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The Significance of Reading

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Religious Education of the Child

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One of the most important subjects in educating your child is "books and reading". Children should have a target of learning how to read and write, they should not want to be led, but rather promote themselves to the level of a guide. To know why you read is as important as reading itself.

Let us think about the following questions: "What is knowledge? What is the purpose of knowledge? Why do people read books? What is the target that we desire to reach by reading and understanding something?"

If a person learns the complex and confusing rules and principles of mathematics, but ignores their practical applications or never thinks of improving their knowledge with theories and hypotheses then they cannot be considered as having realized their goal.

Likewise, if we learn all the basic principles of medicine, but do not put this knowledge to use, not even examining a single patient, it is doubtful whether we will be able to keep up our knowledge, not to mention the fact that we have wasted our knowledge.

In short, knowledge in which we do not find anything that relates to ourselves or to someone else is, obviously, of no use to anyone.

1) Reading and Writing

It is an accepted fact that a major priority established by the Qur'an is reading and writing. However, I would like to emphasize that just filling up your memory without trying to discern the divine purpose is not commendable. We should take a child by the hand, let their soul enjoy the Qur'an and arouse their interest in the Qur'an. Thus, in the future, that child will try to discern what Allah demands from us. Unfortunately, we think that we have done enough by merely telling the child to say "Bismillah". In fact, "Bismillah" is very important, and it consolidates faith. On the other hand, there is a matter of further importance. That is, we must teach the Divine Purposes (no matter how briefly); these are what must be taught and learned above all else. There are several glorious periods in our history. In a certain period, there were some governors, judges and jurists who knew the Qur'an by heart in every Muslim country. However, these people did not grasp the essence of what they were studying, rather they just copied those who had preceded them, unable to put forth any fresh comments on scientific or religious matters. They lacked the ability to make sound judgments.

There came a time when these narrow-minded people, who clung to their insufficient knowledge, persisted in committing sins by keeping silent about some methods and principles that contradicted our religion. Naturally, these people failed to preserve the dignity and honor of Islam. Unfortunately, their efforts mocked our people and our religion. Their knowledge was not internalized nor did it guide their hearts. The Qur'anic verse "…and whomever He leads astray - those are the losers" is explained as follows, in a Hadith, reported by Huzayfa bin al-Yaman to Hafiz Abu Ya'la: "One of the things I worry about you is that a person who reads the Qur'an so much reflects the brilliance of the Qur'an in all their behavior. Islam becomes a dress for them. They are clad with this dress until the time appointed by Allah comes. Then, all of a sudden -may Allah protect them-they take off that dress and abandon it. They approach their brothers brandishing their sword, accusing them of shirk (associating partners with Allah)." Huzayfa asked: "O Allah's Messenger (pbuh), who is nearer to shirk; the one who is accused of shirk or the one who accuses of shirk?" Allah's Messenger (pbuh) answered: "The one who accuses of shirk."

Even today, there are so many people with important titles who live in sheer ignorance, who neither know Allah nor His Messenger (pbuh). The ones who fail to reflect on the thousands of verses and proofs in the universe, the ones who are indifferent to the facts and events around them are absolutely ignorant, no matter what their titles are. Since what we acknowledge as 'knowledge' is the knowledge which illuminates the mental and spiritual worlds of an individual, the other types of knowledge are just burdens on our brain.

The first command of the Qur'an is "Read, in the name of your Lord…" Allah does not say "read the Qur'an"; He does not say "Read what has been revealed to you." The Qur'an itself explains the meaning of the order "Read" and draws attention to creation by saying: "Read, in the name of your Lord, Who created." (96/1) Here, there is also an allusion to recognizing the signs of Allah on the face of creation .

"Read, by your Most Generous Lord, Who taught by the pen." (96/3-4)

As we see, reading and writing are mentioned successively. So, humans will read and write; but whatever they read, they will read with the aim of discerning their innermost faculties, the essence of the Qur'an and sensing the divine power beyond the creation and the laws of the universe. From time to time, they will look into their own physiology and anatomy; sometimes they will observe the creation. As a result, they will convey the spiritual outcome of their reflection to others, beginning with their own family.

The subsequent verses suggest what is meant by the order "Read" is not merely reading Qur'anic verses. By ordering us to read, the Qur'an counsels us to read divine commands, to comprehend the aim of creation and to discover the laws of the universe. Therefore, when we read, we are supposed to reflect upon the creation of human beings, the laws of the universe and the Revelation in Allah's name. The Qur'an raises the question "How were we created?" by mentioning creation. Right after this, the Qur'an directs our thoughts to the mystery of creation by saying that we are created from an "alaq" (clot), which is described as a drop of water in another verse.

