Questioning your studentship – an address to the students of Al-Salam Institute

By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi and translated by Hala Akram and Aisha Akram

Today (5th July, 2020) is the last day of this academic year at Al-Salam Institute. God willing, we will meet again in October. Just like every year, I have something to say to you today. Farewell speeches are cherished, everyone values them and tries to act upon them.

Today I will not talk to you about Al-Salam Institute, nor will I remind you of the responsibilities of your teachers, or complain about the circumstances or anything else.Today I must criticise you. This is a question of your studentship. Tell me, are you aware of your status? Do you know your responsibilities? Do you know that out of all the elements of education, the student is the most important? In that sense, your success depends on your correct thinking, planning and hard work. You have no idea what you can achieve at this stage.

My heart wishes to tell you the stories of the pious predecessors so that you can gain lessons from them, lift your spirits, and appreciate your true potential. But I think that you have either read most of these stories, or heard them from your teachers, or you may think that these are just old tales. It comes to my mind to relay to you a little of my own studentship which is similarly beneficial. I am encouraged by knowing that people are closer to their teacher and it is much easier to learn from their example.

At the age of nine, I was accepted into the Persian branch of a school near my village. During this period, in addition to the textbooks, I also read supplementary material in Persian and Urdu. My teacher would sometimes give me works of earlier poets and have me translate them; and correct my mistakes. In this way, my Persian [language] proficiency strengthened. Later, it became easier for me to read books of Persian prose and poetry; I translated many important Persian texts into Arabic.

Even when I began learning Arabic, I continued to read books outside the syllabus. After this, came Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, where there were more opportunities to study. I will not mention Urdu and Persian books as they are of no interest to you. Let me just give a few details of studying Arabic and Islamic sciences; I hope you will find them useful.

Amongst the contemporary authors of Arabic language and literature, I have read most of the works of Ahmad Amin, Taha Hussein, Mustafa Sadiq al-Rafi’i, Mustafa Lutfi al- Manfaluti etcetera. In the final year of Alimiyyah, Maulana Sayyid Rabi’ Hasani Nadwi’s primer “Al Adab al ‘Arabi Bayna ‘Ard wa Naqd” was part of the syllabus. For a more in-depth understanding, I read Hasan al-Zayyat’s “Tarikh al-adab al-’Arabi” and Ahmad Amin’s “Fajr al-Islam”. In fact, I read “Fajr al-Islam” numerous times as well as “Duha al-Islam” and “Dhuhr al-Islam”. From these, I gained familiarity with the political and cultural history of Islam; I even kept my notes of these books for a long time.

During the final year of my ‘Alimiyyah studies, a small section of Bukhari was part of the syllabus. I would take good notes and also ask my teacher to borrow Fath al-Bari. He would tell me not to read it, it will mislead you. He meant that since Ibn Hajar was a Shafi’i, my faith in the Hanafi school would weaken. To this I would reply that sir, no one can mislead me as long as I have your notes with me. My respected teacher would become very happy with my response, may Allah have mercy on him.

While still a student, I read Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Fiqh al-Zakat, Ibn Hazm’s Al-Muhalla, and many books by Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim. I have written an article wherein you can find the details of my studies. You should definitely read that article.

I implore you to recognise your hidden talents. Along with physical development, it is necessary to develop one’s intellect. Open the windows of your mind and intellect. Awaken the dormant senses and will. Criticise yourself instead of complaining about the institute, the teachers, and the circumstances. Think about what you can do and then get on with it. Do not give yourself a chance to make excuses. This process is called self-awareness; it gives rise to self-confidence, and then obtaining all future goals becomes easier.

The secret of life is hidden from those whose insides are asleep. If you wish to uncover these secrets, strengthen your willpower and work hard in the right direction; you can then become experts in Islamic sciences. In today’s difficult conditions, you can help this ummah; provided that you unite, and do not make wealth and position your goal. Loudly proclaim to the people of the world:

I do not want you to be an imitator, rather be a thinker. Use your creativity. Old cells in the body die and new ones are born. If new cells stop reproducing, life will end. Know that old traditions were important when they were new, now their time has passed. You have to renounce these old and harmful traditions and give birth to new thoughts and ideas. This requires extraordinary power of thought and action and you have to fulfill this need. May Allah help you.

Disclaimer: Translations have not been checked by the author and represent the work of the translator