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Counsel For Students of Knowledge Regarding COVID-19 – Dr. Hisham A. Hellyer

In this article, Dr Hisham Hellyer advises students of knowledge how they should navigate their thoughts, studies and daily responsibilities amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Divine Wisdom

Verily, in every situation, there is a divine wisdom, because in every situation, God is the One who Permits; in every situation, he is the One who Benefits; in every situation, he is the One that is the all-encompassing Mercy. This situation that we are in, resulting from the pandemic, is no different. In reality, we always exist by the permission of our Lord, in every instant and every blinking of the eye. And so does this pandemic – and so will its end also be brought forth by God, the most High.

From the outset, this is not a time for panic, nor for anxiety. This is a time for recognising that our situations remain completely subject to the workings of the Lord of all that is, all that has been, and all that will be. It is a time for recognising that He has provided us with all that is required in this world, and that our orientation in engaging with life in this world (al-dunya) should always be the life to come (al-akhira). If at the end of this tribulation – and this tribulation will end – we will have realised more of the truth of that kind of recognition, then we will have learned something of the truth of ‘there is no might nor power except by God’ (la hawla wa la quwatta illa billah) – and that is worth a weight we cannot imagine.

 

Advice: Time Management 

My advice to you is very simple. As one of our teachers said: the way to God (al-tariqa) is ‘time management’. Verily, life itself is about putting things into their right places, in those different times, during the day and the night. We should all take a reminder of that, as we proceed to learning, by force, new routines at present. What a boon and benefit it is to us that we are able to be conscious about this, in a way that perhaps we might never have been before.

Do not allow your routines to become aimless and unstructured – on the contrary, take this opportunity to structure your time properly, and apportion everything its correct due.

 

Counsel: seeing beyond the usual in suhba

Owing to the health advisories, that I do advise you follow, we will all be engaging in a level of ‘social distancing’ that we are unaccustomed to. It will come to an end. When it does, God willing, we will all have learned the value of different types of true companionship; both in terms of seeking our Lord in isolation; as well as being with people of goodness. And there is beautiful benefit in both.

Until that time, put structure into place as much as possible; whether in terms of your learning, your studying, your health, your work. Learn how to do so, and make the most of your time in being conscious about how you use it.

 

Recommendation to teachers and those who counsel
To that end: the advice I have received and the advice I impart to anyone else who is teaching: continue your classes. We live in a time when we can use technology for good, and for bad. Let us consciously use it for good, and take benefit from it, as a tool that God has permitted for us, even if we are far from one another. There are different systems for this. Be very grateful you have this ability and capacity. Not everyone does – there are people of this ummah who have been kept from each other due to war and conflict, and could not use the boons and benefits you have. Be grateful, and remember that gratitude is shown by using the gifts of God in ways that are pleasing to Him.

To those who impart counsel and guidance to others, as part of their responsibilities placed upon them by their teachers: your services are going to be needed. Your skills will be tested. Have faith that if you were given this task to fulfil, you will be given the strength to fulfil it. Be charitable and generous with those who reach out to you, and be grateful for the opportunity to assist them. It is a noble and praiseworthy act, rewarded by God, to be able to bring comfort to those who seek guidance and counsel.

 

Health Precautions and classes

There may be some of you who are considering attending classes in person: I strongly advise you do not do so, unless you can be completely assured that the appropriately strict health precautions are taken by the providers of those classes. We typically, for example, pray our daily prayers in teaching areas; which means that we are exposing our faces to the ground, where the virus can very easily spread.

Remember: people with COVID-19 can be completely absent of symptoms, and still pass it on. Even if you’re not worried about yourself, you must consider the threat to others that you might inadvertently infect. In general, I advise you to keep at least 7 feet distance between yourself and others; and that you pray at home in a clean space. The health measures that are recommended by the World Health Organisation are reasonable: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

 

Congregational prayers

In my capacity as Senior Scholar of the Azzawia Trust in Cape Town, led by two of the khulafa’ of Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki, and a member of the Council of the British Board of Scholars and Imams, I assisted in the drafting of two pieces of advice on congregational prayers and other issues arising from the changes due to this pandemic. Azzawia issued a strong, straight-forward and short document, which can be accessed here, referencing the advice from the Higher Council of Azhar Scholars in Egypt.
https://www.facebook.com/AzzawiaTrust/posts/10157742959026357

A more comprehensive document is the BBSI, which sought to cover the range of issues the BBSI thought necessary, and the views of its membership. [http://www.bbsi.org.uk/coronavirus/]

In short, it is generally best you stay away from public places of prayer; and that you generally consider that the usual obligatory nature of the Friday prayer has been lifted.

 

Students abroad:

Some students who are away from their homes and families overseas are wondering if they should travel back home. This is a decision that depends on a great number of factors. As for my own students, I have not advised that they travel. I do advise that those who are resident in any particular local to note that foreign students may need assistance, if only to receive funds from their families overseas: if you can help them by allowing their families to transfer funds to your local bank accounts, then do consider it, so that they may have support in buying essentials periodically.

 

Generally and particularly: be grateful

In general: be grateful. Yes, this is a time when a lot of our usual comforts are disrupted. But we are not in a state of war and suffering, unlike numerous refugees that are fleeing conflict areas like Syria or Yemen. If you begin to be tempted into feelings of anxiety, take those feelings, and turn that energy into supplicating your Lord to give lutf to those who are suffering in far worse situations than us. You are all in a state of tremendous privilege – do not forget that.

