There is one line of poetry that students of Islam around the world hear over and over again. Sometimes it’s attributed to Imam al-Shafi’i and sometimes to others. This line summarizes six points for the serious learner to take into consideration.
- A Quick Mind: Some people are a little quicker than others in the way they understand things and how long it takes for them to do so. This requirement does not necessarily mean that just because someone is not the quickest student they cannot learn. It does mean, however, that the student should always be trying to make their mind sharper. This is usually a natural consequence of the other requirements and we are always in a state of improving.
- Zeal: Our American culture related to learning is often one that makes learning uncool and people are not encouraged to be passionate about learning. This requirement is about the opposite of that. Learning should be a real commitment for those who are seeking it. They should dedicate time and pursue it with the zeal and rigor of any thing else that they deem important in life. Once we are passionate about something learning becomes easy. Bringing that zeal to our studies is, therefore, of primary importance.
- Poverty/Humility: This word can be understood in two different ways with the latter more probable. If understood as poverty the idea would be that a person who is too overcome with material objects and concerns does not have the focus to concentrate on their studies. If understood as humility then it would refer to the need that the student feels in regards to the learning process. A student who feels that they are in need of learning more and seeking help, support, and guidance is capable of so much, but the student who is arrogant and thinks they are self-sufficient will likely not accomplish much in the long run.
- A Foreign Land: The meaning behind this requirement is for the student to be away from their day to day distractions. When someone tries to dedicate their self to learning but is still surrounded by old friends, family, acquaintances and all kinds of other distractions then they will not be able to fully immerse themselves in the learning experience.
- A Teacher: The tradition of Islamic Studies, as well as all areas of serious study, is that the student does not go on their journey all alone. This does not mean that they necessarily have to learn through an institution, but it does mean that they must have more experienced teachers who can guide them along the path. The student who does not have a teacher wastes large amounts of time and also risks making major mistakes in their understanding.
- A Long Life: Learning is a process that starts at an early age and continues until we are elderly. Those who are seriously dedicated to learning and understanding know that this is the case and know that they will not attain to high levels of scholarship in only a few years. It is not a race. It is a journey. Over the course of time the student gains higher and higher levels of knowledge and the information and experience accumulate until mastery is attained. That requires a long life.
So these are six requirements for any student of any subject who is hoping to attain mastery in their field. If followed they can have great results.