Distance Learning

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

We praise our Lord, Who created us and sent down upon us revelation and raised up from amongst us guides and exemplars, all that we may fulfill our purpose and come to know Him. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the best of His creation, the recipient of the final revelation sent for our guidance and the one chosen to manifest it for us, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the seal of prophethood. To proceed:

This post is meant as another introduction to a lengthier work. This post will also be a tad bit revealing about my own shortcomings but I share both this introduction and the PDF with the intention that others may benefit.

Allah has blessed me to study with prominent and senior scholars around the world but true growth has come only at the feet of less than a handful. Imam Ghazali (may Allah bestow his mercy upon him) advised his student in “Ayyuhal Walad”, “know that the spiritual wayfarer should have a qualified guide and teacher whom he takes as his ‘master’ (murabi), instructing him regarding ridding himself of destructive traits while replacing them with excellent character.” Then, after describing such a scholar, Imam Ghazali said, “However, finding the likes of him is rare, harder even than red sulphur! Whoever is favored by good fortune in finding a sheikh as we have mentioned, and the sheikh accepts him, should generate him outwardly and inwardly.”

Allah has blessed me to come into contact with people who fit the description of the qualified teaching sheikh, and indeed such men are rare. Many are the pious scholars, many are the sincere guides for the wayfarers, many are the protected friends of Allah (Awliyah) in our age, but few are those who truly impact the lives of others, literally changing the course of their lives.

As I said, Allah has blessed me to come into contact with more than one of these rare gems and so in many ways, I am richer than many. But there is one that stands out from the rest. He is a man I have not yet met in person but has had a deeper impact on the inroads to my heart than anyone I have ever been blessed to sit with directly. After a deep difficulty in my life I fell in love with one of the greatest of the revivers (mujaddid) of this Deen, Shehu Uthman Ibn Fuduye (may Allah engulf him in His mercy) and though the books were made available for everyone to access and read, I wanted to be connected to him. So, I sought out the only one I knew at the time able to do this, Sheikh Muhammad Shareef ibn Fareed (may Allah preserve him and elevate his status). Once I was able to establish contact, he agreed to teach me via skype and, though I had already been a student of Deen for over ten years, every single lesson I had with Him impacted my heart. There was never a conversation, no matter the length or content, except that I found benefit. Every correspondence, even when I was being corrected (Sheikh Muhammad is very jalaali in his disposition), seemed to carry within it Nur. I can honestly say, I have never experienced this from any other. Is this a claim that he is this or that? No. I am only sharing my own experience. And it was out of that experience that I felt my heart inclined towards him. But it was out of his love for the Shehu (may Allah engulf him in His mercy) and the Shehu’s love for the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and the prophet’s slavehood to Allah that I loved him; and I continue to love him for the sake of Allah.

In “Ayyuhal Walad”, Imam Ghazali (may Allah have mercy upon him) said that the spiritual wayfarer should venerate his sheikh inwardly and outwardly and then he gave some examples of this. From the outward veneration is that the wayfarer should not contend with the Sheikh nor engage in argument with him over anything, even if he is aware of an error of his. From the internal veneration is that, whatever he accepts externally should not be rejected internally. The reality is, the relationship is one of trust and etiquette. If the sheikh has exhibited the qualities of a truly qualified guide, the wayfarer should trust him and display the proper etiquette, even if there is disagreement or confusion. Perhaps there is a circumstance, a wisdom or even a judgement that the wayfarer is unaware of. Of course this has been greatly misused by so many charlatans over the centuries that the individually obligatory (fardh ayn) science of spiritual purification and character reformation (Tasawwuf) has received a black eye and those termed as “Sufi” have become synonymous with “innovator” in the general discourse of Muslims in our time. Still, the abuses of the criminals does not negate the realities of matters.

Sheikh Muhammad (may Allah preserve him) was going through an ordeal that is for his telling and not mine and during this time we were unable to continue our classes. He gave me an assignment to do in the mean time and when we finally were able to reconnect, he informed me that his views regarding what is termed as distance learning had changed and he would no longer transmit the sacred sciences to me in this way. This was not long ago at all and so I was a grown man with my full family and  so on and so forth – but I must say this crushed me. I felt as though an opening in my life had been closed and that a light had been turned out. But then, I exposed how I deserve such treatment. Rather than accepting the Sheikh’s decision and leaving it at that, seeking a means to travel to sit at his feet as he is worthy, I disputed with him. Unable to contain my sense of loss due to his decision, I pleaded but he responded with a paper he titled, “The Illusion of Nearness”. Still unable to content myself, I further responded with a paper of my own entitled, “A New Apology On Seeking Sacred Knowledge Through the Medium Of Modern Technology.” This is the PDF that is being shared in this post.

