Enhancing Your Study Techniques
by Abu Shama
Imam Al-Ghazali, in his great work, ‘Ihya Ulum ad-Din’ gives the following advice on structuring your daily life:
You should structure your time, arrange your regular devotion and assign to each function a set period of time during which it is given first priority but which it does not overstep. For if you abandon yourself to neglect and purposelessness, as cattle do, and just do anything that may occur to you at any time it happens to occur to you, most of your time will be wasted. Your time is your life and your life is your capital; it is the basis of your transaction with Allah Almighty, and the means to attain your everlasting comfort, in the proximity of Allah the All Mighty. Each of your breaths is a priceless jewel and when it passes away it never returns.
The preciousness of time requires that you should try to manage and organise your life to get the most out of your time. Organising your time implies that you prioritise activities in the level of importance and give the measured attention to bring it to a completion. Often this means you should avoid the idle and useless gatherings, avoid excessive curiosity in everything, keeping the company of the serious, intelligent, time conscious people, reading about the eminent scholars and their motivating biographies. Take pleasure in gaining time and using it for academic achievement, engrossing yourself in the pleasure of reading and increasing your knowledge and understanding. This will make you realise the value of time and it will motivate you to conserve it, gain it and not waste it.
Allocation time according to the activities
The student of knowledge must be persistent in his search for knowledge, giving it the dearest and sweetest parts of his time, and not the dead and lifeless parts of it. You must give appropriate time to your academic work that is most suitable for it.
You should distribute your time for the various aspects of knowledge. The best portion of your time where the memory is strong should be devoted to academic activities that require the mind to be overworked, such as the sciences of Jurisprudence (Fiqh), Fundamental Principles (Usool), to solve issues and difficult questions, to correct and edit writings, to seek and clarify ambiguity of knowledge, to memorise text and the like. During these times, the mind is free, intuition and understanding are sharp, and blessings are around in abundance such as the hour of late night, dawn, morning, and the hour of the piece and the complete emptiness and the silence of the night. These peaceful and blessed times must be taken advantage of.
As for normal times, you should reserve that for academic activities that do not require your mind to be overworked, such as the subjects of Interpreting the Qur’an (Tafseer), Narrations (Hadith) and Seerah (biography).
And the times in which your comprehension is at the weakest level, you should use this for reading books on etiquettes, books on history, the biographies of scholars, copying, light reading and the like, which do not necessitate a free mind, complete concentration, and deep precise reflection. So therefore you are constantly preoccupied wherever you may be; you are always busy with seeking knowledge.
However, if an individual always reserves for knowledge the times in which his mind is exhausted and his understanding is weak, he will not benefit a great deal from his efforts.
Prioritise important matters over less important ones
Knowledge is like an ocean which can never be contained, and your life is limited yet you find yourself being pulled in so many directions. Therefore you need to occupy yourself with the most important matters, for whoever occupies with the unimportant loses the important.
Some knowledge is of little consequence, has minimal benefit, is superfluous (one whose absence is not considered a deficiency), has little benefit and the need for it is even less. Time should not be spent on seeking such knowledge, nor should minds be preoccupied with it. For preoccupation of the less preferred thing prevents obtaining what is preferred and the better, and causes one to consume time and energy and prevents one from achieving his goals and wishes.
Often during our studies, reading irrelevant text that will not be useful to the current subject matter is made more appealing to the student than reading the important ones that will be relevant. This is from the weakness of one’s soul, determination and concentration. For compulsory reading is demanding and requires forbearance for its completion, and hence is heavy on weak souls. In contrast, the unrequited knowledge is light on the soul. So let the wise one beware not to respond to the desire of his soul, for this is from the deception of Shay’tan and his luring away from the truth and that which is important.
You must devote your best time and precious time to better actions and the higher aspirations, in order to attain what is most excellent and useful. A prominent scholar once wrote:
If you seek knowledge, then know that it is a burden,
Hence take care of what you carry,
And if you find something better than it, then
Preoccupy your heart with that which is better.
