Abu Hurayrah (ra) narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever traverses a path seeking sacred knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path leading to Paradise.”
Every man who turns towards Islam finds himself with a desire to increase his religious knowledge. With the sheer amount of material available in English, it’s hard to know where to start. This list sets out a plan that you can use to increase in Islamic knowledge in a systematic way. I’ve tried my best to use only free sources and to link to them when I can.
This has to be an integral part of your routine. Ideally, with memorization. This is the most critical thing which absolutely needs to be done with a teacher. Don’t be ashamed if you have to start at a basic level. If you need to work on “alif ba taa thaa jeem”, then so be it. Find a teacher who’ll work with you and go from there. In response to the “I can’t find a teacher”….look harder. Or maybe Skype online, they have stuff, right? But either way, you need it with a person, this absolutely can not be done on your own. And by teacher, I mean someone who can recite Qur’an fluently and with good tajweed. If that’s a friend, that’s perfectly fine. It doesn’tneed to be the imam of the masjid. But the better qualified they are, the better.
As you’re reading/memorizing the Qur’an, memorize the Arabic and corresponding English with it. This’ll help for a lot of things.
- Nouman Ali Khan’s tafseer of Juz 30.
- The Gracious Qur’an by Zaki Hammad. Best translation in my opinion. The paperback (leatherbound) is about half the price of the hardcover. $23
- The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. I know some controversies exist around the first edition of this commentary but its been revised many times and I used it a lot when doing hifdh. I really liked the concise nature but do admit that the translation is nowhere near good as the Zaki Hammad one.
- The History of The Qur’anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments by Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami. Very important book especially in our times when people with no knowledge attack the process of Qur’anic compilation. [PDF] [Amazon]
- An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan.by Yasir Qadhi. This is a phenomenal book which does a great job in explaining the basics of Uloom ul Qur’an. [PDF]
- Aqeedah at-Tahawiyyah. This is a really quick read, basically bullet points of Sunni creed. Here’s a PDF
- Light of Guidance. This is a 16 CD set by Sh. Yasir Qadhi which is basically Theology 101. Here you go
- Taqwiyatul Iman by Shah Ismail Shahid. This was written by the grandson of Shah Waliullah ad-Dehlawi and was very important in combating the shirk which many Muslims unknowingly take part in. [PDF]
- The Creed of Ibn Abi Zayd Al-Qayrawani by ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (ironically enough). This book is particularly important to American Muslims because it formed the basis of the very first Islamic text written in America, the Bilali Document. Here’s the [PDF]
My favorite subject! Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a gap in the English language for works that are both rooted in Islamic sources and also analytical. You’ll often have to sacrifice one for the other. Don’t even get me started on books like No God but God by Reza Aslan. Urgh. With that said, here’s the best right now:
- A Mercy to Mankind by Sh. Yasir Qadhi. Video Playlist.This definitely ranks as one of, if not the, best Seerah works in the English language. If you access only one seerah work, let it be this one.
- In the Footsteps of the Prophet by Tariq Ramadan. I was in high school when this book came out and it’s remained my favorite seerah book since then. I don’t know anyone who’s read it and not liked it.
- Muhammad by Yahya Emerick. It’s been a while since I read this but I remember it being concise but good.
- Prophet of Mercy by Abul Hasan Ali an-Nadwi. Of all the seerah books I’ve read in English, this comes closest to offering a strong analytical perspective in addition to being grounded in traditional sources. However, due to the intended audience, the author cuts out a lot of material so that the book doesn’t become too long. If you don’t already know the seerah, it might get confusing.
- Noble Life of the Prophet by Ali Sallabi. Meticulously researched, citations for all the narrations. Definitely gets redundant in some places where he goes into tangents but overall a great read.
- An Introduction to Hadith by Dr. Jonathan Brown. Video.
- Usool al-Hadeeth: The Methodology of Hadith Evaluation by Dr. Bilal Philips. Quick read and it gives a nice overview of how hadith were compiled and how they’re graded.
- Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World by Jonathan Brown. Much more detail than the previous book.
