Please advise me, I want to study Islamic knowledge. Where is the best place to go?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
Dear brother, you have asked a very important question. Inshā’Allah many will benefit from this question of yours.
Many youth in the west have an inclination to study Islamic theology. Many enrol but end up leaving due to various reasons.
In the past, students would travel to one teacher who would be a master. They would stay in his company for years and acquire the various sciences under his tutelage. There was neither a formal graduation nor any formality. In spite of this, upon departing from the shaykh, the student was an arrow from the quiver of Allah. He could strike and break every falsehood. Such students became notable and praiseworthy personalities under the shade of their shaykh. These students would go on and compose mind blowing works in all sciences.
Times have changed. Institutions with specific teachers have become the norm. Today it is more about choosing an institution rather than an individual. Every institution has its pros and cons. Every institution has its ideology. It has its unique features.
Therefore, a person who wishes to study the Islamic sciences first must consider where to go. The traditional Darul Ulooms offer a very similar course. It is usually a six year course covering all the essential sciences. Other institutes offer different courses.
When selecting an institute to enrol in, consider the following:
- The facilities for studying
- The size and depth of the library
- The teachers
- The ideology – is the madrasah tabligh orientated, tasawwuf orientated or something else.
- The number of students
- Schedule and timings
It is vital to have adequate studying facilities and a sizeable library. Books are the tools for scholars. To progress in the Islamic sciences, one needs exposure to books.
The most important aspect to consider is the teachers. What one can gain in 5 minutes from a master in the field he cannot gain from 5 years of studying. Look for the best and go to the best. Great men are nurtured by other great men. Identify notable scholars. Speak to students and scholars you are aware of. Seek their counsel on who are the great scholars of today.
The idea is to enrol in an institute where the teachers are specialists in their respective fields. Even if it takes you 6 months to decide where to go, it is worth the wait. Studying in the best possible institute has a profound effect on one’s studies. Do not settle for second best. If you have the means to study, go to the best institutes where ever they may be.
The ideology of an institute is also worth considering. This will rub off onto you over the period of studies. Knowledge is your goal. Spirituality compliments your goal. Such an institute should be considered where they emphasise greatly on seeking knowledge and at the same time reflect on the importance of tazkiyyah/tasawwuf (spiritual reformation). However, knowledge is the purpose you are enrolling for. This should be kept paramount. If an institute promotes anything else more than knowledge, one must consider what his purpose is. This is not to say tasawwuf is not important. Of course the inner sciences are of utmost importance. Everything has its time and place.
One needs to select an institute where there are many mature students. Enrolling in an institute where the majority of students are under 16 can seriously inhibit one’s progress. The aim is to have no limitations and distractions whilst studying. An institution which has a majority of under 16s is shaped to cater for their needs. An over 16 student has to simply comply, adjust and adapt. This can weaken one’s resolve and determination in studying.
If a person has financial constraints, he will have to consider the expenses for studying. However, this should not at all compromise one’s purpose. If a person who wants to study seriously then Allah will most definitely open the doors for him. If a person can work for one/two years and gather sufficient funds for his quest of seeking knowledge, then this would be ideal solution. Whilst working for one/two years, one should begin reading, studying and attending the lectures of local scholars. The one/two years should be more like a springboard to the ultimate goal. If a person cannot work, he may consider seeking a loan or a bursary. There are many wealthy and sympathetic individuals who would offer scholarships to those passionate in their studies.
Another point which needs to be taken into account is the timings and schedule of the institute. Every Islamic institute has extreme official hours. That’s a fact. A student will officially have to be present from 7/8am all the way until 8/9pm with a few breaks in between. This can be an advantage for some and a disadvantage for others. For some, such timings assist tremendously in reaping maximum benefit and for others, this hinders their progress. Some students can work out of hours just as good or even better than in hours. Many like to reflect and ponder for a lengthy time. One needs to select an institute which offers a favourable time schedule. Again, the purpose is to attain as much as possible in the limited time one has. If an institute has extreme hours but it has experts and specialists occupying these hours, then this will definitely be to one’s advantage.
It would be unfair for me to name institutes. I have very limited exposure to the various institutes across the world. The only humble advice I can offer is that as a rule of thumb, the older the institute, the more likely it is to be an institute worth considering. The oldest institutes have many great scholars. I have personally seen this in the UK and in South Africa. However, this is my humble observation, it is not true in all cases.
If a student is living in the west, he needs to be well glued to the challenges of his time. He needs to be eloquent and have a good command of the English language. For that reason, it would be very advisable to study in South Africa. The general medium of imparting knowledge in South Africa is English. However, the great scholars teach in Urdu and Arabic. Many people consider teaching in Urdu a ‘thing of the past’. However, this is far from the truth. Knowing Urdu has many advantages. The number of good works written in the Urdu language cannot be overlooked. There are some excellent books in the language.
I am personally very inclined to South Africa. After observing the scholars, institutes and facilities in South Africa, one who wishes to pursue knowledge has to seriously consider South Africa.
These are my humble observations. If what I said was right then it is from Allah and due praise belongs to Allah. If anything was incorrect, then it is from me and shaytan.
And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best
Mawlana Faraz ibn Adam,