Methodology in the Quest for Knowledge

Updated: 3 days ago


The quest for Islamic academic and spiritual scholarship is neither a path full of mystery nor is it a path full of random events. While it is a path filled with patience, sacrifice, and exertion, it is also a clear path, a curriculum as it were, that has been paved by scholarship that has preceded us generation by generation.

There are very particular books and book types studied within a particular order and particular method that lead the disciple of knowledge from the early stages of ignorance to the later enlightened stages of independent scholarship and free thought. Some of these books are memorized whilst others are studied intently, all with a proficient teacher.

The general idea is that basal knowledge is studied before advanced knowledge, and primers are studied in preparation to consume the encyclopedic works. Along with this, one will often find the self gradually traveling backward into the past, beginning with the works of more recent scholarship into the most ancient works of Islam dating back to the earliest of generations.

The function of the works that are memorized, often called mutoon, is to serve as a mental index of key concepts and evidences in order to remind you of specific details in academic issues. With repetition of these works, you will also find the depth and breadth of your understanding growing. One should also be mindful that the shortest and most effective path to one's goals in knowledge is the path that should be taken.

We must also understand, without doubt, that the source of all knowledge in every field is the Quran, both academically and spiritually. We find it being the regret of some scholars toward the end of their lives not having dedicated more time to the Quran and its sciences, even in exchange for their fields of expertise.

It is imperative that the disciple of knowledge has dedication to completing memorization and understanding of the Quran. The only debate is whether the disciple of knowledge should first solely memorize the Quran until completion or continue to memorize the Quran while studying other fields of knowledge. At the end of this debate, each individual must decide which one of the two is best for the individual. The most important thing is for the Quran to be completely memorized in the end or as close as one can get to that goal.

Selecting a Teacher

Traditionally, one should seek out the most knowledgeable and pious teacher of the region then those of lesser caliber until the knowledge of that region has been exhausted before traveling to other lands in the quest for knowledge.

While this is a good general guideline to abide by, we should add to this to seek out those teachers you personally benefit from the most in your individual understanding and piety, regardless of how famous, or not, the teacher happens to be.

The Method

Subsequently, below is a listing of the curriculum scholarship has etched along with light background and insight to some of these works for context; albeit, some of these works may differ from region to region or even teacher to teacher premised upon preference, so it is often best to request of your teacher the best works for you to study at your level and allow the teacher to teach you those works.

All of the below mentioned works should be studied with a proficient teacher to the extent this is possible. If you do not have access to such a teacher, then recordings of proficient teachers should be utilized. If this is also not feasible, then you should study the work independently whilst posing questions to proficient teachers in your trouble areas of understanding.

Epistemology [Etiquette of the Disciple of Knowledge]

1. Hilyatu Taalibil 'Ilm of Bakr Abu Zaid

2. Tadhkirat-us-Saami wal Mutakallim of Ibn Jamaa'ah

3. Jaami' Bayaan al-Ilm wa Fadlih of Ibn Abdul Barr

These works are to be read whilst taking note of and highlighting key concepts and quotations.

There may not be a work authored on this topic, within recent contemporary scholarship, more profound than Hilyatu Taalibil 'Ilm. Ibn 'Uthaymeen also has an excellent commentary on this work.

Tadhkirat-us-Saami' wal Mutakallim was so pertinent to Hammaad al-Ansaaree that he would dedicate a portion of his time to reading a section of this work daily.

As for Jaami Bayaan al-Ilm wa Fadlih of Ibn Abdul Barr, suffice it to say that this is the quintessential work on this topic.

Areas covered within epistemology span from defining knowledge to formal training within fields of knowledge to matters of manners and character to the inner and outer self, higher and lower self, to how the disciple of knowledge should interact with each character type within the societies we live in, socially, intellectually, and academically.

Tawheed al-Uloohiyyah [Divinity in Servitude]

1. Thalaathat-ul-Usool

2. al-Qawaa'id al-Arba'

3. Kashf-ush-Shubuhaat

4. Kitaab at-Tawheed

These works are to be memorized. All of them have been authored by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab. It is possible to simply study Kashf-ush-Shubuhaat without memorization whilst being keenly astute of the arguments being made along with the method of debate. Thalaathat-ul-Usool is more important than al-Qawaa'id al-Arba', and if only one of these four works is to be chosen for memorization, then Kitaab at-Tawheed is the best choice.

The primary commentary for Thalaathat-ul-Usool is Haashiyah Thalathat-il-Usool of Abdur-Rahmaan ibn Qaasim and thereafter the commentary of Ibn 'Uthaymeen.

The most referenced commentary for Kitaab at-Tawheed is Fath-ul-Majeed of Abdur-Rahmaan Aali ash-Shaykh, and for good reason. Further commentaries not to be ignored are Tayseer-ul-Azeez al-Hameed of Sulaymaan Aali ash-Shaykh and al-Qawl-ul-Mufeed of Ibn 'Uthaymeen.

Interestingly, Fath-ul-Majeed is the completion and enhancement of the author's cousin's unfinished work Tayseer-ul-Azeez al-Hameed, as he passed before reaching the age of thirty five during events and for reasons that have been recorded in history. Both of them are grandchildren of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab.

