Sunday, June 19, 2011

I'm A Student of Knowledge, So Please Pay for My $20, 000 Course!

I’m A Student of Knowledge, So Please Pay for My $20, 000 Course!
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to belittle or insult any Islamic institutions or organizations, nor is it meant to cause offence to any particular individual. It is merely a sincere, heart-felt, advisory rant. Please do not flame the author!
AlHamdulillaah, the Western Muslim community has made great advancements in the last several decades. We now have several institutions for Islamic education, countless intensive programs, and various annual spiritual and educational retreats. Unfortunately, with these benefits have come certain somewhat unsavoury phenomena – a celebrity culture surrounding our respected Islamic teachers, an “elite” group of those who can regularly afford these admittedly high-priced courses, and writing off or undermining those Islamic educators who happen to not be a part of some institution or another.
Yet another one of those emerging trends is that of youth (and even some not-so-youthly folks) suddenly considering themselves “serious students of knowledge,” simply because they have attended (or are planning on attending) Course X, Seminar Y, or Intensive Retreat Z. While it’s all well and good that they are expressing a zeal for pursuing knowledge, it rankles my nerves sorely when I am being spammed with emails requesting that I “donate to a worthy cause” by contributing a hundred or a thousand dollars to help them pay for their next course, seminar, or retreat. Logging onto my Facebook finds some individuals’ status updates constantly “reminding” me that they have X thousand dollars left to raise, so why am I not contributing?!
Dear brothers and sisters, just because you are a regular student at al-Maghrib or al-Kauthar or al-Bayyinah or (insert institution’s name here), please don’t think that you’re the next Ibn Taymiyyah and thus deserving of several hundred or thousand dollars’ worth of charity to attend “the awesomest ilm-ifying intensive program ever!” Quite frankly, if you can’t afford it on your own, please don’t go begging for other people’s hard-earned money. There are far worthier causes for us to donate to – though I may sound like a broken record, I will continue to point to orphans and widows in Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, and elsewhere. In fact, forget about overseas – there are hundreds, if not thousands, of needy brothers and sisters here in our Western communities. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that donating to a Muslim women’s shelter is more practical and spiritually rewarding than paying for a naive, already well-off (comparatively speaking) young man or woman who is already attending a decent university and living comfortably at home, to attend the latest hip Islamic course.
Seriously, brothers and sisters, I don’t want to undermine your efforts. I understand that you want to seek knowledge. I understand that you feel you really need to attend the next course. But I would like YOU to stop for a moment and realize that a $20, 000 intensive retreat program is not going to turn you into a sheikh or sheikh, nor is it the only avenue available to you for seeking knowledge. When was the last time you went to your local masjid’s free weekly Arabic course? Or your local sheikh’s weekly duroos? Oh wait, I’m sorry – those are all free and thus not worth your attention, because if it’s free and at the Masjid, it just doesn’t have that whole glamorous intellectual feel to it. Too many of us forget that the true student of knowledge avails him or herself of what knowledge is right in front of them and readily available. Today, we are so caught up in the hype of what’s cool to go to, that we would rather pursue something that we can’t quite afford, yet which is not completely and utterly necessary either. Truly, what’s the point of attending an intensive program for Arabic language, that costs more than your university tuition, when you don’t even know the obligatory fiqh of tahaarah or salaah (which you could easily learn by attending your Imam’s weekly lesson, for free)? It’s time for a major assessment of our own self-worth.
My dear brother and sister, if you really think that you are a true student of knowledge worthy of being supported by public funds, then I advise you to go to your local Masjid and humbly apply for zakaah. After all, the student of knowledge is considered by most of the scholars to be eligible for zakaah. (See here for Sheikh Ibn Al-‘Uthaymeen’s view)
For the most part, however, I am sure that we are all agreed that there are far more deserving recipients of zakaah than we who live in comfort and ease. Underprivileged Muslim children; struggling single mothers or fathers; abused spouses; widows and orphans... they all exist in our communities, and surely their situations are far worse than ours! Our greatest concern is being able to afford the next seminar; their greatest concerns are about being able to afford the next meal or this month’s rent. Are we truly so crass as to ignore their needs for our paltry ones?
If you are really so desperate to attend course X, Y, or Z then I humbly suggest that rather than seeking hand-outs from your family, friends, and total strangers, you work for it yourself. You will not suffer a terrible fate if you don’t happen to attend the intensive course this year or the next. If you die, Allah will not ask you about why you weren’t able to raise enough money to go to such-and-such spiritual retreat for a month. What you may well be asked about, however, is why you did not bother to learn and re-learn the correct execution of salaah, or support your suffering Muslim neighbour, when the opportunities to seek knowledge and do good were right in front of you and cost far less than what you were asking from others.
May Allah increase us in emaan and ‘ilm, and grant us the ability to recognize the jewels of teachers that we have right under our noses, and to benefit from their sincere and dedicated efforts. May Allah grant us a true understanding of beneficial knowledge and the ability to seek it, learn it, and understand it fully. May Allah forgive us all for our shortcomings, ameen.


