should he use his time to acquire only islamic knowledge?

Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam. Jazakum Allah khayr for your question. I pray this finds you in the best of states.

The acquisition of knowledge is gradual and should be systematic. This means prioritising what you learn at each stage. General knowledge of history is not essential knowledge in most cases, though can be useful and very important in other situations.

Prioritising Knowledge

How, when, and what knowledge one seeks largely depends on what age one starts seeking knowledge. A child will be able to study to both Islamic and broader subjects together, while someone setting out to study the Islamic sciences in adulthood must obviously prioritise. Most people in the West fall into the latter category.

The first thing everyone must learn is the personally obligatory knowledge. Once this has been learnt, then, if the desire still exists, then one can continue to pursue further studies, which would be fulfilling the communal obligation. During these stages, one should concentrate on their Islamic studies and not be too distracted by other sciences. If one wishes, they could set some time aside for extra-curricular reading.

Once a person has completed the bulk of their Islamic studies, then they may freely choose to explore other broader aspects of knowledge such as history and culture, and ensuring not to neglect Islamic history, which includes the seerah.

Is historical and cultural knowledge useful or essential?

The Prophet ﷺ has said, ‘Be avid for that which benefits you’. As such, anything that strengthens one’s faiths, or enables one to strengthen the faith of others, is praiseworthy. Every sound, beneficial knowledge compliments another, and doubtlessly makes a scholar a much more well-rounded individual, and broadens his thinking and ideas. This doesn’t just apply to scholars, but also to all Muslims.

Whether history is essential for a scholar really depends on the role of the scholar, his location, and the situation. As mentioned, in most cases, it is not essential for a scholar to study general history. For example, a scholar of tafsir only really needs to know history relevant to tafsir, a hadith scholar only in the context of hadith. As for a scholar of the Prophetic biography, then they need to know the history of events, while broader world history would certainly complete his knowledge, but cannot be deemed essential.

As for a jurist, a scholar of sacred law, it also depends on the situation being presented. A knowledge of history is never really necessary to reach a correct ruling, though there may be exceptions (see below). In regards to knowing the culture and customs of a people, this may not be necessary in some cases, highly preferable in others cases, and may be essential in a few situations.

In certain situations, legal rulings should only be issued from scholars of the actual area only, who have knowledge of the history, culture and customs, geo-politics, even climate if relevant, and the specific problems facing the Muslims in that area.

Another area where knowledge of culture and history might be essential is for the one calling people to Islam (da’wah). In these cases, one should gain knowledge of the local history, customs and traditions, as well the dominant beliefs, mind-set, and trends of the local people. To enter into da’wah without this knowledge, one cannot really understand the people and their backgrounds, and therefore any outreach would be limited, and maybe even inappropriate.

It goes without saying, that anyone calling people to Allah in their countries, should first ensure they have at least studied their own personally obligatory knowledge and gained a sound understanding and practice of the religion before speaking to others about it.

Summary

In conclusion, personally obligatory knowledge should always be prioritised. If one is engaged in communally obligatory knowledge, one should focus on those disciplines. Knowledge of history for a scholar is usually not essential, but is always useful. Knowledge of local customs and culture is always useful for a scholar, and sometimes can be very important and essential, depending on the role of the scholar and the specific situation. And Allah knows best.

I wish you all the best. May Allah grant you tawfiq in your studies.

Warmest salams,
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah

Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.

How Can I Correct My False Understanding of Islam? (Video)

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Assalam alaykum

How can I correct my false understanding of Islam?

Answer:  Wa alaykum assalam,

Here is a video answer to this question by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani:

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani is a scholar and researcher of Islamic law and Executive Director of SeekersHub Global After ten years overseas, Shaykh Faraz returned to Canada in the Summer of 2007. In May 2008 he founded SeekersHub Global to deal with the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge—both online and on the ground—in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He has been repeatedly listed as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims (The Muslim500).

Is It Permissible for a Woman to Learn Islam From a Man?

Answered by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Question: Assalam alaykum,

Is it permissible for a woman to receive Islamic knowledge from a man?

Answer: Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh,

I pray this finds you well. May Allah reward you for reaching out to us.

Knowledge

It is obligatory for you to seek out answers, especially in regards to personally obligatory knowledge. Please observe the appropriate ettiquette while you send Whatsapp questions, voice recordings and so on. Strive to keep all interaction polite and professional.

