NOT ALL READINGS are the same, nor are all kinds of reading recommended. There is an erroneous and dangerous tendency among non-critical or inexperienced readers to revere and respect everything printed. It must have some value,we think to ourselves, otherwise why would it be printed? The author is a scholar, a PhD holder, a doctor, a famous intellectual, etc. etc.

No, not everything that is printed is worthy of it—there is a tremendous amount of baseless, misleading, factually incorrect, bigoted and harmful material out there in print. And bad reading is just as bad as bad company, bad viewing or bad conversation. Allah instructed the Muslims to leave the company of those who are mocking the din of Allah if we are not capable of stopping them. Allah says emphatically at least twice in the Quran:

Already has He sent you Word in the Book, that when you hear the signs (verses) of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, you are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme: if you did, ye would be like them. For Allah will collect the hypocrites and those who defy faith – all in Hell. [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:140]

When you see men engaged in vain discourse about Our signs, turn away from them unless they turn to a different theme. If Satan ever makes thee forget, then after recollection, sit not in the company of those who do wrong. [Surat Al-An’am, 6:68]

These instructions apply equally to all kinds of reading that encourage disbelief, disrespect the verses and the din of Allah. But how can we read today anything without it mocking God and His din, Islam, and the Quran? The news are full of it, the opinion pieces, the books, the think tank reports, the novels, everything. What can we do? Given that, if we are to read anything, we will inevitably come across misleading and Islam-bashing material, here are a few suggestions to minimize their effects:

(i) Read the Quran daily, with understanding, and listen to it frequently; this will fortify your heart against propaganda and insinuations of Satan and devilish humans.

(ii) Read Islamic books first and more frequently; literature on hadith, Sirah, manners, great history of Islam, etc.

(iii) Read judiciously; even in non-Muslim literature, there is tremendous wisdom and benefit if you read the right stuff. The reading lists prepared by trustworthy and sincere Muslim reading experts will hopefully be a first guide to good reading. Seek recommendations from well-read and good believing Muslims among your family and friends.

(iv) Whenever any reading creates doubts about God and His din, or is otherwise provocative of haram deeds or thoughts, stop reading it, seek Allah’s refuge, and even offer two rak’ahs in prayer. If you must continue to read, such as for assigned readings in a class, discuss it with more learned Muslims of good faith.

I am not recommending blind faith, closing your mind against rational argument, or reading only what you agree with; I am only suggesting being truly reasonable and wise. To be more specific in my recommendation, let me enumerate different kinds of harmful readings and their cure:

(i) Stuff that is immoral, unethical, or erotic—this is plainly useless and haram. If you come across it, stop reading it, seek Allah’s refuge, and read some Quran or another Islamic book such as on death and Hereafter to make up for it.

(ii) Reading that might make you doubt the existence of God or the truth of God’s message—the only purpose of reading this could be to refute the arguments of such people—but for that you must be extremely well-versed in the Qur’anic and scholarly arguments about God and His Tawhid, and be in a state of spiritual strength, so you can fight off evil thoughts. I have had Muslim friends who find this kind of stuff interesting for some reason, without being well-versed in Islam, mostly because they are in a state of doubt—and we can only pray to Allah to guide them and reform their taste.

(iii) Readings that attack Islam from outside—that is, the reading material prepared by open enemies of Islam. Never read this stuff unless you are extremely well-versed in the Quran and the Sunnah, and have read profusely from Islamic perspective. Belief in God and His Message, Islam, is the most reasonable, most rational thing to do; and the more you know about Islam and the more you experience God’s presence in worship, the more you are settled in it and pleased with it. The fact is that most of these misleading readings are not appealing to your reason or convincing you to think about the ultimate purpose of life, they are rather deceiving you by making you focus solely on the pleasures and affairs of this world.

