The Holy One Who brought about the Sharia, Islamic Legislation, has stressed that among the greatest obligations and the most emphasized is to study the religion and to learn its rulings with regard to the beliefs and to acting upon them. Allah Almighty says, "… so ask those who possess the message if you do not know” (Qur'an, 16:43). The most Exalted One has also said, "… Nor should all the believers go forth together: If a contingent from every expedition should go forth, they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the people when they returned to them (so) that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil)” (Qur'an, 9:122).
Many texts indicate that seeking knowledge is an obligation on the Muslims. In the authenticated narration of Mas`adah ibn Ziyad, the latter says, "I heard Ja`far ibn Muhammed (peace be upon him) answering a question about the meaning of this verse of the Almighty: The conclusive argument is with Allah (Qur'an, 6:149). He said, 'On Judgment Day, Allah will ask His servant: 'Were you a learned man?' If he says, 'Yes', He will ask him, 'Did you act according to what you learned?' And if he says that he was ignorant, He will ask him, 'Why did you not learn so you would act according to your knowledge?' Allah will nail his argument down against him; such is the conclusive argument."[i]
In a tradition narrated by al-Mufaddal, the latter says that he heard Abu Abdullah Al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) saying, "Take to comprehending Allah's religion, and do not be like the Bedouin, for Allah will not look at those who do not exert themselves in comprehending Allah's religion, and He will not endorse any of their good deeds."[ii]
In Aban ibn Taghlib's authenticated narration, he (peace be upon him) is quoted as having said, "I wished my companions' heads would have been whipped until they took to comprehending (the religion).”[iii] There are numerous other such statements.
As for you, expatriates, this applies to you for two reasons:
1. The society in which you live is distant from religion, unfamiliar with its concepts; so, if you neglect to learn or if you take it lightly, your religion will be lost and its features will gradually become hidden from you until they eventually diminish.
2. You migrated from Islamic lands while having a measure of religious information. If this information slipped away from you and you forgot it, your travel to foreign lands will be regarded as assimilation after migration. Assimilation after migration means what a Muslim does when he moves to lands where his religious information decreases and his ignorance about his creed increases; this is one of the major sins, so much so that it is regarded among one of the five or seven major sins.
In a tradition narrated by Ibn Abi Omayr cited from one of his companions, Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) is quoted as saying, "We found stated in the book by [Imam] Ali (peace be upon him) that the major sins are five: polytheism, disobedience of parents, consumption of usury even after evidence, fleeing from performing Jihad and assimilating after migrating.”[iv] In the authenticated narration of Ubayd ibn Zurarah, the latter says that he asked Imam Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) about the major sins. The Imam said that they are indicated as seven in the book of [Imam] Ali (peace be upon him): disbelieving in Allah, murder, disobedience of parents, consumption of usury after evidence is produced, unjust consumption of what belongs to orphans, fleeing from the battlefield and distancing yourself from religious knowledge after you were close to it.” Ubayd ibn Zurarah asked the Imam (peace be upon him), "Are these the greatest of sins?” The Imam (peace be upon him) said, "Yes.” He asked, "Is unjustly consuming one dirham that belongs to an orphan more serious or is it the abandonment of performing the daily prayers?” He (peace be upon him) said, "Abandoning the performing of daily prayers is more serious.” He said, "But why then did you not count abandoning daily prayers among the major sins?” The Imam (peace be upon him) said, "What was the first thing that I told you?!” He said, "It was disbelieving in Allah.” The Imam (peace be upon him) said, "So, one who abandons the performance of prayers is a non-believer."[v]
Abu Baseer quotes the Imam (peace be upon him) as saying, "distancing yourself from religious knowledge and ascribing partners to Allah (Shirk) are one and the same.”[vi]. There are numerous other texts that indicate its prohibition in a way in which there is no room for doubt.
So, you have to work hard to learn the doctrines and rulings of your religion, to become acquainted with what is permissible and what is prohibited. Beware of neglecting doing so or taking it lightly no matter what the cost may be, even if your time is too short, your engagements too many, for the danger of taking this lightly is great, and its losses cannot be recompensed. Surely Allah will assist you and ease your affairs because He always helps His servant if He knows that the latter cares about Him and is willing to tread the path of pleasing Him.
It would be great if all the above is done in a systematic way. You then ought to continue doing it and not neglect it because habit has a force of its own, unlike what is based on availability without any organized way. Your religion will then be subject to neglect due to the abundance of your engagements and distractions.
You ought to choose Friday, for Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said, "Woe on a Muslim man who does not give himself Friday from the whole week for his own religion so he may inquire during it about his creed."[vii]
And it is best if this is attempted in a congregational way at centers that embrace you together, such as mosques and Husainiyyas or each other's homes, and no less when it is done with family members. Group knowledge has a wider range of benefit and information is focused in a better way; it is more prone to be adhered to. If this is not possible, do not abandon what you can do of it, each according to his ability without negligence or procrastination. You can exploit modern means of communication such as the Internet, for these means have opened the paths to learning and knowledge and made them easy. Wisdom is a believer's pursuit; wherever he finds it, he grabs it.
If there is a need, in addition to the above, one must try to obtain a practical guide of Islamic laws from an emulated religious authority, and study its contents so it may be a permanent reference in your home away from home.
Also, what you should strongly do is to become familiar with the largest number of traditions of Ahl al-Bayt (peace and blessings of Allah be with them all), for they contain variety of knowledge in beliefs, rulings, ethics, companionship and conduct. You should try to buy books which contain their biographies and traditions and frequent libraries where they are to be found. Utilize your spare time in doing so, for it is one of the best gains that help you during your estrangement and entertain you during your loneliness instead of killing time in doing trivial or harmful things.
[i]Bihal Al-Anwar, Vol. 1, pp. 177-78.
[ii]Al-Kafi, Vol. 1, p. 31, and the wording is his; Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol. 1, p. 214.
[iii] Al-Kafi, Vol. 1, p. 31.
[iv] Wasaail Al-Shi`a, Vol. 11, p. 259.
[v]Ibid., Vol. 11, p. 254.
[vi] Ibid., Vol. 11, p. 256.
[vii]Wasaail Al-Shi`a, Vol. 8, p. 252, according to his own wording; Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol. 86, p. 347.