The reason behind the stagnancy in today’s Muslim world is the fault of no
one but Muslims themselves who have abandoned the true reading of the Quran,
which strongly emphasizes the importance of knowledge
An imperative verb “Read”, it was the first word revealed in the Quran and
is repeated twice in the initial few versus. Considering that the Quran,
according to Muslims, is the last and final revelation to humankind, the
first command points to the centrality of reading as a foundation and thelishe
path to approaching, connecting, knowing and understanding the divine.
Reading is the key to knowledge acquisition and expanding one’s own
understanding of God and creation. It is not a coincident that the word
“Quran” is derived from the same root that means to read, repeat or recite.
Consequently, the act of reading is itself an act of worship within a
correct Islamic understanding.
“The Book” is also one of the other names for the Quran, which if
understood in relations to the first revelation, the imperative verb “read”
should produce the key epistemological base for Islam and Muslims – a
divinely rooted command for the acquisition, preservation and transmission
of all knowledge. The book is the source, a primary locus for preservation
of knowledge and a tool for constant expanding of human horizons that can
materialize through engagement in the act of reading.
My main contention is that reading has become a lost art among the
overwhelming majority of Muslims, and companionship with books in all their
varieties is a dying enterprise. Indeed, a very small number of readers
remain engaged across the Muslim world. Throughout the ages Islamic
civilizations have honored and elevated books and reading to an extent that
its genius, maybe argued, to be found in the systematization of public
access to education that was connected to text and book production. In
“Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam,” Franz
Ronsenthal concluded, the “concept of knowledge achieved its unique triumph
in Islam.” Importantly, the triumph in the past was measured and achieved
its heights through devouring books and attainment of understanding of
diverse texts including those materials that diametrically disagreed with it
and contradicted Islamic beliefs and ideas.
Some might lay blame on the emergence of the Internet and modern modes of
communication and the focus on short and abbreviated language usage, which
is valid to an extent, but the problem is much deeper and predates the
Internet age. The disconnect and leaving behind the reading and books
altogether occurred at a much earlier period and can be traced to the middle
of 18th century, if not earlier and continues to the present.
The causes for this are varied but include internal corruption, heavy focus
if not exclusive interest in military and technical knowledge, reduction in
funding, the collapse of “waqaf” (religious endowment) institutions that
supported and were the backbone of the intellectual enterprise in Islamic
societies and relegating scholars, educators and scholarship to the margins
of the society. The issue of the religious endowment is important since the
central state confiscation of the assets and incorporating the endowment
institutions into state apparatuses was initially carried out to regulate
existing structures but became an avenue to lay claim to vast surpluses so
as to pilfer declining state revenues and fund the corruption of those in
Reading is a prerequisite for society’s progress and development while not
reading leads to the opposite. The critical point to make is that Muslims
today have collectively abandoned reading as an enterprise. All types of
knowledge have been reduced to sound bites recorded on DVDs, live streaming
and YouTube lectures. It is as if our civilization has been relegated to a
series of likes and shares online that are not tethered to books or
systematic knowledge building blocks. One can appreciate the value of such
materials for awareness raising and drawing people’s attention to critical
issues affecting society, but this is not a substitute to reading and having
a book culture as the epistemological base of society.
It should not come as a surprise that in the top 56 publishing houses in
the world today none is located in the Muslim world. Also, the top selling
and read books in the world – outside of the Quran, the Bible and other
religions’ main books – are not in the Muslim world or written by Muslims.
General reading outside of one’s own specialization is almost nonexistent.
The lack of a contemporary book culture in the Muslim world points to the
major crisis at hand and the setting in of structural ignorance, which must
Remedying this problem requires enlightened leadership, multi-year and
multi-prong plans and resources to reverse this trend. It can begin by
launching reading clubs and reading competitions for the youth hosted and
overseen by the highest levels of governments as well as investment in book
publication and authors while creating a network of book festivals that can
celebrate the human genius centered on the book. More critically, rethinking
education institutions altogether so as to center on reading books and
achieving understanding, rather than the current sole focus on degrees and
grades for employment purposes. “Read” is a command for lifelong learning
and establishing a book reading culture anew in the Muslim world.
We advise al to visit http://network.muslimworldnet.org to read Quran with word to word meaning, upload Audio/Video and Books, create groups and also to avail free live streaming.