Ify said...

Yes, I was just thinking to write a post about this phenomenon. I'm all for supporting worthy causes but what happened to working to pay your way rather than just asking?

And from my experience, very few are the students who are serious although no doubt many can find points of benefit. But how many can get up for fajr, sit day after day and hour after hour in lecture and work to study, integrate, and retain the material much less come back to their communities to teach it.

Faraz said...

Interesting rant. I agree on most of it, though I've never actually seen someone solicit donations from people so they can do Islamic courses; I didn't realize that people are commonly doing this.

One sad consequence of the celebrity culture you speak of is that one loses their humility in the process. I recall my local imam mentioning how, at his graduation from his Madrasa, his class was told that "all they've learned thus far is that they don't know anything".

Today, people seem so eager to say they studied under so-and-so or spent time with Fulaan ibn Fulaan, that it is no longer about the knowledge and more about the connections. And unfortunately, that often means they've missed the point of studying the Islamic sciences.

Saman H. said...

I Loved this article...I often find that some people who are asking for the money 2 attend the Islamic retreat and/or seminar most likely have enough money 2 attend but dont know how 2 priortize their finances...but the situation is not the same for all.. thanks for helping me to reflect on the true gems of knowledge in my own community that r so often forgotten.

Saman H. said...

I Loved this article...I often find that some people who are asking for the money 2 attend the Islamic retreat and/or seminar most likely have enough money 2 attend but dont know how 2 priortize their finances...but the situation is not the same for all.. thanks for helping me to reflect on the true gems of knowledge in my own community that r so often forgotten.

Khazra said...

Loving this blog, first time visited it. :)

Saleha said...

I agree with a lot of what you said especially the part about how if you need money then you should really work for it if you can instead of just asking for it from other people, and also find other avenues for knowledge.
Yes there are a lot of people blinded by the glam and luxury of these courses but I don't think that that is what it's all about. We don't know everyone's situation and why this specific institute is so special to them. You stated that there's free arabic classes or regular classes at the masjid but they don't choose to go there. Perhaps some people are inspired by different teachers. Sometimes the 'my culture is better than yours' attitude that people have at the masjid sways them away from those classes. I'm just saying that it's not as easy as saying there's free classes at the masjid, but yes that is a start, but definitely not the only avenue. We need to understand that a lot of people come from different backgrounds and different cities, some masaajid are not like others. I think that we also underestimate BOOKS. A lot of students go to these courses but don't go to any other avenue for knowledge. It shouldn't stop there, and you are right that we sometimes only see the glamorous institutes as our only option.

I liked your post, but perhaps if it wasn't in the form of a rant I think a lot of people would take the's very much needed but sometimes the way we say things can make people not want to read it and take what is good from it. :) I am only saying it because I wish to share it as well but am afraid people will be get defensive about it..
Also I see that people asking for money on certain courses but they pay for other $1,000 retreats for that very same doesn't make sense. We should learn to put our real priorities in order and do the minimum before we go and ask everyone else to pitch in. It's so easy to take advantage of something when you didn't work hard for it in the first place.

