Curriculum for New Muslims?


Dear respected brother,

If someone is starting out learning about Islam, what program of study do you recommend. Note: this person is trying to avoid the group politics and influences. What should he do? At times he feels like he’s being torn to pieces and the sweetness of Islam is waining.

Thanks

Answer:

The best way to gain knowledge in the din, is to gradually build up a decent level of competency in the various subjects, before embarking deeply into one subject or another. It is admirable that you wish the study Islam without the influence of the various groups and have a balanced understanding. InshAllah the following will provide some benefit with this goal. We strongly suggest contacting the Islamic American University (http://www.islamicau.org/static/Default.aspx) and seeing if studying with them is an option for you. They have distance learning classes and you will get course material from them. They have a well designed syllabus and studying with them will give you a solid grasp of the subjects and a methodical path of learning.

If however this is not an option, we will highlight each basic subject here and a resource or two which will allow you to benefit in it. This list of subjects and books may seem varied to you, but it will build your understanding to a critical mass needed for knowledge and practice. After this, you will be able to move forward to higher studies if you wish. All of these books can be found on www.islamicbookstore.com or www.kalamullah.com.

Before beginning:

Pitfalls in the Quest for Knowledge

One of the pitfalls that a student can fall into is to seek knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge is a desire like any other human desire. It can be sought for the pure pleasure of acquiring it and not for the sake of Allah. People love to discover new things. It is a natural human inclination. When a person strives long and hard to find something out, then comes upon the answer, it can be quite exhilarating. This book encourages him to study further.

B. We suggest first and foremost that you learn the fundamentals of purification, prayer and fasting. This is because learning to worship correctly and properly is integral to your spiritual advancement and your Islam.

The question may arise as to which madhab you should choose or how you should study these acts of worship. Regardless of the issue of whether or not one must/must not adhere to one specific madhab, it is recommended that you begin your studies while studying a specific one – as this will make it easy for you to quickly learn rulings for all the acts of worship and begin to implement them. Not doing so will likely result in jumping from opinion to opinion while reading the debates among various proofs, and spending vast amounts of time studying various views on a minor issue dealing with prayer. The focus is to learn how to pray and to focus on the prayer itself, not the myriad of opinions out there. Once you have studied more deeply and have access to a scholar, you can begin to learn about other schools. The Hanafi and Shaf’i schools have more adherents in North America than other the other two schools. We suggest learning the fundamentals from one of them as you will have access to a wider range of teachers. For a basic primer on Hanafi fiqh and then a more advanced book, you can read the following:

1. The Absolute Essentials of Islam – Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School
2. The Humility in Prayer: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali and 33 Ways to Concentrate in Your Prayer (Munajjid)
3. Al Fiqh al-Islami According to the Hanafi Madhab (Sh. Muhammad Akram Nadwi) (3 months – use as a reference and source for better understanding)

While studying these, be cognizant of the fact that there are many other valid opinions in the wide corpus of Islamic Law, and many Muslims who do not find it necessary to stick a specific school. We should respect all of these opinions and focus on one’s own worship, and on maintaining harmony and good relations with everyone around us.

C. Belief and Worldview (Aqeedah):

It is important that you study Islamic Aqeedah, as it is our fundamental beliefs that make us muslim, and beliefs related to our world view that give us an Islamic outlook on life. One detrimental thing many students do, is study Aqeedah as a study of opposition to other Muslims’ opinions on minor issues or unresolved arguments on advanced topics that have been debated by scholars for over a thousand years. Instead, it is best to study our creed as the Companions did, as a means of seeking a better understanding of Allah and His role in our lives. To develop a better understanding of this belief and the Islamic world view, I recommend the following books, in this order:

1. Islam: The Natural Way by Abdul Wahid Hamid (5-6 weeks)
2. The Book of Eeman According to Ibn Taymiyyah by Dr Mohammed Naim Yasin (3 weeks) (not to be confused with the original Kitaab al Eeman which is a completely seperate book on advanced theology and philosophy)
3. The Purification of the Soul (Hanbali, ibn al Qayyim, Ghazali, others)
4. Risalatul Mustarshidin by Al-Muhasibi, translation and commentary by Zaid Shakir (3 weeks)
5. Aqeedah at-Tahawiyyah – Translated by Hamza Yusuf, or any reliable translation (This is a text which by itself is agreed upon by all of the major Sunni theological schools, regardless of the interpretation of it’s specifics which there is no need to go into without a teacher)

It is recommended at this point that you read the book, “Drowning in Minor Details” by Sh. Salman Awdah.