(iv) The trickiest and most dangerous kinds of readings are those that do not directly malign Islam, but pretend to be its friends, either as Muslims or non-Muslims, but in fact they are attacking the roots of Islam. Such books can be confused, by the unaware and inexperienced, with those books that are genuinely sincere to Allah and are critiquing certain misunderstandings and malpractices among Muslims. The best advice about such works is that these should never be your first readings. Always establish your faith on very firm grounds by frequently reading and reflecting on the Quran, by remembering Allah, and by reading straightforward Islamic books, and by reading traditional
Islamic literature, before you get into critical readings.

 

Dr Ovamir Anjum

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

15 Comments

  • Nashama Mohamed

    Nashama Mohamed

    January 2, 2017 - - 8:49 am

    Unfortunately the only way to develop critical thinking is to read. Read everything you find. Read books that agree with your views and disagree with your views. The problem is not the books, the problem is the reader. If you have your own pre-conceived notions, even the Holy Book can be (and is being) used to justify your ill-informed opinions.

    • Usman Athar

      Usman Athar

      January 4, 2017 - - 1:46 am

      Well said. By telling others not to read certain things, you might as well tell them that they’re not smart enough to find the truth. Better advice would maybe be to indeed read everything, as much as you can, and only then come to a solid understanding of whatever it is you’re looking into. Wallahu alim.

  • Cláudia Sofia Simões

    Cláudia Sofia Simões

    January 2, 2017 - - 11:20 am

    I also agree that it’s more about the reader’s psychological maturity than the material. If I thought this way when I was a Catholic, I’d never have read the Quran or anything related to Islam in the first place, and consequently become a Muslim. Also, after becoming a Muslim, and reading the Quran and learning about tawheed, I’d never have formed a well founded opinion on several deviated sects, if I had not read their content. It’s really not as black and white as “good” or “bad” read or book.

  • Andrew Coates

    Andrew Coates

    January 2, 2017 - - 11:42 am

    While I in part agree with both of your comments, I do also agree/understand where the article is coming from.

    As mentioned, the reading is like the company you keep. There are plenty of things we can read for the sake of Allah and plenty more we should abstain from again for the sake of Allah. Remembering every object can testify for us or against us on the day of judgement helps keep that perspective.

    I do also understand forming opinions, critical thinking, etc. requires greater levels of understanding but again the article cautions or alludes to being wary which I feel is fair.

    If you are familiar with the story of Barsisa https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/abdurrahman.org/2009/10/31/story-of-barsisa-the-worshipper/amp/ , it serves as a reminded not only how very pious people can go astray but also how little things can slowly build upon each other. Such is the way of was was a.

    I remember a talk where the man was discussing his uncle who was strong in the deen and abstained from haram as much as possible and had a guest. So the uncle tried to be a great host for the sake of Allah, worrying about not doing enough. So he kept asking the guest if he needed food, more blankets, etc. to which the guest was fine.

    Then salah time came and the uncle began to pray but during his prayer he couldn’t focus on Allah, he just kept worrying about the guest and if he was comfortable, hungry, and so on. And the person giving the talk explained that’s what Shaytaan will do. He knew he couldn’t get to the uncle by simply offering some blatantly haram thing to distract him/rake him away from Allah so he used what at any other time would be a good action/if not fulfilled could have consequences to take the uncle further away from his Rabb.

    He is the great deceiver and has plenty of practice to make man go astray. So while I wouldn’t discourage anyone necessarily from reading, sometimes we can’t even perceive the poison some things do to us. If there was not such a gravity on words than the Rasul, sallallahu alayhi wasallam, would have not spoken out against poets and the like. The best of creation understood the power of words good for a person’s soul/wellbeing and those of detriment. We are far less clear-eyed.

