By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi
Eating is possible but difficult and unpleasant when you have no appetite. Similarly, study is difficult and unpleasant when you have no curiosity and no puzzlement in respect of what you intend to study. Curiosity and being puzzled constitute the appetite for knowledge and understanding. Where curiosity exists, any knowledge obtained will prove to be digestible and beneficial, and therefore likely to be more easily remembered and integrated to other elements of knowledge. Without curiosity, new knowledge and information are simply a distraction or entertainment and therefore soon forgotten. Similarly, where there is no puzzlement, no strong feeling that you need to understand something, whatever you learn does not remain with you.
Accordingly, the first thing to be sure of when embarking on a study of something, is to know clearly why you need to study it, what benefit do you expect from the effort. It may be that you want to read in a second language that will suffice as a motive as appetite. Or it may be that you want to acquire a technical skill in order to work and get a living by that skill. That too will suffice as a motive.
The difficulty comes when the objective of the study is not definable in worldly or material terms. This applies specially to knowledge connected to religious life, which is, or is supposed to be, a preparation for the life hereafter. In this case what usually happens is that institutions (elders and teachers) divide up the knowledge that they think is necessary for a proper religious life. It follows that the students’ goal has changed from readiness for the hereafter to readiness for examination at the different stages of the institutions course of study. At this point, the appetite for study can fail: everything depends on the quality and seriousness of the individual teacher. If the teacher is sufficiently capable of connecting the matter he is teaching to the general objective of teaching, then his or her students will not lose their appetite.
For example, you can teach various skills relevant to the validation and classification and legal applicability of one hadith or group of related hadiths. These skills come alive for the individual students if the teacher asks him or her how they would apply this hadith in their life, how they would preserve it and transmit it through their behaviour. It is this effort which connects study to its highest purpose, its best motive.