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Sisters Travelling to Seek Knowledge

About once every few weeks, I get at least one email from sisters asking for advice regarding travelling to the Khalīj for Ṭalab al-ʿilm, so I felt it pertinent to address this issue with my thoughts on the matter.

Our blessed Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said in a ḥadīth that when Allāh intends good for a believer He grants him (or her) understanding of the Dīn.

There is no greater good than one who is sincere in seeking sacred knowledge. It is a liberating experience which brings with it an incomparable increase in one’s īmān. Living in the time that we do, there is no a better way to battle the different tribulations that strike this Ummah at large and Muslims on an individual level than to learn about the Dīn as knowledge brings with it light and certainty, and removes the vulnerability that ignorance and doubt create.

In addition to this, now, more than ever, we are in great need of women scholars who have studied the classical sciences at the hands of reputable scholars, and are capable of teaching and guiding other women. But, before anyone reaches the level that qualifies them to impart knowledge of the Dīn, they need, first, to spend many years seeking knowledge. This brings us to the concern at hand: Ṭalab al-ʿilm.

Most people who “wish to seek knowledge” have little to no idea of the demands and requirements of setting out on the path of gaining knowledge. Ṭalab al-ʿilm has, somehow, become glamourised. Most people who want to seek knowledge have only just tasted the breeze of īmān after having attended a weekend retreat or a single motivational Islāmic lecture where they learnt a few “gems” which left them wanting more.

My first question to anyone who brings up this topic is: how much of the Qurʾān have you memorised in the place you are currently residing in? Chances are it is probably a very small amount. What guarantee do you have that in the months you plan on spending abroad you will be able to memorise more? What guarantee do you have that you will find a teacher who is able to help; who can understand your weaknesses and can work with your strengths?

It is true that there are a select few who are able to benefit a great amount by travelling to certain countries to memorise and study. However, there are a great many more we do not hear about it; those who return home with a meagre achievement. These individuals return home having spent an incredible amount of money to gain very little when it could have gone to much better use.

It is important to understand that seeking knowledge is a privilege and an honour. We will not get the best or most prolific opportunities immediately. We need to prove to Allāh—though He is the All-Knowing—that we are worthy of this ʿilm. I have spoken to sisters who consider local teachers or online classes beneath them, not realising that Allāh tests us with smaller opportunities to see how passionate we are about this. Those who dismiss opportunities at hand because they are not good enough are, in effect, proving themselves unworthy of all other opportunities. They are proving themselves unworthy of this precious knowledge. There are sisters who have refused to seek knowledge in their home country because they wanted to get married and move to Madīnah to study instead. Years go by and they are still waiting while their peers have advanced.

Sisters often address me with a slight accusatory tone suggesting that I have it easy seeking knowledge living where I do. Ṭalab al-ʿilm is never easy, no matter where you are. It requires hard work, it takes a lot of sacrifice and it demands dedication. If a person cannot bring themselves to meet these demands in the West, they will not be able to do so here either. That is why the first piece of advice I share with sisters who ask me about travelling to a ‘Muslim country’ to seek knowledge is: Stay where you are and finish ḥifḏh al-Qurʾān. If you can do it in your own country then it proves that you are capable of progressing to the next level. Moving to a Muslim country will not suddenly make you a better student. A teacher can only guide your ḥifdh and studies, they cannot pour knowledge into you. If you were inconsistent before, chances are you will be even more so now that you are on your own with more responsibilities.

Ṭalab al-ʿilm is also a lonely occupation—no matter where you live. Living in a Muslim country does not mean you will find likeminded Ṭālibāt ʿilm to motivate you. In the length of time I have been doing this, I have yet to meet a serious female student of knowledge in my country.

It has only been in the past two years that more sisters have started attending but, even then, many bring coffee pitchers and sit in groups to chitchat. If you are serious about the knowledge you seek, then be prepared for a life of friendlessness. Be prepared to be your own source of motivation. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on your own repeating a few sentences until your throat is sore and your voice is hoarse. 

The most important thing that we need to internalise and then live by is that knowledge is from Allāh. It can never come from having certain friends, or marrying a certain person, or living in a certain place, or even having a certain teacher. A mistake many people make is to attach their ability to seek ʿilm to things other than Allāh. However, as we learn in our Dīn, whoever trusts anything other than Allāh, Allāh will leave him to that thing resulting in their facing nothing but disappointment.

Knowledge is from Allāh and He has made means to attain this knowledge. If one means is not available to you, then we do not rely upon the means rather we go to the source, Allāh, and ask Him to equip us with a better means.

How many have memorised the Qurʾān and learnt classical Arabic from scratch, having never spent more than a few weeks in a Muslim country? The only thing preventing you at present from being this person is your own self. Not your parents, not your husband, not your job, not your studies, and most definitely not the country that you live in.

I have local teachers who have the best qualifications, however the teacher from whom I have benefited most in terms of recitation is a Sheikha I have never met. I have recited to her consistently for more than four years. Whenever a local teacher hears my recitation, they ask me the same question: Where did you learn to recite like that? Followed by disbelief when I tell them it is through practicing with the Sheikha online.

Remember: Knowledge is from Allāh, and He has given us many means to attain this knowledge. Enlist as many as you can, but do not depend on them; do not think that only by travelling to a Muslim country will you increase in knowledge.

Another important point to consider is that I would never encourage a girl to leave her parents or her husband and travel to live alone. The negative impact of this alone would surpass any positives that may come from living in a Muslim country. The pleasure of Allāh is far superior to anything else and, generally, the pleasure of Allāh lies in a girl staying wherever her family is. This is better for her chastity, īmān, Dīn and even Dunya.

