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.