Remember also: every trial and tribulation has the opportunity to mean the raising of one’s spiritual station with regards to their Lord. Ponder on this, and reflect. It’s a reality of every situation. As Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani (may Allah be well pleased with him) said:

“… For those trials have the effect of making their hearts pure and free from sinful association, and from attachment to creatures, worldly means, wishes and self-willed desires. They are instrumental in melting them and smelting out the pretensions and passions, and the expectation of returns for obedient behaviour, in the form of high degrees and stations in the hereafter, in paradise and its gardens…

The sign that the trials are for the sake of spiritual progress is the presence of contentment, harmony, self-composure, quiet trust in the working of the God of the earth and the heavens, and annihilation within them until their eventual removal with the passage of time.”

So be of those who would have quiet trust in the working of the God of the earth and the heavens. This, too, shall pass.

Allah bless you, draw each of you and us nearer to Him.

 

Wa al-salam,

Dr Hisham A. Hellyer


Ustadh Dr. Hisham A. Hellyer

Dr Hisham A. Hellyer is Professorial Fellow of Cambridge Muslim College (UK) and Senior Scholar of the Azzawia Trust & Al-Zawiya Institute (South Africa). As a widely published academic and commentator focusing on politics and religion in the West, the Arab world and Muslim communities globally, he concurrently serves as Senior Fellow at RUSI (UK) & the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (USA).

Born to an English father and to an Egyptian mother of ʿAbbāsī-Sudanese & Ḥasanī-Moroccan heritage, he was raised between London, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, before becoming educated at Sheffield and Warwick universities to post-doctoral levels in law and the social sciences. He studied – and studies – the Islamic intellectual tradition in the UK, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and elsewhere, keeping the company of traditionally trained-scholars, including the likes of the Malaysian polymath, Tan Sri Professor Sayyid M. Naquib al-Attas, and Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, the khalifa of the Makkan sage, Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki.

With previous positions at and affiliations with the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, the American University in Cairo, and the RZS-Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (CASIS), he is a frequent commentator and columnist in various media in the United States, Europe and the Arab world. Included in the scholarly section of the annual global ‘Muslim 500’ list of Georgetown University (USA) and RISCC (Jordan), he is also a council member of the British Board of Scholars & Imams. Among his written works are ‘Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans’ (Edinburgh University Press), ‘A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt’ (Oxford University Press) and “The Islamic Tradition, Muslim Communities and the Human Rights Discourse” (editor) (Atlantic Council)


 

7 Student Testimonials to Inspire You #2

Last year alone SeekersHub Global Islamic Seminary served more than 80,000 students from over 140 countries.

Here is what some of them had to say.

SeekersHub courses challenge you on the things you thought you knew

I wanted to sign up with a course from SeekersHub as I wanted to gain more knowledge on the deen, but I never knew where to start. People from various social media platforms encouraged me to be engaged with this organization as it was one of the more authentic means to gain knowledge in comparison to the variety of non-authentic things you can get on the internet.

I didn’t have any concerns when signing up because it was more of a case of I won’t lose out on anything if I signed up. You’re getting more out of signing up than you could lose. Since the classes were online, I was able to organize the time in my daily life to prioritize the gaining of knowledge. It helped me remove the unnecessary things that I do day to day and It helped me gain a wider understanding of things that I was not clear about in the beginning.

The courses challenge you on the things you thought you had an idea on. You have nothing to lose by signing up and the worst that could happen would be you would be where you started on your path, not behind it.

Joshna Yasmin Ali – London, UK

SeekersHub helped me realize the importance of prayers

I saw taking classes at SeekersHub as a tangible way of keeping my ever-turning heart more consistently in line with Allah’s grace. I also saw it as a useful way of learning for the sake of Allah. My only worries was how manageable would it be to pick and commit to a course and the background of the teachers I would be learning from.

Through these classes I realized the importance of prayers, and learning that knowledge is for Allah alone. I felt a sense of grounding in my spiritual development through this. To someone wondering on whether they should take classes here, just do it – procrastination and putting things off is either our way of masking our fears of getting things wrong, or Shaytan’s way of keeping us down and in despair of Allah’s mercy.

Have hope in what Allah is offering to you and give it a try – you’ll have lost nothing for trying. Thank you to all the teachers, and thank you for making it free and accessible.

Mobeen Salih – London, UK

SeekersHub changed my approach to knowledge from combative to gentle

I joined SeekersHub because I believe that the teachers are trustworthy and that they have a good agenda and a good intention. I wish to benefit and be a part of that. My only worries were from my end due to the fact that I have learning difficulties, and executive function difficulties.

I often wish I can be near to SeekersHub but I am very blessed to have access via the internet. Through SeekersHub I was exposed to some of the most knowledgeable and beneficial scholars of our time. I wish Seekershub can refresh Islam everywhere, because it refreshes myself.

I have changed my approach to knowledge from being very literal and harsh and debate-driven, thanks to Shaykh Faraz’s gentle example. He has taught me that intelligence can be equally deep and meaningful as a spiritual tool. I don’t know the history of SeekersHub except it may have been inspired by SunniPath some time ago.

