In the first three parts of this series we discussed the new Muslim’s journey into Islam. From the time of the Prophet until now it would be fair to say that all journeys have certain similarities.
We can take advice from those who travelled this path before us and know that their experience, and their feelings and emotions, were much the same as our own. In the 21st century however, a new experience has been added, technology.
Never before in the history of Islam has the quest for knowledge been so easy. At the touch of a button there it is a black screen turns into every sheikh that ever gave a sermon, wrote a book or recited Quran.
The big problem that we face nowadays is how to sort the wheat from the chaff. How do we know the difference between what is high quality and what is not? Unfortunately it can be a little bit hit and miss.
Perhaps the best way to acquire knowledge is to follow the same path that led you to Islam in the first place, and learn by degrees; little bits of at a time. One of the most useful pieces of advice I was ever given was that if what you are told or read about sounds strange, it probably isn’t from Islam. Islam has a ring of truth about it and makes sense. If not, you might be searching in the wrong place; so remember to ask God to guide your search for the truth.
How to Pray
As we discussed in the previous articles, try to curb your enthusiasm just a little bit and take things slowly. You will no doubt be anxious to start praying but overburdening yourself will not be beneficial.
Begin by familiarizing yourself with how the prayer looks and sounds. If you are able to attend a mosque you could spend some time observing and then join in by copying the person beside you. If this is too taxing or not possible, you can hop online and watch a how to pray video. These can be found on YouTube and on various web sites.
There is a very good written explanation here. The book “Description of the Prophet’s Prayer” by Sheikh Al Albani goes into detail about the way Prophet Muhammad prayed and will help you to understand that there can be several correct methods in the postures of prayer.
However, if reading is not your preferred way of learning, videos abound. There are literally hundreds to choose from and this in itself presents a problem. If you watch several what happens if they are all different? If you are able to read the above article or book, it will help you narrow down which videos you like best.
Don’t shy away from prayer videos for children because they more often than not reduce the prayer to easily remembered and understood portions. Choose the video that seems to describe the prayer in a way that you can understand and then make small goals as to how and when you will complete the prayer in its entirety.
Reading the Quran
You may have already begun reading the Quran and you may also have chosen your favorite translation. Some people might even have more than one translation. Thus choosing a Quran’s translation to read can sometimes be problematic. One of the most important points to understand is that whenever the Quran is translated, it is said to be a translation of the meanings of the Quran.
The Quran was revealed in Arabic and when translated, it loses many of the nuances and particular meanings conveyed by the Arabic language. Therefore choosing a good translation is of paramount importance.
The Quran has been translated into many languages. Every person in the world is probably able to access a translation of the Quran in a language that they can read and understand.
English translations abound and the earliest one is “The Alcoran of Mahomet” translated from the French into English in 1649. There are now more than thirty translations that can be accessed online.
Many of earlier versions were written from an orientalist perspective, and the problem with many of the latest translations is that they are written and translated from the viewpoint of various sects in Islam.
It would be beneficial to choose a Quran translation that uses modern phrasing and language; these will be easier for the beginner to understand. Reading older translations should be left until you have acquired at least a basic understanding of what you are reading in the Quran.
Although there are many Quran’s translations to choose from and publishing information should be readily available both online and in print, I can highly recommend the following Translations of the Meanings of the Quran.
The Holy Qur’an (1997) by Saheeh International. It is published by the Dar Abul Qasim Publishing House Saudi Arabia.
Al-Qur’an: Guidance for Mankind (1997) by M. Farooq-e-Azam Malik. Published by The Institute of Islamic Knowledge, Houston Texas.
The Qur’an: English Translation with Parallel Arabic Text (2010) by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem. Published by the Oxford University Press.
There are many people who embrace Islam knowing very little about Prophet Muhammad. Although they may have no problem acknowledging him as the last Prophet of God, they might feel that there is very little to learn, perhaps a similar amount as what we know about the Prophet Jesus. They are about to be very pleasantly surprised because many of the details of his life have been preserved in what is known as the Sunnah and in the books known as the Seerah.
The Sunnah is what we know Prophet Muhammad did, said, or approved of and it can be found in collections of short and long true stories known as Hadith. The word seerah roughly translates to biography and many books of seerah are available to you in both good Islamic bookstores and online.
There are two very popular and well-known books of seerah. This first is, “Al Raheeq al Makhtum” (The Sealed Nectar) by Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri. Published by DarusSalam Saudi Arabia. In 1976 this book won the first prize for authenticity in a competition held by the World Muslim League. It could be considered a textbook and some might find it difficult reading. However despite this, it is a book that looks deeply into the life of Prophet Muhammad and helps the reader to feel connected to the world’s best role model.
The second book is “Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources” (1983) by Martin Lings. Published by Inner Traditions. This book is written in the style of a novel and is praised for its heart softening, and spiritually uplifting prose.
And the book of seerah by Dr. Tariq Ramadan entitled “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad”.
These and other biographies are a very good place to begin exploring the life of Prophet Muhammad and his companions.
Finally, try to remember to take things slowly. An Islamic education has no end. A Muslim will be a student of Islam for the remainder of his or her life.