بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم
This started as a replacement for some of my outdated articles on studying Islam, and as a means to answer questions about books and study tips I am often asked about in private messages. It has now resulted in what is the most important article on my blog I have written so far.
Many ask about the most optimal route and method to study Islam, and unfortunately many ideas are presented without a thorough familiarity of the factors involved. I have attempted to be concise and restricted in this post, so please do not expect every single detail or discussion to be mentioned. Ultimately, it is impossible to build an exhaustive guide which explores every possible method and reference. Most of what I’ve written here is written from the perspective of my own studies and the texts available and known to me. It is also written from a strictly Sunni perspective. But there is so much more. For example, I just searched for Maturidi creed texts and found downloadable PDFs for almost 200 of them in both Arabic and Turkish. What I have done here should not be treated as an ultimate guide, but an outline and skeleton for those seeking structure in how to program and build structure for their studies, reading and research, and helping enthusiasts to make decisions about their goals and ambitions in learning.
What goes into the decision of determining how we should study Islam?
There are several considerations to keep in mind when we discuss what an ideal Islamic pedagogical progression may look like. Here are a few:
1) Rulings by scholars of fiqh on learning that is obligatory for the individual Muslim (Fard Ayn), and learning that is obligatory on Muslims as a community (Fard Kifayah)
2) The objectives and structure of classical curricula, both Abbasid Era and Ottoman.
3) The needs of and benefits for the Muslim community
4) The objectives or maqasid of Islamic learning in the Shariah, whether for faith or societal needs.
5) Research priorities whether urgent or prospective in advanced Islamic Studies and research.
6) Traditional understandings of isnad, scholarly mentorship and prophetic inheritance.
7) Modern understandings of pedagogy, curriculum, and learning.
As one may deduce, books have been written on this subject, and I will not pretend to have read many of them. But as someone who has worked as a professional educator for almost a decade, has studied traditionally and in a university environment, and teaches Islamic studies in both a high school and halaqas, I have my own opinions and advice on the subject. Instead of writing a book however, I will suffice with simple guidance in the form of a blog post.
Level 1 – Learning as Religious Obligation
The details of this step are determined from scholars of fiqh, theology and tasawwuf, who are most concerned about the learning priorities for the average Muslim. As with most of the steps in studying Islam, a teacher is critical. One’s teacher need not be a specialist in the subject, although it is optimal that they have studied to at least an intermediate level (see next section) in theology, fiqh and tasawwuf. This step consists of 4 parts:
1) Learning theology necessary to be a Muslim.
This requires some comments:
a) One may utilize basic texts for this purpose, such as Imam al-Tahawi’s famous Aqidah, ‘The Creed of the Masses’ or Aqidatul-Awwam by Imam al-Marzuqi and Imam Ibn Qudama’s Lum’atul-I’tiqad. Finding local teachers is best, online teachers are an alternative. I have seen a few teachers online teaching these texts in English.
b) Learning via any of the three schools of theology in Ahlus-Sunnah is acceptable – Ash’ari, Maturidi or Athari/Hanbali. Each one is aligned with one or two of the fiqh madhhabs and there is no need to be pedantic here.
c) One may alternatively not use a text, and instead resort to learning theology using tafsir. However this requires some skill and intimacy with theology on the teacher’s side, and is better left for part 4 of this level.
d) One should also study the Sirah and the Prophetic characteristics (Shama’il) to a level where one develops appreciation of the Prophet ﷺ’s devotion to Allah & his ummah, his truthfulness and learns to love him more than he loves his own self or his parents.
e) Addressing doubts and theological confusion – this is a major requirement of teaching theology to the public that no classical text can fulfill. This requires a teacher who not just understands classical theology, but understands modern epistemology, philosophy of science, modern ontologies of naturalism, gender etc. See level 3 for some resources on this.
For this last point, it is important to point out that it is obligatory to resolve one’s doubts in Islamic theology to the point one is comfortable being Muslim and has faith in Allah and His Messenger. This will differ greatly from person to person depending on their intelligence, knowledge & extent of theological confusion. Any remaining doubts and satanic whispers must be overcome with spiritual practice and maintaining a healthy relationship with Allah. Avoiding sins and complying with obligations is an important means to healing theological confusion. Some mental health issues and lifestyle-induced disconnection from the self can also cause nihilistic doubts and confusion. Lastly, keeping righteous company is important to ground oneself and ensure they are not overcome by the shayatin among men and women.
A final note on learning theology at this level: teachers who expose their students to theological controversies and inter-Sunni sectarian arguments at this stage are irresponsible and frankly, should not be teaching theology to the masses. Students who seek out these controversies and conflicts either by pressing otherwise well-intentioned teachers or by learning topics beyond their level are also at fault. The focus for a Muslim at this level is not to indulge in inter-Muslim politics, and get involved in deciding who is a mubtadi’ and who is a munafiq or kafir in disguise. The exception is when differences and controversies are mentioned not as a means to ‘other’ or exceptionalize one’s madhhab, but to bring Muslims together and demonstrate common ground.
Of course this does not apply to clarifying the problems of ‘Muslim’ groups whose heterodoxy removes them from the Quranic or prophetic description of a Muslim, such as Ex-Muslims, Ahmadiyyah, Ismailis etc, although it should be done in a responsible way that does not bring about a violation of rights. Sunni-Shia theological discussion should not be omitted entirely, although it should be approached with great care and responsibility so as not to disrupt communal love, cooperation and cohesion, as well as the bonds of Muslim brotherhood.
2) Learning Fiqh necessary to perform obligations and avoid sins.
a) The Fiqh at this stage that is obligatory to learn are the ibadat: chapters in purification (wudu), prayer, zakat and fasting. This also includes memorizing Surah al-Fatihah, and learning enough tajwid to recite it without serious errors that would invalidate the prayer. I also add sections on transactions, specifically riba here, as well as rulings on gender interactions (especially for a younger audience).
b) It is highly recommended to utilize a madhhab-based text in learning fiqh, although it is not required. A teacher can loosely follow a fiqh text and only teach the parts they feel are important for the students. Examples of texts that can be taught vary by madhab, such as Safinat-ul-Najah for the Shafiis, Matn ibn Ashir for the Malikis, Mukhtasar al-Quduri for the Hanafis and Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat for the Hanbalis.
c) The goal of learning fiqh at this stage should be for correct implementation of Islamic rulings in real life, and to avoid falling into the sin of not learning what is obligatory to know. It is not to learn fiqh via an usul or evidence-based approach.
d) The teacher of fiqh at this stage should be considerate of the needs of the average Muslim. Care should be taken to connect the fiqh rulings taught to tasawwuf, sacred text, practical and relevant contextualization, as well as using the positions of other madhhabs to demonstrate or restrict leniency when needed. In environments where more than one madhhab or understanding of fiqh is practised, the teacher should also ensure that they help learners understand other views and their validity. Incorrect views should only be pointed out depending on their harm, level of conflict with consensus, not on personal disagreement. Of course all of this is dependent on the perspective, knowledge and skill of the teacher, and there is no one-size-fits-all implementation of what I have said here.
e) Learners can be introduced to select usul and general principles in fiqh, although in most cases this is not necessary and depends on the needs and interests of the learners. Generally, what is taught from these should be restricted to what is necessary for understanding and implementation of learned fiqh.
3) Learning principles in tasawwuf necessary to maintain a personal relationship with the Creator.
A few points are important here:
a) It is obligatory for Muslims to know basic principles in tasawwuf – such as obligatory levels of taqwa, tawakkul, zuhd, khawf, mahhabah, sabr, shukr, wilayah etc.
b) A classical text can be used for this such as Imam Al-Muhasibi’s Risalah, Imam al-Harawi’s Manazil ul-Sa’irin, or Imam al-Ghazali’s Bidayatul-Hidayah. Alternatively it can simply be a halaqah series designed to teach the basics, or as is customary, taught in Friday sermons.
c) I will not comment on whether or not tasawwuf should be done through a tariqah, as this is not my specialization and I do not feel comfortable with expressing my personal, less-informed inclinations.
d) However despite this, it is critical to have a Sheikh in tasawwuf, or a spiritual guide. This is someone who is a scholar of Islam, but one who demonstrates a strong implementation of Islamic rulings in their life, going above and beyond fiqh obligations and recommendations, avoiding of sins and even disliked acts, and has overall excellent character and conduct. This is often not the same scholar that one would study theology and fiqh with. An academician is not the same as a spiritual guide although rare blessed individuals may fulfill both roles. It is not possible to find a perfect teacher who does not have some perceived character or personality defect, and does not err at all as the only perfect spiritual guide is the Prophet ﷺ. Of course this does not apply for cases of repeated bad character, abuse or open sin.
As for whether a karamah or miracle qualifies one to be a spiritual guide or not, then again I will not comment as this is outside my area of expertise. One must always be careful when seeking out a spiritual guide as unfortunately there are many imposters and frauds. One must also not be discouraged by disappointment in the faults of a guide. In any case, always take the positive traits from a scholar or spiritual guide, and protect yourself from internalizing their negative traits.
4) Lifelong learning and knowledge enrichment
This is strongly recommended for every Muslim, even if not outright obligatory. Every Muslim at some level should be engaged in the following learning, even if only once a week. Please note that this is IN ADDITION to what has already been mentioned. Otherwise what has mentioned before is the foundation that is primary and more important. What is included here is:
a) Learning more tajwid and memorizing more Qur’an.
b) Learning more about the Sirah by reading, attending lectures etc.
c) Learning Arabic to a basic level of fluency – See here for tips.
d) Attending lessons on tafsir and hadith
e) Learning and memorizing more adhkar and duas.
f) Maintaining the company of scholars and the righteous and picking up gems of knowledge and guidance.
g) Attending seminars on modern issues whether in theology or fiqh (like seminars on Islamic finance, politics, inheritance, social issues etc).
h) Attending da’wah talks and sessions to rejuvenate one’s motivation and faith.
i) Reading books on Islamic subjects. One should avoid specialist literature however, unless one intends to ascend to the next level.