Allah who orders us to read the book of the universe along with the Qur'an, presents human beings with such a lesson that everyone - from an ordinary person of the lowest level of discernment to the most distinguished thinker - will learn from this lesson to the extent that their capacities allow.

The Qur'an also mentions "the pen", which implies writing: "Nun. By the pen and what they inscribe…" (68/21) After the initial (muqatta'a) letter, Allah begins the sura by taking an oath upon the pen, clearly indicating the emphasis He places on writing.

This pen can be the pen of the angels who keep a record of our deeds, the pen which has written down our destinies, or it can be the pen you use at school or somewhere else, it doesn't make any difference. The person who uses the pen makes the difference, and Allah's oath upon the pen involves everything we have mentioned.

2) Knowledge Leads to Awe of Allah

In another verse, it is stated that: "Indeed, of His servants, only the learned fear Allah."(35/28). Indeed, only the learned are truly respectful of Allah, since the sense of respect in divinity depends on knowledge. The ones who do not know Allah and who are ignorant of the mystery of divinity obviously lack due respect and awe.

Starting off from this point of view, if we want to raise our children well, one of the most important things to do is instill in the child a firm belief. They should also be informed, as much as possible, about the proofs of the Almighty Lord's existence. Sometimes, such proofs might eliminate your doubts, but they can be difficult to understand for a child. If this is the case, then other approaches should be tried.

Another important point is to conquer their hearts with love for the Prophet (pbuh). In order to realize this, we need to tell them about his life.

3) Elimination of Doubts

Nowadays, we come up against many questions like "Who has created the universe?" or -Allah forbid - "Who has created Allah?" The commonness of such questions indicates that children have not been given a satisfactory explanation concerning Allah. The underlying reason behind the question "Why did the Prophet (pbuh) have more than one wife?" is just the same. The child who asks this question does not have proper information concerning Allah's Messenger (pbuh).

Likewise, some people make comments like: "Allah's Messenger (pbuh) was a very intelligent man. The changes he made were the results of his intelligence." Obviously, these people lack religious education and they are not aware of the real meaning of "Prophethood".

Moreover, if there misinformation arises from society, this just makes matters worse. We should feed the spiritual world of our child with healthy ideas, so that in the future they will have a firm belief. If what you tell a child is appropriate for the age of that child, then it will be convincing for them. In this way, you will have eliminated some possible doubts that may have arisen in their minds.

Once the Zoroastrians (fire-worshippers) asked Abu Hanifa some questions, and demanded satisfactory answers. They told Abu Hanifa that they did not believe in Allah, this at a period when both scientific progress and Islamic thought were on the rise. There were many Zoroastrians in Kufah, the city where Abu Hanifa lived.

Abu Hanifa explained everything to them in a very simple way: "If you see a boat heading with ease for the shore in a rough sea, expertly steered and keeping a steady course, in spite of the waves, will you doubt that there is somebody on board, steering it with perfect skill?" They replied in a chorus: "No we wouldn't!" Then the great imam asked: "So, these stars, this vast universe, the earth steer easily through the sea on a steady course; how can you think that all this happens on its own?" On hearing this, the Zoroastrians said: "La ilaha illa'llah Muhammadan Rasulullah ."

Here, what he did was to make the explanation suit the level of the people he was addressing. For some, this may be too simplistic, while for others it may be sufficient. No matter how logical such an explanation is, after a certain age is reached, it will no longer suffice.When the time comes, we need to make the argument with ideas that require deeper thought. We can give various examples using the universe, human biology, etc. The human body, its inner mechanisms, its cells, systems, anatomy and physiology are all created to an amazing degree of perfection. In my opinion, introducing these examples within a scientific framework will help us to achieve the desired effect. We can also talk about the various features of air, water, light, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates or microorganisms. Actually, only the presentation will differ; it is merely the continuation of the same lesson. The way Bediuzzaman Said Nursi spoke of Allah is a very good example of what we have said: "Every village must have its headman. Every needle must have its manufacturer and craftsman. And, as you know, every letter must be written by someone. How then, can it be that so extremely well-ordered a land should have no ruler?" Asking how the universe, so vast and magnificent, can be left unattended and asking how things can happen on their own is a good method to get a child to start thinking. If we go through the available publications on this subject, we can obtain plenty of material. All we need to do is to pick out the right subjects for the young people we are addressing.