Saturday, 30 May 2015

On Learning and Teaching Islam: Keep it Simple!

“Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.” ― Natalie Babbitt,
I am a firm believer that Islam is simple. Islam is the easiest religion to understand and to follow, at least, in my opinion that is. We have to worship only one God that is Allah SWT; we have to follow only one book of reference, that is Quran and we have to obey only one prophet, that is Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Quite simple isn’t it?
Our scripture i.e. the Quran, contains everything we need to know about life, death and after-life. It is also very clear on the do’s and don’t’s. The holy Quran is a complete guide to mankind. The only problem for people like me, is that, I am not an Arab hence I don’t speak or write or read Arabic. To understand the holy Quran in its original language is a no-no for me so I have to rely heavily on translations. Trust me, I would give up my jewels to be able to read, speak and write Arabic but alas, I can’t. I know a few words here and there but that is hardly sufficient. I did try to learn the language but being a mother to five boisterous kids does not give me much free time to pursue my desire to learn.
Still, not understanding the language is not an excuse for me to study the Quran. The funny thing is, whilst I can recite the Quran in Arabic, I have no clue as to what I am reciting and you know what, somehow, deep in my heart, I know that I am not alone . There are others like me.
I have always been a simple person. I see things in black and white and rarely in grey. I am very direct (too direct sometimes) and I don’t beat around the bush. When it comes to learning, I prefer a teacher who simplifies things for me so that I can appreciate what is being taught and commit it directly to memory.  Similarly with religion, I want a teacher who teaches in a manner which I can understand and relate to. I would prefer the teacher to come down to my level of understanding and work her or his way up together with me rather than the teacher expecting me to meet their high standards. That, to me, is the true spirit of teaching and learning.
I used to get very irritated (I still do sometimes!) when a person speaks to me about Islam and uses Arabic jargon and words that I have absolutely no clue what it means. If the intention of that person was to impress me, well I can tell you that I was not and will not be the least bit impress. Like I said, I am NOT an Arab so I don’t know Arabic. My Arabic vocabulary is limited to ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I know hell is ‘jahanam’ and heaven is ‘jannah’. I have been taught a few curse words in Arabic by a friend but I don’t think so it’s polite to write it down here. I always ended up asking that person if they can repeat whatever that was said, either in English or Malay so I can actually understand what they were going on about.
I have never been one to follow things blindly so in the past, I never put up my hands for ‘dua’ that was recited in Arabic unless there was a translation. I have been given the ‘look’ by some ‘ustaz’ when I requested that they repeat their ‘dua’ in Malay or English so that I can understand. To me then, it made perfect sense. I must know what it is that I am asking from God and why I am saying ‘ameen’ for. Unfortunately to them, I was just being difficult.
You see, the way I see it, if we want people to learn about Islam and fall in love with the religion, we need to teach, share or whatever term you want to call it, in the language that they can connect and understand. Similarly with writing. Write in simple language so that simple people like me, can understand. I am not dumb, I just like things to be simple and I am sure there are many like me out there.
My advice to those who wish to speak or write about Islam (myself included) with the intention of sharing Islamic knowledge with others, whether Muslims or non Muslims, please make it simple. Use normal vocabulary that the common people from the street can understand. You are not writing a thesis for the university or an essay for the Islamic scholars  but instead you are writing with the intention of calling people to this beautiful religion, Islam. All your efforts will be futile if no one understood you, let alone remember, what you said. You might as well be talking to the wall, at least, you will hear your echo bouncing off from the bricks rather than a deafening silence.
Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, “Make things easy for the people, and do not make it difficult for them, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them ).”  Sahih Bukhari.
Never assume and never judge. I know that it is highly encouraged for us, especially the Muslims, to learn Arabic, since it being the language of the holy Quran but not everyone have the means in terms of time or even money, to learn another language. So, be kind and considerate.
What I am trying to say is do not make it difficult for people to understand Islam. Do not complicate things. To me, there is no point in having such a vast knowledge if you can’t benefit others with it.
The Prophet also said: “Knowledge from which no benefit is derived is like a treasure out of which nothing is spent in the cause of God.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 108
When people understand, they are able to appreciate the teachings and hence follow willingly. Don’t turn people off  or turn them away from the religion by making it difficult. Keep it simple and you will be awarded handsomely, InshaAllah.
*this article originally was published in

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