"Books are at the intersection of some of the most essential human freedoms, primarily freedom of expression
and freedom to publish. These are fragile freedoms."
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
World Book and Copyright Day is a celebration to promote the enjoyment of books and reading. Each year,
on 23 April, celebrations take place all over the world to recognize the magical power of books - a link between
the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures.
Reading in Islam
There are many benefits of reading in Islam. Education, civilization and reciprocal partnerships rest on the ability to
read. It all started with the word, “read!”
“Read!” the voice resonated in the cave of Mount Hira’ for the third time. The man called Muhammad froze, mostly
in fear and confusion in the arms of Arch Angel Gabriel. When he found his voice, he told the angel he did not
know how to read.
“Read, in the name of thy Lord who created, man from a clot. Read, for your Lord is most generous, who teaches
by means of the pen, teaches man what they know not,” (al-‘Alaq: 1-5)
The man soon to be known as Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) received the first revelation
of the holy Qur’an that remains untainted and unchanged until this very day. The underlying message of
the Qur’an remains too – “read.”
The Qur’an is the most quoted book in the world, describing Islam as the complete way of life for every Muslim
to follow. It is also the most widely read, recited and memorized book in the world.
The Importance of Reading in Islam
Reading is knowledge
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged his followers to broaden their horizons by
seeking knowledge – even to the depths of China (Bukhari). He enthusiastically welcomed traders from different
countries to stop-by in Madinah to have his followers learn and appreciate their cultures.
- Reading is a compensation for freedom
The first battle Muslims fought was the battle of Badr, whereby they were attempting to salvage their rightful
possessions that their Quraysh brethren had hijacked and were transporting to sell off for profits. When the small
number of ousted Muslims triumphed against the men of Makkah, many of their former friends and relatives were
held as prisoners.
Muslims during the first years of the Islam comprised mostly of the poor and illiterate – they were mostly those who
escaped undue discrimination and mal-treatment of the wealthy. When these Muslims captured the people who
had once tortured them in their homeland Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
and unkindness towards the Quraysh prisoners.
Instead, he ordered for them to be quartered amongst Muslims and to be treated with kindness. Some were
allowed to buy their freedom through ransoms. Some were given the alternative: to teach 10 Muslims how to
read and write. Upon doing so, they would be free
- Reading as part of building a civilization
A milestone in the development of Islam was marked during the treaty of Hudaybah. The Muslims were venturing
back to Makkah to perform the pilgrimage ritual. They were stopped by the Quraysh – the tribe now worried that
the Muslims were growing stronger. A treaty was enacted to disallow Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be
upon him) and his followers to only perform the rite the following year. In return, the Quraysh promised 10 years
of peace between themselves and the Muslims. In addition to that, the Muslims were also free to spread the
message of Islam.
Upon the enactment of this document, the Muslims jumped at the opportunity to teach followers of other faiths
what they had learned about their new religion. Little did they know, the treaty was to be breached two years
later by their enemies. They paraded into Makkah with full triumph and reclaimed the land that was rightfully theirs.
The blessings of reading the Qur’an
Most importantly for Muslims is the desire to read the Qur’an. Reading the Qur’an however, also means to
understand the words and to practice what is being taught. Muslims are told that the ranking of Muslims in Paradise
would be determined by the number of Qur’anic verses a Muslim has learned during his or her lifetime.
Allah says, “Those who recite the Book of Allah, and establish the prayer, and spend of that which We have
bestowed on them secretly and openly, they look forward to imperishable gain, that He will pay them their wages
and increase them of His grace. Lo! He is Forgiving, Responsive.” (Fatir: 29-30)
The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) reminded, “Those who recite the Qur’an beautifully are like the noble
scribes (angels)l but as for those who are struggling to read it with hardship will merit double rewards,
” (Bukhari & Muslim).