I live in NZ but so much of the real estate of my heart is deeply affected by those who are spreading light with the aid of SeekersHub. I can only pray for Seekershub to have success in much abundance. If there is a reviver, I feel your work is a big part of this.

Thank you all so much and may Allah reward all of you with much abundant good both in this life and in the hereafter

Lydia Mills – Auckland, New Zealand

SeekersHub studies improved my relationship to Allah

I registered for Seekers courses because I felt that my knowledge about Islam was very insufficient and I wanted to improve my relationship with Allah Ta‘ala. Alhamdulillah, my family and I never hesitated to register for the courses we took on Seekers.

I’ve realized the importance of studying with a teacher and I’ve realized the importance of seeking Sacred Knowledge in this day and age. After taking a few Seekers courses, I continued to pursue my Islamic education, and I’m now taking an ‘Alimah degree, alhamdulillah.

Learning the Faraid al ‘Ayn is a must for every Muslim, and we’re here in this world to please Allah Ta‘ala in whatever we do. We must know that which pleases and displeases Him, so that we may perform those acts which please Him, and avoid those which displease Him.

Ikhlas – Auckland, New Zealand

SeekersHub offers a rich variety of important and needed Islamic courses

I joined SeekersHub to learn more about my deen. SeekersHub truly follows the Sunni way and it has benefited my family and me. SeekersHub offers a rich variety of different Islamic courses which are very important nowadays and which we are in immense need of. I pray that Allah may reward you.

Hayat S – Switzerland

SeekersHub courses have changed everything in my life in a positive way

Alhamdulillah, Allah Most High blessed me at a young age with a desire to seek sacred knowledge. But living in the West, and in a rural community, imposed many limitations. Being a woman also meant I couldn’t travel and live in a foreign country to learn (more than the fard al-‘ayn) without a mahram. So I had a look at several online courses offering traditional Islamic knowledge, but most of them were either too costly or had many prerequisites which I wasn’t yet able to fulfill.

SeekersHub seemed like the only option for me, so I enrolled. Alhamdulillah that I did! I often think, where would I be today if I hadn’t? Alhamdulillah, I had no qualms before or after signing up for my first class, or for any Seekers course since. This is because I know with certainty that the knowledge being conveyed is taught through authentic chains of transmission, and that the teachers are all qualified Islamic scholars.

I feel like these courses have changed everything in my life (in a positive way). But one thing I can say really benefited me is the absolute and apparent sincerity of the teachers. Even though I read many books on my own, learning these vast subjects with a qualified teacher enriched my understanding and truly humbled me. Through SeekersHub I’ve learnt that the benefits of seeking sacred knowledge are innumerable.

I now feel more motivated to perform supererogatory acts of worship and I have more respect for those around me, especially my parents. My aspirations are loftier now than ever. If you’re unsure about joining SeekersHub, do some research, and “ask those of remembrance if you know not.”

I probably would not have looked into SeekersHub if it hadn’t been recommended to me by a scholar I respect. But in the end, just pray istikhara and click that ‘Register’ button; you won’t regret it! I think the team at SeekersHub is taking care of a much-needed fard al kifaya. May Allah Most High preserve our scholars, and reward well those who seek knowledge of His din!

Sufi – New Zealand


Support SeekersHub Global as it reaches over 10,000 students each term through its completely free online courses. Make a donation, today. Every contribution counts, even if small: http://seekersguidance.org/donate/


The Internet, Learning Arabic and Islam – Interview with Ustadh Abdullah Misra

Saad Razi Shaikh interviews Ustadh Abdullah Misra on the internet’s effect on the Umma today, being a student of knowledge, the problems facing reverts, and much more.

Ustadh Abdullah Anik Misra was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, into a Hindu family of North Indian heritage. He became Muslim at the age of 18, graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Business Administration, worked briefly in marketing, and then went abroad with his wife to seek religious knowledge full-time, first in Tarim, then in the West Indies, and finally in Amman, Jordan, where he has focussed his traditional studies on the sciences of Sacred Law (fiqh), hadith, Islamic belief, tajwid, and sira. In this interview, he speaks about the challenges reverts face today, the experience of teaching the Islamic sciences online, the traits a student should look for in a teacher, and the checklist a student needs to run through before setting out to seek knowledge. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the effect of the internet on the Umma today?

The effect of the Internet on the Umma today can only be seen in the context of the effect of the Internet on humanity in general. The Internet has brought many benefits and good things to human civilization. But there have been many great harms as well to society. So obviously the benefits are the greater and faster communication, it’s easier now to convey ideas from one part of the world to the other. Finding solutions to problems, finding answers to questions, and finding advice is possible through it. Knowledge has become democratized in a sense. Now everyone has a lot more access to knowledge. Certain points of discussions can be had, dialogues are possible now in a way that never existed before. All of these things are general benefits to mankind that the Internet has bought.

But there have been downsides too, for example, the addictions that the Internet has brought, the convenience of horrible ideas like pornography and violence. The spreading of wrong ideas become easier now. Misleading people has become easier now with stuff like fake news. There is also the dumbing down of people, that has become easier on the internet. The level of social interaction has dropped.