Honorable Mentions

Kitaab-ul-Eemaan, Usool as-Sittah, and Fadl-ul-Islam, also all authored by Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhaab.

Kitaab-ul-Eemaan explores the evidences for the pillars of Eemaan, primarily Hadeeth, before ending this work with title headings and evidences surrounding the decorum of the disciple of knowledge. Ibn Baaz recommends memorizing it.

Tawheed al-Asmaa was Sifaat [Divinity in Name and Quality] and Conventional Theology

1. al-'Aqeedah al-Waasitiyyah

2. al-'Aqeedah al-Hamawiyyah

3. al-'Aqeedah at-Tadrumiyyah

4. al-'Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah

The first three have been authored by Ibn Taymiyyah while the latter by at-Tahaawee. al-Waasitiyyah and at-Tahaawiyyah are often recommended for memorization. As one matriculates through these works one graduates through the most important areas of conventional theology with emphasis upon the Names and Qualities of Allah along with education on those who have veered away from more orthodox beliefs and why. Each one of these works enters into more detail on this topic than the previous.

The primary commentary for al-'Aqeedah al-Waasitiyyah is the explanation of Muhammad Khaleel Harraas, although in more recent times many have begun to prefer the explanation of Ibn 'Uthaymeen.

The most frequented commentary for al-'Aqeedah At-Tahaawiyyah is that of Ibn Abil 'Izz al-Hanafee.

Honorable Mentions

Lum'at-ul-I'tiqaad of Ibn Qudaamah and as-Safaareeniyyah of Muhammad ibn Ahmad as-Safaareenee.

Some cite light theological challenges within these two works, yet the overall academic value they retain outweighs that.

Some recommend memorizing these works, however, it is sufficient to study them with a proficient teacher, if one has the opportunity. Some recommend Lum'at-ul-I'tiqaad being studied before al-'Aqeedah al-Waasitiyyah and as-Safaariniyyah being studied after al-'Aqeedah At-Tahaawiyyah.

From here one is qualified to perform in depth study and research in the elder encyclopedic works in the field such as but not limited to:

as-Sunnah of al-Khallaal, as-Sunnah of ash-Shaybaanee, Sharh Usool al-I'tiqaad Ahlis Sunnah wal Jamaa'ah of al-Laalikaaee, ash-Sharee'ah of al-Aajurree, and al-Ibaanah of Ibn Battah.

Arabic Syntax and Morphology

1. al-Aajuroomiyyah

2. Mulhat-ul-I'raab

3. Qatr-un-Nadaa

4. Alfiyyah Ibn Maalik

The minimum to be memorized here is al-Aajuroomiyyah and Alfiyyah Ibn Maalik. If one skips Mulhat-ul-I'raab in entirety, that is possible. As for Qatr-un-Nadaa, then it should minimally be studied. All this being said if one had to choose only one text to memorize, then Alfiyyah Ibn Maalik would suffice.

The primary commentary for al-Aajuroomiyyah is Tuhfat-us-Saniyyah of Muhammad Muhy-ud-Deen 'Abdul-Hameed, although more recently many have begun to give preference to the commentary of Ibn 'Uthaymeen.

The primary commentary for Qatr-un-Nadaa is that of Ibn Hishaam al-Ansaaree.

Alfiyyah Ibn Maalik combines well between the fields of grammar and morphology, all within one thousand lines of beautiful poetry to facilitate memorization.

The primary commentary for Alfiyyah Ibn Maalik is the commentary of Ibn 'Aqeel. The commentary of Ibn 'Uthaymeen is often mentioned as well but may not quite be a replacement for the efforts of Ibn 'Aqeel.

Honrable Mentions

Shadhaa al-'Urf and Lamiyyat-ul-Af'aal

These works have a focus on morphology, and if one is going to memorize one of the two of them, the choice would be Lamiyyat-ul-Af'aal.

Arabic Dictionaries

Arabic to English Dictionaries

1. Hans Wehr Dictionary

2. Arabic-English Lexicon of Edward William Lane

While the Hans Wehr Dictionary was originally intended to empower orientalists during the Second World War forward in their quest to understand, and possibly combat, Islam, it has become an illuminating tool for English speaking academics, as it includes Arabic trilateral root words, transliteration with phonetics, morphology of the root word defined within the ten most common scales, as well as common Arabic idioms using said word.

If this seems profound, then enter the Arabic-English Lexicon. While the Hans Wehr stands in one volume the Arabic-English Lexicon stands in eight. It is everything the Hans Wehr Dictionary is and more; more detail, includes poetry, and even passages from great luminaries such as ash-Shaafi'ee.

