a) Knowledge that is Fard ‘Ain or an obligation upon every Muslim to acquire. This is the knowledge that a Muslim needs in order to perform acts of worship that are binding upon him. The Prophet (SAW) said: “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” [Ibn Majah, the scholars have differed as to the authenticity of this Hadeeth, but due to the fact that it was narrated through over fifty different narrations, we can bring them all together and safely conclude that the Hadeeth can be lifted to the grade of Hasan]
Ishaq ibn Rahawaih said regarding this Hadeeth: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory, even though the report concerning it is inauthentic. However, what it means is that the seeker of knowledge is required to learn what he needs in order to properly implement his Wudu’, Salah, Zakah – if he has wealth – Hajj, and so on,” and Sufyan ath-Thawri said: “It is that knowledge which the servant is not excused for being ignorant of.”
b) Knowledge that is Fard Kifayah or a collective obligation upon the Muslims, meaning that if a group of Muslims from the community fulfill the obligation of acquiring this ‘extra’ knowledge then the obligation is lifted from the rest of the Muslims. Ibn Taimiyyah said: “Seeking religious knowledge is Fard Kifayah (a collective obligation) except for that which is incumbent upon each individual to know, such as every person seeking knowledge of what Allah has ordered him to do and what He has prohibited him from doing, since this is an individual obligation.”
So after the student of knowledge learns the basic fundamentals that every Muslim is required to know, he moves on to study the ‘extra’ knowledge that is not obligatory upon everyone, rather only upon the students of knowledge.
The first thing a student of knowledge must begin with is the Book of Allah, for memorizing the Qur’an is essential for the student of knowledge. There are many reports that show how the Salaf would not allow their students to study with them until they had first memorized the Qur’an. An-Nawawi said: “The first thing to begin with is the memorization of the Qur’an, for it is the most important of sciences, and the Salaf never used to teach Hadeeth and Fiqh except to the one who had memorized the Qur’an.”
It should be mentioned however, that memorizing the Qur’an is not obligatory upon the student of knowledge. But nevertheless, it still is important, as it is a key for the student of knowledge that opens up many doors for him. Al-Asma’i said: “The beginning of knowledge is the memorization of the Book of Allah and its understanding, and everything that assists in its understanding is obligatory to study along with it. And I do not say that: to memorize it all is obligatory, however I say that: that is obligatory and binding upon the one who wants to become a scholar.”
Then, the student moves onto studying the Arabic language. For someone who is a beginner with no background in the language and whose mother tongue is other than Arabic, the Madeenah book series by Dr. V Abdur Raheem is very useful. Once the student gains a good grasp of the language such that he can read and understand without having to rely upon translators, translations, or dictionaries, it is recommended that he moves onto studying the classical books of Arabic grammar, beginning with al-Ajrumiyyah, then Qatr-un-Nada by Ibn Hisham, then al-Alfiyyah of Ibn Malik. Each of these texts should be accompanied with a good commentary.
After the student has become proficient in the Arabic language and acquired a good command of its grammatical rules, he is ready to move onto studying the various branches of Islamic knowledge as follows:
1. Tafseer: For someone who has memorized the Qur’an there is nothing better to start with than the Tafseer of the Qur’an. Choose a concise summarized Tafseer to begin with, such as al-Jallalain by both al-Mahalli and as-Suyuti or Tayseer al-Kareem ar-Rahman by as-Sa’di. After that, you move onto a lengthier Tafseer, such as Al-Baghawi or Ibn Katheer.
Along with reading Tafseer one should read in Usool at-Tafseer (the principles of Tafseer), such as Muqaddamah fee Usool at-Tafseer by Ibn Taimiyyah or al-Qawa’id al-Hassan by As-Sa’di. Also, one should read in ‘Uloom al-Qur’an (the sciences of the Qur’an), such as al-Itqan by as-Suyuti or Manahil al-‘Irfan by az-Zarqani.
