Published in  
Matters of the Heart
October 5, 2020

The Art of Reading

Reading is something that gives you a chance to visit so many different lives in so many different worlds. It’s something that broadens your mind and every time you turn a page, it humbles you, telling you just how little you know.

“I never get enough of reading. When I see a book the first time, it feels as if I see a treasure. If I say that I have read 20,000 volumes, then it is (even) more and I’m still reading.” – Imam Ibn Al Jawzi رحمه الله

Just like you can’t have sunshine without the sun, you can’t be a writer if you don’t read. It just can’t happen. Scholars in the past used to write so many volumes of books, they could do so because they read a lot more. For 20 books that they authored, they read 2000 books. There’s a reason we still read and praise their books today, years after their body has turned to dust. If you are one of those who want to leave a legacy behind in this world then READ on.

What is reading to me? Reading is something that gives you a chance to visit so many different lives in so many different worlds. It’s something that broadens your mind and every time you turn a page, it humbles you, telling you just how little you know. It’s like a whetstone for the most important object in your possession, your mind.

It’s a piece of history, it’s a journal of the present and a road-map for the future. It’s amazing how the same book can have such a different impact on different people. You learn and reflect not only from the writings of the great but also the musings and mistakes of fools. A book can be just about the best gift you can give to someone.

We are the nation whose first command was to Read! Read in the name of your Lord who created. Where have we spiraled off to? Do yourself the favour and READ! Build and empower yourself. Let’s get started then:

  1. “I Just Don’t Have Time”

This is a reason majority of the people give when asked about their reading habits. Well unless you’re a princess in a castle far far away no one is going to come and read for you. Reading just like anything else requires commitment and prioritizing. If a person really wants to get something done, they WILL somehow make time for it no matter what the odds are against it. You need to know the benefits that reading brings to you and how it helps you develop as a person. So how can you squeeze time for reading into your hectic schedule?

  • Carry the book/kindle everywhere that you go. So if you are commuting from one place to another pull out the book and read. Helps in passing time during the boring commute as well as benefits you. Your mother/wife/sisters are busy shopping and you are forced to sit out and stare into infinity. Well let’s lower that searching gaze into an awesome book now shall we? Your father/husband/brother has taken you to his football game that you have not an iota of interest in. Well why not pull out a book instead of aimlessly watching those legs twist and turn?
  • Sometimes we are so addicted to social media that we just sit there scrolling our news-feed the length of a football field or continuously refreshing it for something new to pop up. Why waste time there when you can pop open a book at this point of time and enter a new realm of information/fantasy/learning or whatever.
  • Instead of lazing in front of the television after a hard day of work, grab hold of that book you’ve been putting off and read. Reading before sleeping helps relax the mind and getting a good night of sleep. Better than being glued to the mobile or TV whose blue light actually keeps you awake and makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Start reading something that you like or have an interest in. Once you start reading, DO NOT QUIT. No one likes quitters, don’t be one of those who turn their backs and run away. Fight through till the end and the reward at the end will definitely be sweet, unless you have diabetes, then sugar free sweet.
  • Have someone read the same book with you. Man is a competitive animal. The progress of your friend will keep you on your toes plus you’ll have someone to discuss the awesomeness that you come across in the book with too.
  • Invest in a kindle or an audio book. Kindle is a bidah but a bidah hasanah at this point. I won’t recommend an audio book unless it’s your last resort but a kindle could be the best investment you can make. It will shoot an arrow to the knee for all the lame excuses you’ve been giving yourself for not reading. Small, easy to carry, can hold thousands of books and much more.

  1. Choosing The Right One

Some say the choosing the type of books you read is just as important as choosing a life partner. Why? Because what you read will shape your mind and give it the lens through which it looks at the world. You can see throughout history that whenever a country was conquered, the textbooks in schools were changed or modified. Even today if you pick the history book of any country you see that their country is mostly always portrayed in a good light or the victim but never the evil one. This instills in people a sense of false patriotism at times. So, coming back on how to choose a book:

  • Have a faint idea about the genre that you want to read about. This shortens the search to a few sections instead of the entire bookstore/library/book-sale.
  • Ask people for advice on what to read. Don’t care much about the book reviews as different people relate to books in different ways unless ALL the reviews are bad. Ask those who’ve actually completed the book you’re looking to read.
  • Sometimes you just have to judge a book by the cover. But that’s only if you are in for some leisure reading and are in a ‘surprise me with anything’ mood.
  • Pick a book:
  • Have a quick read in the reading area to see if it catches your fancy.
  • Skim the book’s preface, table of contents, index, and inside jacket to get a brief idea what the book is all about because at times appearances and all those fancy fonts do tend to throw you off. Introduction of the book and its index are key pages to look at.

  1. Take It Easy Tiger

I’ve met people who give up on a book just by looking at its thickness but then there are those whose excitement is directly proportional to the thickness of the book. If a person is not someone who reads at all then yes, even a 500 page book is going to look daunting. Start small and then move on. Start with short novellas and magazines. Completing it in its entirety gives a warm sense of achievement and euphoria that could get addictive. Now that your confidence is building up, you’ll look forward to taking on those thicker books. The higher the peak, the higher the reward when you conquer it.

