Before you begin to object by saying you're not the reading type, just hold on for a minute. You're reading this article, aren't you? Reading can't be all that bad. Or do you think it's just for clever, bookish types who don't have much of a life?
Well, let's just take a moment to try and explain. Reading not only opens up for us whole new worlds of knowledge and experience, taking us to places and introducing us to people we would never otherwise come across in a million years, but reading can also actually be fun. It can be a way of leaving the place where we live for a short time and going on a journey to a different place. It can take us out of our present circumstances, which may be too much for us to cope with at times, and can lead us instead into situations where we can laugh or cry, or just be in charge for a while. In a world that often seems as though it's just about ready to move in and crush us, it's good to be in charge. In reading a book, we are in control. We stop the action when we choose and we make it start again when we want to.
In a book, we can climb mountains or sail across oceans; we can be in on the unraveling of the most perplexing mysteries, or solve the crimes of the century. In a book we can go inside the minds of great actors on the world's stage, seeing how they think and why they did this or that. In a book, we can share the innermost secrets of people of our own age or of any age. In other words, reading for fun can be for us a secret world where we share with other characters, laugh or cry with them, and allow them to speak to us. We can learn from what they say, we can allow them into our hearts and minds, or we can just unwind from our own often troubled world by watching what they do.
In our own quiet corner, no number of bombs or bullets can break into our secret world when we are reading. Neither helicopter gunships nor armed occupation soldiers can get inside our minds. They may try to destroy the world around us, but they cannot destroy "our" world. The pressures of school or college, work or family may often seem too much for us to handle, but in reading we can get away from it for a while.
Of course, there are so many different kinds of reading. There is the reading where we learn things. Our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) urged us to seek knowledge, "even as far as China." As Muslims we should always try to be the best we can be, constantly expanding our horizons and showing the rest of the world that Muslims excel in what they do. There is a whole world of knowledge out there waiting for us to explore. The more we read, the more we realize just how little we know.
For example, there is so much in our Islamic history that we Muslims don't know about. There are so many brave and courageous characters who speak to us of the beauty of Islam. There are Muslim scientists and scholars who have changed the world, and yet we know nothing about any of them. If anyone is at all serious about da`wah, it means more than just handing out leaflets in Hyde Park. If we take da`wah seriously, we should prepare for it, reading as much as we can to make us able to understand others more and to know more about our own religion.
There are other fields of knowledge, too, where we can delve. If we want to show others how beautiful Islam is, let them see how much we know about this world and what is in it. Islam does not need anyone's approval and has nothing to fear from any ideology or belief, so let us learn more about others' beliefs and what other cultures have achieved.
One of the greatest ways we can respond to what is going on in the world at the present time is to write to others about it, expressing our opinion and demanding that action can be taken. There are very powerful lobby groups in the United States, for example, who write to anyone important the moment their interests are threatened.
We Muslims have been slow to do this, and as a consequence lawmakers tend to ignore our point of view. There are nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world. Imagine what an effect it would have if just a fraction of them were to write to their member of parliament or senator or prime minister whenever Muslim interests were threatened. It is actually reckoned that every letter received by a congressman represents the views of a thousand other people who did not write. Ten letters on their desk about the same thing will make them sit up and listen.
The importance of reading, then, is not only that it keeps us informed about what's going on in the world, but it also helps us to develop our own style of writing. Seeing how others write helps us to write, too. We can write a good letter to a senator if we know how others have written such letters.
Just keeping ourselves up to date with world events by reading the newspaper or checking out news on the Internet is a way of supporting our Muslim Ummah. We need to know what we are talking about if we are going to talk at all.
So reading isn't quite the waste of time we might have thought it to be. It can expand our horizons, open up our minds, and introduce us to whole new worlds of both fact and fiction. Reading a really good book can help us to relax and calm down. It can be a way of taking time out from this busy world to recharge our own batteries. Let us never forget, as Muslims, that the very first word of the glorious Qur'an revealed to our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) was "read." As Muslims, then, let's read to support our brothers and sisters, let's read to make us better equipped to speak about Islam, and let's read, just once in a while, to make us better people. In all of this, reading can be fun.