In reading through the history of Islamic education, it has become quite clear that there is no hard and fast rule about the reliance on specific texts for the study of all the Islamic sciences. It can be safely said that some subjects require more dependency on texts than others.
Interestingly enough, the types of subjects in which there is heavy reliance on texts today did not have the same level of reliance in the past. This applies especially to the science of fiqh, in which for a long period of time the head lecturer/professor of fiqh would simply lecture on a topic and have students dictate the notes. Notes were then compiled into ta’liqat and amali.
The fact that short mutun defined the syllabus of study for so long along with the fact that fiqh was normally taught (without divulging into khilaf) itself is indication enough of the dependency on the professor’s notes and commentary.
Moreover, students typically did not have access or the capability to purchase large texts and therefore depended largely upon short, memorizable mutun.
What this means for us is a reevaluation of the need to specify the texts of study and instead concentrate on the level that is intended to be acheived.
If a professor chooses to teach one book in place of another, or even to simply rely on his notes and personal research, should there be room to allow for it? If this is the case, then it would be wiser, it seems, to identify courses not by the text that is taught in it but by the subject and content.
Personally, I feel this flexibility should especially exist in the field of Qur’anic commentary. One may notice that simply terming a course Tafsir al-Jalalayn gives little indication of how the class is taught or in how much detail. Some teachers stick to the text while many others expound upon it heavily and rely, therefore, more upon their individual study and understanding. Students, therefore, are not studying Jalalayn as much as they are noting down the teacher’s own exegesis. This is not a fault in any way. In fact, in many ways and in many institutions, this is highly commendable. Complete reliance on Jalalayn and Baydawi is a grave injustice to the science of tafsir and the abilities of the teachers and students.
Similarly, it is more important that a student gains a taste for law as well as true faqahah than simpy complete the study of a particular text. If a student, therefore, is not capable of understanding the cryptic language of Hidayah, then the utilization of other legal texts that can facilitate his understanding and get him to think like a jurisconsult should be strongly considered.