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Books as Fertile Seeds for Intelligent Minds

Dr Sani Badron
Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (IKIM)

We have previously mentioned that books alone are not education; books are good only as far as the reader is ready or has the aptitude for them.  (See further “A Profound Mind Leads to Avid Reading,” IKIM Views, 10th of June 2008.)  In particular, we are referring to great books, which treat the most significant ideas surrounding human thought, action and concern, regardless of whether they are books concerning the beneficial sciences, poetry, theology, mathematics, or politics.

A 17th Century French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal, in Section II of his work On Geometrical Demonstration, aptly differentiated between the two kinds of readers of great books.

The first kind of reader understands the book which he reads “in such a way that he knows all its principles, the force of its conclusions, the replies to the objections that can be made, and the entire organization of the work.”  For such a reader, words are like seeds, which produce fertile trees akin to books.

In the case of the second kind of reader, however, the book represents “dead words and seeds which have remained dry and unfruitful.”  More than anything else, such reading of good books in vain is reflective of the reader’s sterile mind.

Relevant to this is the advice given by a pioneering American psychologist, William James, to a graduate student at Harvard, who had written a dissertation on the former’s philosophy.  According to James, in order to understand his thought, the reader must have first and foremost “grasped the author’s center of vision, by an act of imagination…”

For more information concerning the intelligent reading of the great authors’ books controlling insights, readers may want to refer to Virginia Woolf’s essay “How Should One Read a Book”, Mortimer Adler and Van Doren’s book How to Read a Book, as well as the latter’s serious rejoinder by Ivor Armstrong Richards, How to Read a Page.

Students of Islamic psychology are familiar with the fact that imagination (al-khayal) is necessary for thought (al-fikr), which is the soul’s movement towards meaning.  Therefore, the first Divine Order to the Prophet to 
“Read! (Iqra’)” was indeed a regnant command to be acutely intelligent on the most significant human issues preserved in Revelation (al-nutq bi al-maktub fi al-kitab) inclusive in the sense of perusal (mutala‘ah) and thorough study (itqān and ihfāz).

Given such a true framework, it is also quite significant that in the worldview of Islam, as mentioned by Muslim lexicographers, readers (qurrā’) are given the status of those who devote themselves to Divine worship (tanassuk); that reading (qirā’ah, iqra’ and taqarru’) is identified with religious learning (tafaqquh); and that the name of the Sacred Book of Islam comes from the same root-word, the Qur’Én.

Source: IKIM Views

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