If you make pleasing Allāh your utmost concern, He will reward you with gifts, and the best of these gifts is knowledge. If you are sincere in what you seek and are hardworking, Allāh will drive the scholars to your doorstep if you are unable to go to them.

So stay where you are and start today. Not tomorrow, not next week. Today. Work hard, stick to what concerns you, be consistent and tell me in a year’s time that you haven’t progressed.

May Allāh grant us the best of His favours.

Source: www.islam21c.com

About Abeer Sadary

Abeer is a student of knowledge currently residing in the Middle East. She has studied the Qurʾān in the traditional way and also at university level where she did an undergraduate degree in ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān (Qurʾānic Sciences) with a major in tafsīr. Her final year dissertation was titled, “A Comparative Study of the Rules of Tafsīr from the Tafsīr of Sūrat Āl-ʿImrān by Ibn ʿUthaymīn.”. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Economics, and teaches tafsīr courses in Bahrain as well as regular online classes on topics related to the Qurʾān and its memorisation for sisters.


  1. I was always busy with work and business and family life to be able to travel to study plus I had parents I wanted to stay close to. So I joined every Arabic course I could in my UK home city. When I started about 4 years ago I could not read Quran. Now alhamdulillah I’m studying for an a level in Arabic. I can converse, read and write classical Arabic.
    All you need is effort and the will to succeed. No doubt lots of dua and consistency in dua.
    I can’t even mention (as to keep this short!) the amount of Arabic courses that start with 20 students and after a few weeks it’s 3 or maybe 4 students left!
    People want the knowledge of Arabic and islam but don’t want to study for it and have dreams of grandeur.
    The best thing to do is just start. Even if it means while driving you listen to a lesson in Arabic language or Tajweed. Don’t give up.

  2. Sheikh Salah Munnajid

    What is the Islamic ruling on a woman travelling to seek knowledge without a mahram?.
    Published Date: 2006-02-05
    Praise be to Allaah.

    The saheeh evidence indicates that a woman is not allowed to travel except with a mahram. This is part of the perfection and greatness of Islam, which protects honour, and honours and takes care of women, and strives to protect them and guard them against the causes of temptation and deviation, whether she is the one who is tempted or is the source of temptation.

    The evidence includes the hadeeth narrated by al-Bukhaari (1729) and Muslim (2391) from Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) who said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No woman should travel except with a mahram, and no man should enter upon her unless there is a mahram with her.” A man said: “O Messenger of Allaah, I want to go out with such and such an army and my wife wants to go for Hajj.” He said: “Go out with her.”

    Based on that, it is not permissible for a woman to travel to seek knowledge without a mahram. She should acquire the knowledge that she needs in the many ways that are available, such as listening to tapes, asking scholars over the phone and other means that Allaah has made available in these times.

    The Standing Committee was asked: Can a woman go out to study medicine, if it is obligatory or permissible, if doing so will lead to the following things no matter how much she tries to avoid them:

    a) Mixing with men, such as speaking to the patients, the tutor of medicine and on public transport.

    b) Travelling from a country such as Sudan to Egypt, even if the journey will take only hours, and not three days.

    c) Is it permissible for her to stay alone without a mahram in order to learn medicine, if she is going to stay with a group of women, along with the circumstances described above?

    They replied:

    Firstly: if her going out to learn medicine will lead to her mixing with men during her study or when riding in mixed transportation that will lead to fitnah (temptation), then it is not permissible for her to do that, because guarding her honour is an individual obligation, but learning medicine is a communal obligation, and an individual obligation takes precedence over a communal obligation. As for merely speaking to a patient or a teacher of medicine, that is not haraam, rather what is haraam is making the voice soft and appealing when speaking to him, which may tempt those in whose heart is the sickness of evil and hypocrisy. This does not apply only to learning medicine.

    Secondly: If she has a mahram who can travel with her so that she can learn medicine, or teach it, or treat a patient, that is permissible. If she does not have a husband or mahram who can travel with her, then it is haraam, even if the journey is by plane, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No woman should travel except with a mahram.” Saheeh – agreed upon. And because of what we have stated above about the interests of protecting honour taking precedence over the interests of learning medicine or teaching it, etc.

    Thirdly: If her staying with a trustworthy group of women is so that she may learn medicine or teach it, or treat women, then it is permissible, but if there is the fear of fitnah (temptation) because of not having a husband or mahram with her, then it is not permissible. If she is going to treat men, that is not permissible unless it is a case of necessity and she is not alone with a man. End quote from Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah (12/178).

    And Allaah knows best.

  3. JazakAllahu Khayr sister Abeer for such amazing Naseeha! Explained beautifully & eloquently Allahumma barik laha.
    You have spoken the truth sister & have raised issues that sisters need to address in terms of the practicalities of travelling abroad to study, being a woman alone in another country & also the level of sincerity we have with our creator with regards to our actions. If we really wanted to seek knowledge then we can do so even in our homes SubhanAllah.

    May Allah SWT make us amongst those that strive for His deen. Ameen

  4. I ask Allah to reward the author!

    This was an excellent piece that even I, as a man, has found very helpful.

    It also resonates with the advice I was given many years ago when I was eager to study. An older and wiser Student of Knowledge who had spent years studying overeas recommended that I do as much as I could while in the comfort of my own country first, and to consider going overseas only after I had reached a stage when it became difficult to further my knowledge further where I am. That was such good advice and I’m so glad he (may Allah rewsrd him) shared it with me and I listened!

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