Reflections of an American Muslim

Written by Dr. Shahid Athar   

The following guidelines consist of an introduction, a description of the nature of Islamic Study Circles, a suggested organizational structure, a format and approach to the study of the Quran and Traditions, rules of the meeting, physical arrangements, a children's program, suggested list of topics and time table example and, finally, a list of suggested books and resource materials.

By the grace of God Almighty, Islamic awareness and desire to know more about Islam is increasing. In every town, small or big, one or more groups are being organized to learn the Quran and the Traditions. We hope,with the Will of God, He will accept our efforts and reward us by bringing change in our way of life to total submission to his Will.

The purpose of this article is to present a formal outline as guidelines to organize and sustain such efforts. Based on fifteen years of experience, I also offer what problems to except and offer some practical solutions.


Islamic Study Circles are not a substitute for the Sunday school or weekly adult meetings on Sundays. ISC meetings are for those who are seriously committed to change their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Each participant should prepare for the meeting and contribute in the discussion. It should be limited to a maximum of eight families. Although they should be encouraged to continue their weekend Islamic activities, the concept of "weekend Islam" should be discouraged.


It is observed that many problems in such circles are due to lack of effective leadership. Therefore, as recommended by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), whenever there are three or more people we should elect an Amir. The Amir should have qualities of piety (taqwa), leadership and organization. Amirs should be better than others in recitation and knowledge of the Quran. They should be fair to everyone and humble in nature. They should be able to delegate some of their duties to their assistant. They may appoint group leaders among children to promote leadership. The duties of the Amir should include scheduling the meeting, informing in advance, assigning the topics and format, and presiding the meeting itself. Communication is the key to the problem and solution. Most problems arise out of miscommunication. I personally believe newsletters are better than phone calls due to uniformity of message.


There is usually controversy regarding the format, i.e. whether to start with topics, or the Traditions (ahadith) or the Quran first and which part of the Quran, i.e. from the beginning to end or otherwise:


We should not rush through the Quran since it is the comprehensive book of wisdom and knowledge. It is reported that Abdullah Bin Umar took eight years to finish the second chapter, Surah al-Baqarah. He used to read a verse, memorize it, practice upon it and then proceed further. Even if we read at a fast pace of one section (ruku) a week it should take us several years to finish the Quran in ISC gatherings. Emphasis should be made on individual efforts daily at home and assimilating and incorporating the message of the Quran. First, we should gather authentic commentaries, i.e, Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, Asad, Maududi, Mufti Shafi, Ashraf Thanvi Ibn Kathir, Sayyid Qutb. We should also obtain recitation tapes, i.e. from Shaykh Minshawi, Basit and Hussary.

The format should be like this, i.e., if the discussion is on the first chapter (Surah al-Fatihah), first the tape of recitation should be played so that everyone can listen and correct their pronunciation. The Amir should listen to the recitation of members and correct them, if necessary. Then one English and one Arabic. Urdu or other native language translation be given. Then the Amir or chairperson who has prepared should give a brief summary of the commentary, not from his or her imagination but from one of the authentic commentaries. This should be followed by a general discussion or comments. An attempt should be also made by individual members to memorize some or all of the verses under discussion in the same setting or at an hour before the session.


At least one Tradition (hadith) could be discussed from the authentic books, i.e. Bukhari, Muslim or collection of forty Traditions or the Sacred Traditions (Hadith Qudsi, in which God spoke in the first person to the Messenger, but they are not included in the Quran). The Traditions (ahadith) should be read in Arabic and English and the resource person should be able to explain the context in which the Tradition was cited and how it applies to our present life.


According to the wishes and deficiencies of the members, topics may be selected by the group and assigned in advance to be presented in a concise manner quoting again not the imagination, but the Quran, Traditions or authentic books of commentary, i.e, Halal Wal Haram by Yusuf Qardawi or many pamphlet by Maulana Maududi. The speaker may want to listen to Jamal Badawi's tape on that topic beforehand and make a summary of that presentation. The topic may alternate with the presentation of various Traditions.


