Answered by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
One of the many reasons and factors that contribute in a youngster becoming a Salafi in the west is the idea of rebelling and going against one’s parents and elders. Many youngsters have the notion that their parents and forefathers who have come from “back home” have no idea of what true Islam is.
They think that the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic and the books of Sunnah are also in Arabic, thus our parents and elders don’t even have a clue what they mean. They are merely following the ways, traditions and customs of their forefathers which is not the correct Islam that is practiced in the Arab countries.
When these youngsters are honoured with the visit to the sacred places in Makkah al-Mukarrama and Madina al-Munawwara, they say to themselves that these are Arabs who offer their Salat, etc differently from what our parents and elders have taught us. Surely, they understand Islam better than our “traditional” parents.
They see that the Muslims in Saudi Arabia are fluent Arabic speakers whilst our elders and also Imams can’t even speak the language. Our Parents and elders don’t know what they are talking about, for they can’t even pronounce the words of the Arabic language correctly.
The above is the kind of understanding our youngsters unfortunately have. This is the reason why they try and learn some Arabic words, such as how are you (kayfa haluka) or (hayyak Allah), etc…and by doing so, some of them think that they are now much more knowledgeable than their parents, elders and Imams who are from “back home”.
There is no denying the fact that parents and elders must also take their share of the blame for this unfortunate occurrence. Our youngsters have been left ignorant of sacred and Islamic knowledge. They are not taught the basics of Aqidah, Hadith, Fiqh, etc. And when they pose a question with regards to a proof (dalil) of some matter, they are rebuked and told not to indulge too deep in these matters. In the local Madrasas (maktabs) where a child spends around 10 years of his life, he comes out without really even learning the basics of his religion. He is told to concentrate more on the Urdu language (not that I condone the learning of Urdu), rather than Arabic. He probably does not have an in-depth understanding of what the four Fiqh Madhhabs are, who was Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i, etc… and why we follow a Madhhab, and the list goes on.
For many of the parents and societies, attending the evening Madrasas has just become a routine thing, where a child can spend his time rather than trouble the parents at home. The curriculum taught in some of these Madrasas are also non-productive, thus the child graduates from the Madrasa without really learning much about his Deen. This is dirty laundry but the reality and we all need to really wake up and smell the coffee!
The consequence of the above is that these youngsters rebel against their parents, elders and against society at large. They are sadly recruited by others who promise them to give them proofs (dalils) from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and are not prevented from asking anything their desire. They are bombarded with Hadiths from Sahih al-Bukhari, Shahih Muslim and other places that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) performed his Salat in such a way and raised his hands in such a way, etc. They are also taught some Arabic words which they longed to learn but were not able to do so in their own communities and societies. Thus, given the vulnerability of these youngsters, they become prey to this appealing and attractive invitation.
Therefore, Muslim communities in the West really need to reflect and ponder over the situation, thus try to rectify the deficiencies found therein. Youngsters must be taught the various sciences of Islamic knowledge, including basic Arabic, Aqidah, Fiqh, etc. Lessons and intensive courses need to be provided by which they can quench their thirst of learning Islamic knowledge, and by the grace of Allah, the recent upsurge in such events have had an immense effect on our youngsters. Hundreds (if not thousands) of youngsters have come back from the brink of becoming a Salafi through the endeavours of people like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Nuh Keller and others.
At the same time, our youngsters need to understand that there are great scholars and masters of Islamic knowledge in the Indian subcontinent also whom the great major Arab Ulama also respect. The great Hadith Scholar, Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda (Allah have mercy on him) had great admiration, respect and regard for the scholars of Indo/Pak. He repeatedly travelled to these lands in order to learn and take from the great Hadith Masters there. He had Ijazahs from many great Shuyukh of the Indian Subcontinent, such as Shaykh Dhafar Ahmad Usmani (author of the great Hanafi encyclopaedia, I’la al-Sunan), Mufti Muhammad Shafi’, Shaykh Habib al-Rahman al-A’zami, Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi and many others. He himself stated that mastery in the science of Hadith is the domain of the Shuyukh from the Indian Subcontinent.
Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda’s teacher, the great Hadith and Hanafi expert, and master of disciplines, Imam Muhammad Zahid ibn al-Hassan al-Kawthari (Allah have mercy on him) was also very amazed by the scholarship and mastery of the Indian scholars. He made a special visit to India in order to meet and take from its scholars. Upon meeting and reading the discourses of the great Hadith master, Imam Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri (Allah have mercy on him), he said: “The world has not witnessed anyone like him since Ibn al-Humam (the great Hanafi Mujtahid) in deriving the rules from the great Hadith collections. He also has great words of praise for Imam Ashraf Ali al-Tahanawi and Shaykh Shabbir Ahmad al-Usmani (Allah have mercy on them). (See: Maqalat al-Kawthari)
The Indian subcontinent has witnessed great masters in the science of Hadith and Fiqh to which the whole world, including the Arab scholars, is indebted. No major Islamic library is empty from the works of these great scholars. They compiled some major works (in Arabic) that are unparalleled in recent times, such as:
1) I’la al-Sunan: A great 18 volume encyclopaedia in Hanafi Fiqh which amazed the world over. Arab Scholars were also amazed by the brilliance of the author, Shaykh Dhafar Ahmad al-Usmani who compiled this work under the supervision and instruction of his uncle and teacher, Imam Ashraf Ali al-Tahanawi (Allah have mercy on them both)
2) Bazl al-Majhud fi hal Sunan Abi Dawud: One of the most detailed commentary in Arabic on the Sunan of Imam Abu Dawud in approximately 20 volumes, authored by Shaykh Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanfuri (Allah have mercy on him).
3) Fath al-Mulhim Sharh Sahih Muslim by Shaykh Shabbir Ahmad al-Usmani (Allah have mercy on him): A commentary on the Sahih of Imam Muslim which remained incomplete until the great contemporary Hadith and Fiqh master, my respected teacher, Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (Allah have mercy on him) completed it.
Regarding the original work by Shaykh Shabbir Ahmad al-Usmani, the great Imam Zahid al-Kawthari wrote a whole article in his “al-Maqalat” stating that it filled the gaps left by the early commentators of Sahih Muslim including Imam Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him)
4) Awjaz al-Masalik ila Mu’atta Imam Malik: The Arabic commentary in around 20 volumes on the Mu’atta of Imam Malik by the great Indian Hadith master, Shaykh al-Hadith, Imam Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi (Allah have mercy on him).
There are many more works, such as Faydh al Bari (commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari in 4 volumes) by Imam Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri, Ma’arif al-Sunan (commentary on Sunan Tirmidhi) by Shaykh Yusuf Binnori, works of Shaykh Habib al-Rahman al-A’zami, Hayat al-Sahabah by Shaykh Yusyuf al-Kandahlawi, and of course the works of the great Hadith and Fiqh master, Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi (Allah have mercy on them).
The scholars of the Indian subcontinent were also masters in the Arabic language. The late Shaykh Abu al-Hasan Nadwi (Allah have mercy on him) is a great example of this who took the world by storm. Scholars from around the globe admired and respected him and his works. Even the Salafis did not condemn him, and when he passed away recently, his Janaza prayer was offered in both the Harams of Makkah and Madinah.
The idea some Asian people have regarding the scholars of the Indian subcontinent that they don’t know the Arabic language properly etc is totally baseless and incorrect. Rather, they have been the masters in the various Islamic sciences and acknowledged by the Scholars of the whole world.
There are also great cotemporary scholars in the Indian subcontinent. A great example of this is Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani (Allah preserve him), who’s brilliance in Hadith, Fiqh and understanding of contemporary matters is recognized by the whole world. He- despite being a non-Arab- was appointed as a deputy chairman of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, a body that comprises of the over 400 top major scholars of the world.
