In order to be able to practice Islam effectively in our lives, we must gain knowledge of it from authentic sources - the Quran and sunnah (way of life of the Prophet Muhammad [Allah's peace and blessings be upon him]). If we don't make an extra effort for studying these sources, we will never be able to fully understand them. Therefore, it is best to form a "study circle," a group of people studying the Quran and sunnah together--a method that develops strong mutual bonds and keeps everyone tuned in to gaining an Islamic education.
In order to know the dos and don'ts of studying Islam as a group, we can heed advice given by some companions of the Prophet Muhammad [Allah's peace and blessings be upon him]:
‘Ikrimah bin Abî Jahl narrated that ‘Abdullâh bin ‘Abbâs said, “Preach to the people once a week, and if you won’t, then preach to them twice; but if you want to preach more, then let it be three times (a week only) and do not make the people fed-up with this Qur’ân. If you come to some people who are engaged in a talk, don't start interrupting their talk by preaching, lest you should cause them to be bored. You should rather keep quiet, and if they ask you, then preach to them at the time when they are eager to hear what you say. And avoid the use of rhymed prose in invocation for I noticed that Allâh’s Messenger and his Companions always avoided it.”
[Sahih Al-Bukhâri 8/349]
The following steps need to be taken in order to start a Quran study circle:
- Get people together. Without people, there is no group, but even two people can start a study circle. You can get your best friend or sister to come over for starters. If you have time, you can make flyers or posters about the study circle, and put them up on your building notice board, or have them distributed in your neighborhood. With time, the word will get out and soon, people might bring a friend or a neighbor. That is how the circle will expand.
- Assign roles to each member of the group. If one person is the most knowledgeable in the Quran and good at oration, then he could be the speaker, while another could offer a room of his house as the circle venue, especially if his house is larger. Another person can bring a small snack to be eaten at the end of the circle, during discussion. As the group size increases, there will be more roles and a greater need for being organized, so assigning roles is important.
- Select a suitable time. The time, duration and weekly frequency of the group should be decided, keeping in mind the schedules of all those who attend. For example, if the majority of the group members are stay-at-home mothers, a good time would be mid-morning, when children are at school. If the group consists of working men, they can arrange a study circle on the weekend or after the last prayer ('isha) on a weekday. The intention is for everyone to enjoy studying the Quran and sunnah consistently, and not be overburdened. Abdullâh bin Mas‘ûd narrated, "The Prophet used to be considerate of us in preaching, by selecting a suitable time, so that we might not get bored.” [Sahih Al-Bukhâri 1/68] The duration of the group should be enough to cover important topics without people getting exhausted or bored. An hour or so is usually more than enough.
- Set an agenda or timetable for the group. There is an ocean of knowledge to gain! However, wisdom must be employed in choosing the topics to delve into. For example, in the first 10 minutes, a few verses of the Quran can be recited. The next 20 minutes can be given to translation and exegesis/explanation of those verses. After that, a paragraph or two from any book of the Prophet Muhammad's sunnah [his way of life, his mannerisms] can be read out. Finally, the last 15 minutes can be dedicated to a discussion on the practical application, in everyday life, of the knowledge just gained. The circle should be culminated with collective invocation/prayer to Allah/dua.
- Act upon what is taught. It is very important to intend to act upon the knowledge of the Quran being acquired. If group members see that they are not changing for the better, they should politely remind each other to act upon what they have learned. They should kindly exhort others towards patience, constancy and steadfastness, especially if a student becomes unmotivated. That is one of the main purposes of group-based learning: Students keep each other tied into the group.
Abû Wa‘il Shaqîq bin Salamah narrated that ‘Abdullâh bin Mas‘ûd used to give a religious talk to the people on every Thursday. Once a man said, “O Aba ‘Abdar-Rahman! (By Allâh) I wish if you could preach to us daily.” He replied, “The only thing which prevents me from doing so is (the fear) that I bore you, and I am considerate of you in preaching by selecting a suitable time just as the Prophet used to do with us, for fear of making us bored.” [Sahih Al-Bukhâri 1/70 and Muslim]