D. The Seerah – Life Story of the Prophet Muhammad (saw)

1. Muhammad: Man and Prophet by Adil Salahi
2. Fiqh Us-Seerah by Muhammad al Ghazali

3. Za’ad al Ma’ad – Ibn Al Qayyim

4. Ash-Shifa – Qadi Iyyad

 

A solid book which offers a comprehensive look at the story and lessons of the life of the Prophet (saw). It is critical to know the life of the Prophet as it provides us a context by which we can understand the Quran, the various aspects of islamic law, and develop a proper understanding of the meaning and message of the religion which the Prophet (saw) came to give us.

E. Understanding the Quran

There are hundreds of books on tafsir out there, explaining various aspects of the Quran through various points of view. I suggest starting with understanding those parts of Quran which will have a direct impact on our personalitiy and belief, and to move on from there. For this reason, it is important that one constantly have a relationship with the Quran and read it consistently everyday – the text by itself. But along with this, to develop an understanding of its meanings and message, I suggest the following course of readings:

0. Introduction to the Study of the Quran (Maududi) available online
1. The Seven Oft-Repeated Verses (Awdah) – An Explanation of Surah Fatihah
2. Study the last juz of Quran – Chapter 78 till the end – Chapter 114. Using an easy resource, www.englishtafsir.com.
3. The Quran: Essential Teachings – Kidwai
4. A Thematic Commentary of the Quran: Muhammad al-Ghazali (recommend reading this work while doing a full reading of the Quran in parallel to the chapter you are on in the book to get the proper benefit from this book)
5. An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran: Mufti Taqi Usmaani

With this, you will be ready to jump into reading more of the Quranic tafsir works available in English bookstores, while being assured that you have picked up the essentials needed to navigate around the Quran and generally pick up on clearly strange or undoubtedly erroneous interpretations. It is always a good idea to spend some time making sure that one’s recitation and pronunciation meets a basic standard. www.quranicsciences.com is a good place to try out your letters and pronunciation and work on them if needed.

F. Hadith

It is important for anyone wishing to learn Islam, that he /she be familiar with not only the verses of Quran, but also the words, speeches, and sayings of the Prophet (saw). The Sunnah is the practical implementation of the Quran in the life of the Prophet, so it is important for a person to understand its importance, and learn some of the statements and sayings of the Prophet.

1. Tahdhib al Akhlaq : A Hadith Guide for Personal and Social Conduct (Sayyed Abdul Hayy al Hasani)
2. The Complete Forty Hadith : Revised Edition with the Arabic Texts (Imam an-Nawawi) includes commentary
3. The Authority of the Sunnah by Taqi Usmani (available online) or the Authority and Importance of the Sunnah by J. Zarabozo
4. Begin a casual, everyday reading of Riyadh us Saaliheen

With this foundation, one will have gained familiarity with many of the popular ahadith of the Prophet and continue to learn more of the traditions from his life

G. Basic Islamic History

1. Companions of the Prophet by Abdul Wahid Hamid
2. The Pious Caliphs
3. History of Islam

4. If you are a history buff and ready for some intense reading where you have an author who makes up his own words when he feels like it, but has written some of the most detailed historical analysis of the Muslim world, try Venture of Islam by Marshall Hodgeson after you have completed the above.

Please remember, it is not needed to traverse this plan subject by subject if this will be too monotonous. You can start with the “level” 1 books under each subject and read them together, and move on slowly through each “level”, thus doing multiple subjects at once. Or if you prefer, you can do this by doing all the books in one subject first, then moving to the next subject (not recommended).

After all these, you will be ready to move on to heavier books. I am not sure of your current knowledge level so if these are too basic for your taste, please let me know and we can revise it to include heavier material, inshAllah.

wa alaikum assalam
Answered by Ust. Abdul Sattar

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13 Comments

  1. Mohammad says:

    Assalamu’alaykum
    Jazak Allah Khayr, I’ve been waiting for a list like this for a while.
    My question is (which has been lingering in my mind for a while), what should a person do if he is approached by a new muslim/convert who asks “Where is Allah?” or another controversial issue?
    Especially if someone does agree with one group, should they just tell them what they believe? and try to explain the other side as well?
    Because these questions do come up at a point in one’s development, and it seems like the person will eventually be pulled from one group or another.
    It also puzzles me to see Hamza Yusuf’s book in that list….the translation of the matn is good, but the introduction and the rest of the book is very Ash’ari…so I don’t see how it avoids group influence.

  2. AbdulSattar says:

    wa alaikum assalam,

    1. As for the translation, you bring up a good point about non-partisanship. However, it was difficult for me to find a good translation, though many are available online. I had read Sh. Hamza’s and found the translation *specifically* to be very lucid and easy to understand so I listed it here. Given that book two is a summary of the views of Ibn Taymiyyah (ra), I figured that this provides a sense of balance for an introductory reader until he/she is able to find a teacher to guide him/her through the intricacies of theological debate in the Sunni tradition.