In the greater context, we can say that all the benefits and the harms that have happened to society at large have also occurred to the Muslim Umma. There are things that have specifically affected the Umma because there are certain things that Muslims are not supposed to be doing, on or off the Internet. Certain things like pornography are now easier for Muslims to access and fall into, for example. That’s one thing. The Umma specifically has now become more exposed to disobedience than it was before. The other thing that has happened is that corrupt ideas pop up, non-experts speaking to people, you know, everybody kind of saying what they think about an issue. This has also caused a little bit of confusion in many people.

Also, just from a spiritual perspective, the amount of ghiba that a person reads and engages in, for example, backbiting people on the Internet, has actually increased exponentially. So whereas before backbiting used to be something you tell one person, now you put it on a blog and a person’s sins multiply exponentially by everyone who reads it.

Are there good effects of the internet as well? Of course there are, without a doubt, SeekersHub itself. Then the Dawa a potential that the Internet has. How many people became Muslim through reading something on the internet or discovered or came back to a worshiping Allah Most High, came back to religiosity, came back to a sense of faith? People who were confused and had questions have found answers to their questions. Learning has become possible. Now there are people, for example, I know one girl, in a remote village somewhere in South America, who through the internet came to learn about Islam, embraced Islam and then began learning about Islam. She doesn’t have much of a support system around her. So now she finds support online. So there have been a lot of opportunities of good as well on the Internet, but its harms need to be pointed out so that we as an Umma can intelligently navigate the ocean of the Internet and take what is good and avoid what is bad.

You have worked for a long time for the SeekersHub Answers service in the past. What are some themes, some constant issues you see being asked?

Of the constant themes, number one is OCD; people having waswasa or obsessive compulsive disorder. The teaching of religion online, especially fiqh and aqida tends to be a kind of a honeypot to attract people who are susceptible to obsessive compulsive disorder. The issue is, they are seeing their religion as a source of worry and problems rather than using their religion as a source of solace and guidance to help them in their lives.

And so this is a problem of self study sometimes, having misplaced priorities and inordinate fear over hope when it comes to religion. So part of the thing SeekersHub answer service, and SeekersHub in general tries to do is help with this. If you notice, all the scholars that are related to it are trying to bring people out from looking at religion as something that is primarily based on fear, threat, haram and halal, and does and don’ts; and bringing them into a more enlightened, more fulfilling and more spiritual way of looking at their religion. This is in terms of bringing them closer to their Maker and using that relationship of love and mercy to walk in the rest of their religious journey, carrying that knowledge of Allah’s mercy with them.

So that’s one of the themes that comes up, that people have been viewing their religion in a negative light all too often. They are actually trapped and burdened by these issues. Our job would then be to encourage people to see their religion in the balanced way that it’s supposed to be. And help them use the religion to come out of their problems in their lives and find greater meaning for themselves.

Other constant issues are, I would say, family issues. These are things that are very common. Intricacies and disputes within the family, questions about adjusting to societal norms, the demands of society when it seems to clash with a one’s religious principles, and so on.

You’ve traveled to Yemen, the Caribbean and finally to Jordan for the study of sacred knowledge. Before setting out to seek knowledge, is there a checklist (of goals and needs) that a student must run through?

This is a very good question and it’s much easier to answer this question in retrospect than when you’re in the situation. Part of what helps a student go abroad is that when they’re young, they’re idealistic and they have fewer responsibilities. I was in my early mid-twenties when I left Canada. I think a part of not having the complete picture of responsibilities and being a bit more adventurous actually helps. It’s a wisdom of Allah to get young people out without considering too many things.

But there is a checklist that one needs to know. First of all, what’s my goal? At the end of the day, what do I want to do? This can actually develop and change as a student matures and grows older, and they begin to realize that their intention itself develops and grows deeper and deeper. So this is something that they should know, that they will change on their journey. In the beginning it’s good to ask yourself, why are you going abroad? What do you want to achieve from this? What do you want to do for yourself in the future? And then there are practical questions: where am I going? Am I likely to achieve my goals? How long do I plan to go for? How do I plan to support myself? Is it safe to be there?

Is it a place where I can adjust? What type of ideas will I come across? Is the environment that I’m going to study in conducive to a balanced learning of mainstream traditional Islam? So these are different questions that one has to ask oneself. They should also ask, have they consulted with the scholars and other students of knowledge who have gone to the same places and come back or still there regarding their advice? And then also, why am I going abroad and what am I leaving behind? Am I leaving things behind in a responsible way, or am I running away? Am I undertaking this to seek Allah’s pleasure or for religious tourism?

So there are different things that people should ask themselves before they go abroad. But sometimes, and most of the time, many people who enter abroad, they didn’t ask themselves these questions, but through the journey Allah taught them what they should be doing and how they should be looking at their purpose in life. So many people would come back from the journey without having achieved their goals, but having matured in different ways and finding their place back in society again. And some would go for a long time and achieve their goals. I think part of that has to do with continuously running through their purposes and their intentions, and developing the idea of what they want to do with the knowledge they gain.

What are some challenges that reverts face today?

Some of the challenges that reverts face today, I think are the fact that there are a lot of voices claiming to represent Islam. It’s not as simple as reading an introductory book on Islam and then start practicing basic religion anymore. Before, you might have found at most two or three groups in the masjid that calling you towards different things. No matter which one you join, you will become religious anyway. That’s how it was in the past, when I became Muslim. Now, I think there is a lot more confusion because certain basic principles on the Internet are challenged and questioned by those who do not have sufficient qualification or understanding and training in religion.