Another Scholar from the Indian subcontinent, Shaykh Salman Nadwi (Allah preserve him) whose eloquence and fluency in the Arabic language make people wonder whether he is an Arab. In one of his recent visits to Syria, the Shaykh had discourses in different institutions and for the Shuyukh of Syria. Many scholars of Damascus gathered in order to listen to the Shaykh in a programme that was exclusively designed for the Ulama of Sham.
There is also the great Hadith master, Shaykh Yunus al-Junfuri of Saharanpur in India. He has dedicated his life for the teaching of Hadith where he teaches over 6/7 hours a day the science of Hadith and its principles. He is an expert in the field of al-Asma wa al-Rijal (a critical analysis of the reporters of Hadith).
Therefore, you must remove the idea that the scholars of the Indian subcontinent are not that great. In recent rimes, in the science of Hadith and Hanafi Fiqh, they have probably surpassed the Arab scholars. They also have a very good grasp of the Arabic language.
However, as with all languages, if one was not to practically engage in speaking a language, one will not be that fluent and comfortable with it. Some Scholars of the Indo/Pak, despite understanding and reading the Arabic language fully, are not able to speak it that fluently, for the simple reason that there is no constant practice. They hardly speak Arabic among themselves, thus they loose touch of the language. The medium of teaching in most of the religious institutions (Dar al-Uloom) is also not Arabic (although the books taught are all in Arabic), thus students don’t have the exposure to the language.
This is something that is most definitely unfortunate and which I strongly feel about. The medium in these institutions must be changed from Urdu to Arabic (or at least English, in the West). I myself in a Dar al-Uloom here in Leicester, teach all the books (including the famous Hanafi treatise al-Hidaya) in English. One lesson is also taught fully in Arabic.
Thus, more concentration is definitely needed on the Arabic language. In my recent visit to Madina al-Munawwara, I was fortunate to meet and spend some time in the company of the great Syrian Hadith and Hanafi scholar, Shaykh Muhammad al-Awwama (Allah preserve him). He also raised his concern regarding this issue and stated that something should be done in order to make the medium in all these institutions into Arabic, and I fully agree with him. This is a weak point with regards to these institutions and something that really needs to be looked into by the major scholars.
Having said that, it does not mean that all the scholars of the Indian subcontinent are poor in the Arabic language, rather, as stated previously, many of the scholars are well versed in the language. The Nadwat al-Ulama in Lakhnaw (India) is known for its high standards in the Arabic language. They concentrate extensively on teaching students the Arabic language, both reading/writing and also speaking.
The Arabs however, without doubt are more eloquent in Arabic, for firstly, it is their mother tongue and obviously that makes a difference. Secondly, the medium of instruction in their institutions is Arabic, thus the students and teachers all constantly speak one language. Therefore, they are generally better versed in the Arabic language.
In conclusion, there is good in both the Arab world and the Indian Subcontinent. There are great scholars in both places, thus it would be wise (if reasonably possible) to study in both places.
My personal advice would be that you first go to somewhere like Syria or Yemen and master the Arabic language by concentrating on Nahw (grammar) Sarf (morphology) Balaghah (Rhetoric) and Adab (literature). It would also be wise to study the science of Tajwid, Aqidah (creed), principles of Hadith (Usul/Mustalah al-Hadith), principles of Fiqh (Usul al-Fiqh) and Fiqh.
Syria and Egypt are known for their brilliance in the science of Qur’anic recitation (tajwid) where students may master the various different recitations (qira’ats). By studying the above subjects in the Arab world, you will become quite fluent in the Arabic language, something that will help in you studying the other sciences.
Thereafter, you may go and complete your studies in the Indian subcontinent where you may study Tafsir, Hadith and Hanfi Fiqh in depth. This will give you the opportunity to study the major books of Hadith completely with chains of transmissions (isnad) going back to their authors and subsequently to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself. Also, you will become well-versed in Hanafi Fiqh.
By studying in both places, you will have the chance to gather the treasures found in the Arab world and in the Ajam. May Allah choose whatever is better for you and for all the brothers and sisters who wish to seek sacred knowledge. May Allah Most High make it easy for all of us, Insha Allah.
And Allah knows best.
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