    This list is by no means final and can be considered a suggestion/work in progress so if there is a better way to summarize the salient points of the book, please feel free to suggest.

    2. As for converts who approach me with the question such as: “What do you think about where Allah is?”, it is usually a result of one thing….someone in the community brought it up to them or they were exposed to the discussion or debate through some other source or form before they were ready.

    I usually take charge and go ahead and sit them down, and explain that within Sunni Islam, there is a theological disagreement on this point and I will go ahead and explain the difference in a means as bare-bones as possible. I then proceed to explain that this is something which the Companions did not argue about, nor which the Prophet spent a great amount of time discussing, and that it does not affect one’s piety or actions in trying to come nearer to Allah (swt) and I attempt to minimalize the difference as much as possible by explaining that the MOST important thing that both groups wish the get across is that Allah is not like His creation and that all of His Names and Attributes are His and that we should learn those Names and seek nearness to Him through knowing them.

    I’ve gotten slack from friends for minimalizing the difference so much with converts and “just started studying” Muslims, but I’ve seen it work by preserving them from pursuing the topic further until later in their studies. After that point, I’ve seen these brothers go Maturidi as well as Salafi, in accordance with the teachers they picked up, but whatever they turn out to be in the end, with converts, the priority is to let them make their own decisions after they have reached a critical mass in their knowledge and protect them from the hyper-competitive, damaging nature of arguments in our community where Aqeedah 101 students from all sides seek to gain dominance in the local masjid.

    Some of the more knowledgeable brothers here may have better advice, but it has worked so far for me.

    wa alaikum assalam
    AS

  3. Jazakallaah khayr Abdul-Sattar, greatly appreciated. If one were to ask you, what is the bare minimum foundation one must have as a Muslim, from each of these books listed, what are the absolute essentials one MUST master before going on to more advanced topics?

    Siraaj

  4. sis says:

    jazaakallahu kheiran for the list.

    just curious: are Zad al-Ma’ad and ash-Shifa available in English?

  5. Hassan says:

    As Salamu alaikum,

    Jazak Allah Khair brother Abdul-Sattar! Your compilation is very much appreciated. I enjoyed reading your post, and you made a lot of good points (i.e. about madhab). However, with some of the suggested books, I saw partisan leanings every which way. Can you please specify the books (in each category) that are agreed upon or recommended by the majority of scholars, like what you mentioned about the text of Aqeedah at Tahawiyyah. I guess it would be impossible to study Islam completely objectively (WITHOUT having any preconceived notions about a specific topic/issue and then trying to find evidence(s) to justify that initial notion). For some, that becomes an obstacle/hindrance to seeking knowledge, and thus they get bogged down.

    I appreciate your time and effort.

  6. Azeem says:

    Is there a book that is more readible than Masud Hassans history of Islam? (it sucks) Something with an overview or timeline of Islamic History which shows which figures came when? I recently gave a talk at a youth leadership retreat and did a survey on what books they have ready on Islamic history. We don’t seem to go beyond the Seerah, Khulafah Rashideen, 4 Imams, Hadith Compilers, Ibn Taymiyyah and then the Islamic Revival of the 20th Century. What about all the gaps in between!?

  7. ABC says:

    JazakAllah Ust. Abdul Sattar for this article. Extremely informative and well written. May Allah (swt) reward you! Ameen!

    Just a suggestions: I think you might want to change the title, because most of the stuff you mentioned is also helpful to those who were born as Muslims that might be seeking to learn about Islam.

    The brother who asked the question above doesn’t seem to mention anything about being a revert/convert, etc. Perhaps it’s a someone who grew up Muslim but never had much awareness of the religion. The reason why I’m saying this is because the title might be misleading to some people. Someone who sees “new muslims” might just assume that it’s a list of basic, amateurish books in Islam. However, you have some good, high level stuff on here that even practicing Muslims may have not read. Most of the material on your list is helpful to anyone that is seeking to learn about Islam, be it a born Muslim or a new Muslim.

    Masalaama

  8. Usman says:

    Salaam,

    In the spirit of the original question, my understanding is that this curriculum is meant to limit “group influence”, etc. As such, why is there an exclusive focus on Sunni theology and no coverage of the Shi’a school of thought?

    Jazak Allah khair

  9. AbdulSattar says:

    Br. Usman,

    wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

    By group influence I interpreted from the question and in my answer, to refer to various groups/ideologies/interpretations within Sunni Islam. So by “group influence” I took it to mean groups within Sunni Islam.

    This is for the following reasons:

    1. Sunni Islam is the overwhelmingly dominant form of Islam on the earth.
    2. I have no knowledge in teaching the principles of Shi’ism so I am not qualified to include anything on it and do not wish to include something without giving it due justice.
    3. I personally believe in the correctness and orthodoxy of Sunni Islam.