Learning is a lifelong activity, especially in Islam when it has been so strongly emphasized by our sacred texts and scholars. As the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whosoever Allah wills good for, He grants him deep understanding in the religion.” and, “Whosoever traverses the path of knowledge, then the path of Paradise will be made easy for him.” Also as Imam al-Nawawi mentioned, seeking knowledge and learning about Islam is the best of the recommended actions a Muslim can engage in after the obligatory ones.
Level 2 – Formal Learning as a ‘Seeker of Knowledge’
Why would one move onto this level of learning?
a) One reason is the immense rewards associated with it, thus building a closer relationship with the Creator. This was highlighted by the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ previously mentioned.
b) Another is to know one’s religion in detail, so as to acquire a much greater degree of independence in understanding. This helps in avoiding becoming confused by the myriad of voices giving different perspectives on Islamic issues.
c) Another possible reason is to remove ignorance from one’s community and fill it with knowledge after one returns as a teacher. Be careful in noting that this is different from fulfilling one’s narcissistic desires of fame, fortune or prestige from learning, rather it is a sincere desire to serve and guide one’s community using knowledge. It is a slippery slope from one intention to the other.
It is worth noting that this level of studies is not for everyone. Not everyone can dedicate their time and effort to learning intensively in the same way that not everyone can simultaneously do a Masters degree and a full-time job. This is despite the fact that there is a real need for educated Muslims and young professionals to be involved in this kind of study. I have sometimes entertained the thought that all university-educated Muslims should engage in Level 2 study at some level, although this is perhaps overzealous and unrealistic of me. Also, studying at this level is no guarantee of righteousness, neither is not being a seeker of knowledge a guarantee of a lowly station with Allah. How many an average practising Muslim exerts themselves more in sincerity & worship than some seekers of knowledge. Knowledge is means of building the capacity to be closer to Allah, it is no guarantee of it though.
So where should one begin? The basic starting point should be to study core subjects in Islamic Studies via a traditional curriculum and in the Arabic language. Why?
a) Because a traditional curriculum usually has a strong emphasis on learning Arabic. This is critical to understanding the sacred texts as well as intermediate and advanced scholarly texts.
b) A traditional curriculum grants the learner a high resolution conceptualization of the overall structure of Islamic knowledge. The study of theology, fiqh, usul, the principles of fiqh, the Arabic language, hadith and tafsir all complement each other in different ways. Being able to see this complementary activity at a higher resolution allows one to better navigate through scholarly literature and interpret the works of often polymath classical scholarship.
c) A traditional curriculum opens up the world of scholarly literature and scholarship. Through traditional study one encounters many texts, scholars, resources and references not known except to specialists in Islamic Studies. The range of texts and scholars that a Hanafi faqih or a scholar of hadith for example are aware of are often well beyond the breadth of a learner approaching Islamic Studies from a modern, subject-based approach.
d) A traditional study is well, traditional. If one wishes to step into the minds of classical scholarship, then it is ideal to study as they studied. If one wishes to emulate classical scholarship, one needs to emulate their learning practices at some level.
e) A traditional curriculum connects one’s understanding to the past. Isnad is a major aspect of Islamic learning. One does not simply learn Islam, but their understanding of Islam must in some way be connected to the understanding of Muslim scholarship and eventually to the Prophet ﷺ. Although traditional study is no certain guarantee of authentic understanding, it certainly has a much better claim to connection with the source of Islam than any modern method of study could have.
As a last point, a major mistake made by many is to embark on this stage of learning with the wrong approach. An Islamic Studies program in a Western university is no substitute for traditional Islamic learning, especially if one’s intent is aligned with that of Islamic teachings and sacred text. Another mistake made on this step is to study half-way. For example to not focus on the Arabic language first, to study fiqh without hadith, hadith without fiqh, tafsir without Arabic or theology without Arabic. Another mistake is to not have the guidance of teachers during the process. Islamic learning is not just a process of knowledge acquisition, it is also a process of peer mentorship and apprenticeship. This ensures the preservation of orthodox understanding.
Traditional curricula can have problematic implementations as well. They can be bogged down by cultural and ethic influences that result in dogmatic beliefs, attitudes and behaviours resulting from their graduates. Orthodox understanding may also be confused with ideological rigidity and unyielding attitudes towards modern knowledge. See my article on traditional vs. modern study for more.
So what does this stage of learning entail?
Imam ibn Khaldun divided subjects in Islamic Studies into two: the alat or instrumental knowledge and the maqasid or the objectives of learning. For each subject I will try to give examples of texts that can be studied. Most examples are given from either my own learning or texts suggested to me for learning by teachers. This disclaimer is my attempt to not misrepresent curricula for other madhhabs or some regions that might do things differently. I suggest also looking at this excellent blog for a lot more detail and guidance on studying traditional subjects.
The alat i.e. Instrumental Knowledge
Please note: Traditional curricula are centred around texts instead of subjects. And texts progress from more concise and simple ones designed to introduce concepts and definitions to more expanded ones that mention small details, evidences, counter arguments and differences etc. A text is just a tool. How it is utilized by the teacher matters greatly. Therefore students can study the same texts with different teachers and end up with a completely different experience. See here for further discussion on different types of texts and how to approach their study. The advantage of studying classical texts is that the learner is able to gain a strong familiarity with the language, style and structure of classical texts which makes it much easier to interpret, analyze and use larger reference works with an intact level of traditional understanding preserved through isnad. Modern study texts can be useful, but one must be careful as they can leave the learner unable to use classical sources effectively or sometimes not even make them aware of the depth and breadth of traditional resources available.
1) The Arabic sciences – Alhamdulillah I do not have to go into detail here. Please refer to my article on the overall Arabic language curriculum that a seeker of knowledge should embark on. As many of my teachers have said, you will see that people who do not take the time to master the Arabic language before they get into other subjects will not get very far in their study of Islam. A major mistake of many Muslims attempting to cross over into formal learning is the lack of Arabic fluency and conceptual study. Islamic Studies is to be primarily conducted in the Arabic language, even if a major source of your learning and research consists of non-Arabic sources. Much time is wasted by those who put off or delay this step, rendering the understanding of more intermediate and advanced issues weak and flimsy.
2) Logic i.e. Mantiq – logic is essential to understand kalam and usul. Even if one does not ascribe to the understanding of the scholars of kalam and prefers the Athari school of theology, a seeker of knowledge should still have a familiarity with classical Arabic logic in order to understand applications by classical scholarship in other disciplines.
a) An example of a beginner text that is often studied is Sullam al-Munawraq by Imam al-Akhdari, a short poem describing the basic principles of logic. Others at this stage include Tahdhibul-Mantiq by Imam al-Taftazani. As for the famous study text Isaghoji by the Roman Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, then many who teach this text do not highlight how it’s logic and Platonic concepts of syllogism evolved much after the time of Ibn Sina.
b) A more intermediary text is perhaps Sullam al-Ulum by Imam Muhib-Ullah Al-Uthmani. A more comprehensive text is Al-Shamsiyyah by Imam al-Taftazani. I have not studied either but I was told these two texts were used in the progression of students in Keralite seminaries. I have heard the latter being used more extensively in classical curricula as well as other places in the world today.
c) Additional readings are available as well, such as the works of Imam al-Ghazali focusing on logic and its use in epistemology, as well as the introduction to his famous work in usul-ul-fiqh Al-Mustasfa. More on this in level 3.
3) Usul-ul-Fiqh – this is necessary to understand the process of deduction from the sacred texts. How do fuqaha extract rulings from the Qur’an and Sunnah? How are the Arabic language, logic, hadith, and community put together to form an Islamic interpretive philosophy? Hint: this is the subject that this blog is named after. Note: for simplicity and to avoid pretending like I know how members of other madhabs study their usul, the texts here I am going to mention are restricted to what Shafii students will use.
a) Usul-ul-Fiqh is usually introduced with a beginner text like Imam al-Juwayni’s al-Waraqat, which is mostly used to introduce key concepts, definitions and understandings, although to be honest the text can be greatly expanded upon and what is really needed in these times is a lengthy introduction into what Usul-ul-Fiqh is, it’s function and importance. I’ve taught this text 3-4 times, and each time I spent a good 3-4 lessons not even opening the book in the beginning.
b) Next, an intermediate text is studied, and for many Shafiis today the text used is Lubb-ul-Usul by Sheikh-ul-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari.
c) This is usually followed by Imam Taj-ul-Din al-Subki’s Jam-ul-Jawami’, a text that was written as an attempt into comparative usul, and is accompanied by the explanation of Imam al-Mahalli, as well as the super-commentary on that explanation by Imam al-Attar, or Al-Bunani for the Malikis. I have not studied this super-commentary, although I was told that some of my teachers spent two years reading this text in detail.
d) As I will detail in the next level, there is plenty to read in Usul-ul-Fiqh after these texts. They only scratch the surface of Usul-ul-Fiqh, and this basic curriculum pales in comparison to the depth and complexity of other usul texts within the Shafii school as well as texts outside the school. There are also associated subjects like Qawa’id ul-Fiqh (general principles in fiqh), Maqasid al-Shariah (Goals and Objectives of the Shariah, and Usul-ul-Fatwa (the process of giving legal verdicts) which are critical in understanding the enterprise of both Usul-ul-fiqh and Fiqh as a whole. More on this in level 3.