Arabic to Arabic Dictionaries

1. Mukhtaar as-Sihaah of ar-Raazee

2. al-Qaamoos al-Muheet of Fayroozaabaadee

3. Lisaan al-Arab of Ibn Manthoor

Mukhtasar as-Sihaah is an abridged dictionary holding only a few hundred pages. It is excellent for beginners and also as a quick reference.

al-Qaamoos al-Muheet is the most frequented dictionary. Fayroozaabaadee, one of the teachers of Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalaanee, has put together such a phenomenal, historical work; clear, succinct, yet not lacking detail. Bakr Abu Zaid would actually read this work straight through and would recommend the same, yet how could this not be when his teacher, the luminary, Muhammad al-Ameen ash-Shinqeetee, would do the same; both were profound in their lingual capabilities.

Lisaan al-Arab is the quintessential work in this field. It is the primary source. One will do well to spend much time with this work as needed.

Tajweed [Elocution]

1. Tuhfat-ul-Atfaal

2. al-Jazariyyah

These two will suffice the one not specializing in Quranic recitation with its modes. If one is aiming on becoming a specialist in this field, your teacher will direct you to what is beyond this frontier.

'Uloom al-Quran [Hermeneutics]

1. Usool at-Tafseer of Ibn Taymiyyah

2. al-Itqaan of as-Suyootee

3. al-Burhaan of az-Zurkashee

These works are to be studied with notes, highlighting key points and quotations, and are not necessarily to be memorized.

'Uloom al-Quran provides the disciple of knowledge with broad education concerning the Quran and provides the tools to understand and perform Tafseer of the Quran premised upon the proper foundations and principles.

What is a verse, how many words are in the Quran, how many letters? What verses were revealed during the day, during the night, while sleeping even? During the summer or winter? What is the first and last verse to have been revealed? What exactly is revelation and how does it occur? Who are the scribes and memorizers of the Quran from the companions? What is the history of its compilation? Are the names of the chapters of the Quran and the order of those chapters premised upon revelation or scholarly deduction from the companions? How do varying modes of recitation impact law? How does all of the aforementioned impact theology and law? All of these topics and more are explored within 'Uloom al-Quran.

Tafseer [Exegesis]

1. Tafseer al-Jalalayn or Tafseer as-Sa'dee or Zubdat-ut-Tafseer or Tawfeeq-ur-Rahmaan

2. Mukhtasar Tafseer Ibn Katheer of ar-Rafa'ee or Muhammad Musa Nasr

3. Tafseer Ibn Katheer

4. Tafseer at-Tabaree

Most scholarship would advise these books of Tafseer to be read by the disciple of knowledge independently whilst posing questions to proficient teachers on problem areas. It is also not that common to find lessons where works of Tafseer are consistently being taught with completion. Of these few lessons that are taught, they are often at the level of Jalaalayn or its equivalent forward to the level of Ibn Katheer but rarely anything above this level.

Tafseer al-Jalaalayn is an abridged Tafseer authored by two Jalaal ad-Deens, Jalaal ad-Deen al-Mahallee and Jalaal ad-Deen as-Suyootee. It is originally the work of al-Mahallee, however, he passed before completing it, only completing from Israa to Nass and some of al-Baqarah. as-Suyootee came behind him completing from Baqarah to Kahf. Its words are similar in the number to that of the Quran. The value in this work is its focus on Quranic vocabulary, the themes of chapters, and reasons for revelation of verses and chapters, all while being succinct. A detractor is that there is some Ta'weel (interpretation) of Allah's qualities within this work.

The value of Tafseer as-Sa'dee is that it is abridged, its language and level is suitable for the novice as well as the person of knowledge, and it is orthodox in its theological presentation. Along with this, the author provides summary of the major works of Tafseer all truncated into a singular statement that also matches the view of the author.

Zubdat-ut-Tafseer is Muhammad Sulaymaan al-Ashqar's summary of Fath-ul-Qadeer condensed to one volume for brevity. It presents suitable narrations in support of a given exegesis and also offers some interesting alternatives in understanding the Quran.

Tafseer Ibn Katheer is the most frequently referenced exegesis in the world today. It is quite comprehensive in its inclusion of law opinions, reasons for revelation, and views of the companions, all whilst being premised upon the narrations in approach to exegesis and maintaining orthodox theology. There is not much this exegesis leaves unturned.

Tafser at-Tabaree is the quintessential work in this field. Almost all major works after it quote it or rely upon it in some way. It is the broadest and most detailed work in the field we have to date. The author includes all fields of knowledge to come to conclusion on the meaning of a verse.

Honorable Mentions

al-Qurtubee, al-Baghawee, Adwaa' al-Bayaan, Fath-ul-Qadeer.

al-Qurtubee's approach to exegesis is one of law and verdicts before any other approach. While its focus is the law that can extracted from the verses, it should also be noted that the author is Maalikee in approach to law and this becomes evident throughout his work.

Adwaa' al-Bayaan of Muhammad al-Ameen ash-Shinqeetee is an effort by the author to explain the entire of the Quran with the Quran, which he achieves with wide success. There is also much emphasis upon Usool al-Fiqh (Legal Theory) within this work.

Mustalah al-Hadeeth [Philology of Hadith Literature]

1. al-Bayqooniyyah

2. Nukhabat-ul-Fikr

3. al-Baa'ith al-Hatheeth

4. Tadreeb ar-Raawee

5. Alfiyyah of al-'Iraaqee or as-Suyootee