2. Tawheed: We can categorize Tawheed into two categories:
a) Tawheed of ‘Ibadah (worship). In this category you study the Tawheed of Allah with respect to His Rububiyyah (lordship) and His Uluhiyyah (divinity) from the books of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul-Wahhab, starting with al-Usool ath-Thalathah, then Qawa’id al-Arb’ah, then Kash ash-Shubuhat, then Kitab at-Tawheed. There are many commentaries available for all four of these books.
b) General ‘Aqeedah (creed). In this category you study the remaining subjects pertaining to ‘Aqeedah. So you start with Lum’at-ul-I’tiqad by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, then al-Wasitiyyah, then al-Hamawiyyah, then at-Tadmuriyyah, all three of which are by Ibn Taimiyyah, then at-Tahawiyyah. Again, all these books have commentaries to them, the most important of which is the commentary of at-Tahawiyyah by Ibn Abil-‘Izz.
3. Mustalah al-Hadeeth (the classification of Hadeeth): By studying Mustalah al-Hadeeth one is able to understand the terminologies used by the scholars concerning the science of Hadeeth. One should begin with a small text, such as al-Baiquniyyah accompanied by a good commentary of it, then move onto Nukhbat-ul-Fikr along with its commentary Nuzhat-un-Nadhar which are both by Ibn Hajar, then al-Ba’ith al-Hatheeth by Ibn Katheer which comes with a commentary by Ahmad Shakir.
4. Hadeeth: After the Book of Allah the most important thing for a student of knowledge to focus on memorizing is the Hadeeth of the Prophet (SAW). So one should start with the memorization of al-Arba’een an-Nawawiyyah, then memorize ‘Umdat-ul-Ahkam by Abdul-Ghani al-Maqdisi, then Bulugh al-Maram by Ibn Hajar, then al-Muntaqa by al-Majd Ibn Taimiyyah. All four of these come with commentaries that one should study alongside his memorization.
As for the lengthier books of Hadeeth, then the most important of them are the two Saheehs: al-Bukhari and Muslim. Both should be studied with their respective commentaries: Fath-ul-Bari by Ibn Hajar (a commentary of Saheeh al-Bukhari) and al-Minhaj by an-Nawawi (a commentary of Saheeh Muslim). Then come the four Sunan: Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi, an-Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah, all four of which come with good commentaries. Then one should move onto the remaining books of Hadeeth, such as Sunan ad-Darimi, al-Muwatta’ of Imam Malik, al-Musnad of Imam Ahmad, and so on.
5. Usool al-Fiqh (the principles of Fiqh): The rulings of the Sharee’ah that the scholars of Fiqh have laid out for us have been derived from certain fundamental rules and principles. These rules and principles are found in Usool al-Fiqh. One should begin with a small text, such as al-Waraqat by al-Juwaini, then move onto Qawa’id al-Usool wa Ma’aqid al-Fusool by Safiyyud-Deen al-Baghdadi, then Rawdhat-un-Nadhir by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi. All these books have commentaries to them, the most important of which is the Mudhakkarah of ash-Shinqeeti for Rawdhat-un-Nadhir.
6. Fiqh: One of the most vital sciences for the student of knowledge to become proficient in is Fiqh, and that is due to the fact that the people are in tremendous need of it, for they need to know its rulings in order to fulfill their acts of worship and their day to day dealings correctly. Yet unfortunately, it is also one of the most neglected of sciences among the students of knowledge today, and perhaps that may be due to many of them finding it a difficult subject to study.
Much of the complexity of Fiqh results from the numerous amounts of opinions held by the different scholars throughout the ages, each one of them claiming their opinion to be the correct one, backing it up with various supporting evidences. So when the student is presented with all these various opinions of great scholars, he doesn’t know which one to choose. However, if the student was to study Fiqh based upon a correct methodology – just like we have mentioned with respect to all the other sciences – not only will he be able to grasp a good understanding of the various Fiqh related issues, but he will also be able to distinguish between the various opinions and their supporting evidences.