Lady scholar

There is something very special about learning from a lady scholar. Shaykhas and ustadhas offer refreshing feminine wisdom and compassion.

I encourage you to perform the Prayer of Need in the last third of the night, and beg Allah to send you a lady teacher. If you cannot find one where you live, then consider trustworthy websites such as SeekersHub and Rabata.

I pray that Allah rewards you for your avidness in learning His Deen.

Please see:

A Reader On Gender Interaction
Can Muslim woman teach mixed class

Wassalam,

[Ustadha] Raidah Shah Idil

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil has spent almost two years in Amman, Jordan, where she learned Shafi’i’ fiqh, Arabic, Seerah, Aqeedah, Tasawwuf, Tafsir and Tajweed. She continues to study with her Teachers in Malaysia and online through SeekersHub Global. She graduated with a Psychology and English degree from University of New South Wales, was a volunteer hospital chaplain for 5 years and has completed a Diploma of Counselling from the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. She lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with her husband, daughter, and mother-in-law.

How Do I Know An Islamic Scholar/Website Is Legitimate? (Video)

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Assalamu alaykum

How do I know an islamic scholar/website is legitimate?

Answer:  Wa’leykum Salam,

Here is a video answer by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani to this question:

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani is a scholar and researcher of Islamic law and Executive Director of SeekersHub Global After ten years overseas, Shaykh Faraz returned to Canada in the Summer of 2007. In May 2008 he founded SeekersHub Global to deal with the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge—both online and on the ground—in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He has been repeatedly listed as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims (The Muslim500).

How Important Is It to Learn Arabic? [Video]

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Assalamu alaykum

How important is it to learn Arabic?

Answer: Wa’leykum Salam,

Here is a video answer by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani to this question:

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani is a scholar and researcher of Islamic law and Executive Director of SeekersHub Global After ten years overseas, Shaykh Faraz returned to Canada in the Summer of 2007. In May 2008 he founded SeekersHub Global to deal with the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge—both online and on the ground—in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He has been repeatedly listed as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims (The Muslim500).

Where Can I Learn the Rules of Prayer, Zakat and Menstruation?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam alaykum

Is the Mukhtasar al-Quduri a good reference text for the Hanafi School?

I would like something which outlines the rules of zakat, menstruation and also the rules of prayer.

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

1. Yes, The Mukhtasar of Imam al-Quduri is a relied upon text in the Hanafi School.

However, a thousand years of Hanafi scholarship followed, so you cannot simply take rulings from it and apply it in your life. Legal texts require legal scholars and sound scholarship to be understood. Otherwise, you will simply end up doing things wrong, while at the same time, assuming that things are going fine.

2. I’d recommend getting hold of: (a) The Absolute Essentials of Islam by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, and as a reference, (b) Ascent to Felicity by Shaykh Faraz Khan. Thereafter, my suggestion is to take the following classes on the Laws of Worship: (1) Absolute Essentials of Islam: Basic Hanafi Jurisprudence (STEP) and (2) Islamic Law for Seekers (Hanafi): Worship (Part 1).

And Allah Most High alone knows best.

[Ustadh] Tabraze Azam

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Tabraze Azam holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Leicester, where he also served as the President of the Islamic Society. He memorised the entire Qur’an in his hometown of Ipswich at the tender age of sixteen, and has since studied the Islamic Sciences in traditional settings in the UK, Jordan and Turkey. He is currently pursuing advanced studies in Jordan, where he is presently based with his family.

How Can We Balance Classes When Seeking Knowledge? [Video]

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Assalamu alaykum

How can we balance classes when seeking knowledge?

Answer:  Wa’leykum Salam,

Here is a video answer by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani to this question:

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani is a scholar and researcher of Islamic law and Executive Director of SeekersHub Global After ten years overseas, Shaykh Faraz returned to Canada in the Summer of 2007. In May 2008 he founded SeekersHub Global to deal with the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge—both online and on the ground—in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He has been repeatedly listed as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims (The Muslim500).

Should I Avoid Pursuing Islamic Studies While Paying My Parents Mortgage?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam alaykum

If a person indulges in major sin, should he avoid to pursue Islamic studies?


My parent have a lot of debts on mortgage and I am hoping to get a job and help them. But I would have to pay interest which is a sin. I would love to study Islam and become a scholar too but I fear that I will become a much greater hypocrite.

