Rihla 2017: Journey of a Lifetime
I'm brimming with both love and excitement as I write this post. As a lifelong student in sacred knowledge, the Rihla Summer Programme 2017 that I attended in Melaka last year, was a soul-transforming experience for me. I was nervous for weeks leading up to it—I had so many concerns, because I really did feel like I was not deserving of being in the presence of such great Muslim scholars let alone sit at their feet to learn about Allāh سبحانه و تعالى and this great deen.
But Allāh knows best and He allowed me to complete the course and I hope I'll be able to capture my Rihla experience and share the lessons I've learnt in a way that is befitting. I know this post is wayyyy overdue (in fact, I wanted to post this before their deadline for applications ended) but I thought I'd share my reflections on my Rihla experience and explain what the course entails so that people can consider applying for the same course (or something similar) in the future. FYI: this year's Rihla programme will be held at the noble Zaytuna College, Berkeley.
What is the Rihla Summer Programme?
The Rihla is a 3-week programme which has been taking place every summer since 1997. Founded by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, founder of Zaytuna College, and author of Purification of The Heart, the programme covers the fardh 'ain, what Sunni Muslims deem wajib (compulsory) to learn, such as: 'aqidah (Islamic creed) and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), followed by many other beneficial modules such as: tasawwuf (spiritual purification), akhlaq (Islamic virtue ethics), the human fitrah and many more. The programme aims to provide Muslims with 'ilm that not only enhances their ibadah (worship) but also help them flourish spiritually by understanding what their purpose is and how they can apply knowledge of the deen in every aspect of their lives. You can watch past recordings of the programme on Deen Stream.
Why did I enrol?
I'm a firm believer of the 5 before 5.
The Prophet ﷺ advised to:
“Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death”
(Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim)
I've made it a point to reallyyyy take advantage of all 5. I think while you are strong, healthy and free of commitments, it's important to use all of that to seek 'ilm because I know so many people, especially married couples with children, who told me they wish they had done more to learn about the deen while they had less responsibilities. In general, I'm a firm believer of living life to the fullest while time and health permits.
Let's go straight into the programme, shall we?
A typical day during the programme
A FULL day
A typical day during the programme begins at dawn if you choose to join in jemaah prayers but classes usually begin at 8.30am and end at 6pm. However, sometimes schedules change and there might be replacement/extra classes at night. After dinner, we would gather in small study groups and go over what we have learnt that day or complete our activity books together. At the end of the 3 weeks, we do have to sit for a test on 'Aqidah and Fiqh. The test isn't as scary as it sounds!
A safe learning environment
One of the many things past Rihla students can tell you about the programme is how diverse the students are: they varied greatly not only in their backgrounds but also in their level of Islamic knowledge. There were students who didn't know how to pray, read the Quran or understand any Arabic on this course. The participants ranged from young teens to adults in their 60s. There were young asatizah present and also many new converts. I really appreciated the diversity of students on this course and it created an open learning environment where students could support each other.
Our teachers; our guiding lights.
Our shuyukh (plural for shaykh and a term commonly used for senior teachers) were patient, kind and had decades worth of knowledge, may Allāh preserve them all. Amiin. They, too, learnt at the feet of other renown scholars in various different countries: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even India! Their academic backgrounds are rich; nearly all of them carry an alternative qualification on top of their Islamic education.
For example, Shaykh Muhammad al-Ninowy who taught us the Shamā'il al-Tirmidhi, is not only a Muhaddith (a scholar of the hadith sciences) but carries a Bachelor's Degree in Microbiology and is an anaesthesiologist! My Shafi'i fiqh teacher, Shaykh Omar Qureshi carries a Bachelor's Degree in Microbiology, a M.Ed. in Science Education and is currently pursuing a phD in Philosophy of Education and Comparative Education. Can we get a mashaAllāh?
Many of the teachers at Rihla currently reside in the USA or UK. They're well-travelled—in fact, some of them are constantly travelling to teach. I was pleasantly surprised at how much they knew on the Islamic history in M'sia, beginning with how Islam reached the Nusantara and how it was cultivated among the people. But most importantly, the teachers were/are trustworthy and carry a sanad, which is a direct line of transmission from teacher-to-teacher, that can be traced all the way back to the Prophet ﷺ.
If you want to learn this deen, seek authentic knowledge from the best sources and nothing less. When you learn from a sahih source, you know what you're getting is not corrupted. You inherit the knowledge and akhlak of a teacher therefore it is VITAL to choose a teacher wisely and ensure that they are in line with your creed. For example, Malaysian Muslims follow the 'aqidah of ahlus sunnah wal jemaah. What better way to gain 'ilm than to learn from teachers with a direct sanad to our Beloved Messenger, ﷺ?
