How can one study fiqh in a way that builds mastery?
This is an excellent question. The method of instruction in contemporary fiqh studies (and other Islamic studies) leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, many scholars and students are ignorant of pedagogy, educational psychology, etc.
Let me explain how this can help with studying al-fiqh al-Shafi’i. Remember that the onus is on the student to do this.
Review (tiqrar) key concepts (shurut, arkan, ta’rifat) with understanding and memorization. An excellent text to review and memorise key concepts is al-Yaqut al-Nafis, which basically lists ta’rifat, shurut, and arkan. This text is key in Tarim, and some teachers set exams whereby you basically regurgitate the ta’rifat, shurut, and arkan. These three aspects should be at the heart of one’s review and memorization. Schedule your review sessions according to your time. For example, Sundays for ibadah, Mondays for jiniyat, Tuesdays for al-ahwal al-shakhsiya, etc. You should complete the review of a book of fiqh that you’ve studied at least once every four months.
Have a notebook for each book studying and make diagrams to visualise concepts and actively engage with one’s learning, and review these notes alongside the textual review. An excellent text with which to compare one’s own diagrams and charts is al-Taqrirat al-Sadidah. Some of these could be inspiration for your own diagrams too. ‘Imad ‘Ali Jumu’ah’s Tashjir series is an supurb example of what one should do. He basically takes famous mutun and re-writes them in diagram format.
Seek guidance from teachers about supplementary readings – this is very important as much can be learnt from targeted, focused, extensive readings to widen, and deepen one’s understanding. So read at least one similar book alongside one’s formal text book. For example, whilst reading Minhaj al-Talibin one should at the least also personally read Rawdat al-Talibin issue by issue. These two complement each other beautifully.
Prepare for the class by reading the forthcoming section of the text (this can help with preparing questions) alongside the commentary at a ratio of 3:1 so that for every hour of formal class you do at least three hours of preparation. So, for example, if you are studying Matn Abi Shuja’ and the next class will be on bab umm al-walad, read the sharh for the section ahead of class from Hashiyat al-Bajuri, al-Iqna’, and Kifayat al-Akhyar. Compare the differences in elucidation. Compile a summarised commentary from all.
Think of taswir of masa’il through practical examples of application. So, as an example for mirath, what is the estate division if the deceased left behind a mother, a son, a daughter, and a wife? Think of your own case and those of others you know.
Understand the ta’lil, where possible, and consider questions arising from that. One of the best texts for this is Nihayat al-Matlab by Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni. So, the ta’lil for washing hands upon waking before putting them in a basin is because the Sahaba’s standard practice was to do istijmar (not istinja’) and they slept naked in the sweaty heat, thus traces of urine or stool may have touched their hands during their sleep. If you do istinja’ and sleep with underwear is the issue of washing hands upon waking up still applicable?
Understand how the issue has been arrived at from the tadlil. Al-Majmu’, al-Bayhaqi’s books, and al-Mu’tamad are excellent for this. I would say for most students they should only memorise the adilla for the contentious issues, not the ones upon which most agree. Be efficient. So, don’t focus on the evidence for the obligation of Ramadan (upon which almost all schools agree, but do on why touching a marriageable member of the opposite sex invalidates your ritual purity.
From your notes and readings, write your own companion book including everything you have covered. This will be a handy reference for masa’il in future. If it’s really good, you can even distribute it to others.
I hope this helps!