So this becomes very confusing for the reverts. The other thing is that because the Internet is the primary way of interacting with one’s religious search, they come across many things that dissuade them, and untruth as well. So they have to navigate through a lot more false hope to get to the truth. Another challenge that reverts face today is the level of indoctrination that they are coming from, from their own societies, and the paradigms that have to sometimes be shifted in order to settle into their new religious outlook and way of life. That is more challenging today because the world has gotten further and further away from a natural, wholesome, holistic lifestyle that is good for mankind in general from the fitra.

For example, family life is breaking down in many places. Consumerism, materialism is increasing. It’s the age of anger where shouting and insulting becomes a norm over a rational dialogue, discussion, and mutual respect. A lot of people are coming with that baggage into the truth. It takes some time to basically cleanse that out of one’s system, and become wholesome and natural in the way of living life again.

Today via the internet, learning Arabic has become much easier. Is it recommended to study Arabic online, for the purpose of understanding the Qur’an better, or is it necessary that one studies Qur’anic Arabic only in the company of a scholar?

First of all, I think one should study Arabic as a tool and then apply it to one’s understanding of Qur’an, Hadith and whatever else one wants to do with Arabic. You can study Arabic only to understand the Qur’an, but what happens is that the person’s understanding of Arabic becomes shallower than if they understand Arabic as a full-fledged, a beautiful language that it is, and then approach the Qur’an and understand what it’s saying. In our time, I don’t think there’s any one way that a person has to learn Arabic. I think the main thing is that one should take any means possible at all times and continuously apply oneself to try different means.

People often take intensive crash courses. That’s good. But the way to retain that or the way to grow is to gradually a study it over a longer period of time, right? To consolidate. Even if you do something intensive, you have to give some time every week to keep up with it. That’s one thing. The second thing is to be persistent. If one avenue doesn’t work, try another. I found that the biggest obstacle is that people usually try to study Arabic in two or three or more ways before they actually succeed in getting a modicum of Arabic language down just to understand the classical texts. The problem is every time a person tries one way and fails, they usually stop studying Arabic for a while. It could be months or even years. And then go back to it again and revisit it later on.

So many people who I see who are studying Arabic will tell me they tried this and they tried that over the years. The thing to be aware of is that if one thing doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that you’re bad. It just means that this is not the way that you need to learn it. Just because one way of learning didn’t work for you, you shouldn’t be dissuaded from learning altogether, whether it’s online, or in the company of a scholar.

Arabic is a tool science. It need not be studied in a religious setting necessarily or under an Islamic scholar. Arabic is a tool science, meaning it’s something you need to understand the texts. Some people try to seek their spiritual and religious experience and knowledge experience through the study of language itself. And unless you’re planning to enroll in a madrasah for a number of years, I find that it’s much more effective to just look at which program is most effectively going to teach you the Arabic. Once you have the Arabic, you can then go to get your religious experience after that, once you have the tools to understand classical texts and sit in the company of scholars.

Teaching the Islamic sciences via the internet has seen a rise in the past couple of years. As a teacher at SeekersHub Global, what have been some key takeaways from your experiences?

The key takeaway is that teaching via the Internet has made it possible for us to connect with people that we never would’ve been able to connect with or know because they’re just too far apart, and too scattered, too disconnected. Allah has made a way of connecting believers to each other and to Him in a time of disconnectedness. That’s one thing. Number two, because communities have actually broken down, Allah made another way for Muslims to hang on to their tradition and their religion. So it’s a great mercy. The takeaway though is that this should transition at some point into personal, actual, on the ground interactions with teachers and scholars in order to create a healthy exchange from heart to heart.

So I think the introductory phases are okay online. But at some point in time, travelling or finding local scholars must be done. The traditional way is the best way to observe what Islam looks like when it’s actually practiced in a balanced and beautiful way. Otherwise the person runs the risk of not knowing how to balance the theory of what they learned with an actual lived example. To express things like good character, mercy, consideration for others, which are not necessarily always encoded, but that require a spiritual state and a broader understanding in order to display and demonstrate. That aspect should come into play. It shouldn’t remain on the Internet. The Internet should be a tool to connect people to each other and to use to the extent that is necessary.

This becomes possible by the Internet because now scholars can get in touch with different communities and travel to those communities or advertise, for example, when they have retreats. People can travel to that. That’s a way of connecting. Then go back to where you live and continue through the Internet. So it’s a blend. You also learn, you also meet other seekers, fellow seekers whom you can form friendships with, where people can rely on each other for spiritual support.

In seeking guidance, both online and offline, what are some traits a student should look for in a teacher?

This is a very good question. I think the number one thing is that the teacher should have a pedigree to qualified traditional scholars who themselves are a representative of the tradition, in its most balanced and beautiful way.

What does the teacher believe? Where are they coming from? The other thing the student should look for is, do the teacher’s mannerisms and inner state correspond with what they’re saying and what they’re teaching on the outward? A teacher should not just be one who knows a lot of facts or is able to memorize the most. Now that does sometimes impress people. But even if they have a lesser amount of knowledge that they reliably know but carry that with a higher level of character and a deeper spiritual understanding of the beauty of Islam, that’s better for a student in the beginning. And even later on. Someone who has a lot of knowledge, but is devoid of the prophetic example, that’s something that a student should look out for. The other thing is that there should be an understanding of the realities of what the student goes through, the modern world, the society where the student comes from. This is important as well for the student to get answers and guidance relevant to the way that they see things.