4) Tajwid & Qira’at – This is not my specialty, therefore I do not wish to comment and deprive the rights of senior students and scholars to speak with authority on this subject. Learners typically begin with a basic text like Tuhfat-ul-Atfal and Al-Muqaddimah al-Jazariyyah and for many students this together with practice in implementing tajwid in a common recitation like Hafs an Asim is sufficient followed by general theory about Qira’at, their history and the differences in recital in one riwayah. However for someone who wishes to specialize in the Arabic language or in Tafsir fluency in more than one recitation is critical, whether in isnad or theory. I only ever studied tajwid on a practical level, not a theoretical one, so I will stop here, lest my figurative pen slip and make me write about something I have little right to comment on. A supplementary side-topic sometimes included together with either tajwid or Arabic is the subject of Arabic script and letter/word writing rules.
5) Ulum-ul-Qur’an – I am admittedly not an authority on this subject either and when I asked to study this with one of my teachers he said texts in this subject are usually straightforward enough to read on one’s own once they have studied subjects like Usul-ul-Fiqh in detail. That said Ulum-ul-Qur’an is where a long time ago I initially began my more detailed readings on Islamic studies, and even though I have yet to embark on a comprehensive reading project in the subject, I have set an introductory curriculum for myself, and I will detail a little of it here.
a) An important introduction to this subject is in the introduction to Imam Ibn Juzayy’s tafsir Al-Tashil fi Ulumit-Tanzil. Imam ibn Taymiyyah’s Muqaddimah is sometimes cited as a good text to start with however as I have come to realize that is a mistake, as the Imam was not necessarily writing an introduction to the subject in as much as he was arguing for his own philosophy of tafsir. Therefore that text should be an intermediate one. This is not to dismiss some of the important points Imam ibn Taymiyyah makes in the text, but simply to place it in a better pedagogical order.
b) Probably the most important classical text in Ulum-ul-Qur’an that one should hope to either read themselves or study with a teacher is Imam al-Suyuti’s al-Itqan. I read a significant portion of it last year and I was astounded by the depth and breadth of Imam al-Suyuti’s effort to consolidate a new subject and type of literature in Islamic thought.
c) Some of the best texts in Ulum-ul-Qur’an are modern texts, and there is a whole genre of texts in Ulum-ul-Qur’an that discuss its miraculous nature, or I’jaz ul-Qur’an. There is lot that can be said here, so more on this in level 3.
6) Mustalah al-Hadith – See Hadith in the next section.
The maqasid i.e. Objectives in Islamic Knowledge
Everything mentioned before this, i.e. the alat are the means by which the maqasid are to be understood properly. The strength of one’s understanding of the maqasid bears a strong correlation to the strength of one’s understanding of the alat. Just like the alat, study of the maqasid in traditional curricula revolves around texts instead of subject matter. Just like the alat, there are different types of texts for each level and specific texts may have been developed for specific purposes. Also, just like before, the efficacy of learning with a text largely depends on how it is used by the teacher.
1) Tafsir – I don’t have to do much here, as the brilliant author of this page has done more than I would be able to. Also see Sh. Hatim al-Awni’s Takwin Malakatut-Tafsir.
2) Hadith – similarly here, the same author has once again outdone himself (and others) for both Hadith and Mustalah al-Hadith. May Allah bless and reward him. Also look for audio recordings from Sh. Hatim al-Awni on how to study hadith, as well as guidance by Sh. Ahmad Ma’bad on the subject on Youtube.
3) Fiqh – the website quoted above also has a staggering amount of information on this topic. However I wish to outline some key points of my own:
a) Fiqh should be studied via a madhhab, and systematically through the study texts, from beginner to advanced. There is no other way to study fiqh. This is a pedagogical issue, and not related to whether or not you want to follow that madhhab after you’ve studied it. Madhhabs are systems. They represent collective and cumulative centuries of legal and ethical thought based on one system of interpretation. Studying a madhhab is not just the study of one man’s legal opinions, rather it is an access card to more than a millenium-worth of scholastic fiqh understanding and knowledge based on a shared set of usul. Someone who has not studied a madhhab, has not studied fiqh. Anyone who has studied a madhhab knows this by necessity.
Unfortunately this perception is often marred by ill-equipped graduates of seminaries who are often taught advanced texts in fiqh and hadith without a thorough education in usul or Arabic, or belong to an ideologically and ethnically confined culture of religious practice. They present the madhhab as an epistemic absolute or juggernaut, and are not able to understand for themselves in detail or elucidate to others the pedagogical and methodological function of the madhhab.
b) Many learners in the beginning become bored or lose enthusiasm because their teachers do not explain properly why and what they are studying fiqh this way. Again, I have taught the introductory text in the Shafi’i school 3-4 times and I spend a good 3-4 lessons explaining madhhabs, why they are important, what their function is, why they are relevant etc before I even begin the text. The purpose of this is not to preach, rather to explain in detail the epistemic and pedagogical significance of madhhabs as well as their methodological relevance and importance. When we don’t do this properly, student fail to see the importance of madhhabs and by extension, traditional learning. Bundled into this is also a long history of Azhari and Salafi modernism influencing perspectives on how fiqh should be taught and learned.
As for learners, they need to understand what a madhhab is. It is a system. A beginner text in fiqh is merely going to supply you with some of the basic concepts and terminologies required to start studying that system. The system itself will not open up to you and reveal its inner workings & mechanisms until the latter stage of study, especially as you combine the study of the madhhab together with its usul and qawa’id. Let me explain this further as I give a sample ladder of how the Shafii madhhab is studied.
c) Matn Abi Shuja’ is an example of a beginner Shafii text that is often taught to seekers of knowledge. The text introduces concepts, definitions and basic issues in fiqh, however it does not express itself this way. The teacher has to understand this and teach the text accordingly. This is why much later the text Al-Yaqut al-Nafis was written, so as to fulfill this function more effectively by writing a text specifically for that purpose. If one wants to study or teach Matn Abi Shuja’ solely for the purpose of learning fiqh and not accessing the madhhab, then a commentary like Hashiyatul-Bajuri or al-Iqna’ should be used instead. Otherwise if the student is going to progress through the school, it is better for them to wait for the next text to learn the fiqh in more detail.
Teaching a beginner text to either the public or a seeker of knowledge are two completely different things. Teaching such a text to the public should be selective in that only those issues most important and relevant to the learners is being taught. In the Shafii school for example, I would not recommend Matn Abi Shuja‘ for public lessons, rather a text like Safinatun-Najah or al-Muqaddimah al-Hadramiyyah would be more appropriate. Sacred text, connections with tasawwuf, views from other schools, explanation of khilaf, and modern, practical issues, applications and cases should be included with discussions so that learners can understand the importance of not just fiqh, but of systematic madhhab-based study. Classes should also be taught in discussion-style settings when possible, so that learners have the opportunity to further understand issues, ask questions on specific details, and especially so that the teacher can intimately understand the needs of the learners rather than lecturing them based on guesswork.
d) Intermediate texts vary, and their function is mostly to teach fiqh based on the concepts and definitions introduced in beginner texts. Some regions use a limited set of these texts, e.g. in Kerala after Matn Abi Shuja’ they will study Umdatus-Salik and Fath-ul-Mu’in, however in other places such as Yemen teachers will continue with more advanced texts in exploring the fiqh without getting into the actual ‘system’ of the madhhab. Some of these can be 2-3 volumes big like Fath-ul-Wahhab and Rawd al-Talib and will start including sacred texts along with qawa’id while going into more detail on just the fiqh of the Shafii school itself.
e) In the advanced texts of the madhhab, the system is revealed and the madhhab opens up its structure to the student. For the Shafii school this is Imam al-Nawawi’s Minhaj al-Talibin and its many commentaries. Perhaps no commentary better demonstrates this function of the Minhaj than Imam al-Mahalli’s Kanz ul-Raghibin, which is essentially an explanation of Minhaj not so much focused on the fiqh of the Shafii school in as much it is concerned with explaining the connection between usul and fiqh in the school, as well as the layout of how the madhhab is constructed. Longer explanations like Imam Ibn Hajr al-Haytami’s Tuhfatul-Muhtaj, Imam al-Ramli’s Nihayatul-Muhtaj and Imam al-Shirbini’s Mughniul-Muhtaj have basically taken the systematic exegesis of Kanz al-Raghibin and apply it to fiqh. This was in my understanding, why these texts were so important, celebrated so widely and canonized in the Shafii school. They did not just serve the function of teaching fiqh, rather they demonstrated pedagogical and methodological function as well.
A lot of seekers of knowledge are looking for this last stage, but they are not patient enough to wait until they get there. These end-stage texts require the marshalling of knowledge across both usul, qawai’d and fiqh in order to be understood properly. Studying a text before you are ready for it can wreck your understanding and destroy your self-esteem and motivation to study.
4) Kalam/theology – Unfortunately discussing a pedagogical approach for studying theology can be as controversial as discussing theology itself. As someone who is comfortable considering the Hanbali/Athari, Ash’ari and Maturidi approaches as madhhabs rather than competing claims to orthodoxy, I do not find it controversial to discuss this. I myself started out as a Hanbali/Athari, and I studied a few texts in that madhhab before I switched over to studying and researching the Ash’ari school.
Many followers of all three madhhabs will not like me calling the Hanbali/Athari approach a madhhab, but in all honesty this is to me is the most accurate understanding especially when one considers the meaning of the term ‘madhhab’ and the process and assessment by which a methodology or understanding becomes canonized as a madhhab. This is not the place to get into it, so I will stop here. But the conclusion that I would like to emphasize is that I would like learners to treat these approaches as madhhabs. Do not fall for the frankly egotistical sectarianism that infests many Hanbali/Athari and Mutakallim minds. I have seen and heard ridiculous things, like respected Ash’ari scholars making takfir of Imam ibn Tamiyyah and Atharis who claim that Ash’ari and Maturidi scholars (i.e. the majority of the ummah for a millenium) had beliefs that were not Ahlus-Sunnah! All of this is an aberration and a defiance of common sense and epistemic grounding by which we assess something to be canonized as orthodox, as well as poor adab towards our scholars and Imams.
