Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “Allah has supernumerary angels who rove about seeking out gatherings in which Allah’s name is being invoked. They sit with them and fold their wings round each other, filling that which is between them and between the lowest heaven. When (the people in the gathering) depart, (the angels) ascend and rise up to heaven." [Muslim].
Dear readers, this article is not about the merits of organizing a study circle according to the Quran and Hadeeths, or even what our religion says about those who take on this weighty task of spreading knowledge. Instead, it is about the hows and the whys; about how we should go about the matter, and the reasons we should hold study circles.
Some reasons are clear and others vague. For example, we all understand that attending study circles brings us closer, forging community bonds of friendship and provides us with sup-port from of our fellow Muslims. We also know that a study circle provides needed guidance and knowledge, giving us an opportunity to ask questions and get answers. But what should a study circle really be—specifically what is the ultimate goal? Is it to gain knowledge, friends or influence?
What a study circle should be
Ideally, a study circle should be a place where Muslims can meet to gain knowledge in an environment that encourages learning. It should be open to everyone and anyone who wants to learn—no matter what the age, race or Mathhab they follow. The primary goal of a study circle should be to bring people—all people--closer to their religion. By this, I mean that the organizer's purpose is to bring topics that people can implement in their daily lives, within their families and their homes... important information that they can teach their own children.
A study circle should leave us with the feeling that we can strive to become a better Muslim, and that our actions do make a difference as we live our lives as a walking, talking example of our Deen.
What a study circle should not be
However, there are other aspects of study circles that we know about but do not discuss. Some study circles are used as social gatherings and status markers—and can be more negative than positive forces in the community. Some are used as gatherings for gossip and backbiting, while others are used as an excuse to simply get out of the house. Some study circles even exclude people because of what their religious opinions are—or are not; and some—as saddening as it is - even go as far as snubbing people because of their race. By excluding and snubbing, I do not mean that certain persons are not allowed to attend, but they are made to feel unwelcome and uneasy, sometimes even picked on because of their race, their Mathhab or because they were not born into Islam, their knowledge or opinion is not considered valid or valued.
Some study circles focus only on fire and brimstone, neglecting the beauty and inspirational messages of hope, forgiveness and eternal salvation our Creator offers. We must also remember that the goal of a study circle is to provide a source of information to attendees so they can implement that information in their daily lives. Most importantly, study circles are meant to give - encouragement and motivation for the future.
A serious study circle should not have anything to do with any of the afore-mentioned problems—again; the goal of a study circle should be to bring people—all people—together in order to be closer to their Deen.
Where to hold it
One of the best places is the obvious—your local Masjid, but another good place is your local public library. Having your study circle at your local library reduces the risk of being too comfortable that you get into other subjects, and opens the door for non-Muslims to get to know about Islam. Most libraries have meeting halls that can be rented for free.
One place to avoid having the study circle at is someone's personal home. The reason for this is simple; unfortunately many times when we take off our hijabs, we become too comfortable and can forget the purpose of the gathering.
Know your study circle
Another important aspect of organizing and holding a study circle is to know who your attendees are, and adjust your content accordingly. If you know you have a new Muslimah coming, the topic should be adjusted to something. that she will be able to understand and in a format where she can ask questions. Similarly, if you have a non-Muslim stop by, change the course of the topic to something such as Tawheed that will make an impression while teaching the most important aspect of Islam. In other words, give your attendees something worthwhile to walk away with and ponder over the rest of the day. The last thing you want to do is to overwhelm them with too much information and let them run off reeling from the study circle—possibly never to return again.
Another thing to think about is summertime and winter breaks are a good time to get the older teens involved in a study circle. Maybe even encourage them to start a teen study circle of their own that deals with the Islamic aspects of things that affect their daily lives. You can help them organize their meeting by letting them pick the topics and then demonstrate how to put a lesson together.
Homework or no homework
One sister asked me once, "Shouldn't we have homework?" To that, my answer was: absolutely not. The Prophet said to a Companion who was concerned that when he went home he laughed with his wife, "There is a time for this, and a time for that." Meaning, do not overwhelm yourself or your family—give everything its due time.
Every one of us has families, many of us have children—some many children—and the last thing that is needed is more homework when we get home. While some sisters may have more free time than others; so, homework is neither fair nor beneficial as not everyone has the same lifestyles or free time to spare. Learning our religion should not become pressurized or feel burden-some; rather, it should be an event to look forward to every week that leaves us feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Placing the unnecessary load of homework can even discourage people in need of enlightenment and knowledge from coming to future study circles because of their embarrassment inability to complete homework within the allotted timeframe.
When to fold it
A study circle should not be more than 2 hours. Again, we all have to be considerate of others, some sisters may have to go home to make dinner, clean the house while others may have to go back to work, or run an errand. By keeping the study circle to a reasonable time, we eliminate the risk of excluding because of a lack of free time.
Invite everyone in your community to your study circle.
- Post signs at the Masjid and local grocery stores
- Make the first study circle a get-to-know-you luncheon with a prepared but brief interesting discussion topic that will get your attendees involved and interested to come back for more
- Make sure to have a sign-in sheet and get everyone's contact information
- Create a task group and appoint sisters that are dependable to take the responsibility of calling the attendees of the first luncheon and remind them of the study circle time and date on a weekly basis.
- Everyone likes to be remembered, and many close and unexpected friendships are made this way
Be creative – go further
Do not let your study circle become stagnant. No one wants to go over the same topics over and over. Make a monthly schedule and get input from all of your attendees. Once a week, change the format.
Here are some examples:
- Utilize a recorded lecture
- Alternate discussion leaders and let other sisters prepare the topics
- Contact a recognized sheikh and allow everyone to pitch in for a phone in lecture or question and answer session.
- Tell a story with an Islamic moral and discuss it afterward.
Themain thing to remember is that you must keep everyone involved in order to maintain attendees. No one wants to go listen to one-person talk at them for an hour, week after week, even if you happen to be very knowledgeable. People like to get involved and ask questions, they enjoy talking what they have learned and read.
Finally, make sure that you all agree on using certain textbooks for general studying or even simply using the Quran and the sahib ahadeeth collections. Make your study circle a time that everyone will remember for years to come—an occasion that brings Muslims closer, inspires good deeds, and gives thoughtful lessons to last a lifetime to be passed on from generation to generation.