By Amin Valliani
January 03, 2013
THE first command of Allah is about reading (96:1). Generally, reading means to make sense of a written text.
However, at the time of the revelation, there was no written text in sight. This gives us an idea that reading is not limited to written, printed or electronic text, but includes unwritten text spread all around.
The universe itself is a gigantic, cosmic book having divine signs to be read, reflected on, ruminated and comprehended. One can also read the human face or natural phenomenon appearing in time and space. This leads one to discover possible future trends and happenings.
Over the last many centuries, the sedulous reading of the unwritten text in nature has enabled humans to fathom the innermost mysteries of the natural world. This has also promoted many new branches of science.
The Holy Quran exalts those who have the ability to read. They are considered the cream of society having an additional responsibility on their shoulders to respond to the queries of those who do not know (10:94). For they know and comprehend matters more than others.
The Quran goes a step further, showing the importance of reading in the hereafter. It says that on the Day of Judgement people will be asked “Read your book. You yourself are sufficient as a reckoner on this day” (17:14). If a person does not know how to ‘read’ in this world, will they be able to read their account in the hereafter? This invites Muslims to acquire the ability of reading as part of the preparation for the ultimate accountability in the hereafter.
History offers evidence that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) used even the services of war captives of the Battle of Badar to make Muslims learn reading and writing as a condition to secure their release.
One of the fundamental aspects of Islam is the special emphasis on knowledge, and reading forms one of the basic means of gaining knowledge. The Prophet encouraged Muslims to read the Quran. In addition to its divine origin, the Quran has remained accessible in all ages; its reading invites believers’ reflection. It lights the path of spiritual development, enables one to differentiate between right and wrong. It develops forward thinking, piety and awareness of the present, past and future to meet any exigency. Believers become more conscious of the purpose of their life and accountability in the hereafter.
Later, many new books were written in the fields of exegesis, Hadith, history, philosophy and literature etc. The Muslims were enthusiastic in reading them and their intellectual development owes much to their reading and reflection.
The Quran itself encourages believers to read the Holy Book as it is the source of inspiration, spirituality and guidance. Following its revelation, it was accessible to every Muslim. Other branches of knowledge emerged later but were based on the Quran.
In every society, different forces — positive and negative — work against each other. In order to make society move in the right direction, development of progressive or reformatory material and reading thereof changes people’s minds. It directs them towards development and motivates them to be ethical and conscious of others’ feelings, contrary to the corrosive material that pollutes people’s minds.
For example in pre-Islamic Makkan society, there was a poetic genre called Hiju (satire) which contained slanderous propaganda against an enemy person or tribe, triggering the fire of war in society. The Prophet disliked such literature which caused rancour in society.
No nation can ever develop without inculcating the reading habit in its young ones. Reading complements and supplements the development process. A less-read person is often less capable of forward thinking, therefore, he cannot be an active participant in the development of his or her family, society or country. An educated and well-read person is an asset for the nation and can generate ideas for the solution of problems.
It is very unfortunate that we are witnessing the dying culture of reading in our society. People spend their leisure time in gossip, involving themselves in activities of questionable benefit, even though reading has vast benefits. A good book has the capability to change a person’s outlook, personality and habits. A well-read person usually remains serious in dealing with society and its issues.
Our educational institutions need to take some serious steps to inculcate the reading habit at the school and college levels. Students are sometimes forced to read their course books to get good results in examinations, but many rely on ‘guess papers’. Most students are not inclined to read any literature beyond their course books.
The young need to be motivated through incentives to read good books along with their course books and also draw messages for practical application. The reading of good books impacts students all through their lives.
Amin Valliani is an educationist who has written extensively on Islam.