How to achieve this balanced approach? It depends on your teacher. When I was studying a Maturidi explanation of Imam al-Tahawi’s Aqidah And Sharh-ul-Aqai’d my dear teacher Sheikh Muhammad Salim highlighted for me the differences between statements of the mutakallimin and the Hanbalis/Atharis and how many of the differences were in such fine points that they were not worth the controversies, hyperbole, & polemical discussions in inter-Sunni theology. As I read and researched further, I came to a similar conclusion.
I consider Kalam to be one of my specialities, so I will give more detail on this topic in Level 3. I have strong opinions and inclinations towards what I feel to be better and correct in theology, but I do not let this prevent me from being permissive and generous towards other perspectives.
a) Atharis should start out with a foundational text like Imam Ibn Qudama’s Lum’atul-I’tiqad Ibn Balban’s Qalaid-ul-Iqyan and progress to Imam Izzul-Din al-Hanafi’s explanation of Imam al-Tawahi’s Aqidah. After that one may study other texts but ideally I think that an Athari should well be more immersed in the study of well.. athar. Thus the objective should be to move on to the study of Sharh Usul al-I’tiqad by Imam Al-Lalikai.
As a side point, I want to point out that my acceptance of the Athari madhhab as a valid understanding of Islamic theology does not include the Khariji ideology and texts of Muhammad ibn Abdil-Wahhab. I also do not agree with the way theology is taught by Saudi Salafis, and an Athari should not begin their study of theology with modern explanations. Starting with Usul-ul-thalatha or Kitab al-Tawhid is not how theology should be studied, which is basically starting off the study of the creed with takfir of other Sunnis rather than laying down solid principles from classical texts. Rather true Atharism is found in texts such as those I have highlighted above. Saudi Salafism has its own ideological, theological and political problems that this is not the avenue to get into.
b) For Ash’aris, the texts usually considered an introduction are either Umm-ul-Barahin or al-Kharidah al-Bahiyyah. Then one should move on to Imam al-Bayjuri’s Sharh Jawharatut-Tawhid. For Maturidis the introductory text varies, although I studied a Maturidi explanation of Imam al-Tahawi’s Aqidah, and then moved onto Imam al-Taftazani’s Sharh-ul-Aqai’d.
A word of warning here. InshaAllah this will be a future and more detailed post, but I have noticed a trend towards a sanctification of Kalam positions and increased takfirism in Ash’ari texts as the centuries progressed. It wasn’t just Muhammad ibn Abdil Wahhab who dabbled in takfirism, but when one studies Ottoman History there are clear trends throughout the whole Muslim world towards ultra-conservatism and fanaticism. One can find late Hanafi texts on takfir that eclipse Wahhabi ones in the severity and absurdity of takfir. When one compares the tolerance of early Imams like al-Ghazzali and al-Razi and compares it to some later texts the differences in issues of takfir can be a bit startling. Sunnis studying Kalam should be aware of this, and not be quick in judging either Hanbalis/Atharis or even the Mu’tazilah. And yes I’m an Athari who studied Maturidi creed then became an Ash’ari, although I waver in a few of my beliefs between Ash’arism, Maturidism and even Atharism. For example I find Imam ibn Taymiyyah’s understanding of fitrah very compelling, despite disagreeing with him in many other things, and I believe that an advanced student of Kalam should not be averse to such synthesis. But more on that in Level 3.
5) Tasawwuf – While discussing the study of Tasawwuf, one must not forget that true tasawwuf is not a theoretical subject. Tasawwuf at its core is application by enhancing one’s worship with the principles of tasawwuf. True tasawwuf is achieved not by reading a book, but with purifying one’s heart of ill feelings towards others, dhikr, qiyamul-layl and khidmah for example.
As a studied subject thought, at Level 2 one must venture into studying at the very least, Ibn Ata’illah’s Hikam and a good explanation of it (the most extensive I have seen is Ibn Ajiba’s Iqadh al-Himam.
More intermediate to advanced texts include Qawai’d al-Tasawwuf by Imam al-Zarruq, Imam al-Qushayri’s Risalah & Imam Abdil-Qadir al-Jilani’s Futuhul-Ghayb. Imam ibn al-Qayyim’s Madarij al-Salikin and his other books on tasawwuf are also important for further reading.
Lastly, as an advanced text, the Ihya Ulum-ul-Din of Imam al-Ghazzali is indispensable. One should also go over biographical texts geared towards tasawwuf, whether it be Hilyat-al-Awliya Abu Nu’aym al-Asbahani, or Siyar A’lam al-Nubala by Imam al-Dhababi, although the size of these latter two works may make them more suitable for level 3 territory.
I have purposefully not included a level 3 section for tasawwuf, as I want to emphasize its practical nature, which is its most fundamental and critical aspect.
6) History – One may find it strange that I insert history into this list. But after my study and teaching of history that was forced upon me due to my job as an Islamic Studies teacher (the Grade 11 course at our school is not Islamic Studies but rather Islamic History, which covers the rule of the rightly-guided Caliphs to the modern period), I became convinced that history needs to be part of the core traditional curriculum and not just an advanced level of study. I have developed my own personal curriculum for this for both Level 2 & 3 and of course it can be expanded upon and adjusted depending on how much you agree or disagree with my choices of texts here, and your own breadth and depth of reading in Islamic History. These texts don’t need to be studied with a teacher, as it may be very hard to find one anyway. But if you can find someone (preferably a traditionally trained Muslim professor of Islamic History), then that is optimal.
a) Start with Sirah. I usually recommend Sh. Ramadan Al-Buti’s text Fiqh-ul-Sirah here. Its an easy, quick and well-organized read that readily demonstrates why an analytical approach to history is important. A less analytic alternative is either Ibn Kathir al-Fusul fi Siratir-Rasul, or Imam al-Iraqi’s Alfiyyah in Sirah. This should be followed up with a text on the Prophetic shamai’l. Texts like Shama’il ul-Tirmidhi together with Imam al-Bajuri’s Sharh are adequate introductions to this subject.
b) Next it is important to understand the controversies that occurred during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphate, as it sets the political and theological stage for everything that happens later. For a purely fact-based approach I highly recommend Imam al-Suyuti’s Tarikh al-Khulafa. As for an analysis of this stage in History, it can be difficult to find an objective one from a Sunni point of view. One often finds authors either giving some figures too much benefit of the doubt and not highlighting that pious Companions of the Prophet ﷺ can make mistakes (particularly those that follow Imam Ibn Taymiyyah’s interpretation) while others go too far in criticizing them and slip into a slightly Shi’i interpretation of history. The best and most balanced Sunni source for Islamic History is undoubtedly Imam al-Dhahabi, however the breadth and length of his books are more appropriate for someone in Level 3.
c) Please see level 3. There is so much more to mention on the subject of History.
Level 3 – Advanced, Specialist Study & Research
Who is this level for?
Let me be straightforward here. I wish that everyone who spoke about Islam in public or taught it was at Level 2, or on their way to Level 3. Level 3 is where our discourse about Islam needs to be, but unfortunately it is not because so many of our ‘seekers of knowledge’, ‘muftis’ and preachers are stuck at Level 1, not even 2! I want to help Muslims get to this level, especially the intelligent and educated ones, but I find it hard enough to convince them to get through level 2. Too many preachers and graduates of alim programs have either weak Arabic, have not studied enough Fiqh, or simply have a caricatured understanding of Islam heavily influenced by Salafism or Indian subcontinent religious politics.
This is the reason why I speak out about Salafism. Not because I am against Salafism or Salafis, although I prefer traditionalism to Salafism. It is because of how many Salafi ‘seekers of knowledge’ or ‘Sheikhs’ I have met who have a very warped understanding of how traditional Islamic learning should be conducted. I have met brothers who have studied for 10-20 years and they still cannot grammatically parse an Arabic sentence, let alone poetry. Others who still cannot answer basic questions about usul or Fiqh. A few I have met who consider their greatest achievement to be studying a basic book of Muhammad ibn Abdil-Wahhab 20 times. Otherwise if someone wants to stay Salafi and preach Salafism after going through all of Level 2, then I have no problem with that whatsoever, and they are to be respected for choosing an understanding based on knowledge.
The same goes for many Dar-ul-Ulum seminaries, especially in the UK. Students will go through the hefty Hidayah in Hanafi fiqh and the six books of hadith, but their Arabic, usul and kalam are nearly at the level of the average Muslim. My posts aimed at explaining a new quadrivium in Islam that incorporates science, philosophy and other modern subjects like political theory and economics are aimed at this crowd. This is not 1800s in India anymore. Dar-ul-Ulums must use classical curricula from Ottoman seminaries and Azhar as exemplars, not Deoband. How many of these graduates have used their status as ‘Mufti’ or ‘Shaykh’ to incorrectly speak about modern issues? I applaud those few institutions who are integrating approaches, like Darul-Qasim, Zaytuna, Ebrahim college and Ibn Haldun University.
Similarly also, are students in Western universities who write entire Masters’ and PhD papers on topics in Islamic Studies but have no isnad or connection to tradition. Not only do they produce obfuscated understandings weakly grounded in tradition, they put their faith at risk when they understand it through a secular lens in which the study of Islam is divorced from the extollation of Allah and His Messenger.