    • Imran Kiani

      Imran Kiani

      January 2, 2017 - - 5:48 pm

      Assalamu alaikum akhee. Could you provide some references as to Rasulullah salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam speaking out against poets? I am not writing to challenge you but to benefit from your words. I do recall that there was a Muslim poet highly regarded by Rasululah, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and who was asked to, if I recall correctly, to use his skill in service of Islam, namely to reply retort to the polytheist Meccans. Looking forward to your reply. :) <3

    • Imran Kiani

      Imran Kiani

      January 2, 2017 - - 6:40 pm

      Hassan ibn Thabit (Ra) was a very dear companion of Rasulullah (salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasallam). He was the first and most notable poet who used his beautiful poetry to praise the Prophet (salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasallam).

      Hasrat ibn Thabit (ra) had won acclaim at the courts of the Christian Arab Ghassanid kings in Syria and the Lakhmid kings of al-Hirah in Iraq. He settled in Medina, where he accepted Islam at about the age of 60. Hasrat Ibn Thabit (Ra) became Islam’s earliest poetic defender. His writings in defense of Sayyidina Rasulullah (salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasallam) contain references to contemporary events that have been useful in documenting the period. He was also Islam’s first religious poet, using many phrases from the Qur’an in his verses.
      The work of Hassan Ibn Thabit (ra) was instrumental in spreading the message of Rasulullah salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasallam, as the Arabs were great poets and this formed a large part of the culture. The work and words of Hasrat Hassan Ibn Thabit (ra) are still regarded as the most beautiful in praise of the Rasulullah salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasallam, and confirm how Islam permits the use of different talents and abilities as long as they are in support of Allah (swt) and His Messenger salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasalam.

      Sayyidina Rasulullah salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasallam was so happy with Hasrat Ibn Thabit (ra) that he ordered to establish and construct for him a mimbar- pulpit for him to stand upon when he delivered his poetry. The Prophet (saw) prayed for him saying that the Angel Gabriel (as) will support you as long as you defend Allah and His Prophet (saw). The Prophet (saw) believed that Hassan Ibn Thabit (ra) was inspired by Hasrat Gabriel(as), and could even reply on his behalf.

      Narrated Hassan bin Thabit Al-Ansari: I asked Abu Huraira “By Allah! Tell me the truth whether you heard the Prophet salla lahu alayhi wa’ale hi wasallam saying, ‘O Hassan! Reply on behalf of Allah’s Apostle. O Allah! Help him with the Holy Spirit.’” Abu Huraira said, “Yes.” (Bukhari)

      http://www.rasulallah.info/id78.html

    • Andrew Coates

      Andrew Coates

      January 2, 2017 - - 6:59 pm

      Wa alaykum as salaam. No problem. Alhamdulillah it is is good to share knowledge.

      Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:
      The Prophet said, “It is better for a man to fill the inside of his body with pus than to fill it with poetry.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 175)
      Narrated Abu Huraira:
      Allah’s Apostle; said, “It is better for anyone of you that the inside of his body be filled with pus which may consume his body, than it be filled with poetry.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 176)

      Also Surah 26, sometimes translated as The Poets ayah 224 with the preceeding ayat leading to it.

      InshaAllah hope this helps

    • Cláudia Sofia Simões

      Cláudia Sofia Simões

      January 2, 2017 - - 9:36 pm

      I do understand this point the article makes, but it’s a matter of balance of what the person him/herself can handle. This is why I said it’s more about the psychological maturity than the material. Many scholars, after they reach a certain level, need to analyze contents that people speak or ask about so they can form an opinion or even issue a fatwa. This doesn’t mean they are seeking that content, but also they can’t go without reading it, otherwise they talk about things without solid arguments (which, btw, happens a lot in the ummah today, unfortunately). One thing is to abstain from materials such as certain movies and the like (which can be haram without a doubt), another thing is to abstain from reading. I, personally, do not stop reading just because a passage doesn’t go according to Islamic principles, not that I agree with the passage in any way, but because there are always going to be things contradicting my faith and this is how I build a thicker skin and even, most of the time, I develop a better understanding of my religion by reading refutations regarding certain claims. How would anyone be able to refute or repel any deviation or kufr if there hadn’t been anyone reading their material or trying to understand them in some way?