Another thing is that the teacher should not be overly polemical or partisan to the extent that their teaching becomes more about debating. Debating people and argumentation takes away the baraka from studying the religion, unless people are at a specialized level. That’s different. But for a beginning student, they should avoid a teachers that try to impose a polemical identity on them, rather than to teach them the basics of how to know, worship, and come closer to their Lord.

In the modern age, many “reformers” insisted on returning to a “pure” form of Islam, by purging it of what they saw as theological, spiritual excesses. Adherents of such an outlook continue today, rallying for it on the internet and other forums. How does such a thinking sit with the centuries-old mainstream consensus?

We have to consider the trauma the Umma went through in the last few centuries, especially in the colonial and postcolonial period. There are reforms from all different types of groups, not just for example, those who are literalist, but also those coming from what you might call the spiritual camps as well. Many different groups that insisted they’re trying to solve the question of how did we get into this situation, and many of them are speculating on the reasons as to why, what deficiency was it, what should we have been focused on and what was everyone doing wrong that got us into this position in the first place? To answer this question, they seem to focus on certain things that they believe are priorities in the religion and picked on things, or highlighted things that they felt were the causes of the problems that the Muslim world is in today.

The centuries old mainstream consensus that you’re asking about was much more balanced. It balanced fiqh, it balanced hadith, it balanced logic, it balanced aqida, it balanced politics and ethics. It balanced a spirituality, a mysticism, teaching, and philosophy.

So the previous age was an age of balance in which the Muslim Umma would balance itself out because it was at the liberty to pursue this knowledge in a safe space, and allow the free flow of knowledge between scholars in the Umma. Now because of the breakdown in the authority structures in the circles of knowledge, the institutions of knowledge, what’s happened is that different people (not just reformers, there are many groups; I don’t think we should pick on any one group necessarily) are trying to figure out what happened. What needs to be done, I believe, is that we need to go back to looking at how the Umma had its balance and how it viewed different forms of worship within Islam, within different subjects, different knowledges and sciences, the different responsibilities and prerogatives of the Umma.

We have to go back to viewing these things in a balance, rather than-a-one-size-fits-all-solution. We need to go back and invest in the things that will stabilize our communities, first at the individual, then the family, then the community level. We have to pay attention to the inward and the outward of religion, to the physical, the mental and the spiritual. We need to try to regain that sense of balance and get on an even keel before we start. What this will help us do is to express things in a balanced way, right? So then when we study, when we teach, when we call people to the religion, and we live life, we will be without theological and spiritual excesses, and deficiencies as well.


Saad Razi Shaikh is a journalist based in Mumbai. He writes on popular culture and community initiatives. He can be reached on Twitter @writweeter


Students of Knowledge Stepping Into The Spotlight Before Their Time

One of the biggest mistakes students of knowledge make – including myself – when embarking on the path of traditional study is to remain plugged into the internet and social media, writes Ustadh Salman Younas.

Whether it is having debates on forums, writing lengthy Facebook posts, coming up with catchy tweets, or posting pictures of your student adventures on Instagram, the base assumption that every student (actually, every person) should have is that these are largely ways to aggrandize the self (nafs) whether one realizes this or not.

A Destructive Distraction

Spiritually, it is destructive for a student. From the perspective of ilm-seeking, it corrupts intentions and distracts a student from the higher aims of seeking knowledge: God. There is an element of putting oneself out there and assuming a role before one is actually ready to step into the spotlight. There are indications that one feels his opinion counts and needs to be spread (if you pass a glance at how many shares your post got, you know you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons).

There is a hidden desire that perhaps people should follow me – the layman taking the hand of the learned. Often times, there is argumentation, sometimes ill-will developed towards others, and the construction of a false image for the public. The consequence of this is summed up in a famous legal maxim:

“Whoever rushes something before its time is punished by being prevented from attaining it.”

If you are a beginner student, stick to studying and worship. Don’t waste the opportunity God gave you by occupying a station that He did not place you in.

This is a problem of my generation. Go look at our elders, such as Shaykh Nuh Keller, Shaykh Hamza, Imam Zaid, Habib Umar, Mufti Taqi, and others. How many of them were putting themselves out while still students? None of them. They waited. They focused their attention on what they needed to do – on seeking knowledge for the sake of God. They understood the statement of Ibn Ata’illah:

“Bury your existence in the earth of obscurity. If something sprouts before it is buried, its fruits will never ripen.”

They took counsel from their teachers. They rectified themselves spiritually in addition to gaining knowledge of the outward. And God eventually opened the door of scholarship and spreading knowledge for them… and how beneficial was it when it was opened at the time He desired and not when they desired it.

Resources for seekers

Balancing Family and Seeking Knowledge – Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil, a student of knowledge, teacher and mother, offers valuable advice to women who wish to pursue studies in sacred knowledge.

I am a mother of two children under 3 and a half years, and everyday is a juggling bonanza of love and service.

There are my physical acts of service for my daughters; bathing them, cooking, feeding them, tidying up, helping use the potty, driving them to swimming class, preschool, playdates and parks.