    This is by no means to be an attack on Shi’a beliefs, but there is no reason to hide that there is a solid disagreement on creedal and legal issues between Sunnism and Shi’ism, and to hold firm to one’s opinions on it. Thus, I would not include Shi’a creed or views if I was teaching a new Muslim because I firmly believe many of those views are mistaken at their core.

    We can hold to the disagreement on this while still considering each other brothers and sisters, and respecting and loving one another as followers of our beloved Messenger (saw), reciters of the Book of Allah, and slaves of the One God, Allah (swt).

    wa alaikum assalam
    Abdul Sattar

  10. d says:

    asalaamu alaykum, wow, al-hamdulilah i have been waiting to see somoething like this for about eight or nine years haha. i have lost count along long time ago of the amount of times i have asked, how can i learn, what order shall i learn in, and hanckering after some kind of cariculum, looks like i got me some serious studdying to do now, and some basics to finally grasp. thank you so much and may allah preserve and reward you.

  11. Mohammed says:

    Salaam,

    I’ve just put the time in, to locate the majority of the books on this list, to one location where they can be purchased by almost anyone, anywhere.

    http://astore.amazon.co.uk/youngwesternm-21?_encoding=UTF8&node=1

    For other useful reading lists for young Muslims, check:
    http://sites.google.com/site/youngwesternmuslimsreadinglist/

    Allah bless us,
    Mohammed Abbullah

  12. Arif says:

    In regards to aqeedah and worldview, I personally believe that “Towards Understanding Islam” by Mawdudi is really good. It is very simple in explaining the different tenets of Islam and relates those tenets to the life of an individual. I recommend it for everyone, but especially new Muslims.

    ws
    Arif

  13. Nusaybah says:

    When I was new to Islam, these helped a lot, alhamdulillah (find on http://www.islamicbookstore.com)

    – “Towards Understanding Islam” – Mawdudi
    – “What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslism” – Suzanne Haneef
    – “Realities of Faith” – Umm Muhammad

    Learn to pray: “Salaat from A to Z” Dr. Mamdouh Mohamed

    Basic fiqh — “Fiqh us Sunnah”compiled by Sayid (Sayyid) Sabiq

    Basic Aqeedah (inspirational rather than dry): “Delight of Faith”by Author: Abdullah bin Jarullah/Zarabozo

    Du’as and Dhikr — “Fortification of the Muslim” compiled by Sa’eed ibn Ali ibn Wahf al-Qahtaani

    Must have on the curriculum: the Qur’an.
    – Learn to read/pronounce with “al Qawaid An Nooraniyah” book & CD system. (Sheikh Muhammad Ar Raee)
    – Memorize qur’an for your salaat, and to get closer to Allah, with “Ahl ul Qur’an Gear” CD set (Qari Haroon Baqai)
    – Qur’an translation — Saheeh International
    or Yusuf Ali translation (for all its problems – and no translation is without problems – I am very fond of this as it is the first translation I read of the glorious Qur’an.)

    – I would not go for any heavy multi-volume tafseer right away. The English translation is itself a tafseer.

    – Below 2 resources for some basic understanding of meanings of the Qur’an in Arabic (use in conjunction with Saheeh International translation):

    http://emuslim.com/Quran/English80.asp

    and “A Word for Word Meaning of Quran (3 volume set)” published by JIMAS
    Author: Muhammad Mohar Ali.

    seerah: “Muhammad: The Last Prophet A Model for All Time” Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi. Also this author’s other books. He is writing for a younger audience, but his simple style is very clear and penetrating for adults as well. His basic Arabic books of the same titles are also superb intermediate books for the Arabic learner.

    Lives of the Companions:

    Companions of the Prophet Volume 1 (5 Audio CD Box) Read by Dawud Wharnsy Ali of the Book by AbdulWahid Hamid

    Mothers of the Believers : Lives of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) 11 CD in Travel Album (Imam Suhaib Webb)

    Spirituality:

    The Dreamer’s Handbook : Sleep Etiquette and Dream Interpretation In Light of the Sunnah : Part 5 of ” The Inevitable Journey Series ” (Muhammad Mustafa al-Jibaly). I love this book; it also has lots of authentic dua’s. The rest of the series is great too.

    Also on spirituality:

    1) “Purification of the Soul” by Jamal al-Din M. Zarabozo
    2) “Purification of the Soul” Author: Hanbali,Qayyim & Ghazali (compiled)
    Publisher: Al Firdous Publications Ltd. (UK)

    May Allah grant us guidance, beneficial knowledge and benefit ourselves and others from the best of the above resources.

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