Despite this, there are people in Western universities who have some traditional background, and modern/Western Islamic Studies in general can produce an impressive depth and breadth of discourse. Ignore those who dismiss modern and Western scholarship entirely. In fact I would dare to say that some of these people, even non-Muslims have served Islam in much more significant ways with their work than Muslims have. I understand that many will be apprehensive to trust their understanding of Islam with Western academics or non-Muslims, and this is understandable seeing as how colonialism and orientalism are still fresh in our minds. But for those who are able to engage critically with this new genre of literature and filter the wheat from the chaff, I encourage you to indulge.
One must know which authors to look out for. Among others, the ones I enjoy reading from are people such as Dr. Mohammed Fadel, Dr. Jonathan Brown, Dr. Sherman Jackson, Dr. Ahmed elShamsy, Dr. Mu’taz al-Khatib, Dr. Khaled Al-Rouayheb and Dr. Ahmed Dallal. Among non-Muslim authors there are also some impressive ones like Dr. Christopher Melchert, Dr. Wael Hallaq, Dr. Sophia Vasalou, Dr. Michel Cuypers, Dr. Frank Griffel and others. Pretty much anyone who has published with Brill at some point (a joke, yet not at the same time). I don’t always have to agree with everything they have to say, but their work is valuable and must be applauded. Lastly, their are younger people with combined backgrounds still incoming like Dr. Sohaib Saeed and Sh. Salman Younas, and I look forward to their contributions inshaAllah.
Lastly, please note there is a lot of noteworthy modern literature produced in the East, especially from institutions like Azhar, or from the subcontinent in Urdu, or possibly in Turkish that I do not know about because I am not as exposed to intellectuals in Islamic Studies from that side of the world as much as I am in English ones.
There are too many people engaged in Level 3 discourse who have not gone through Level 2 preparation, and their discussions are quite weak as a result, especially when they apply understandings from the Western academy or English books and research papers to traditional topics and issues.
In this section, I want to briefly speak about some of the ways in which learners from Level 2 can greatly expand upon their reading and research, although there are people much better to discuss these ideas with than me. I will refer to useful literature and experts to consult when possible. Obviously, studies at this stage are better conducted with scholars and experts in an institute of higher learning. However, for those who do not have that luxury or opportunity, what I have written here may still be helpful enough to keep you busy for a decade or so. If you are not in a university program, it is critical to maintain a network of academics, experts, researchers and scholars that you can ask questions to and clarify your understanding with.
1) Arabic – there is so much that can be said here, yet what limits me is my own knowledge and the restrictions of this medium.
In Nahw and Sarf – Beyond the Alfiyyah of Imam ibn Malik and what I have mentioned in my other article, one can peruse the encyclopedic works of Imam al-Astrabadhi in explaining both the Kafiyah and Shafiyah of Imam Ibnul-Hajib. The books of Imams Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi and Ibn Hisham al-Ansari are indispensable, as well as the longer explanations of Imam ibn Malik’s Alfiyyah & his Tashil. Imam al-Suyuti has an important text called al-Ashbahu wal-Nadahir fil-Nahw, and Imam Ibnu Jinni’s Al-Khasais is a critical read. Imam Sibawayah’s Kitab has some explanations for those feeling adventurous. I also highly recommend going through the four volume series Foundations of Arabic Linguistics published by Brill. I discovered a lot of valuable information just in the first volume. Look out for Sh. Muhiy al-Din Abdul-Hamid’s commentaries on key Nahw study texts as well. Although there are many impressive classical texts in Sarf, a particularly organized and useful modern one is Dr. Abdul Latif Al-Khatib’s al-Mustaqsa fi Ilm-it-Tasrif.
In Balaghah and Adab – Balaghah is a beautiful subject. As someone who studied Mukhtasar Sa’d and actually enjoyed every minute of it, I wish I could dedicate more of my time to Balaghah. Al-Sakkaki’s Miftahul-Ulum is core reading in this subject, along with Imam al-Jurjani’s books I’jaz ul-Quran, Dala’il-ul-I’jaz and Asrarul-Balaghah. There are plenty of modern works in this field as well, especially works by Sh. Muhammad Abu Musa from Azhar, whose works in this field amounted to an entire 50kg carton’s worth of shipment for me. He also has some lectures on Youtube available.
As for Adab, then as someone who has only had exposure to the Mu’allaqat and Diwanul-Hamasah, I am not an expert in this field. I remember walking into a Cairo bookstore, looking at the pre-Islamic poetry section and arriving at the realization of how poor I was in this category of reading. For someone who knows this subject really well and has a lot of advice to offer on studying it, follow Abu Qays Muhammad Rasheed on Facebook and Youtube. Look for his videos on resources for learning Balaghah and Adab. You will not be disappointed. He also has a long-running series on explaining the Mu’allaqat on Youtube.
Also learn your Urudh and Qawafi, and practice writing Arabic poetry. Unfortunately I do not do it often enough, and I have had trouble overall in becoming attached to Arabic poetry, although my heart sings when I read Nahw and Balaghah.
2) Logic/Mantiq – There is a lot to say here, but in short I really feel the need to express how important it is for further reading in mantiq to branch out into more modern forms of logic or modern discussions of Arabic logic that are comparative in nature. First of all Dr. Khaled al-Rouayheb has an important text on the history of Arabic logic, called The Development of Arabic Logic 1200-1800. This can be compared to the Oxford Handbook of Mathematics and Logic, although I have yet to look through it properly. Although I have only started to scratch the surface of this (logic should be treated distinctly from kalam), there are newer forms of logic to be taken into account as well which can affect our understanding of classical Arabic logic in different ways, such as paraconsistent logic. I have come across some interesting books on mathematics recently, however I currently don’t have the list on me, so maybe I will add it here when I am able. As for classical texts, then Imams al-Ghazali and Imam al-Razi have important works on logic, as well as Ibn Sina the philosopher. Later works such as those by Mulla Sadra or Imam al-Attar I have little familiarity with, so I cannot speak about them much. One can also look into some alternative perspectives on logic, such as Imam ibn Taymiyyahs al-Raddu alal-Mantiqiyyin and his Dar’ al-Ta’arud bayn-al-Aqli wal-naql. Dr. Wael Hallaq has translated the first text as ‘Refutation of the Logicians’. I have my own personal thoughts and reflections on the importance and value of Imam ibn Taymiyyah’s contributions here, but this is not the place to discuss them.
Texts in Adab-ul-Bahth wal-Munadhara are also useful to understand the dialectical style of Muslim scholars.
As for philosophy, then Peter Adamson’s Philosophy in the Islamic World is an excellent introduction. The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy is hefty and perhaps will interest only the most hardcore fans of Islamic philosophy, however there are some valuable articles in there for enthusiasts as well. Books on the history of Western philosophy may also be important here, like the ones by Bertrand Russel or Anthony Kenny. A much longer and detailed treatment of the history of Western philosophy is by Frederick Copleston is available although the level of detail is better suited for specialists. Peter Adamson also seems to be working on a more thorough and updated treatment of the history of philosophy , besides his book on Islamic philosophy. This is a minor side interest for me, as my main focus is in Kalam, not here, therefore my suggestions are limited. However, I have read quite a bit in epistemology and metaphysics, and will discuss that in Kalam. Others would know better.
There is a vast amount of potential for advanced study & research in Usul-ul-Fiqh. However one should be wary of immersing themselves in a deep study of Usul without reading extensively in fiqh as well, as Usul is very theoretical in nature, and fiqh gives a better idea of how the scholars of fiqh would utilize individual evidences for specific situations, and thus fiqh books give a much better and stronger insight into the ‘mind of the faqih’. That said, there are plenty of valuable discussions in Usul that one can only find in Usul texts. Although I have put it on pause currently for more extensive reading in Kalam, there are quite a few important texts that a researcher in Level 3 should be intimately familiar with and engage in extensive reading on. I will start with Shafii texts in Usul, then to important texts from other schools, and finally important readings on the Qawai’d of Fiqh.
a) The first of course is Imam al-Shafi’i’s al-Risalah, the text that founded discussions of Usul, Mustalah al-Hadith and Ulum-ul-Qur’an. Ideally the book should be read together with the rest of the Imam’s al-Umm as both are a valuable repository of fiqh methodology. Reading and understanding Imam al-Shafi’is work can require a surprising amount of focus and effort, one I only encountered later with some Kalam texts! One should then move on to some of the more narration-oriented works in Usul, such Imam al-Khatib al-Baghdadi’s Kitab al-Faqih wal-Mutafaqqih and Imam al-Bayhaqi’s Al-Madkhal Ila Ilmis-Sunan. Then the ideal text to move on to is Imam al-Juwayni’s Al-Burhan, which has valuable discussions as Kalam began to be integrated into Shafi’i Usul. But probablythe most important text to read and understand after Imam al-Shafii’s Risalah is Imam al-Ghazzali’s Al-Mustasfa fil-Usul. I dare say that no other text from this period will help you deeply and systematically understand what Usul-ul-Fiqh is and why it is so important. Other texts that are important are Imam al-Amidi’s Al-Ihkam and Imam al-Razi’s Al-Mahsul, and Imam al-Attar’s Hashiyah on Al-Badr al-Tali’. Of particular importance is Imam al-Zarkashi’s Tashnif al-Musami’ and especially his Al-Bahrul-Muhit. Other classical texts like the various explanations of Imam ibnul-Hajib’s Muntaha or Imam al-Baydawi’s Minhaj are useful but in the end one must decide what to priortize otherwise you will keep discovering texts and eventually the issue of utility and purpose must come in. As for modern works then Sheikh Hasan Hitu’s Al-Wajiz Fi Usul-il-Fiqh is useful.
b) Beyond this, one must engage in a closer reading of texts in Usul from other madhhabs. Although other schools have their own study texts in Usul, I will specifically mention longer works from which a Shafii would benefit.