5 major lessons I took away from Rihla
1. To worship Allāh سبحانه و تعالى, you have to know Him
You cannot love someone you don't know therefore it's strange to claim you love or worship Allāh سبحانه و تعالى without having any knowledge on WHO Allāh is. What are His Sifat (attributes)? What AREN'T His Sifat? How is our perception and belief of God different than that of a non-Muslim? If we share the same level of knowledge of Allāh as a non-Muslim then we should start asking ourselves if we actually know Allāh the way that we should. Why is our perception of Allāh so important? Shaykh Omar Qureshi stated: "If our belief of Allāh is incorrect then what we are worshipping doesn't exist."
So how do we increase our knowledge of Allāh?
We have to revise and reaffirm our 'aqidah until there is no longer any doubt of who Allāh is. To worship Him, we have to be yaqeen of His Existence. Sunni Muslims follow the Ash`ari and Maturidi Schools of 'aqidah (Islamic creed). For more info on the Ash`ari and Maturidi Schools of 'aqidah, check this page.
Nak tahu dengan lebih lanjut apa maknanya ahlus sunnah wal jemaah? Klik sini (sumber: Laman Web Rasmi Mufti Wilayah Persekutuan).
2. You can't learn the Islamic sciences without a teacher
I'm a traditionalist; I believe that to learn Islam, you need a credible teacher. You wouldn't learn maths or science without a qualified teacher, you definitely shouldn't learn the deen without one either. Relying on random Islamic websites to gain knowledge simply won't do because certain texts, especially Hadiths, need deeper understanding of context and grammar among many other details which require years to master! This is why we see so many harsh 'online shaykhs' who are quick to express their opinions with very little knowledge and adab. The scary reality is: many people are quick to follow them and spread their opinions causing much confusion.
There is more barakah in learning the deen at the feet of scholars and I believe you learn more this way. There's an Arabic saying that goes: 'Whoever doesn't have a shaykh, his shaykh is shaytan (the devil).' Furthermore, even our Most Beloved, Rasulullah ﷺ, had a teacher. He learnt from Jibril ʿalayhi salām.
3. The numbers of paths to Allah are endless
Being around so many students in Rihla made me realise just how unique all our journeys are and we shouldn't be arrogant and feel that the path we have chosen is the only way to Him. Someone who struggles with their sins can be more beloved to Allāh than you simply because of their humility and sincerity before Allāh. We all struggle with something and if we know of a brother and sister who have strayed from the Path, SHOW THEM a better way to live. Embody Islam with ehsan (excellence). We cannot correct another person if we have not addressed our own faults. Lastly, hidayah is in the Hands of Allāh, we are simply His instruments, nothing more.
4. You cannot seek knowledge without adab
Knowing proper adab prepares our hearts so that it is ready to receive knowledge. The heart is like a window, if it's dirty, light cannot shine through. We want our hearts to be in the best condition so that the Light of Allāh can pass through. One of our teachers, Ustadha Saraa Sabbagh, taught us the adab of seeking knowledge which entails how we prepare ourselves for class, how we behave in class and how we treat our teachers. Ustadha Saraa wasn't the only teacher who put great emphasis on adab, all our teachers did, too.
Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak, a famous muhaddith from Khorasan, is often quoted saying: "I spent 30 years learning adab, and I spent 20 years learning knowledge" because "we are not in need of more knowledge but more adab."
5. Friendship is a powerful tool for change
"Get your beginning right; you cannot walk this Path alone. You have to have friends and a guide."—Ustadh Feraidoon Mojadedi
The Rihla wasn't just 3 weeks of learning, it was 3 weeks of connecting with other Muslims from all walks of life. How beautiful and generous is Allah that He gathered all these beautiful souls from around the world in one place so that we may learn about Him and His deen.
In a Hadith, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Whenever some people gather in one of Allāh’s houses (mosques) to recite the book of Allāh and study it among themselves, then calmness descends upon them, the angels surround them, Mercy covers them, and Allāh mentions them to those who are with him.” (Muslim).
SubhanAllah. Nearly a year has passed but I've still managed to maintain friendships with my course mates, especially my dear roommate, to this day.
I still miss those 3 weeks I spent at Rihla and I pray everyone reading this gets the opportunity to be in the presence of great scholars wherever they are because a good teacher makes ALL the difference. There was so much that I gained from the Rihla apart from knowledge. My love for Allah and His Prophet ﷺ grew and my appreciation towards the ulama also grew. Many of us had heavy hearts on the very last day of the programme.
We forged such a close bond with our teachers that every time one of them left to return to their countries, we genuinely felt sad. There is beauty in longing to be in the presence of those who love Allah and His Beloved. Whatever we long for, we often put great effort in searching, so I hope those who are reading this may find the very best of teachers to guide them. Amiin!