fortifying faith

A year and a half ago, I started learning at SeekersGuidance. Here’s why you should start too.

A few weeks into the year 2018 found me by my desk, staring at the blank screen of my computer, not unlike an oracle staring at her orb. A string of lows in life had found me bewildered and lost. My university days were drawing to a close, the career opportunities were not heart-warming, and I was at a loss at what to do next.

Winter was receding, spring was due in a couple of weeks. In February of that year, I began my first term at Seekers Guidance. I had signed up, not sure what was to come next. I was auto-enrolled for the two foundational courses, the ‘Absolute Essentials of Islam’ and the ‘Essentials of Islamic Tradition.’ Before starting on those, I had heard a short clip on how to gain the most from seeking sacred knowledge, the tips and practices, the points of caution.

Back then, I was not aware of the teachers at Seekers. But when I heard the short clip, I took notice. I paused and took detailed notes, something I rarely ever did. Both the style of the teacher and the substance of the lesson taught hit the right wavelength for me. In between jotting down notes and nodding at the screen, I thought of how wonderful it would be if the same person would be teaching the courses I had enrolled in.

And lo and behold! When I first tuned into my first ever lesson, I found the same teacher teaching. I learned his name was Shaykh Faraz Rabbani. He would be guiding the students into their first steps into the learning of the sacred sciences.

The courses were taught in English, the language that had been my medium of learning lifelong. The courses were structured according to levels, starting with the foundations, eventually progressing to Mastery. Both live sessions and term-long Q & A were offered. All of this, for absolutely no cost. Here was guidance that would measure in gold, yet for free? I was intrigued, dumbfounded. Eventually as the year passed, the lessons revised, and the learning put to practice, my intrigue gave way to gratefulness.

What made me most happy was Shaykh Faraz’s manner of teaching. The subject at hand was the building blocks of our faith, the keys to the happiness of this world and the next. As necessary it was to get the basics of it right, the task was overwhelming to picture too. I was nervous at the start, not sure if I would be sincere enough or plain simple good enough to learn it.

This is where Shaykh Faraz’s light-hearted style, his jovial way of teaching came to the rescue. Rarely ever had I seen an Islamic scholar so approachable and fluid in his teaching. The neat structuring of the lessons, the soundness of the classical texts it was based on, the unbroken chain of learning the teacher taught it with, all added up to the learning experience I was happy to partake into. I found myself hurrying through the lessons at first, eager to absorb as much as I could. Later, I slowed down, listened more carefully, took detailed notes and revised them before handing in the assignment due before the close of term.

Those who have heard Shaykh Faraz’s lectures know the characters of Zubair, Zubeida and Uncle Jamil. They are something of a regular, the hapless Zubair wanting to marry Zubeida, with her father Uncle Jamil throwing tests at Zubair. Shaykh Faraz uses them to illustrate the finer points of the lessons. These playful additions bring them to life. I have often wondered if someday, on walking into a Toronto wedding, I may bump into these characters!

As I became more comfortable with the routines and rigor of online learning, I started to explore Seekers more. In between terms, I would tune into the On-Demand courses. I would listen to podcasts, I would swap the time I could have spent reading the news feed for reading through the Answers service. Eventually, I started listening to other teachers, and Alhamdulillah, I felt both their knowledge and their states influence me for the better.

Ustadh Anik Abdullah Misra said in an interview that through the internet, ‘Allah has made believers connect to each other in an age of disconnectedness.’ The more I reflected on this, the more I realized how true it was. For how did I come to SeekersGuidance in the first place?

Back in early 2018, when I had been staring at my desk, I was at a loss at what to do next. At some point, I knew I wanted to study Islam, to at least get the basics of the Deen right. But how was I to pursue this? Drop my academics and head to a local seminary? Do a Masters in Islamic Studies? Study with local madrasah students? I had options but not the clarity to pursue which one.

It was then it dawned on me, I need not break my head open to figure things out. I could ask Allah directly. I decided to offer the Istikhara prayer to seek the way ahead. I took out my phone, googled the Istikhara dua, and opened the first link that felt right. Once the Arabic text appeared, I kept the phone aside, offered the two rakats, before picking the phone again and reciting the dua. Later, I saw the browser tab still open. I read the entire web page, I scoured through the website. I had never seen it before. At the top, I saw the ‘Courses’ section. Before I knew it, I had signed up.

The website was SeekersGuidance. My prayers had been answered, the dilemma cleared up. The road to seeking knowledge was now wide open.

Saad Razi Shaikh is a journalist based in Mumbai. He writes on popular culture and community initiatives. He can be reached on Twitter @writweeter

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)