First, in understanding Hanafi Usul one should be aware that Hanafis themselves debate a lot over their own Usul. Some have reinterpreted how their madhhab uses hadith in a more Shafii vein, while others have attempted to reclaim an original understanding of hadith usage. I believe the latter to be a more authentic approach and therefore more important to understand. Several texts are important here. The first is Imam Abu Hasan al-Shaybani Al-Hujjatu-ala-Ahlil-Madinah, Imam al-Tahawi’s Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar, Imam al-Jassas’ Al-Fusul fil-Usul, and Imam al-Taftazani’s Al-Talwih. An vital and critical modern work is Sh. Eissam Eido’s Manhaj Qubul al-Akhbar I’ndal-Hanafiyyah.
In understanding Maliki Usul, one must in particular pay attention to both Imam al-Shatibi’s Al-Muwafaqat and Imam al-Qarafi’s various writings. Of particular importance is his explanation of Imam al-Razi’s Mahsul, his Al-Ihkam fi-Tamyiz al-Fatawa anil-Ahkam and his Al-Furuq, which I will mention again later. A last book I would advise to be read is Imam ibn Ashur’s Maqasid al-Shariah. These works are important not just for understanding Maliki Usul, but modern issues in Usul.
As for Hanabali Usul then Sharh Al-Kawkab al-Munir and Sharh Mukhtasar al-Rawdah are expansive readings. But particular attention must be paid to Imam ibn al-Qayyim’s contributions in I’lam al-Mawqi’in in order to understand the ‘Hanbali spirit’ of understanding Fiqh and Usul.
For non-madhhab works, Imam al-Shawkani’s Irshad al-Fuhul is a brilliant book of Usul in its own right. Imam ibn Hazm’s al-Muhalla, while being a fiqh text, is celebrated for its piercing and novel insights into Usul and Fiqh.
c) As for Qawai’d ul-Fiqh, then the standard text studied is usually Imam al-Suyuti’s Al-Ashbahu wal-Nadhair in Fiqh. Imam al-Lahji’s summary is a good replacement although it has some additions. For further reading, the most important are Imam al-Qarafi’s Al-Furuq & Imam Izz-ul-Din ibn Abdis-Salam’s Al-Qawaid al-Kubra. Other important reads are Imam al-Qaffal’s Mahasinus-Shariah, and Imam al-Zarkashi’s Al-Qawai’d al-Manthur. Imam al-Subki and Ibn Mulaqqin also have texts in Qawai’d that may be useful. One of my teachers recommended Sheikh al-Borno’s 12 volume encyclopedia of Qawa’id ul-Fiqh although I have not looked at it.
d) As for subject-specific discussions of Qawa’id, then they are too many to list. For example, in takfir I would advise Imam Ibn Hajr Al-Haytami’s Al-I’lam bi Qawati’-ul-Islam, and Sheikh Hatim al-Awni’s Takfir Ahlus-Shahadatyn. In Bid’ah I would recommend Imam al-Shatibi’s Al-I’tisam, Sh. Abdul-Ilah al-Arfaj’s Mafhumul-Bid’ah and Sh. Salahud-Din al-Idibli’s Al-Bid’ah al-Mahmudah. For Wala and Bara I would suggest Sh. Hatim Al-Awni’s book on it, as well as Sh. Abdul Fattah al-Yafi’is. In fact I would recommend all of Sh. Abdul Fattah al-Yafi’is books, they are available free online.
As a last note on Qawai’d ul-Fiqh, it should be noted that its study and reading is no replacement for studying encyclopedic books of Fiqh. Those books are where the Qawai’d came from, and they are the best reading to understand these Qawa’id properly in contextualized form.
e) As for the Usul of Taqlid and Fatwa, then most longer books of fiqh will have a section for this. However there are some specialized texts for understanding this, and they differ by madhhab. For the Shafii’s, some of the most popular ones are Imam al-Kurdi’s Al-Fawai’d al-Madaniyah and Imam Alawi al-Saqqaf’s Al-Fawai’d al-Makkiyah. A text that I strongly recommend as a companion, and that is little-read is Imam al-Samhudi’s Al-Aqdul-Farid Fi Ahkamit-Taqlid. Another important text is Sheikh Muhammad Al-Kaf’s Al-Mu’tamad Indas-Shafi’iyah, which I have not seen in print, I only have the PDF as sent to me. A book I am waiting for on this is Sh. Salim Al-Khatib’s PhD thesis from al-Azhar University, but I don’t think it has been published yet. For discussions on how fiqh should be used and applied in the modern age, check out Sh. Abdul Ilah al-Arfaj’s al-Manahij al-Fiqhiyyah al-Mu’asarah And Sh. Bin Bayyah’s Sana’tul-Fatwa.
f) Reading modern insights into Usul-ul-Fiqh is especially important, as it is required to engage in discussions on Usul-ul-Fiqh as applied to modern issues. I personally do not advise reading any works from the Maqasid movement, unless for awareness, as I feel that their understanding has resulted in a devolved and watered-down understanding of Fiqh that has lost its rigor and richness. Fiqh and Usul have unfortunately been plagued by anti-traditional modernism for a good century, and the Maqasid movement is part of that.
However, there is plenty of good modern commentary on the nature of usul-ul-fiqh and its utility on traditionalist grounds, such as The Social Logic of Taqlid by Dr. Mohammad Fadel, The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi by Dr. Sherman Jackson, Ahmed elShamsy’s Canonization of Islamic Law, and the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law (please note that I do not endorse all the contents of that last volume). I have only researched a limited amount based on need, but there is a lot of content out there. I would advise staying in touch with Brill’s journals, especially Studies in Islamic Law and Society. As you read texts from this category you will discover countless additional avenues for research in the footnotes and references. The membership is outrageously priced, but you can find PDFs if you are resourceful. It is important when reading Western books and journals to find content that is firstly, not of a colonial mentality, and secondly, one that is sympathetic to traditional perspectives. One can still benefit from content that is not traditionally oriented, but you must learn how to be selective in your reading. This is why a good level 2 education is so important.
4) Tajwid, Ulumul-Qur’an & Tafsir – I cannot offer any advice for Tajwid at this level. It is not my specialty. Please consult a scholar of the 10 recitations or contact an institute that specializes in their study like Critical Loyalty.
a) As for Ulum-ul-Qur’an, then that and Tafsir are two examples of subjects (along with theology and Islamic ethics) in which modern authors can still contribute a lot of new understandings to our tradition. I implore you to ask people like Dr. Sohaib Saeed, Sh. Salman bin Nasir for additional resources on this topic, as while I am an enthusiast, I am not a specialist. An example of an excellent text I wish to read myself after al-Itqan is Manahil-ul-Irfan by Sheikh al-Zarqani (d. 1948). A text which I found in Cario and was pleased with the contents of was a thick book on Ulum-ul-Qur’an by Adnan Zarzour. Another important text to look out for is Sheikh Hatim al-Awni’s Takwin Malakat-ul-Tafsir.
It is vital at this juncture to branch off from classical Ulum-ul-Qur’an a little and venture into three important subjects: I’jazul-Qur’an, manuscript analysis of the Qur’an, and the history of the Qur’an. As for Tafsir I will once again redirect you to the link posted above for more detail on progress in one’s reading and study of Tafsir.
b) For I’jazul-Qur’an, there are classical texts like those by Imam al-Jurjani mentioned in the Balaghah section above which are foundational texts in this field. Imam al-Suyuti also has a lengthy book In I’jaz ul-Qur’an. Some of the books of Sh. Muhammad Abu Musa mentioned in the Balaghah section are about this subject as well. Tafsir ul-Zamakshari and Tafsir ibn Ashur are also vital texts in understanding the I’jaz of the Qur’an. There is plenty of modern material being written on this subject too, such as Sheikh Abdullah Draz’ Al-Naba’ ul-Adhim, and Michel Cuypers’ Composition of the Qur’an.
c) For manuscript study and Qur’anic History History of the Quranic Text by the late Dr. Mohammad Mustafa al-Azami is a good introduction. From there one must familiarize themselves with research papers discussing Qur’anic manuscripts. A valuable resource is islam-awareness.org, where researchers in the field have shared a massive database of information regarding the earliest manuscripts of the Qur’an as well as discussions on the evolution of scripts and diacritical marks. There is also a flurry of archaeological research that has begun in Saudi Arabia and one particularly interesting venture is that of looking for ancient Arabic engravings from the time of the Companions or the Prophet ﷺ. See this Twitter account for recent discoveries: https://twitter.com/mohammed93athar
A field that is young and in development is that of the history of the Qur’an especially with regards to the Ahruf and their relationship to the canonical 7/10 Qur’anic recitations. There is one book I could recommend, but I have not yet read it, and I have been told it has issues, so I hesitate to recommend it although I will probably read it myself sometime in the future inshaAllah. An excellent resource on Qur’anic recitations I can recommend however, is to see Dr. Abdul-Latif al-Khatib’s Mu’jam al-Qira’at.
d) As for other modern literature in this field, there are plenty of Arabic and English papers being published. The Ma’had ul-Imam al-Shatibi has been publishing research in Arabic for the past couple of years, Brill has articles on Qur’anic studies, and of course there is the excellent SOAS Journal of Qur’anic Studies. Also one should look out for the soon-to-be-published Oxford Handbook of Qur’anic Studies.
5) Hadith and Mustalah – see the link previously given for guidance on Hadith study. Besides what is there however, I do think there is a need for the synthesis of the Islamic historical method of hadith and modern historical method in a way that preserves the strengths of both and is respectful of our hadith tradition and scholarship. There is also a need for the Islamicization of Archaeology and the philosophy of history and its study as a whole, however this discussion is not within my expertise or reading, rather it is a suggestion expressed by Mohammad Raed Al-Ani, a friend doing his PhD in sociology.