Abdullah said...

Even though you are right.But it is always dynamic.A course of 20,000 without any sincerity is not worthy a penny.But a course of even $.25 with sincerity is like a gold mine and can even make you a shaykh.

In today's world, $20,000 course can be called as cheaper.But in olden days people used to travel alot and traveling would cost them as much as you can see now of course the scale of amount would differ.But the difference between them and today's student of knowledge is the sincerity.

If one has sincerity in what he does.It makes alot of difference and the person who is sincere cannot do anything incorrect.

AnonyMouse said...

As-salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh!

JazaakiAllahu khairan for your comment sis Saleha :)
I'm glad that you liked my post! Please do share it with others - the truth is that we all need a bit of tough love once in a while, and I did write this post as a bit of sincere advice, albeit while not mincing my words.

Once again, thanks for stopping by!

mezba said...

It seems like today people take a business model, apply "Islamic" to it, and suddenly it becomes a 'worthy cause'. Before it was colleges and universities that sold knowledge, now you have these Islamic universities. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, but just an observation.

Also, I know some people who attend these courses in an attempt to find a spouse!

And I never understood how a female student can go into an "Ilm Retreat" with a male non-mahram sheikh!

Read with meaning

Anonymous said...

As Salaamu alaikum ,I too notice this occurance. Here,there and everywhere there's a new conference, as well as a new "sheikh". The thing is most who go to these things only "learn" about things that they don't practice or don't understand. Many of these teachers are from different (& mostly misguided) sects in Islam, something the students aren't aware of .
"Be careful whom you take your knowledge from"

We can't just join a class because it has this popular teacher. What if the teacher was from the shiite sect, or sufi (aoothubillaah), would you know? Of course not. Most people are not familiar with more than one juz of the Quran and may have been taught weak and fabricated hadiths without knowing it, let alone much about aqeedah & manhaj which is the foundation of your Islam.And are just adding more to misinformation by just attending one more class. We should find out who the teacher is, and research what we already know to find out if it's authentic before further getting false information.
I see so many of the youth that are like this and if you mention to them that this one is an innovator or from this misguided sect, they get angry because these teachers are like family to them now. And they refuse to take real knowledge from the Quraan and Sunnah and the rightly guided scholars of Islam.

We live in America in the modern age, where information is all over and easy to access. Back in the day, our grandparents didn't have much education and there were not many books about Islam in their language. So, they took what they had. Today, we see all over the news how many non-Muslims as well as Muslims have the wrong understanding of Islam and it's just growing by blindly following people. Before it was blindly following different madhabs and now it's blindly following eloquent speakers.

Aboo Sa'eed al-Khudree (radiAllaahu 'anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: You will certainly follow the sanan (way) of those who came before you, like the feather (of the arrow) exactly resembles the feather - such that if they were to enter the hole of a lizard, you would certainly enter it. They said: O Messenger of Allaah! The Jews and the Christians? He said: Who else? [Bukhari, Muslim]

S said...

As salaamu akaykum,

Good post! It really gets to me that so many people think that attending a seminar or two makes them students of knowledge. Absurd or what!

We need to look to the past, the likes of imam Ahmad who started seeking knowledge at about the age of 14 (having memorised the qur'an) and at the age of 45 still considered himself a student of knowledge and he NEVER asked for money, he worked for it!

Secondly what I don't get it that people will go to certain seminars organjsed by the popular organisations but when it comes to local events the masajid, community centres are empty. Makes me wonder if its all about seeking knnowledge to be frank.

Anyway jazakillahu khayra and may Allah make us sincere in seeking knowkedge. Ameen

Faraz said...

AlHamdulillaah, the Western Muslim community has made great advancements in the last several decades.