Answer: Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah,

1. It is not sinful to help your parents financially. Rather, this would be a tremendous act of kindness and generosity towards them. And you aren’t responsible for the debts incurred, even if interest bearing.

2. Study Islam for Allah. Study so that you can practice it in your life and become a beloved, grateful servant. And do the best you can in the situation in which Allah has placed you. Fears of becoming a hypocrite are simply the devil’s way of ensuring you learn nothing about your religion.

Please also see: Knowledge: What, How and Why We Study and: On Sincerity and Avoiding Excessiveness – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

And Allah Most High alone knows best.

wassalam,
[Ustadh] Tabraze Azam

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Tabraze Azam was born and raised in Ipswich, England, a quiet town close to the east coast of England. His journey for seeking sacred knowledge began when he privately memorized the entire Qur’an in his hometown at the age of 16. He also had his first experience in leading the tarawih (nightly-Ramadan) prayers at his local mosque. Year after year he would continue this unique return to reciting the entire Quran in one blessed month both in his homeland, the UK, and also in the blessed lands of Shaam, where he now lives, studies and teaches.

Should I Memorize the Safwat al-Zubad​ as a Student of Shafi`i Fiqh​ ? (Shafi’i)

Answered by Shaykh Shuaib Ally

Question: I was hoping to get some advice regarding Safwat al Zubad. I study independently with tutors and sheikhs online. I also have a good memory.


What are some pros and cons in memorizing this text?

Answer: Assalamu ʿalaykum,

I pray that you are well. May Allah bless you in your course of study, keep your memory sharp, and guide you to what benefits you and society at large.

On Memorizing Short Texts and the Safwat al-Zubad

Many teachers strongly advise memorizing a short text in each Islamic discipline. This serves as a teaching and studying tool. Memorizing a primer, such as the Zubad, allows one to quickly recall the outlines of a given discipline; in the case of the Zubad, it allows one to do so for legal rulings in the Shāfiʿī School. I have seen many teachers, for example, recite verses from the Zubad when they are attempting to recall a specific ruling.

For students of Shāfiʿī fiqh, the Zubad is a highly recommended text, and one of the most commonly memorized. It covers all the main chapters of law, giving one a broad understanding of the areas covered in classical fiqh. It is also unique in that it begins with a section on Islamic belief, and ends with one on purification of the soul, both indispensable to a student. Moreover, it is relatively easy – and fun – to memorize, as it is entirely in verse.
That said, memorizing it depends on a person’s goals and ambitions. A student whose focus is not law, or needs to devote time elsewhere, can forego this without it necessarily affecting their study.

On the Importance of Breadth of Study

It is sometimes difficult, when one is in a course of study, to ascertain the immediate value of a given aspect of that study. For example, it might be unclear what value is to be accrued from studying a specific book, or a chapter of law that doesn’t appear to have much, if any, modern relevance. However, the point is not usually the specific text itself, or the immediate practical application of a specific subject; it is rather meant to be a part of an overall course of study that gives one sufficient grounding across the classical disciplines.

Covering a wide range of material, even once, is useful for a student, as it gives them a breadth of understanding and an awareness of the material that would otherwise be missing. This awareness, at a minimal level, prevents one from making incorrect assertions about the legal corpus and the way law works. It also serve as a building block for further study, if one develops such an interest, and gives one the ability to follow along any discussion related to that area of law, either in books of law or other disciplines.

The nature of classical scholarly education entailed covering all of the major Islamic disciplines, and then further specializing in some – or many, given the aptitude of the scholar and divine grace. This breadth of knowledge is reflected in the works they produced. You will thus find works in a given discipline referencing material or scholarly debate in other, seemingly unrelated, disciplines.

A student who has the breadth of understanding gained through a balanced education will be able to keep up with the material; even if unable to participate in a given discussion, they will at least be aware of the contours of the arguments proffered. One who hasn’t covered the material will simply have to skip over such discussions, as they may appear comprehensible.

This is to say that some things that seem unimportant to a student at an early age of study may later turn out to have been important for their development. Khalīl, the early lexicographer, said that one only attains what he needs of grammar by means of what he doesn’t need; it thus turns out that he is actually in need of what he is not in need of! While Khalīl was speaking of grammar, his point is easily transferable across disciplines.

Will Memorizing a Text get me closer to Allah?