- The Authority of the Sunnah by either Sh. Taqi Uthmani or Jamal Zarabozo. Two different books but I think they have the same name (or similar ones, anyway).
- 40 Hadith of Imam Nawwawi. I’d recommend reading a copy that has a commentary. There’s a few in English. I have Jamal Zarabozo’s one and it’s decent but extremely detailed and not really light reading. There’s A Treasury of Hadith: A Commentary on Nawawi’s Selection of Prophetic Traditions which is a translation of Daqiq al-Id’s sharh of the 40 hadith.
- Riyad us Saliheen of Imam Nawwawi. Dar us Salaam has a commentary that, if we’re going to be honest, is probably better left unread. I’d read just the ahadith in it.
- Al-Adab al-Mufrad of Imam Bukhari. Bukhari’s compilation of hadith on manners.
- The Invocation of God by Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah
- Purification of the Heart by Hamza Yusuf
- In the Early Hours by Khurram Murad
Usul ul -Fiqh
- The Evolution of Fiqh by Bilal Phillips. Excellent introduction to the topic. Assumes you’re coming in with very little knowledge
- Code of Scholars by Muhammad al-Shareef. This is an audio recording of his al-Maghrib class. Great stuff.
- Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence by Hisham Kamali. Very detailed, probably a more beginning-intermediate work, but the best one in English. There’s an abridgement by Dr. Hatem al-Haj which might be easier to read. Part 1 and Part 2 of the abridgement
Pick a school, any school. You’ll easily find lectures about the fiqh of worship from the four schools. Here are a good books from the Hanafi school:
- Al Fiqh al-Islami According to the Hanafi Madhab by Sh Akram Nadwi
- Remember, the goal is to learn step by step. Don’t jump into the fiqh of obscure financial products until you’ve learned how to pray and make wudu.
- Drowning in Minor Details by Salman Oudah. PDF here .
I majored in History and this is one of my favorite subjects so apologies in advance for the disproportionate representation on this list.
- The Fitna by Kamal el-Makki. Full audio. Excellent discussion of the first Muslim Civil War.
- Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy by Jonathan Brown. Phenomenal book.
- The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State by Noah Feldman. I read this back in high school, really liked it. A thoughtful counter-thesis to Bernard Lewis’ What Went Wrong?
- Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary. Overall, a very readable overview of Islamic history. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have more books like this, especially ones by mainstream Muslims. While the author’s brother is a Muslim scholar (graduated from Madinah actually), he himself seems to be a bit more on the progressive end of things. The book itself though is, for the most part, pretty well-researched and has excellent prose.
- Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam by Akram Nadwi. An oft-neglected aspect of our history.
- Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness by Ibn Fadlan. People always talk about ibn Battuta but he’s really one of the Muslim travelers I like least. Ibn Fadlan, on the other hand, is awesome.
- The 4 Great Imams by Hesham al-Awadi. Full audio. A socio-cultural look at the great imams of our tradition.
- Profiles of Courage: The Story of Imam Ahmad by Imam Safi Khan. Full audio. If you’ve ever wondered why out of all the four imams, Imam Ahmad was given the title Imam Ahlus Sunnah, this will show you why.
- The Four Imams: Their Lives, Works and Their Schools of Thought by Muhammad Abu Zahra. Title is self-explanatory.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. If you’re a Muslim who hasn’t read this book yet, get on it! This is a classic in American literature and is a must-read for every American Muslim.
- Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad. Another great autobiography of a fascinating convert to Islam. This was first recommended to me by a Jewish Rabbi interestingly enough.
- If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power. A non-Muslim journalist spends a year studying the Qur’an with Sh. Akram Nadwi. One of the best books I’ve read this year. I think this Amazon review sums it up well: “This book is different, it moved me, humbled me and able to connect me to the solemn and peaceful [real] religion of Islam, one verse of Quran interpretation at a time. The Sheikh’s wisdom and teachings about Islam is very calming and reassuring, while the author’s worldly knowledge gave me a new perspective on how to see the so-called ‘Islamic World’ from a different light.”
I will update this post as the blog progresses insha’Allah.
Last update: 11/2/2015