Who am I and what brought me to this course?
Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu,
My name is Ziring Zurar and I am an elementary school teacher at the Islamic School of Hamilton. I was born in Canada twenty-five years ago and have been living here ever since. I have recently enrolled in the new and only one of its kind Sharia Program organized by Sheikh Yusuf Mullan. I have previously studied some Arabic in Damascus, Syria where I stayed for seven months and continued studying Arabic using a different methodology when I returned to Canada. When I first saw the advertisement for this course I was very sceptical that anything of this nature could be available in Canada. This is something that many people travel overseas for extended periods of time for. Upon my return from Syria I have had my eyes on many masjid billboards and internet sites looking for something even remotely similar to this. To my disappointment I couldn't find anything. The closest I found were 6 months courses or online Sharia courses, which were not even teaching traditional Islam but rather reformist twentieth century "visions" of Islam.
Fortunately, there were the deen intensives and rihla programs imparting traditional knowledge. May Allah reward those who have been working so hard to provide this avenue of traditional learning and spiritual development. However, once you've been to a couple of these, you've been to all of them. The same program is essentially repeated over and over again every year, without a substantial development of previous knowledge experiences. I was looking for something which would give me an accumulation of knowledge in a systematized fashion, with the goal of removing my disability and illiteracy, allowing me to access my Islamic heritage myself rather than just be told about it. I found the weekly Halaqa's of benefit as well, but they are also not comparable to a systematized Sharia Program. Nor do I believe they were intended for such. Halaqas for the most part covered snap shots of a wide variety of issues. They are beneficial in helping you keep to the straight path. In short they gave a little of everything. It seemed like they were giving a taste of the sacred sciences. I found the Halaqas in some respects like the deen intensives on a smaller scale, the icing on the cake, but I still had not found the cake.
When I saw the advertisement of this course I thought it would be another of the propaganda reformist courses. But although my hope of finding something of this nature in Canada were just about dead, my curiosity motivated me to write the internet address down. I was confusingly surprised when I looked at the proposed curriculum on the internet. Not only was this a serious program which had a definite and clear goal ahead of itself, it surprisingly looked traditional, using classical relied upon texts agreed upon by the ummah. My years of failing to find such a course in the west, made me a little pessimistic so I literally thought it was a trick and didn't pursue it. A couple of months later and a couple weeks before the course had begun I heard some friends talking about the Sharia program happening in Toronto. I naturally asked what Shaira Program?!? To my astonishment it was the one I saw a few months ago. It turns out it was legitimate after all, and the organizer and head teacher Sheikh Yusuf was a student of Mufti Taqi Usmani!! Needless to say, I called him up right away and joined the class.
I mentioned previously that I had studied some Arabic prior to this course both in Damascus and upon my return here in Canada. I wanted to give you some idea of how I find this class in comparison to my previous experiences. First you should know that there are different methodologies of studying Arabic. The methodology used in the University of Damascus relied on a submersion into the language straight away, kind of a jump into the deep end, and the hope that you will figure out how to swim. There was virtually no explanation of grammatical constructs and it was expected that with enough exposure you will get the hang of how things work. It may have worked when I was a child learning to swim, but as an adult trying to learn this language, I found myself drowning in the ocean of Arabic and becoming frustrated with my attempts to learn. The other attempt was to provide you with the tools of understanding the language, an emphasis on grammar (nahw). I did this when I came back to Canada, and it consisted of learning the classical nahw text known as the Ajroomiyyah. I found this more rewarding because unlike English, Arabic is a language which has a strong emphasis on grammar. It gave me the life jacket or tools to attempt my jump in the ocean of Arabic but at the same time I didn't have much opportunity to try the life jacket I was now given.
The methodology used in this course is a mixture of the two. There is a strong emphasis on grammatical concepts but without neglecting the practical application of these concepts. I find the strong and unique emphasis on sarf (etymology) which you don't get in the grammatical/nahw based approach very useful in helping me tackle the language. Among the many unique features of this course is their traditional approach of testing done before each class. The teacher goes around asking each student to recap what was done last week. This enforces the concepts and engrains them within the student.
As far as the subjects taught I think they speak for themselves. Could anyone imagine learning Usul, Fiqh, Hadith, Tafseer, Logic, Rhetoric etc. in a thorough manner anywhere in North America? I also like the initial focus on Arabic so that these subjects may be studied through the Arabic medium enabling us to be independent of translations and allowing us to gain access to the classical books written on these subjects.
As far as teacher's expectations are concerned I think they are very reasonable. An hour a day of homework for someone without any backround would be more than sufficient. You may easily find someone in the course that just learned to recognize the alphabet prior to the course and is now able to recognize grammatical constructs, translate sentences, and conjugate verbs into the various types of past, present, future and imperative tenses. A testimony to the methodology of the teachers and their sincerity insha'Allah. May Allah reward them and all of us.
Please do not hesitate to call or contact me if you have any questions.
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