How can someone study Islam by themselves?

How can someone study Islam by themselves?

Question:

Assalamu Aleykum. I am studying engineering, but I’d like to study Islam aswell. Since I don’t have time nor money to take another major, I’ve decided to study about Islam by myself. I’ve downloaded a lot of books, but I don’t know where to start. Do you have any suggestion what to start with and maybe which books to read? Also, what is the best and easiest way to study Qur’an by yourself? Thank you very much in advance 😀

Wa alykum as-salaam,

I think this is a great question, but one that has to be refined, for all Muslims. When we approach the study of our religion, we think that we can simply “study Islam.” Now, please do not take this as me discouraging you. That is literally the last thing I’d ever want to do.

I think the best way to approach studying Islam is to try to figure out what part of Islam you want to study. Obviously, knowledge of The Qur’an, the Hadith, and the history of Islam is critically important, but, for your situation, I would suggest that you really figure out what discipline within Islam you want to study, which will then guide how you approach The Qur’an and Sunnah.

I’ll use myself as an example. I love legal studies, and I was drawn to the study of Shariah, because it was through the logic of Shariah that I really cemented my faith. Once I realized how the system worked, how open it was, how much it was directed towards social justice and rational thought, it was all I wanted to study.

Shariah is separated in two major parts: ibadat (religious rituals) and muamalat (actions); and my interest centered around muamalat rather than ibadat, and as a result, that is what I studied: this meant that beyond an understanding of The Qur’an and Sunnah (as it related to legal issues) I had to read and learn about Usul al-Fiqh, or the philosophy/procedures/thought process behind the law.

So my specialization is in the legal elements to Shariah, on a institutional and “constitutional” (i.e. philosophical), meaning that I have studied how Shariah practically works and its theoretical possibilities.

Now, that sounds really cool, so why did I tell you that? To illustrate how small my area of “expertise” is. While I have taken necessary classes in these subjects, I do not have a complete grasp of the various other Islamic subjects, such as: Arabic linguistics, Aqidah (Theology) or Usul al-Din, tafseer (Qur’anic exegesis), sirah (biography of The Prophet), Hadith science… I think you get the idea.

So, please do not be intimidated by the list of subjects, but realize that there is many ways for you to approach your religion in a way that best suits you. No Islamic scholar has mastered all these subjects, that would be an impossibility.

I’ve used this example before, but when you think about Islamic studies, think of medicine. Doctors specialize in things, so if you asked a doctor “what sort of medicine do you practice?” and they replied “all of them,” you’d laugh.

So, do some research, think about yourself and what aspects of Islam will interest you the most. Oh, and don’t worry that you’ll be cutting yourself off from other aspects of Islamic knowledge, rather, once you find your interest and you pursue it, you’ll be forced to learn about the other aspects as it relates to your personal interest.

Keeping that in mind, when you do study Islam, you should have the humility to see that whatever knowledge you get, even if you get ten PhDs, there will be an aspect of Islam that you are not an expert in. So, insha Allah, when you find what you want to study, stay humble, no matter how much you’ve studied.

I’m not sure what sort of books you’ve downloaded, but, I would suggest that you do not approach Islam in a “general studies” direction. You should start from a base knowledge of Islam, on a historical level and from having a familiarity (not expertise) with The Qur’an and the Sunnah. Where you go from there, again, really depends on what you decide to study.

As far as what books you should start with reading, again, I’m not sure what to suggest, because I don’t know what you want to study. If you (or anyone else) wants to study Shariah, I have a few books that I could suggest, as well as various other scholars that would be great guides. Some specific other fields I know books, but in others, I’d have to ask colleagues, but I can find out for you, it just matters what you want to study.

I know I sound like a broken record, I just think that it is abundantly important to not just approach your study of Islam with this perspective, but to also evaluate those who want to teach you or who you seek knowledge from with this consideration in mind.

As far as studying The Qur’an by yourself, I think getting a reliable tafseer is the most important. I’m unsure of whether you speak Arabic or not, but if you speak Arabic, I would simply google Sheikh El Sharaawy, and listen to his sermons, his breakdown of The Qur’an is incredible. He is particularly famous for his understanding of Surah Al Baqarah.

In English, I think the best resource is Muhammad Asad. His tafseer is the best English tafseer I’ve seen.

The other famous tafseer that I know, which is in Turkish, is by Said Nursi, which I have read briefly (in English) which is called the Risale-i Nur.

I think the most important thing, though, regardless of how you begin studying The Qur’an, is that you understand the context of The Qur’an. There is literally nothing more important than this, because without understanding the proper context of each Surah, it will make no sense to you. Learn about the difference between Meccan and Medinan Surahs, and realize that there are disputes over which Surahs are which (sometimes) and that you have to ensure that you understand the significance of what a Surah in Mecca means versus one in Medina.

That’s not the only context, but there is the background to specific Surahs, and then there is the situation in which The Qur’an is addressing. These are critically important, because unless you know this, you might misunderstand something central in The Qur’an, or worse, you might be pushed or push away someone from Islam because of a misunderstanding.

I’m sorry if I’m not giving you an answer that fulfils the “easiest” part, but, honestly, I think if you put in the hard work up front, in understanding the background and the foundational levels of The Qur’an, once you get through that, you will be able to approach The Qur’an with a lot more ease, and you will be able to look at parts of The Qur’an you are less familiar with without panicking.

Thank you for your thanks, but you do not even need to thank me, as it is my pleasure to help in whatever small way I can. Insha Allah, I hope that this helped, and that I answered your question.

If you, or anyone else, has a question on this, or any other topic, please do not hesitate to ask me, insha Allah.

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