بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
By J. Samia Mair
There are certain sounds I like. I like the sound of a zipper, and the sound of a basketball as it swooshes cleanly through a hoop. I like the sound of raindrops bouncing off the window. I like the clicking sound when I type on my keyboard and press my mouse. I like the sound of the ‘rattlesnake eggs’ in the envelope joke and dominoes falling. I like the sound of whipped cream leaving the can. But I love the sound of opening the pages of a new book. It’s hard to describe as I don’t have a new book in front of me, but I know it when I hear it. It is a crisp, fresh, untouched ink sound, and if I’m very lucky, some of the pages are stuck together—because, yes, I love the sound of separating them too. In fact, I love just about everything about opening a new book—the sound, the smell, the way the stiff pages feel on my fingertips. I don’t think this experience will ever grow old—it hasn’t so far, and I have opened hundreds of new books.
I’m not sure if it is opening a new book I find so wonderful or if it is my bell in Pavlov’s experiment. For a book represents knowledge to me, knowledge that I need for my deen, knowledge that I need for my heart, knowledge that will bring me one step closer to Allah (swt). So no shocker here—I have a lot of books—over 95% of which (if not more) are on Islam or Islam-related. I rarely read fiction because I feel I have a lot of catching up to do. I am a convert and there is a great deal of information about the deen that I need to learn. Alhamdulillah, I have access to many books and translations as an English reader (which has its own limitations of course, as I mentioned in my previous blog). I have resigned myself to the fact that I will die not having read all the books I would like to read, and I’m not sure how anyone could ever claim boredom with so many books available. Like many book lovers, I become disturbed after I read or hear a report that books will one day become obsolete. Inconceivable, I say! Books don’t run out of juice; books can easily be shared; books are a multisensory experience.
But that’s just my personal preference. Reading to obtain knowledge is part of our deen, whether paper-based or through some handheld digital device. The first ayah revealed states, “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists).” (96:1) After the Battle of Badr (2 AH), the first major battle in Islamic history, some prisoners who were literate but could not afford the ransom could be freed after teaching ten Muslim children to read and write. Indeed, scholarship has been the Islamic tradition, and highly valued since the inception of Islam, and part of that scholarship includes early masterpieces that are still read today. Can someone become an Islamic scholar through book reading alone? Absolutely not! Can someone learn the deen solely through books? Of course not. Some books are not even accessible without the guidance of a scholar, and nothing can replace learning directly from a qualified teacher, live or online. But seeking knowledge through books has a crucial role to play for most of us. For example, acquiring certain types of knowledge is fard al-ayn (individual obligation); this is the knowledge of acts of worship that are incumbent upon each sane, adult Muslim, such as how to pray, fast, etc. Books are indispensible in the pursuit of this knowledge, as there may not always be a learned person available to answer a deen-related question, and very few people have a photographic memory. Most of us need books as a reference, and we return to them time and time again to address questions that arise. And while credible information can be found on the Internet, the Internet alone cannot provide the information that is available in the nearly 130 million books that have been published in modern history (according to a Google study).
True, lots of books aren’t credible either—neither are they free. Since time, space, and money are limited, one must be choosy about what one reads. When I first became Muslim, I was given lots of books that I later learned provided inaccurate information—they were a waste of time, if not worse. A book should be chosen on the basis of the author’s credentials, the reputation of the publishing house, the accuracy of the translation (if relevant), the editorial quality, as well as the material quality, because a cheaply made book won’t last long, and is often indicative of the care, or lack of it, given to other aspects of the publishing process. That doesn’t mean that you don’t read new authors, self-published books, etc., but with respect to one’s deen, it is prudent to have some basis on which to judge the accuracy of the information provided, such as having prior knowledge on the topic, a recommendation from someone knowledgeable, or the plan to read more on the topic—bringing me to the next point: one book rarely suffices. It is important to get different perspectives on an issue, especially because there may be more than one valid opinion. Different authors also might emphasize different aspects of the same topic. Some authors may be better at explaining something than others. Reading several books on the same topic gives a broader understanding of the topic, and forces one to critically analyze the divergent information or opinions.
So, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a book lover, and you don’t run to the mailbox when expecting a book to arrive, and you don’t smile with anticipation as you carefully remove the plastic covering over a new book, you will likely seek much knowledge from books, so do it wisely. And for those non-book lovers reading this blog, please indulge me. The next time you get a new book, close your eyes before opening the pages and listen.
Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals, and elsewhere.
© IIPH 2015