by Zaahied Sallie
Breathe deeply. Clear your head. Seek clarity. Now let’s ponder this.
The Creator of the Universe and all that is between, the Majestic, the Supreme, thought it fitting that His first communication to Prophet Muhammad SAW should be to read.
An instruction to read given to an unlettered man.
Why? Was God unaware of his inability? Was God mocking him? Was the commandment to read not perhaps more directed towards the rest of humanity since it was that Muhammad SAW would be taught directly by the Angel Gabriel and would forget nought? God would then inspire Muhammad SAW to comprehend fully the revelations he received. The environs in which the Prophet lived had many crises far beyond illiteracy. We could easily choose 100 more pressing issues according to our estimation including infanticide as the first address to Prophet Muhammad SAW and humanity by extension. Yet God, in His Infinite Wisdom, decided to say to man before all else: Read! Was there some Divine Plan at work here? Why does God attach such great importance to reading which primarily is learning?
A way to look at this is that everything in our lives is based on some knowledge. We act a certain way because of the knowledge we hold. Let’s look at the protein as an analogy. Protein is made up of 22 amino acids. However, not all protein products we consume consists of all 22 amino acids. The protein is, therefore, deficient and does not perform optimally in our bodies. Similarly, our actions may be deficient in knowledge or comprehension and does not yield the best results.
Islam was sent to all humanity, so it fits that the first word revealed was universal. Read is a verb and indicates that we should not be people of passivity. We were intended to be a people of action. However, our actions should be tempered with intelligence. Without this intelligence our actions become deficient. Reading makes our actions whole as we learn, comprehend, understand and conceptualise the activity we are engaged in more thoroughly. The word ‘educate’, which is rooted in Latin, means to ‘lead out’. The Arabic word اقرأ (iqra’) finds its roots in the word قرأ (qara’a) which means to recite, peruse, study, investigate, examine, explore, search and to study thoroughly.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
اقرأ باسم ربك الذي خلق
“Recite in the name of your Lord, who created.” [96:1]
With this, Allah has inextricably bound the act of qara’a to His name. Reading divorced from God too will suffer a deficiency. As previously stated, reading makes our actions whole, but the reading in itself too must be complete. Connecting our reading/knowledge to God creates this wholeness. With limited understanding, perception and awareness man is in need of God’s guidance to provide further insight for deeper comprehension.
The Golden Islamic epoch whereupon many sciences today rests was a culmination of hearts that were once filled with this qara’a. Cities such as Kufa, Baghdad and Muslim Spain bear testimony to this. Our hearts have since lost this love and have become deficient within itself. We may therefore confidently state that the reason for our decline as a community, this emptiness within us is a direct result of the loss of esteem for this great commandment.
So! The next time anyone asks you why reading is important, say, ‘It makes you whole, it leads out your inner potential, it gives you clarity, it strengthen your actions, and it connects you to God’.
Zaahied Sallie is the CEO of Red Kufi Books