How to Study Deen

Q. I am contacting you because I wish to seek the true and correct understanding of my Deen. Here in Australia, although a non-Muslim country, I have been exposed to many different interpretations of Islam by various groups and people, especially over the last year. As a result. I am often led into confusion concerning Deen, unable to distinguish between what is correct and what is not, what is part of it and what is not. In all sincerity, let me say that I only wish to know the truth. I do not wish to be led astray by people who claim to know the correct understanding of Islam, and yet their understanding is false or a distortion of the truth. It is for this reason that I am contacting you, as I have every respect for you, and I believe that you are someone who can guide me to the true teachings of this religion.
To give you an example of the extent to which I am being bombarded with different views. Just today I received an e-mail from a brother at my University concerning an article which casts doubt on the authenticity of hadith. Alhamdulillah, through Hafiz Munib I have had such doubts clarified. But I now wish to undertake, or continue, my personal study of Islam. Insha’Allah. If sincerity and enthusiasm are the criteria for seeking knowledge, then I have these. All I need is someone I can be confident in to guide me with the truth.
I will explain my situation so that you will best be able to prescribe for me a method of study. My situation is as follows:
I am currently studying a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne. Alhamdulillah, now I am also beginning to study Arabic and will be undertaking a diploma in Arabic along with my degree, Insha’Allah. As at this point in time, I have a very limited knowledge of Arabic, although I understand the basics, and I am not competent enough in my Urdu. English is my primary language. I will be turning 20 this April, Insha’Allah.
Therefore, after having explained my situation, I sincerely ask you to offer me some words of advice concerning how I should proceed to study my religion. I am interested in studying some books, and this is what Hafiz Munib suggested as the best means for me to study at this point in time, considering the fact that I am a full-time engineering student. Therefore, could you please suggest for me some books in the English language which should read to begin studying? I have already ordered the first volume of “Ma’ariful-Qur’an”, as suggested to me by Hafiz Munib. I am waiting for it to arrive from Pakistan.
Furthermore, I also would like to ask you. may I keep contact with you if I have any questions, or for clarification on such matters? And are there any other forms of study that I can do, other than just the reading of books at this point in time, given my current circumstances? Or is the reading of good reliable books sufficient for now? I will sincerely appreciate any words that you can say to me.
I apologise for making this too long. I am sure you are very busy. I look forward to hearing from you, Insha’Allah.
May Allah guide us to the truth and protect us from falsehood. Ameen. (Muhammad Ali Khan, Geelong, Australia)

Ans. I have received and gone through your e-mail letter with pleasure. I am happy to know about your search for knowledge of Islam. In fact, in the light of the Qur’anic teachings there are two ways to have correct understanding of our religion. One is to acquire all the Islamic disciplines by studying the relevant sciences in a formal way after which a person becomes fully knowledgeable in Quran, Ahadith of Holy Prophet ﷺ and the Islamic jurisprudence derived therefrom. This requires a long time because one has to learn not only the Arabic language but also different sciences developed by the Islamic Ummah in the light of the Holy Quran and Sunnah. These subjects are normally taught in the specialized educational institutions known as Deeni Madaris. The second way is to study the basic books of Islamic religion and to seek guidance from a knowledgeable person who has acquired his knowledge in the fashion mentioned above. For this purpose a Muslim is obligated only to find out a reliable person whom he believes to be an authentic scholar who has acquired his Islamic knowledge in a proper way through the chain of teachers linked with the Holy Prophet ﷺ.
It must be kept in mind that while sending the Holy Quran to the mankind, Allah Almighty Himself elected to send it through the Holy Prophet ﷺ and has clearly mentioned in the Holy Book that the Holy Prophet ﷺ is sent to teach the Holy Book and the wisdom and purify his addressees. It clearly means that the Holy Book can be useful only when it is read and studied in the light of the prophetic teachings. The companions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ learnt the Holy Quran from the Holy Prophet ﷺ despite the fact that they were Arabs and did not need any translation. Then, these companions taught the Holy Quran and the prophetic teachings to other people and they conveyed the same teachings to the next generation. All the Islamic injunctions have reached us through this chain and scholars who are ultimately linked with the Holy Prophet ﷺ himself. This is the only way through which a correct interpretation and understanding of Islamic teachings can be reached.
There have been many people throughout the Islamic history who tried to interpret the Holy Quran by overlooking this traditional chain. They were under the misconception that the Holy Quran can be understood and interpretated with the help of dictionaries and they need not seek guidance from the scholars who have acquired the Quranic knowledge through the above mentioned traditional sources. This approach being contrary to the basic scheme mentioned by the Holy Quran itself, often fall prey to certain ideological or practical errors. Almost all the wrong interpretations of Islamic teachings have come forth through this misconception, that is why I have emphasized on the fact that one should seek guidance only from those knowledgeable persons whose source of knowledge is linked with the traditional chain of scholars. Once a common Muslim appreciates this fact and turns to a scholar of this type whom he believes to be very knowledgeable and more practicing, to the best of his search and scrutiny, and follows him in religious matters, his obligations stand discharged.
Since you are studying Engineering it is probably not possible for you to adopt the first method of acquiring the knowledge of religion nor is it necessary for you to do so. However, you should acquire that much of knowledge in the light of which you can run a good Islamic life. For this purpose you should study some books and then select a scholar to seek his guidance when necessary. As desired by you I am giving you the names of some books you should study for that purpose:
1. What Islam Is? (by Maulana Manzoor Ahmad Nomani)
2. Islam in Theory and Faith (by the same author)
3. The English translation of Hayatul Muslemeen (by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi)
4. The English translation of uswai Rasool-e-Akram (by Dr.Abdul Hai)
5. The English translation of Ma’ariful-Qur’an (by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Sahib)
I would also advise you to subscribe the monthly journal of Albalagh International published by Darul Uloom Karachi every month in English.
You can refer to me after studying these books.
Muhammad Taqi Usmani (Al Balagh International, May 2000)