For the Love of Books!

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

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Muslims have generally become apathetic to reading books. We simply don’t read enough – and when we do, it is done from a distance that prevents its understanding and impact from being felt. In making use of books and handling them in a more meaningful way, Abu Zayd al-Nahawi (d.215H) said, as was reported by Al-Khateeb in his, ‘Al-Jaami li Akhlaq al-Rawi’, 1/277:

لا يضيء الكتاب حتى يظلم

“The book will not illuminate until it is darkened.”

The intent here is that the brightness of the book and its illumination [from the knowledge it contains] won’t be fully utilised and benefited from, except when it is exhausted, accompanied by footnotes, comments, traces (of notetaking and ink) etc. until the book becomes darkened. This indicates two important things:

i. Taking care in reading and showing great interest in the content.

ii. To intentionally make notes therein and not to insist the book remains pristine and without blemish, thus preventing its content from shining through, such that it obscures the character of the book and prevents its beneficial use.

Regarding the love for books and studying them, Dr. Ali Al-Omran wrote in his beautiful work, ‘Nathar al-Seerah wa thamar al-Suhbah’ (the sprinkled biography and fruit of companionship) regarding Al-Allamah Bakr ibn Abdullah Abu Zayd (Allah have mercy upon him); a story that expresses his love for the world of books. Quoting Dr. Fahd ibn Saad Al-Juhani:

“Shaykh al-Qadi Muhammad al-Rifa’i al-Juhani (the owner of a huge library in Makkah, located in his home in al-Hidafah neighbourhood) told him that Shaykh Bakr ibn Abdullah Abu Zayd (Allah have mercy on him) was an acquaintance of his and one day asked him about a book, which he was searching for but unable find. Al-Rifa’i immediately said, ‘I have the book!” Shaykh Bakr made a request for it (knowing that Rifa’i does not lend books and is known for his dislike of lending), but he dared to hope for the book’s timeless knowledge and the mercy of the science connected to it!

After a while, Rifa’i agreed under the pressure of friendship and the mercy of knowledge, but stipulated that it must be returned the following morning. Shaykh Bakr accepted the condition without hesitation, and he then hurried home to race against the ticking clock and spent his entire night on the treasure he had, which was a temporary guest for what seemed to be, the fastest of nights.

Al-Rifa’i spent his night in fear since the unique book was taken out of his library, fearing it would not be returned safely to its shelf, for what seemed to him, the slowest of nights. This charged atmosphere of anxiety lit a glimmer of hope. Al-Rifa’i remembered that he had another copy of the book, not an original like the one shaykh Bakr took. He got up from his bed and went down to the library in the middle of the night, wandering through the library and searching for this copy. Time was in vain, where would he find such a small folder among thousands of books?

The feeling of desperation to find it took over his mind, and the dawn of hope was also returning (with the break of fajr) that he would be reunited with the borrowed book. He finally managed to find the second copy. He later met shaykh Bakr and took his book back, but noticed the effects of stress on his face and redness in his eyes. He asked about this, and shaykh Bakr said, ‘I spent my night reading and copying what I needed and did not cloud my eyes with sleep!’ He also noticed Rifa’i’s face too and asked, ‘You too seem stressed and your eyes do not differ from what you asked me about.’ Al-Rifa’i replied, ‘I spent my night searching for the other copy of the book in my entire library…’

Each of them was surprised by the other, and no wonder the lovers of something are always one. Al-Rifa’i asked shaykh Bakr to, “take the second copy as a gift, and you will see signs of satisfaction with what you have done.” And he grabbed the hands of shaykh Bakr and walked towards his home. Both tired and having won the same ambition and the pleasure of their soul.”

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