There are my emotional acts of service; playing with them, helping them feel safe and unconditionally loved, accepting their big feelings, helping them with conflict resolution, and setting empathetic limits.

There are my mental acts of service; reading to them, teaching them phonics, teaching them numbers, and describing different patterns in the world.

Most importantly, there are my spiritual acts of service; connecting their hearts with Allah and His Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, through telling them stories, bringing them to gatherings of Divine remembrance, and being their spiritual role model, even – or especially – when I make mistakes, apologise and make amends.

Balancing Family Duties

On good nights, both of my daughters sleep well – or as well as they can, given their tender ages. On bad nights, at least one or both of them wake every 1-2 hours, in varying states of distress. Allah has gifted me with two living tahajjud alarms, alhamdulilah.

In the precious pockets of free time that I have between all of this, I revise my Arabic, my Shafi’i fiqh, write, and counsel. I do so little now, compared to my days as a full-time student of knowledge, years ago. I do so little, and yet, I strive to do so daily, and this hadith comforts me:

Narrated by Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, who said:

“Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little.’”[Bukhari]

Despite my scarcity of free time – and perhaps, because of it – every day with my daughters helps me refine my character in ways nothing else can. My capacity for patience, gratitude, forgiveness, contentment and wonder has been pushed to new heights. They can either break me, or make me grow. Truthfully, it has been a potent combination of both. My love and commitment to raising them peacefully has taught me to undo old and painful triggers. I am calmer because of them.

While I raise my daughters, through the long days and the nights, I make dua for their safety, guidance and well-being. The world we live in today is unkind to women. Women and women’s work are undervalued. The sacred covenant of marriage is no longer a refuge for too many women around the world. Toxic masculinity has harmed so many levels of the ummah. Hurt people hurt people, and there is so much pain in our world.

Why We Need Female Scholars

Because of the troubled times we are in, more than ever, we need to hear the voices of women in Islamic scholarship. We need more women trained in traditional Islamic sciences. We need more women whose hearts are alight with love for Allah and His Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, so wherever they are, in whatever role they find themselves in, they will be means of God-centred connection, compassion, and guidance. We can speak of Allah and His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ourselves, and follow in the luminous footsteps of our blessed foremothers. We have a rich history of female scholarship, and it is up to us to learn more about our heritage, and teach our sons and daughters.

If you are a young female student of knowledge, my advice to you is this: make the use of your free time. Devote yourself to your study of sacred knowledge, and study as much as you can, as deeply as you can. Know that when you get married and have children, everything will change. In the early years of motherhood, your needs will come last, and this will chafe your nafs, but it will be good for your soul. You will grow alongside your children. Everything you have studied will manifest in how you are with your household. You cannot speak of patience and forgiveness if you do not embody it, and you will get better at it, one mistake at a time. Choose love and forgiveness, especially when it is difficult. And one unimaginable day, your children will peel away from you, and you will suddenly have long, luxurious, uninterrupted hours to yourself, to study and to teach. And yet, your heart will be bruised from longing for your children. This is the nature of the dunya – it is always imperfect. There is always something missing. This is not our final home.

For Ladies Without Families

And if, dear sister, Allah does not write marriage or children for you, know that you are still beloved to Him. Being on the path of sacred knowledge and teaching it will become your mother’s milk, and your path of nourishing those around you, just as it was for our Mother ‘Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her. There will always be a need for you, and your time can be spent mentoring families who need your wisdom and connection to Allah. It will never be same as having a husband or a children of your own, so trust that Allah will recompense you for your sacrifice and patience.

May Allah grant tawfiq to all of those on the path of study, and teaching. May He facilitate the days and nights of all mothers, especially those who are juggling their studies and teaching of the deen. May He help manifest the fruits of our sacrifice through the gift of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who love Allah and His Prophet and may we all be reunited in Jannahtul Firdous.


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 through Qibla Academy and SeekersHub Global. She also graduated with a Psychology and English degree from University of New South Wales.


What a Second-Degree Burn Taught Me About Focus, by Chloe Idris

Chloe Idris writes about losing focus and the searing pain of regret.

I’m writing this right now as I sit in bed, with my leg elevated and wrapped, nursing a second-degree burn. This is in fact my second second-degree burn since I left my home country to seek sacred knowledge, which seems oddly poetic – my first burn was in Jordan (where I was studying Arabic), and now my second has happened in Egypt (where I am studying the Islamic sciences). And although they’ve both been extremely painful, it’s clear that sometimes our most important life lessons come from that which hurts the most (and there’s nothing like sharp, searing pain to really drive a lesson home).

For this to make sense, I’ll have to tell you the story of how I got this latest burn. Since living in the Middle East, my husband and I have always had troubles with our kitchens and bathrooms. Blown fuses and exploding light fixtures that don’t get fixed for months, periods of no running water, periods of no hot water (always fun in the middle of a cold Jordanian winter)… I could go on. At the moment, we’ve been lucky enough to get the bathroom lighting repaired and the water running again, but the hot water seems to be gone for now. We’ve learned to take things in our stride and just have fun with it (it is an adventure, after all).

Which brings me to tonight, when we were doing the washing together – my husband was pouring the hot water (which had been boiled on the stove) and I was pouring the cold water into a single container to use. Of course everyone knows that any time boiling hot water is involved, you have to pay full attention. And we were paying attention, that is until the fifth round of water-pouring.

