Al-Bukhaari (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “Chapter: it is essential to know a thing first before saying or acting upon it, according to the aayah (interpretation of the meaning):
‘So know (O Muhammad) that Laa ilaaha ill-Allaah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allaah),’ [Muhammad 47:19]
So one should start with knowledge. The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets, i.e., they inherit knowledge. Whoever gains knowledge has gained great good fortune, and whoever follows a path to seek knowledge, Allaah will make easy for him the path to Paradise. Allaah said (interpretation of the meaning):
‘It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allaah’
And Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
‘but none will understand them except those who have knowledge’
‘And they will say: “Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we would not have been among the dwellers of the blazing Fire!”’ [al-Mulk 67:10]
Knowledge and The Scholars
‘Are those who know equal to those who know not?’ [al-Zumar 39:9]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Knowledge is gained by striving for it.”
Ibn ‘Abbaas said: ‘Be faithful slaves to your Lord, patient and learned.’ And it is said that the good instructor is the one who starts teaching people simple matters of knowledge before more difficult ones.”
It was narrated that Qays ibn Katheer said: “A man came from Madeenah to Abu’l-Darda’ in Damascus and he said, ‘What brought you here, my brother?’ He said, ‘A hadeeth which I have heard that you narrate from the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).’ He said, ‘Have you come for any other reason?’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Have you come for trade?’ He said, ‘No. I have only come to seek this hadeeth.’ He said, ‘I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say, “Whoever follows a path to seek knowledge, Allaah will make easy for him the path to Paradise. The angels beat their wings in approval of the seeker of knowledge, and those who are in the heavens and on earth pray for forgiveness for the scholar, even the fish in the water. The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like the superiority of the moon over all other heavenly bodies. The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets, for the Prophets did not leave behind dinars or dirhams, rather they left behind knowledge, so whoever gains knowledge has gained great good fortune.’” (narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2606; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani).
With regard to the way to gain knowledge, it is to fear Allaah (taqwa) and to be aware that He is always watching, in secret and in the open. Then one should learn from the scholars whose knowledge and religious commitment can be trusted. If you find a scholar who meets this description, then cling to him and consult him in order to gain knowledge. If you cannot find a scholar, then look for a seeker of knowledge (taalib ‘ilm), and if you cannot find such a person, then you must study by using tapes and books that deal with the basic issues of Islam according to the correct methodology of sharee’ah.
Some Books that one should begin while looking for Knowledge:
On ‘Aqeedah: start with the book al-Usool al-Thalaathah [available in English as “The Three Fundamental Bases of Islamic Theology”], then Kitaab al-Tawheed [available in English as “Kitab al-Tauhid”], then Kashf al-Shubuhaat, all by Shaykh Muahmmad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhaab. Then read Kitaab al-‘Aqeedah al-Waasitiyyah [also available in English as “Principles of Islamic Faith”] by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah.
After studying and understanding these books, move on to Kitaab al-Ajrumiyyah, on Arabic grammar, then Kitaab al-Usool fi ‘Ilm al-Usool, on usool al-fiqh, then Kitaab Usool al-Tafseer – both by Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Uthaymeen, may Allaah have mercy on him. Then study al-Arba’een al-Nawawiyyah [al-Nawawi’s 40 Hadeeth, available in English in several translations] on hadeeth, then ‘Umdat al-Ahkaam, also on hadeeth. Then start studying fiqh, and it is OK to study the fiqh texts of any of the recognized schools of thought, such as Bidaayat al-Saalikeen, ‘Umdat al-Fiqh, Matan Abi Shujaa’, and Matan Khaleel. We do not want you to be biased towards any of the madhhabs, rather your study should be organized and based on the well-established principles, so that your pursuit of knowledge will be enhanced and you will follow the evidence, not be biased towards any particular madhhab.
After studying fiqh, read two books on Tafseer. Start with Tayseer al-Kareem al-Rahmaan fi tafseer kalaam al-Mannaan by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn Sa’di (may Allaah have mercy on him), and Tafseer Ibn Katheer [an abridged version in 10 volumes is available in English].