      Finally, I see the act of prohibiting reads/books as the catholic inquisition burning the books in Al-Andalus. Many were not even Islamic, but people benefited from them for worldly matters, and this is one of the reasons why Al-Andalus was such a high peak for the ummah’s history. Psychological maturity above all, that’s all I’m saying.

    • Andrew Coates

      Andrew Coates

      January 2, 2017 - - 9:58 pm

      I know you mentioned you understand the point the article is making but I am not sure that is fully true or am not understanding what you are trying to convey.

      The reason is most of what you are saying is what the article says. If you simply follow the bullet points in order and the proceeding paragraph about don’t have blind faith etc. it is saying almost exactly what you are. It then just goes on to caution against certain things ie. things that harm your iman.

      In regards to your views on censorship and analogy to book burning, earlier on you referenced is abstaining from certain movies but disassociate that from books. But books like for instance 50 Shades of Grey can be as sinful as certain movies. Staying away from haram no matter the source is a part of the enjoining good and forbidding evil we should be heeding and to practice our wara’ / haya. The article also mentions or at least alludes to such things.

      So while absolutely psychological maturity is important, following the fitrah is above all including psychological maturity in my opinion and part of the issue becomes sin/poisoned heart and Shaytaan can actually distort our fitrah to give us bad bearings. If you think of the fitrah as a compass that guides us, those negative things can cause us to believe north is south and so forth. This translates to us believing something is permissable when in fact it could be haram/makrooh. The reverse is true where we might think something is haram which is actually halal.

      This article on the whole doesn’t say to outright blacklist or ban books, it’s cautionary and telling you ways to safeguard yourself from falling into certain pitfalls which does include but is not limited to psychological maturity.

    • Imran Kiani

      Imran Kiani

      January 4, 2017 - - 4:17 pm

      Andrew Coates I think this may be an instance where context is everything, as the case of Hasan Ibn Thabit (RA), I provided a link above, clearly demonstrated that certain kinds of poetic license were beloved by Rasulullah, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. The type of poetry I believe that is being condemned is the braggart type and the kind that diverts from remembrance of Allah and Rasulullah, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. The artful turn of the word, the words that call unto the beyond, that bow down to Allah Sublime and Supreme, this is I believe, fine. Moreover, in our modern, materialist word dominated by science, it is the poets, the ones who hear the song of life, feel the tune of Allah and are attuned to Allah, it is the poets who stand guard, who are in the vanguard of deen, of defending the faith. I am one, and I stand for, and if need be, will die for the One, alhamdulillah. :) <3

    • Imran Kiani

      Imran Kiani

      January 4, 2017 - - 4:17 pm

      La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur Rasulullah :) <3

    • Imran Kiani

      Imran Kiani

      January 4, 2017 - - 4:19 pm

      I hope you are well, dear brother. May Allah forgive us and admit us all into Jannat ul Firdous… I hope you are having a nice evening. :) <3

    • Andrew Coates

      Andrew Coates

      January 4, 2017 - - 4:55 pm

      Absolutely context is everything and I wasn’t trying to imply all poetry is bad just that obviously even the Rasul (saw) knew some words are bad for iman/our souls/hearts. I personally love and write poetry and it can be a form of dhikr in my opinion.

      Alhamdulillah my evening is going alright, I have exams next week and haven’t really studied yet lol. Ameen to your dua and InshaAllah your evening is going well and you are in the best of health and iman <3

    • Imran Kiani

      Imran Kiani

      January 4, 2017 - - 6:34 pm

      InshaAllah will include you in my du’aa :) <3 With dear brothers like you, I trust our health and iman will indeed be very strong... Love makes the world go round, Allah's love and mercy, alhamdulillah. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah :) <3

  • AbdulAziz Khalid Syed

    AbdulAziz Khalid Syed

    January 2, 2017 - - 10:07 pm

    On the topic of books, have you read “A Mind of Your Own” by Dr. Kelly Brogan?

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