6) Kalam – Given that I have dedicated that past year to intensive research in this subject, I have a lot to say here.
Firstly, one must complete their reading and understanding of our theological tradition. And this is the case not just for those studying the Kalam tradition, but even Atharis. I encourage members of all the 3 madhhabs to read intermediate texts across their madhhabs. After you study an intermediate text from your own madhhab, read or study the rest. So for example if I were to read Sharh Aqaid al-Nasafiyyah from the Maturidi school, I would then complete it by reading Jawharat-al-Tawhid and the Izz-ul-Din al-Hanafi’s Sharh of Imam al-Tahawi’s Creed. I also strongly recommend reading Imam al-Ghazali’s Iqtisad and Imam al-Razi’s Al-Ma’alim fi Usulid-Din, and Sharh Aqidatil-Kubra of Imam al-Sanusi. Then move onto to not more than 1-2 advanced texts (I do not advise spending too long in this stage if you are seeking a practical understanding of Islamic theology, unless your goal is to be an academic purely in analyzing classical Islamic theology), like Imam al-Taftazani’s Sharhul-Maqasid, Imam al-Jurjani’s Sharhul-Mawaqif, Imam ibn Taymiyyah’s Dar al-Ta’arud and Imam Abu Mu’in’s Tabsiratul-Adillah. The key is to focus on really understanding not just the theological positions, but the epistemology and method of argumentation involved in all these texts.
Next, you need a historical analysis of our theology. The best book I have seen thus far is The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology. Read this hefty volume from cover to cover. It is a rich and detailed history of Islamic theology, and there are a lot of theological and historical lessons to be learned from it. Add onto this some other texts, like Frank Griffel’s Imam al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology and Sophia Vasalou’s Ibn Taymiyyah’s Theological Ethics. Dr. Ramon Harvey’s upcoming book about the Maturidi school will be valuable here as well. Lastly, I highly recommend reading Dr. Sherman Jackson’s book, Islam & The Problem of Black Suffering, which will demonstrate the potential of using all 3 madhhabs together to achieve an important theological objective in the modern world .Together with Khaled al-Rouayheb’s history of Arabic logic mentioned above, this will give you some insight into how our theology progressed, and not just fixed positions in the schools.
Next you need to switch gears. You need to understand what issues Islamic theology needs to be able to address in the modern world. Understanding modern science is imperative in this process. I encourage reading Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe, and The Hidden Reality. Other than this I cannot recommend much as the bulk of my scientific understanding comes from my Biology degree and participation in lab work and research there. You really need to understand the basics of chemistry, physics and biology, how science uses hypotheses, testing and inferences to understand empirical realities, and how practical investigations are conducted, and scientific data is acquired and assessed. Next you need to know modern epistemology and metaphysics to understand how the modern world understands the world. I found the Routledge Companions especially useful for this, although I’m sure there are other sources and means. The key concepts to understand here is how knowledge and truth are justified and grounded, and how skepticism is to be overcome. It is also imperative to understand the philosophy of science, and What is This Thing Called Science? Is an excellent start. There is something to be said here about understanding modern ethics, however I have not had the time or energy to engage in reading from that perspective.
Next, one must see how others have taken classical theology and synthesized them with modern epistemology and science to make it more useful while preserving the orthodoxy of their theological positions. There are a lot of readings to do here. Firstly, the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology is critical. It has an updated entry on William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, so you don’t need to read his original publication. One should also read Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Wolfgang Smith’s Physics and Vertical Causation is a very important read, especially if you want to continue and justify classical metaphysics using modern physics (do not be put off by the chapter on geocentrism, focus on the rest). Thomas Nagel’s Mind and the Cosmos is a frustrating yet useful read. A book that should not be omitted at this stage is Syed Naqib al-Attas’ Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam. By this stage you should have a good idea of the kind of work that needs to be done to update Islamic theology and make it a true intellectual fighting force in the modern world. The Prolegomena in particular is a fine example of an early attempt to make such a synthesis. A less theology-centric example of a successful synthesis is Gaie Eaton’s Islam & The Destiny of Man (although, mind the perennialism present in a few pages).
Alongside kalam-based theology, one must also not underestimate the importance of Ulum-ul-Qur’an (especially I’jaz ul-Quran and the preservation of the Qur’an) in Islamic theology, as well as the field of Dala’il-ul-Nubuwwah, of which there are many classical and modern works. One must also recognize the importance of addressing ethical concerns with Islamic rulings, and books like Jonathan Brown’s Slavery and Islam are a fine start, along with books on how to understand Islamic History of warfare and how to contextualize rulings on warfare for the modern period. Unfortunately I read research papers on this topic a couple of years ago and am no longer able to find or recall them. Apologetic work in Islamic Ethics is unfortunately still very young, and a lot of work needs to be done. An example of important work that has yet to be done is an Islamic philosophy of Gender Ethics grounded in traditional Islamic understandings.
Level 3 study of Islamic theology, like any other field, is a massive undertaking. Its not for everyone, but its very much needed in today’s world. It’s a lot of detective work and putting together pieces that many have not even thought of putting together, but as someone passionate about this field, I know that its study and research holds a lot of promise for the ummah.
7) Fiqh – Fiqh is a critical subject to research and study if you want to just not be a theoretician, but to engage in practical issues that will be on benefit to most Muslims.
One should first strengthen their foundation in their own madhhab. In the Shafii school for example, this can be done by four routes: studying evidences, studying theoretical foundations, studying mu’tamad works for giving fatwa, fatwa collections themselves, and modern fiqh application. What is not addressed in this situation, is the critical necessity of studying Usul, Qawa’id and Maqasid al-Shariah for the Faqih.
a) For studying evidences, one must consult both those works written as Shafi’i exegesis on both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, to understand how Shafii scholars deduced rulings and understandings from evidences. Books specific to Ahkam-ul-Qur’an include Imam al-Shafii’s own Ahkamul-Qur’an andSuyuti’s Al-Iklil. I have 2-3 more Shafi’i Ahkam-ul-Qur’an texts in storage, but I do not remember their names or authors. Despite these texts, it is important to realize that the most famous and impactful books on Ahkam-ul-Qur’an are not from the Shafi’i tradition. Three important texts are Imam al-Jassas’ Ahkamul-Quran, Imam ibnul-Arabi’s Ahkamul-Quran, and of course Imam al-Qurtubi’s al-Jami’ li-Ahkamil-Qur’an.
In Hadith, one would find it useful to go over the books of Imam al-Bayhaqi in hadith, as most of them were written to function as hadith reference guides for the Shafii school. Imam al-Baghawi’s Sharhus-Sunnah is also an example. However the more important reference guides in Hadith for the Shafi’i school are Imam al-Nawawi’s Al-Majmu and Imam ibn Mulaqqin’s Tuhfatul-Muhtaj ila Adillatil-Minhaj. Please note that Qur’an and Hadith references are often listed in most encyclopedic fiqh texts of the Shafii school but here I have only mentioned those that have been dedicated for that purpose. One should also not forget that famous commentaries on hadith like Imam ibn Hajr’s Fathul-Bari and Imam al-Nawawi’s explanation of Sahih Muslim were written by Shafii’is.
b) Studying the theoretical foundations of the school is critical to understand the general principles of the school, how the earliest scholars built up the school from the Imam’s fiqh, and how it evolved over time. Fundamental texts in this category include Imam al-Shafii’s own al-Umm, then Imam al-Juwayni’s Nihayatul-Matlab, Imam al-Mardawi’s Al-Hawi al-Kabir, and Imam al-Umrani’s Al-Bayan. The next step is to see how it all comes together in Imam al-Ghazzali’s Al-Wasit, Imam al-Rafi’is Al-Sharhul-Kabir, and Imam al-Nawawi’s Rawdat-ul-Talibin. The size of each of these books is in the 20 volume range, so one must be prepared for a significant amount of work and reading.
c) Studying mu’tamad works is an important way to understand how fatwa is to be given in the school. In the Shafii school, the study of the mu’tamad revolves around Imam al-Nawawi’s Minhaj al-Talibin and its various explanations and sub-commentaries. Although they are difficult to find except in manuscript form or incomplete copies, Imam al-Subki and Imam al-Zarkashi’s explanations of the Minhaj are critical. Imam al-Mahalli’s Kanz al-Raghibin is another central explanation. Imam al-Isnawi’s Al-Muhimat offers constructive criticism of select points in Imam al-Nawawi’s works. Ibn Rifa’s Kifayatun-Nabih and Imam al-Ruwyani’s Bahrul-Madhhab are two other important works here. And lastly of course there are the books written by Imam Zakarriyah al-Ansari such as Fath-ul-Wahhab and Al-Bahjatul-Wardiyyah. The texts mentioned thus far in this stage are the foundation upon which the mu’tamad was built by later authors.
