Book Review: Instruction of the Student – The Method of Learning

Instruction of the Student

Title: Instruction of the Student – The Method of Learning (Ta’lim al-Muta’allim Tariq al Ta’allum)
Author: Imam Burhan al-Din al-Zarnuji
Translation by: G.E. Von Grunebaum & Theodora M. Abel
Foreword by: Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
Publisher: Starlatch Press (First Edition was published in 1947, Revised Editions by Starlatch Press were published in 2001 & 2003)

Unfortunately this great book has been out of print for many years, the hope is that this review will shed light on the book, and that the potential reader will be able to borrow it from friends. We hope it is republished in the near future.

This book is about the manners and etiquettes that are to be held in high regard and considered a part of journeying to knowledge. It is a book that requires reading, and rereading to remind the student of his or her path, the greatness of that path, and the importance of giving the path its proper due.

Shaykh Hamza writes in his foreword:

At the root of the Islamic tradition, however, there is adab, and at the root of adab is knowledge acquired painstakingly at the hands of those who know.

To learn this knowledge – which in itself leads to adab (or proper comportment) with Allah, His Messenger, and Allah’s creation – one requires a modicum of adab at the outset. This is the core subject of this book: what a teacher and a student need to know in order to render fruitful the process of learning and teaching. In reality, it is Allah who is the true Teacher; and both the mortal teacher and student are indeed learners on a shared journey.

The reprinting of this book is a start in that direction and should be learned at the outset of one’s journey. I personally first read this text as a young student of sacred law in the United Arab Emirates over eighteen years ago and took it with me on my journey to the land of Chinqit and the Maghrib to study with men who embodied its meanings. I still read it from time to time and am reminded of its permanent relevance to the lifelong learner, which is, in fact one of the defining characteristics of being a Muslim: “Learning is from the cradle to the grave,” said our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him)

Shaykh Hamza also discusses the present day condition of sacred knowledge, and how we have neglected the preservation of this sacred science, and sent potential students into other fields of study. Shaykh Hamza also briefly discusses endowments, and the need for their revival, securing both the scholar and the student from having to live a life of poverty, unless they chose it for themselves. Shaykh Hamza leaves us with strong words at the end of the foreword:

Second, businessmen and other people of means must reinvigorate our endowments, particularly in places where the hand of the governments cannot reach and does not usurp. This is certainly the case in the West, and this book should be a starting point for the revival of this Islamic intellectual tradition that has always been the preamble to Islamic Renaissance; and we have 1,400 years of history to prove this point.

Imam al-Zarnuji writes in his foreword, after praising Allah and sending peace and blessing upon the Prophet (peace be upon him):

I have observed in our day many students of learning striving to attain knowledge but failing to do so and are thus barred from its utility and fruition. This is because they have missed the [proper] methods [of learning] and have abandoned its conditions. Anyone who misses his way goes astray and, therefore, does not reach [his] objective, however modest or glorious.

It is my desire here to elucidate the proven methods of study that I myself had either read about in books or heard from my learned and wise teachers. It is my hope that those sincerely interested in this matter would pray for my deliverance and redemption on the Day of Judgement.

The book contains 13 chapters with the following titles: The Nature and Merit of Knowledge and Learning; The Purpose of Study; The Choices in Learning; Respecting Knowledge and Those Who Possess It; Earnestness, Perseverance, and Assiduity; The Beginning of Study, its Amount and its Organization; Relying on God; The Time for the Acquisition of Knowledge; Helpfulness and Good Advise; Useful Means for the Attainment of Knowledge; Abstinence During the Pursuit of Knowledge; Memory and Forgetfulness and lastly One’s Livelihood and One’s Life.

May Allah bless those who assisted in making this book available, and we pray that it is republished soon for the benefit of the English seeker of knowledge. Ameen.

Mufti Abdurrahman Ibn Yusuf Mangera has a series of audio lectures on this book, which can be found here:

Shaykh Rami Nsour also has a few good lectures on this subject matter:

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