The meeting should start with the recitation from the Holy Quran followed by other items on the agenda (see example) and should end with a prayer or supplication. General Islamic code of manner of conducting meetings should be observed.

a. One person to speak at a time with the permission of the Amir

b. No whispering or talking to others while the Quran is being recited or explained.

c. Speak in low voice.

d. Do not interrupt the speaker but let him or her finish first.

e. The Amir should be fair to everyone and allow them to express themselves with restriction that such discussion be 1) after the presenta- tion 2) related to the subject 3) not based on personal opinion but prefer- able from the Quran, Traditions, or noted authority.

f. The Amir, or the speaker should again try to avoid his or her own opinion but give answers from the Quran, Traditions or say one of the schools of jurisprudence.

g. Avoid talking about a person if he or she is not present in the meet- ing, even if what is being said is true.


It is advised that the meeting be held on a carpeted floor in form of a circle, than around a table. Men should be in a separate area of the same room. Everyone should be modestly dressed. There should not be any mixing or joking between the men and women. Questions should be directed to the Amir and not to individual people.


a. Frequency: Meetings can be held once a month, twice a month, or once a week, depending on the level of interest and time available.

b. Timing: It should be according to what is best for the members. I believe Friday evening between evening and night prescribed prayer is the best, leaving the weekend for other social activities and Sunday school.

c. Place: Can be in one central place or by rotation at the house of members. Again good communication is needed to avoid misunderstanding.

d. Punctuality: This is the key to the success. If anyone is planning to be late or absent, they should call the Arnir in advance, so that others are not left in waiting The Amir should be able to come up with a good excuse in the next meeting. It is our experience that people make a point of attending a function if they attach importance to it.


Though participation by children in each program is very important for the purpose of bringing them together, it does not replace Islamic efforts at the Sunday school or individual efforts by parents themselves at home.

The children's program should be short and sweet, no more than 15 minutes total and should include topics on the life of the Prophet (PBUH), listening to newly memorized Surah, Traditions, presentations, and Islamic knowledge.

Based on their efforts, small prizes can be given once a month to encourage participation and completion.


A) Quran:
Start with 1) 30th part
or 2) al-Baqarah
or 3) al-Nisa
4) al-Maida
5) al-Hujurat

B) Topics: Prescribed prayer (salat), the poor-due (zakat), the hajj, prescribed fasting, jihad, usury (ribah), the modest dress, permissible and non-pertnissible food, family life or social problems.

C) Life of the Prophet as:
- Husband
- Father
- Teacher
- Soldier
- Leader
- Negotiator
- Missionary


5:45 - Gathering time
6:00 - Evening prescribed prayer
6:15 - Start the program with recitation of the Quran
6:30 - Children's program
6:45 - Quran Commentary and Translation
7:15 - Traditions, jurisprudence or topic
7:30 - Prayer or supplication and Adjourn
7:35 - Snack. tea and social hour
8:00 - Night prescribed prayer
8:30 - Disperse


1. Quranic translations:
Yusuf Ali Translation
M. Pickthall Translation
M. Maududi Translation

2. Traditions
40 Ahadith (Al-Nawawi) Qudsi

3. Lawful and Prohibited
- Yusuf Qardawi

4. Way to the Quran
Khurrum Murad

5. Islamic Manners
Madni Abbassi

6. Islamic Teaching Tapes
S by Dr. Jamal Badawi


1. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, A Young Muslim Guide to the Modern World. Chicago: KAZI Publications, 1994.

2. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Muhammad: Man of God. Chicago: KAZI Publications, 1994.

3. Maurice Bucaille. The Bible, Quran and Science. Paris: L:Oeille, 1986.

4. H. Abdalati. Islam in Focus. Indianapolis: ATP, 1986.

5. Suzanne Haneef. What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims. Chicago: KAZI Publications, 1986.

6. R. M. Speight. God is One. New York: Paulist Press, 1992.

7. A. Maududi. Towards Understanding Islam. Leicester: Islamic Foundation, 1986.

8. Martin Lings. Muhammad: His Life from the Earliest Sources. Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1990.

9. Laleh Bakhtiar. Muhammad's Companions: Essays on Some Who Bore Witness to His Life. Chicago: KAZI Publications, 1993.

10. Murteza Muttahari. Islamic Modest Dress (hijab). Chicago: KAZI Publications, 1991.

All titles and materials above are available from KAZI Publications, Chicago.