Now, when a student embarks on his path of seeking knowledge, he is generally confronted by two groups:
a) Those who believe that the only way to study Fiqh is through one of the four well known Madh-habs, because despite their differences they are divinely ordained, and therefore one must choose one of them and follow it without question.
b) Those who believe that the only way to study Fiqh is by exclusively relying upon the Qur’an and Sunnah, and that it is impermissible to study Fiqh through a Madh-hab, because the Qur’an and Sunnah are our two undistorted sources of knowledge, and as for the Madh-habs then they have become distorted over time and therefore cannot be relied upon.
So these are the two methods that a student is generally confronted with when seeking knowledge. However, there is a third method that seeks to combine the aforementioned methods, and it is the method that is strongly advised for the student of knowledge to follow.
To begin with, the student should choose the Madh-hab he wants to study – preferably the Madh-hab that is common among his people – and find a Shaikh to teach him that Madh-hab. The Shaikh should be one who is known to follow the evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and not merely a blind follower of the Madh-hab. Then he should study a concise beginner’s text in that particular Madh-hab. Every Madh-hab has different texts for a beginner to start with, but the ones that are well known are:
– Mukhtasar al-Qadduri (Hanafi Madh-hab)
– Mukhtasar Khaleel (Maliki Madh-hab)
– Al-Ghayah wat-Taqreeb by Abu Shuja’ (Shafi’i Madh-hab)
– ‘Umdat-ul-Fiqh by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi (Hanbali Madh-hab)
Now, these beginner texts of Fiqh are usually free of evidences, so it is the responsibility of the Shaikh to provide the student with the supporting evidences for every Fiqh issue that is mentioned in the text. In the case where the text mentions an opinion that is not backed up by evidence or the evidence is weak, then the Shaikh must point that out to the student while providing him with the stronger and more valid opinion in that particular issue along with its supporting evidence.
Once the student completes the text with the Shaikh, he should review all the issues that he has studied along with their supporting evidences, and make sure that he has mastered and understood each and every issue comprehensively. By now, the student has learnt the fundamental issues discussed in Fiqh according to the particular Madh-hab he chose to study, and at the same time he has learnt the evidences for those issues.
Then the student moves onto the next level, which is studying from a book that contains the various opinions of that particular Madh-hab, along with studying the evidences. This will train the student how to deal with various the opinions, how to compare them in the light of the evidence, and how to select the correct opinion based on the strength of its evidence.
Finally, the student will reach a level where he will be able to go beyond the Madh-hab, studying the opinions of the other Madh-habs, along with their evidences, and choosing the opinion which is the closest to the Qur’an and Sunnah.
By treading this path, the student of knowledge learns Fiqh by both studying it from the Madh-hab and studying its evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and by doing so he makes the Madh-hab the means to achieving his goal of learning Fiqh and makes the evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah the ultimate objective of reaching that goal.
These are the main branches of Islamic knowledge that the student of knowledge needs to be aware of. Last but not least, one should set aside time in which he reads the books of Tareekh (history), Seerah (the Prophetic biography), Siyar al-‘Ulama’ (scholarly biographies), general Adab (etiquettes), Adab of seeking knowledge, and Raqa’iq (piety and asceticism).
As a final point, one must remember that the path of knowledge is indeed a long one, therefore it requires perseverance and much diligence. It is said that: “seeking knowledge lasts from the cradle to the grave,” and it was said to Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak: “If you were resurrected after your death, what would you do?” He said: “I would seek knowledge until the Angel of Death comes to me a second time.” So put all your effort into seeking knowledge and use your time wisely in studying, researching, memorizing, and reviewing the various branches of Islamic knowledge. With such diligence and sincerity, perhaps Allah will one day cause you to be of great benefit to the Ummah.
Disclaimer: Everything that has been mentioned in this post is solely from the humble viewpoint of the author. This methodology of seeking knowledge is advised by many scholars, and it is understood that there are other scholars who would disagree with it. The one who wishes to seek knowledge should choose the methodology that he feels will benefit him the most in this Dunya and the Akhira.
Madeenah, Saudi Arabia
28th of Dhul-Qa’dah 1428