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Friday, July 28, 2006

Get a Good Teacher!

Advice from American convert Abdul-Lateef Abdullah to fellow new Muslims

Assalamualaikum new brother or sister!

Alhamdulillah that Allah has guided you to our blessed deen. Islam is truly a blessing and we should all feel overwhelmed with gratitude to Allah for guiding us to the straight path, the path of real success and peace.

My advice to you as a new Muslim is to find and learn the deen from a teacher. In my year and a half of being Muslim (I'm 28 years old), one of the most important experiences for me has been the guidance and support of a very knowledgeable and pious teacher. Islam is a not a religion of self-interpretation. It is a straight path based on knowledge that must be acquired. It is a lifestyle that has to be adhered to, and is unfortunately being influenced by many negative elements, both within and outside Islam.

Although many new Muslims, especially in the US, choose to teach themselves Islam through books, lectures and videos, there are many pitfalls to doing this that should be avoided. Without a teacher or a guide, one who armed with the combination of knowledge and experience, the pitfalls of the ego and desires can confuse and lead us astray quite easily. Self-teaching is a western phenomenon, and because many of us are brought up in the west, we assume we can apply our cultural norms to Islam as well. However, Islam is not of the west, thus, our western norms cannot be applied to it with much success.

For centuries, classical Islamic education was taught through direct contact with teachers. This is how wisdom, not just knowledge, was acquired. You cannot gain wisdom from just reading. Anyone can read and parrot, but how many can read and apply in the way Allah intends? One of the problems with the Muslim Ummah today is that there are too many of us reading and parroting, but not enough applying in the way truly put forth by Allah and His Messenger (SAW). Put simply, this is because we have stopped learning from those with true knowledge and wisdom. We have stopped becoming students. It takes humility to be a student and to give our trust over to someone to teach us, which is why fewer and fewer are willing to do it.

The easiest way to know the true akhlaq (character) of a teacher is to look at how he lives. How does he live his life? Does he live the deen or just talk about it? Does he say one thing and do another? Does he invite you into his home and show you how to practice Islam, not just tell you? Does he make five solats a day? These are some ways of knowing the authenticity and genuineness of a teacher. Unfortunately, in this day and age, many people claim to be sheikhs and imams, yet have very little knowledge or wisdom of Islam. So don't be fooled by titles in your search for a teacher.

I don't mean to put fear into anyone's heart on this matter. I have seen, however, the importance of having guidance and the consequences of what happens without it. How we learn and are indoctrinated into Islam will greatly effect our appreciation for it, our love of it, our devotion to it, and most importantly, our ultimate success or failure with Allah. Knowledge with wisdom will make you LOVE Islam, not just blindly follow it. So I urge you to go out and find a good teacher to help you along the path to Allah. May Allah bless you and guide you further in your journey.

Assalamualaikum!

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