You can check your reading speed here. Though mine came to 425 words a minute, that’s not necessarily a good thing if you want to retain that which you are reading. For some it’s not about the number of books they’ve completed reading but just the act of sitting back near the window while it’s raining outside with a hot cup of coffee and chilling with a book. Don’t stress about finishing the book in a few days. A book will take you days, weeks or maybe even months to finish depending on the person. Don’t let the time it takes you to complete a book pull you down. The main point being you are still reading day in and day out.

A few general pointers:

  • Don’t give in to peer pressure and read just because your friends are reading a particular book. It’s good yes, but read something that YOU want to read. Don’t be like the sheep, be the tiger. Well unless this is the first time you’ve found out that a few hundred pages bound together is called a book, then stick to the flock.
  • The place or atmosphere of the place where you’re reading also matters. Do your eyes a favour and don’t read in the dead of the night with minimum lighting. Kindle has electronic ink, so even if you read it at night, it doesn’t harm your eyes. Read at a place which your mind identifies as a comfortable or happy place. For me, any place I get to read is a happy place.
  • Set yourself a goal of a certain number of pages to read in a day. Once you beat it, raise the bar higher. Challenge and push yourself to read more. If you continuously crush your targets and even conquer one of those thick books, give yourself a treat. Your brain will remember this reward even if you won’t. Buy a few more tempting titles to read. This will push you to complete what you are already reading. Remember no cheating on your current book, give her the love and attention she deserves till the very end. Be a gentleman.
  • Once you get accustomed to reading, you don’t need to go through every word of every line. You can start skimming through the lines at a slightly steady pace so that you don’t miss anything important and stop where the plot thickens. Really helps out for fiction books.
  • If you’re getting bored of reading then STOP. Take a break or read the next day. No point reading if your heart is not in it. To build and learn you need to indulge in the book and cherish the turn of each page, not dread it. Imagine going on a date with habibti and she isn’t even looking at you or she’s thinking of something else. Doesn’t feel good now, does it? Over dramatized, but you get the point.
  • Mix up what you’re reading. Too much of a genre and then you have a burn-out. The excitement levels fall down and you don’t really want to continue reading anymore. Jump around from religion to literature to history or whatever tickles your fancy. Keep the spark alive, keep it spicy.

If you’re looking for retention then here are a few small things that you can do:

  1. Take notes – You come across a point you think is important or really caught your fancy. Write it down but in your own words unless it’s a quote. Another thing that could be done is to finish the whole book and then write a short summary of what you learnt from it and fold it into the book for further perusal if needed later on. Some suggest taking notes on the book itself, but I’m completely against that. Books are not your scribbling book, they deserve respect.
  2. Imagine the scenario painted in the book in your mind. Play it in your head. Link it to something you know so that it helps in recalling it later.
  3. Give a summary of the book to a friend or relative. You can’t condense the whole book and give a summary unless you’ve understood it properly. If it’s a technical book then try explaining the main concept of that book to a child. If you can explain the idea to them, it means the concept is quite clear in your mind and you’ve retained what you’ve read.
  4. Use a pencil/pen to trace the sentence that you are reading. Read slowly and take your time to internalize what you’re reading. Nothing better than repetition when it comes to retaining what you’ve read. Ask any Hafidh of the Quran.

Islam lays a heavy emphasis on reading seeing how the very first words of revelation was “READ!”

Allah lays an important question for us to ponder in the Quran: “Are those who know and those who do not know alike? Only the men of understanding are mindful”. [Surah Al Zumar]

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “There is no one who goes out of his house in order to seek knowledge, but the angels lower their wings in approval of his action.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]

Here are a few pearls from the Prophet to help guide us along the way:

1- اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لَا يَنْفَعُ وَمِنْ دُعَاءٍ لَا يُسْمَعُ وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لَا يَخْشَعُ وَمِنْ نَفْسٍ لَا تَشْبَعُ

O Allah, I seek refuge with You from knowledge that is of no benefit, from a supplication that is not heard, from a heart that does not fear (You) and from a soul that is not satisfied.
[Sunan Ibn Majah, Sahih]

2- اللَّهُمَّ انْفَعْنِي بِمَا عَلَّمْتَنِي وَعَلِّمْنِي مَا يَنْفَعُنِي وَزِدْنِي عِلْمًا

O Allah, benefit me by that which you have taught me, and teach me that which will benefit me.  [Sunan At-Tirmidhi]

3-  سُبْحَانَكَ لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا إِلَّا مَا عَلَّمْتَنَا إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ

Glory be to Thee! We have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us; surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise. [Surah Al Baqarah]

4- رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

O my Lord! Expand my breast for me, And make my affair easy to me, And loose the knot from my tongue, (That) they may understand my word. [Surah Taha] – Dua of Prophet Musa.

5- رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا

O my Lord! Increase me in knowledge! [Surah Taha] – The ONLY thing Allah ordered our Prophet ﷺ to supplicate for.

Remember the words of Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah‎‎ رحمه الله,

“Seek (beneficial) knowledge, because seeking it for the sake of Allah is worship. And knowing it makes you more God-fearing; and searching for it is jihad; teaching it to those who do not know is charity; reviewing and learning it further is like tasbih (glorifying Allah). Through knowledge Allah will be known and worshiped.”

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