The best times for memorisation
There are special times during the day and night where Allah has put more blessing than other times outside these. During these times, it is very beneficial for the student of knowledge to be engaged in his studies. Al-Kahteeb al-Baghdadi wrote in one of his books:
Know that memorisation has its times which must be kept in mind by those who seek to memorise.
The best times are the late hours of the night (the time before Fajr). Followed by the middle of the day, then the morning rather than the afternoons, it is good to memorise during that time as you can retain and digest the knowledge.
Memorisation by night is better than memorisation by day, and times of hunger are better than times when the stomach is full. The one seeking to memories should assess his state of hunger, for some people are not able to memorise in a state of extreme hunger and thirst, hence they should quench it by something light, and should not eat much.’
It is also recommended to review what you have learnt just before going to sleep as this will aid in preserving your knowledge. Often, people can review their knowledge whilst in their sleep if it was the last thing they engaged in before they slept.
A word of caution and advice was given by Imam ash-Shafi’i, he had difficulty in memorising, he said:
I complained to Wakee Ibn al-Jarrah [his teacher] about my poor memory; so he advised me to abandon sins and he said:
‘Know that knowledge is light, and the light of Allah is not bestowed upon the sinners.’
Therefore, be conscious of Allah and engage in the remembrance of Allah. Structure your day according to your schedule. Try to devote at least 30min to personal study a day, and maintain it. You can do more but do not overburden yourself. The amount you devout should be something you can keep to everyday.
The best places for studying
Students of knowledge are recommended to seek solitude and stay away from people and noise, because solitude facilitates clarity of thinking, and when the mind is clear, the understanding is better. The best places in the house are the upper rooms rather than lower halls. Generally, it is any place that instills peace of mind and is far from the distraction, where the heart is empty from anything that may distract it and occupy it.
Being more efficient with time
The seeker of knowledge must possess these two qualities; he must be fast in reading and writing. Being fast in reading and writing reduces the time spent in these activities which can be used for other tasks and to increase in knowledge. If he does not possess these qualities, he must develop it, and to do this is to read and write more.
Fighting Boredom and lack of motivation
One should delay one’s lesson of literature and general reading to his time of boredom; one must trick oneself in learning. Meaning he should not give in to the self but continue to struggle until he can overcome his boredom. There are few techniques that can be used. This can be achieved through such actions of:
- Leaving an enclosed room for open space.
- Moving from one room to another.
- Taking a shower.
- Drinking or eating something light.
- Talking to a friend.
- Reciting the Qur’an in a loud voice.
- Taking a walk.
- Changing the subject or book being studied.
There is always a suitable way for everyone. Reading the biographies of the noble scholars of the past will give you a sense of motivation of the value of time from their lives. It may give you ambition and determination to emulate them from their works they have left behind.
This is a series compiled following lectures on ‘The Manners and Etiquette of the Teacher and the Students’. The course was based on a book written by Shaykh al-Islam, Badr al-Din Ibn Jama’ah and conveyed to us by our Shaykh Haytham Tamim.
Qadi al-Qudat, Shaykh al-Islam, Badr al-Din Ibn Jama’ah was born in 639 AH (1241 AD). Originally from Syria and later moved to Egypt. He was educated at Hama, achieved excellence in religious studies and jurisprudence, and became a leading promoter of the Shafi’i Fiqh. Eventually, he attained the high status of Shaykh al-Islam and held the high position of Chief Justice. Imam al-Dhahabi has observed that Qadi Ibn Jama’ah was well versed both in prose and poetry, and had left abundant notes on Fiqh, Hadith, Usul al-Fiqh, and Tarikh(History). He commanded respect and influence, and had a large number of students and followers. He died at Cairo in the year 733 A.H. (1332 A.D.), aged 94, and was buried by the side of the great Imam Shafi’i.
His book on the subject of Adab al-Alim wal-Mutaalim
It was in the year 672 AH (1273 AD) that Ibn Jama’ah completed this book as a guide for both students and teachers to help improve quality of their academic life and work.
Ibn Jama’ah – Etitquettes of Seeking Knowledge
Abd Al Barr – Jami’ Bayan Al Ilm
Al Khateeb Al Baghdadi – Al Jami’ li Akhlaq Al Rawi
February 21, 2023
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