The question you raise about getting closer to Allah is yet important, as that is the real import of beneficial knowledge. Imam al-Ghazālī, in his Iḥyāʾ, raises similar concerns about the importance of serious students being able to differentiate between that which actually brings one closer to God, and those disciplines that distract and ultimately are a waste of time and effort.
Generally speaking, some areas of knowledge are always praiseworthy, because their immediate benefit is on drawing closer to God. Other disciplines are praiseworthy insofar as they lead to a praiseworthy goal that brings one closer to Allah, such as being able to live in accordance with his law, or the ability to teach others, or to participate in scholarly development. They can become blameworthy when taken to an extreme, and distract one from pursuits lacking noble ends.

This is a roundabout way of saying that one should aim for a developed course of study, for the reasons outlined above. They should also not take this to an extreme and overindulge in disciplines for which there is no clear benefit for them or others. Determining this differs from individual to individual; it depends on ascertaining one’s own abilities and interests balanced against one’s responsibilities, potential impact, and ability to serve and benefit others. As this allows for some flexibility, a course of study, along with its specifics, requires some individual introspection, as well as the advice of others.

God is the facilitator of all success.

Shuaib Ally

Photo: Adam Jones

I Want to Become a Scholar in Islam, but My Mother Wants Me to Get Married and Have Children. What Do I Do?

Answered by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Question: I want to live a life of seeking knowledge and teaching. My dream is to be an exegete of the Qur’an. My family wants me to get married, but I feel my time will be consumed by this. My mother will be upset if I do not get married. I feel like my life is being controlled by them. What should I do?


Answer:
Assalamualaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray this finds you well. May Allah grant you clarity in your confusion. Please forgive me for my delay.

Goodness to parents

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace) said, “May he be disgraced! May he be disgraced! May he be disgraced, whose parents, one or both, attain old age during his lifetime, and he does not enter Jannah (by rendering being dutiful to them)” [Muslim]

MashaAllah, it is heartening to see a young person so keen to benefit the ummah. I pray that Allah rewards you for your intention. However, as with all things, the key is balance. In many ways, it would seem more noble to study and teach ‘ilm. However, for as long as your parents are alive, serving them is a means of attaining Jannah.

I urge you to complete watching this excellent talk to give you a better idea of the great reward in being of service to your parents: How To Develop Meaningful Relationships With Parents (Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Shaykh Zahir Bacchus & Shaykh Rami Nsour)

Priorities

Please perform the Prayer of Guidance and ask Allah to help you choose which path to take. If Allah facilitates ease in travelling to learn Arabic, then that is your path. If Allah blocks that path and makes it easier for you to stay with your family, then that is your path.

Contentment

It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (upon him be blessings and peace) said: “Richness is not an abundance of worldly goods; rather richness is contentment with one’s lot.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]

If you long for what Allah does not will for you, then you are only fanning the flames of your own heartbreak. Please perform the Prayer of Need and ask Allah to grant you contentment with His Decree, in whatever form it takes. Trust that He knows what is truly beneficial for you, in both worlds.

Despair

Your life is not wasted because you have not memorised Qur’an. Do not despair – this is a trap of the Shaytan. Your life has unfolded exactly as Allah has willed it, because this is what is best for you. There is still time for you to commit to memorising the Qur’an, inshaAllah. Consult a local scholar and come up with a plan.

Marriage

It was narrated from Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Messenger of Allah (upon him be blessings and peace) said: “Marriage is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me. Get married, for I will boast of your great numbers before the nations. Whoever has the means, let him get married, and whoever does not, then he should fast for it will diminish his desire.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]

There are lessons which you can only learn through being married and having children. No level of theoretical knowledge can match the lived experience of exercising patience, forgiveness, mercy and gratitude every single day.

I encourage you to complete this course Islamic Marriage: Guidance for Successful Marriage and Married Life to better prepare you for marriage. Nothing is hard for Allah; if He wills, He can send you a wife who is supportive of your desire to learn and teach. Have high hopes in Your Merciful Lord.

Please refer to the following links:

Positive Spiritual Thinking: Choosing Mindfulness (taqwa) and Embracing Trust (tawakkul) by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Supplication for Those Who Want to Memorize the Qur’an
I Want to Study Islam Abroad But Parents Insist on Me Staying at Home

Wassalam,
Raidah

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Photo: Ferdinand Reus