Studying the mu’tamad works themselves is the next step. This includes Imam ibn Hajr al-Haytami’s Tuhfatul Muhtaj and Imam al-Ramli’s Nihayatul-Muhtaj, as well as their famous hashiyat or sub-commentaries by other Imams. Other explanations of Imam al-Nawawi’s Minhaj are also useful here, I have 6-7 of them myself, so I won’t list them here. Beyond this stage, one should engage closer with later fatwa works that were established based on these texts, such as Bughyatul-Mustarshidin and Umdatul-Mufti wal-Mustafti.
d) Fatwa works are useful demonstrations of the application of Fiqh by Imams onto real-life issues, and they are also a repository of fiqh views and explanations that you might not get in textbook style encyclopedias and study texts. There are many of these by various scholars such as ones by Imam al-Nawawi, Imam al-Subki, Imam al-Adhra’i and of course Imam ibn Hajr al-Haytami’s important fatawa collections which have extensive detail.
e) In the modern application of fiqh, the utility of all previous study and reading becomes clear. In order to align modern application with tradition and the methodology and thinking of the Imams of fiqh, one needs to have an intimate awareness of how they understood fiqh and addressed issues in their own time. One also needs to be able to see at a high resolution how the madhhab evolved over time and how scholars adjusted the madhhab to deal with new situations and realizations. This creates an approach to modern fiqh in which one can utilize scholastic authority to justify their own positions and encase them within the umbrella of tradition. Simply using Qur’an and Sunnah and usul-ul-fiqh by themselves may result in fiqh that seems plausible, but may be built on an understanding or be a conclusion that does not fit under the tradition, and hence results in a disconnection between the scholarship of old, and the scholarship of new. It also neuters any possible discussion on why or how tradition needs to be updated, and often degenerates into overzealous calls for reform that call for a dismissal of fiqh tradition.
This is essentially a description of the wave of modernism that emanated from Azhar in the early 1900s and affected the Najdi-Salafi movement as well. Many argue that restricting modern ijtihad and fatwa with tradition results in impractical solutions, however I have seen the opposite on many occasions. One witnesses statements in the madhhabs that not just show us practical insight into our current issues, but also allow us to chart a new course in our application of fiqh while maintaining a connection to tradition and scholastic authority. In fact much of modern ijtihad and fatwa that is dismissive of tradition is eventually forced to access tradition anyway, and because of the lack of experience and intimacy with the tradition, makes serious mistakes along the way. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but this should be enough to highlight the problems of madhhab-less modern fiqh application and the advantages of fiqh that is rooted in tradition, but has an outlook that intends to weave in seamlessly with modern issues.
For modern fiqh, there is quite a bit of reading and learning to do, as one must be familiar with the fatawa of modern scholars and major fatwa organizations. Islamic Finance is a major example of a field in modern fatwa that requires quite a lot of reading, expertise and experience in order to become familiar with. One must remember that besides learning, experience here in working with other scholars on modern issues is critical, due to the cooperative nature of modern fiqh. Lastly, helping the common people with their questions and problems is critical. One cannot hope to understand the fiqh and fatwa needs of the Muslims while sitting in their library and not engaging with them. In the past this function was achieved by working in a courtroom as a Qadi, but since this system is no longer available, one requires a means by which they can engage with everyday folk and understand what is needed.
Training to become a faqih and being one is a massive undertaking, just like any other field, which is why Level 3 study and learning often results in specialization. Except for the gifted few, most scholars and advanced learners will only ever be able to achieve a high level of expertise in 2-3 subjects, not all. Either Fiqh or Tafsir are subjects that I hope to move on to after my forays into Usul and Kalam, as I feel that inshaAllah both are subjects that have immense benefit for not just myself but for the ummah as a whole.
8) History – Because of how important I believe the study of History is, I was originally going to post most of this list in the Level 2 section. However, I changed my mind after realizing that perhaps it would put too much of a burden on seekers of knowledge in that level.
a) One can expand further in their research and studies on the Sirah and the early Caliphate, both the Rashidun and the Ummayyads. For Sirah, one must look closely into narration-based Sirah sources such as Sirah ibn Hisham and Imam al-Salihi’s goliath 12-volume Sirah Subulul-Huda war-Rashad. For the Rashidun and the Umayyads, one can look at famous narration and historical collections like Ibn Sa’d Tabaqat, Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, Ibn Khaldun Tarikh and most importantly, the works of Imam al-Dhahabi like Siyar A’lam al-Nubala and his massive Tarikhul-Islam. Those looking for an even more in-depth look at history can look even larger texts like Tarikh Baghdad by Imam Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi Tarikh Dimishq by Ibn Asakir (I once saw the latter in a bookstore circling a dusty shelf, it was around 50-60 volumes). Hadith biography works can be consulted too as they provide valuable insight into history, as well as Tabaqat or biographical works specific to fiqh madhhabs, theologians, Sufism, hadith (I highly recommend reading Imam al-Dhahabi’s Tadhkiratul-Huffadh, it is one of my favorite books). The sky is the limit. There are biographical works written by the Mu’tazilah for their own scholars, and for the Shi’a as well. Lastly, one can look into Hadith works and commentary as well for more information.
But one must also approach this part of history critically as well. I am not an authority here, but there has been a great number of Sirah works by Muslim authors recently on analyzing the Sirah and extracting lessons from it. Sh. Al-Buti’s Fiqh-ul-Sirah is just an introduction into that genre. One may find some beneficial books in English and by non-Muslims too, and there is a need for Muslims to defend the Prophet ﷺ. See here and here for two non-academic examples of how the Sirah needs to be defended. There are good research papers and books written on defending early Islamic History even by non-Muslims, and they should not be readily dismissed. In fact non-Muslims authors were some of the strongest critics of Hagarism. For the Rashidun, there is also a lot of analysis to be done, especially for the controversies that erupted during the time of Uthman and Ali رضي الله عنهما. This is not just about Sunni and Shi’i polemics, but other analyses as well such as the political ramifications of these events and what we can learn from them. One may also find non-Muslim support of Islamic History for their era, such as how early Syriac Christian documents confirm our understanding of history for this era in When Christians First met Muslims by Michael Penn. There are works analyzing the mawla system in Ummayad times and how Arab racism towards non-Arabs led to the eventual Abbasid takeover. I’m sure one can find many works in both Arabic and English for what has been mentioned thus far, but as I often reiterate, History is my side gig, its not my main one.
c) Next it is important to understand the Abbasid era. Here it can be quite complicated and finding one source that covers the basics for beginners can be substantially difficult, given how so many things were going on during those 5 centuries all around the Muslim world. Key political topics to learn about are the breakup of the Abbasid caliphate into multiple states, Al-Andalus, Slave military-class politics, the Crusades, the Fatimid dynasty and Sunni/Shi’i issues, and lastly Mongol and Turkic dynamics. Non-political topics are also vast in scope, such as theological developments in the Muslim world, Sunni/Mu’tazili dynamics, the flourishing of science and philosophy, the consolidation and standardization of Islamic Education, inter-Sunni issues, Abbasid-era culture and many other topics. Sufficient to say, a proper study of this period is better for level 3. A text to consider at this level for political history is the Oxford History of Islam edited by John Esposito – a few of the chapters are relevant. Another book that may be helpful is The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire by Amira Bennison. However please note that I have not read this book, so I cannot guarantee if it is charitable towards a Muslim perspective. Both Blood and Faith and Empire and Faith seem to be good candidates for Andalusian History, however I have only read the first. Lastly, John Man’s Saladin seems to be a decent insight into the early Crusades.
d) Ottoman History is critical to understand, and is sadly an era that is neglected by Muslims, although an interest has been revived by popular TV series like Ertugrul. The two books I recommend to start off with (these were recommended to me by Dr. Yakoob Ahmed along with two dozen others) are The Ottoman Empire The Classical Age 1300-1600 by Halil Inalcik and The Ottoman Empire 1700-1922 by Donald Quataert. The first book is one of the texts that changed my entire perspective on Western scholarship in Islamic Studies. Instead of parroting facts from history books, Halil Inalcik accesses primary sources from Ottoman Turkish such as official firmans, trade documents and government records to build understandings. After reading this book (and others admittedly), I was convinced that modern scholarship has a lot to offer in Islamic Studies. You just have to know which authors are sympathetic and understanding enough to the Muslim point of view. Some of the insights gleaned by modern scholarship of Ottoman History are incredibly valuable and should not be ignored by any serious student in Islamic Studies.
e) Lastly modern Islamic History is critical to learn. And this requires not just reading books, but speaking to elderly scholars, who can have startlingly piercing insights into regional histories that don’t make it to books, especially because of political obfuscation by dictators and state-sponsored textbooks. I learned more about Saudi History from scholars in Hijaz, Al-Ahsa and Egyptian professors than I learned from smal booklets on sale in Saudi bookstores. Of particular importance is understanding the history of colonialism and its impact on the Muslim world. Although I have yet to find books discussing the impact on the Muslim world and Islam (I am sure there are many, history is my side gig so I admittedly do not have much access to resources), two books that have been recomended to me are Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild seems like a good read, as does Colonising Egypt by Timothy Mitchell although I have read neither.
f) Lastly, one must not forget that History can be studied thematically, and not just chronologically. Excellent examples of this would be studying the history of Hadith through classical and modern works, the history of theology, the history of slavery, the history of fiqh, and the history of the Qur’an. There are too many works to list here, and too many resources. Contact authorities in these fields to ask questions to and to investigate important references.
Now I mark the end of this article. Please note again, that this is not an exhaustive list, just an exemplar. What limits me here is my own limited expertise in many fields, my own limited reading and research, as well as of course the restrictions of this medium. Please add on any further advice, comments and suggestions you have in the comments below, especially if you are a teacher or an expert in one of these fields and have guidance to offer.
Oh I Allah I have written this in service to you, your Messenger, your religion, your believers and completed this in Ramadan. Please accept from me, my Lord, my Master, the One who guided me when I had no one, the One who was with me when I had no one. Forgive for me my countless mistakes and sins, and accept me by the glory of your Wajh into the highest of company in Paradise with Al-Mustafa ﷺ. Please forgive me for any mistakes or misguidance in it, I have only done the best I could with the knowledge you have granted me over the years. You are the Most High, the Most Merciful, the Most Loving. Accept from me and do not make me from among those who are thrown into the hellfire for their hypocrisy in seeking and teaching knowledge.