As a former Catholic, one of the things that has helped to strengthen my faith as a Muslim is the fact that everything in Islam is so clear and so protected. If we really want to know Allah and His deen, all we have to do is look. It is all here for us, preserved. As a Catholic, I did take my priest as a Lord above Allah. I would obey his edicts, no matter how contradictory because I believed he has some connection to God from which he was able to dictate right from wrong. I was truly from what Allah calls the misguided in Surat Al Fatiha. Now, alhamdulillah, thanks to the guidance of Allah, I know better. I recognize that all men are fallible, but Allah is Perfect. Inshallah, I no longer do as Allah warned us to not do and I try to do as He commanded us to do,
They have taken their rabbis and their monks for lords besides Allah, and (also) the Messiah son of Mariam and they were enjoined that they should serve one Allah only, there is no god but He; far from His glory be what they set up (with Him). (9:31)
Now, I try to base all my knowledge on the Quraan and the Sunnah of our great prophet. I recognize that I can notdo this alone, I need guidance from someone who knows more than I do, but I do not accept that any man is infallible. I recognize that other than what comes straight from Allah or what was taught by His Prophet, the rest is all subject to mistake.
For you see, Allah promised us to make the Quraan and the Sunnah clear, easy and protected. He told our beloved Prophet,
Do not move your tongue with it to make haste with it, Surely on Us(devolves) the collecting of it and the reciting of it. Therefore when We have recited it, follow its recitation. Nay more, it is for Us to explain it (and make it clear) (Qiyaamah: 16-19)
Here, Allah has promised not just to preserve the Noble Quraan, but also the hadith. How do we understand this?
Well Allah Promised to collect it, recite it and to explain it. The explanation is the hadith. The explanation was achieved by making the Prophet an example of the Quraan. The explanation was achieved by making nothing come from the Prophet himself. The prophet was the example of the Quraan, and we, as Muslims, have been commanded to obey him.
And obey Allah and His Messenger; and fall into no disputes, lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering: For Allah is with those who patiently persevere: (8:46)
The answer of the Believers, when summoned to Allah and His Messenger, in order that He may judge between them, is no other than this: they say, "We hear and we obey": it is such as these that will attain felicity. It is such as obey Allah and His Messenger, and fear Allah and do right, that will win (in the end), (24:51-52)
Obeying Allah and His messenger is the foundation of the words La ilaha il Allah, Muhamadur Rasool Allah. (There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His messenger) . It is the essence of the deen. To the extent that when we receive a command from the Quraan or from the Prophet, we are just to say, "we hear and we obey." An example of this is:
Narrated Abu Sa'id Al-Mu'alla: While I was praying, the Prophet called me but I did not respond to his call. Later I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I was praying." He said, "Didn't Allah say: 'O you who believe! Give your response to Allah (by obeying Him) and to His Apostle when he calls you'?" (8.24) Sahih Bukhari: Volume 6, Book 61, Number 528.
This is Islam. This is true faith. We recognize that our own personal desires, our rationalizations, and our understandings are all limited and flawed. We recognize that we do not know it all, and that if what we wants contradicts with what Allah and His messenger have commanded for us, then what we want is incorrect and Allah and His messenger are correct and we defer to their judgement.
Having said this, I know I am often asked what is the first thing any Muslim should learn or do. My answer is that we should all begin by learning Islam. The best way to do this is by going back to the original sources. We will never achieve true knowledge or true success in our deen until we make these two sources, the Quraan and the authentic sunnah, to be our foundation. I recommend that we all start with the basics, read and study the Quraan.
Then, pick up Sahih Bukhari or Sahih Muslim and start reading and studying them too. These three books will give you about 75% of your deen. Now, can we just read the books and think we know it all? Of course not! No more than a man can pick up a set of medical books and be a doctor. We need to understand how all this was applied. We need to know how the companions and the scholars understood and understand it. We need to be sure that we understood what we read.
At this point, however, we will be ahead of the game. We will recognize most of the sahih hadiths and be careful about that which we do not know. We will know that there is a possibility for error, and we will be careful. This is very important. Actually, this is critical. We will not be so easily mislead, inshallah, because we will have a small arsenal of knowledge from which we have armed ourselves. So when someone teaches us, we will call to him/her to
"...Bring your proof if you are truthful." (27:64)
We will insist on learning from a pure fountain of knowledge, not from one tainted by conjecture, rationalization and personal desires. We will have a healthy foundation.
The next thing we need to recognize is that since we are limited and also flawed. We can read something and understand it completely differently than it was intended, like the following companion:
Narrated Anas ibn Malik: When this verse: "O ye who believe! raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor shout loud unto him in discourse, as ye shout loud unto one another, lest your deeds should become null and void, while you perceive not" (xix.2-5), was revealed, Thabit ibn Qays confined himself to his house and said: I am one of the denizens of Fire, and he deliberately avoided coming to the Apostle (peace_be_upon_him).
The Messenger (peace_be_upon_him) asked Sa'd ibn Mu'adh about him and said: AbuAmr, how is Thabit? Has he fallen sick? Sa'd said: He is my neighbour, but I do not know of his illness. Sa'd came to him (Thabit), and conveyed to him the message of the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him). Upon this Thabit verse was revealed, and you are well aware of the fact that, amongst all of you, mine is the voice louder than that of the Messenger of Allah, and so I am one of the denizens of Fire. Sa'd informed the Holy Prophet about it: Therefore the Messenger of Allah observed: (Nay, not so) but he (Thabit) is one of the dwellers of Paradise. Sahih Muslim: Book 1, Number 0214.
This companion heard the words but did not fully understand its meaning. It was refering to voluntary lifting of the voice, not what comes naturally. Another companion misunderstood the commands about the time for fajr prayer.
Narrated 'Adi bin Hatim: When the above verses were revealed: 'Until the white thread appears to you, distinct from the black thread,' I took two (hair) strings, one black and the other white, and kept them under my pillow and went on looking at them throughout the night but could not make anything out of it. So, the next morning I went to Allah's Apostle and told him the whole story. He explained to me, "That verse means the darkness of the night and the whiteness of the dawn." Sahih Bukhari: Volume 3, Book 31, Number 140.
So, we should avoid being arrogant and always leave the door open for understanding and learning more. Islam is not stagnant. Allah guides us as He wills when He wills and makes things clear for us when we are ready for it. We never know what will happen to us or when, so we always need to recognize that right now is always the best time. We need to take just a few minutes a day to review our basics, salat, fasting, zakat. We do not have to be extreme in it. Just take a few minutes to read one page - or if you are real ambitious, one chapter. Then, we need to be sure we understand it correctly, that bida (innovation) or culture or personal desire have not tainted our understanding. We need to be sure that all that we do and practice as Muslims is correct, and we need to make sure that we hold our scholars to a higher standard. Make them provide us the sahih evidences. Don't follow blindly. Recognize that there is a margin for error, and that the scholar has an obligation to present the sahih evidences. But once it has been made clear to us, once we see the sahih evidences, once we have been given what we asked for, then we must say, "I hear and I obey."
May Allah make us good knowledgeable slaves and increase our faith, knowledge and practice of this great deen. Ameen.