It would be false to say that my paper was not meant to argue or contend with the Sheikh (may Allah preserve him). Indeed, I wanted desperately to change his mind. I wanted desperately to be able to continue to draw water from such a deep and nourishing well. It was not an attempt to display what I knew or to show myself as someone able to spar with him academically, it was more of a begging and pleading. Sheikh Muhammad (may Allah preserve him) is very firm upon our traditional system and he is very strict with regards to the Sanad so that if I didn’t have a source for my questions – yes, my questions – he would not like to reply to them. This is how he too was taught by the men he was honored to sit with and it saves one much foolishness and is certainly a means of using one’s time for an increase in benefit. Because of this, my appeal was not based on my emotions and my feelings of neediness, nor was it built upon the respect and love I had for him. Both would be easily waved off. Instead, I couched my appeal in the traditions of sacred scholarship, hoping beyond hope that it would affect a change in his decision. I was desperate.

Sadly, it seems my effort backfired. I had displayed poor etiquette before my teacher, before a qualified Sheikh, before a wali of Allah. After this the distance was increased by separation in the longing and sadness in my heart grew. I still chased after the sheikh, seeking his counsel but then I was informed that by others that I had disrespected our sheikh by putting myself as his peer, as one fit to argue with him. Until today, there is only regret.

I do not claim that I see eye to eye with Sheikh Muhammad (may Allah preserve him) on every matter. We are humans who have different experiences in our lives. But when it comes to matters of this Deen, the reality is, even when it was a bitter pill to swallow, only once did I find an advice of the Sheikh to be unfit in my situation (and that was regarding a situation with one of my sons). Much of what he said regarding distance learning is not only true but has been witnessed by me in the couple of years that have passed. I see many “virtual students” going on to become “virtual scholars”, never having learned either proper etiquettes nor how to share and manifest their knowledge in the midst of other living human beings in their varying circumstances. So many use their “virtual credentials” to attain positions which then lead to different harms within communities. How many are termed “students of knowledge” without ever having struggled with more than technical difficulties? The knowledge is virtual and does not correspond with reality.

This, of course, does not negate my positions as laid out in the attached PDF. I still hold firmly to what I wrote as it is indeed based upon classical scholarship and modern needs. I did not alter the 31 pages at all so as to be intellectually honest and not have said one thing privately t and then offer something else publicly. However, and unfortunately, having read through it again, I recognize the voice in this paper is one of authority, but this is due to the technical nature of the discussion. Though, to the reader, it may seem like a competition or debate – it is NOT. I want to be very clear: this paper represents my lack of etiquette, my neediness and my pleas. So then the question arises, why share it now? Why share it here? The reason is this, within these pages are very important matters that I hope will benefit the readers. It contains discussion into the Shariah sciences, the Hadith sciences as well as the need for defining and discussing scholarship as we move forward in this technological age. In reality, I don’t know how much the lay person will benefit but I am hopeful that students and our teachers will find benefit in this work. It is only in seeking to be of service in opening a wider discussion of the topic that I share it.

This matter opens wounds for me. The reality is that our outward acts have inward realities and though we may choose to do something in an instant, the ramifications may be felt long after. This paper is several years old now and I still feel the repercussions of my poor decisions and lack of etiquettes to this day.

All of this I share with you, the reader. But I hope you take a greater lesson from my experience. I hope you take away benefit and understand well that regardless of how convinced one may be that they are doing right, if it conflicts with what has reached us via the proper etiquettes of love and respect, gratitude and contentment, know that it is error. We have been advised again and again to leave dispute regarding matters of the Deen. How, then, do we not expect to experience loss in our studies and states when we do not adhere to the guidance? How many are the hours wasted online arguing? How many are left in states of darkness due to their claims to “enlighten”?

This path, the straight path of Allah, the sunnah of His beloved (peace and blessings be upon him) is all about etiquette so that the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) informed us that he was not sent except to perfect good character. When we falter in our etiquette we have faltered in our Deen. May Allah rectify our states and ennoble our characters…ameen.

And with Him alone is every success.

 

PDF: “A New Apology On Seeking Sacred Knowledge Through the Medium Of Modern Technology.” =

distance-learning

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About hvsmrspct

Brother Wm. Halim Breiannis was born and raised in Baltimore, Md.. He accepted Islam in 1996 and has continued studying Islam since that time. Brother Halim has studied with various scholars being a direct student of Sheikh Khalil Majdalawi for ten years and has been a student with the Cordoba Academy since 2011. He is called upon to lecture, teach and act as the khateeb at masajid and universities in the Baltimore area where he continues to reside with his wife and children.
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