It was late, we were tired and joking around as we normally do, so it’s no surprise what happened next: something got bumped, the boiling water that was supposed to be pouring into the container was now pouring down my leg, and I was crying in pain.

My husband, being the quick thinker that he is, had me bundled straight into the bathtub and had cold water running over the burn in no time. And I know at this point you’re probably thinking ‘well that sounds painful Chloe, but I’m not really sure what you getting burned has to do with life lessons and seeking sacred knowledge.’

When You Least Expect It

We were discussing later how it had happened, because even though it was an accident, my husband felt terrible for even having accidentally caused me pain. And the reality is, it happened because we both stopped focusing. We took our eyes off the task at hand, and became distracted. We had nearly finished up with the washing, we felt like we were all done, so we stopped paying attention. And then I got burned.

As I was laying down later that night nursing my wound, I reflected over this incident. I believe everything always happens for a reason, that God has planned our lives perfectly, and that in hardships there are always lessons to be learned. And I realised, what if my distraction that lead to my burn, was really a reflection of my current state in life?

I mentioned earlier that I’m currently studying the Islamic sciences in Egypt, and I have exams just around the corner. But the process is being delayed and dragged out, and I could feel myself losing focus. It’s hard to maintain the same level of discipline and focus over a long period of time, whether it’s a university degree you’re working towards, your own private Islamic studies, or even just your personal ibadah (worship) that you are wanting to improve in.

Eyes On The Prize

So here’s the lesson: if you have a goal that you’re working towards, it’s essential that you keep your eyes on that goal, especially when you’re close to the finish line. It’s easy when you’re close to achieving your goal to start slowing down, to relax a bit more, to start looking around at what else is going on. But the final stretch isn’t the time to lose focus; that’s the time to renew your intention, fix your eyes firmly on your goal, and double down on the work that will get you there.

If you need to take the breaks, take them. If you need to recharge, do it. Do what you need in your daily life to keep yourself healthy and well, and then get back to work with focus and intention.

Because I can tell you from experience, there’s nothing like the sharp pain of regret (or a second-degree burn…) to make you wish you had paid more attention when it really mattered.

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"He Came With a Blanket that Smelt Like Baby Urine"

Why did Habib Umar bin Hafiz give his students a blanket that smelt like baby urine? Habib Mundhir al-Musawa gives the answer and talks about his relationship with Habib Umar in an interview given shortly before his death. With genuine humility, he describes his early days seeking knowledge and then his first steps in calling to Allah.

He talks about the key to his success, his immense attachment to his Shaykh, Habib Umar bin Hafiz. The film is interspersed with footage of Majelis Rasulullah, the intense gathering which he established in Jakarta, Indonesia.
This short film titled ‘The Shaykh and the Murid’ gives a unique insight into the life of one of the heroes of our times, Habib Mundhir al-Musawa, may Allah have mercy upon him. In his short life, Habib Mundhir had a huge impact on thousands, if not millions of people and was a cause of many people returning to Allah.  Our thanks to Muwasala for this video.

Resources for Seekers

blanketsCover Photo by Daniel Orth

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The Greatest Reward: Fulfilling The Urgent Need Of Others

A fund like no other

Alhamdullilah, last year we established the SeekersHub Global Zakat Fund, a fund like no other, supporting deserving scholars and students of knowledge, both locally and abroad.

We distributed over $350,000 in zakat funds in 2015.
This year, it is our mission to raise $1 million in zakat funds.


zakatThe impact of your zakat

Your zakat has the power to transform the world. War, poverty, injustice – the world is losing touch with Divine Wisdom. Many Muslim scholars who have dedicated their lives to preserving this wisdom are under great duress – at home and abroad.

The need is great — Shaykh Faraz explains why you shouldn’t wait till Ramadan to give.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VxeSh2-QGc

The urgent need

The SeekersHub Global Zakat Fund addresses an urgent, critical need:

  • Continuing to support deserving and needy scholars and students of knowledge — the teachers of today and tomorrow.
  • Supporting displaced mainstream Syrian scholars, given the turmoil and political instability in the region.

This is a communal responsibility and critical to the preservation of authentic Islamic scholarship for our children’s future.


zakatMay Allah reward you and your families manifold for your generosity.

The Way of the Seeker – How to Seek Islamic Knowledge Successfully – Term 2 2014 Student Assembly

On the 3rd of May, 2014, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani gave some much needed, and beneficial advice to students during our Term 2 Student Assembly.

5 resources to equip yourself with during your studies:

Shaykh Áwwamah’s advice for Students of Sacred Knowledge – al-Miftah Blog

Shaykh Áwwamah’s advice for Students of Sacred Knowledge – al-Miftah Blog

My Honourable teacher, Al-Muhaddith Shaykh Muhammad Áwwamah (may Allah protect him) delivered an address several years ago in which he briefly poured out his sincere counsel for students of knowledge. I took his permission to reproduce it in English.

These are advices of a giant in the field of research, one who has spend over 50 years benefiting the ummah with his priceless gems. Recently, He wrote a 500 page book on the same issue in Arabic. My translation is of the brief version.

Download here

The arabic audio of that night’s lecture can be downloaded here:

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Image from: Anas Akkawi