After revealing the Zionist plan to occupy Palestine—initially published fifty years prior to the Occupation—former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was asked in an interview: “Don’t you fear that that the Arabs would read your plan and prepare themselves?” His response: “Rest assured, the Arabs are a nation that doesn’t read, and if they read they don’t understand, and if they understand they don’t act.”1 Sadly, the enemies of Arabs and Muslims know us better than ourselves. According to a UNESCO report issued in 2004, an Arab citizen reads only six minutes a day. Only one third of men read and half the women don’t read at all!2 A similar 2006 report states that “65 million adults in the Arab States region lack the basic learning tools to make informed decisions and participate fully in the development of their societies.” Literacy and civic engagement of Arabs and Muslims residing in the West are certainly much higher than in the Middle East. However, our collective reading, comprehension, and subsequent strategic planning and execution is most likely not yet at a standard Dayan and his ilk would feel threatened by.
Think about the type of reading we practice on a daily basis. If Facebook messages, Twitter updates, instant messages, text messages, etc. top the list of what our brains process the most every day, we’re doing ourselves, our society and our Ummah a great injustice. Undoubtedly, modern technology and the numerous online social networks can be used for beneficial purposes (although many people do waste valuable time following random people’s posts, blogs, messages and pictures—which are often not too useful or even Islamically kosher). Even if we’re utilizing these outlets to network and advertise various events, campaigns, and noble causes, we’re putting ourself at a disadvantage if we’re not increasing our knowledge base through extensive, frequent and avid reading—first of the Qur’an and Hadith, and then of other quality literature and publications.
The Qur’an urges us to make the du`aa’ (supplication) rabbi zidny `ilma: “Oh my Lord, increase me in knowledge” (20:114). We are also encouraged from the Sunnah to say: “Oh Allah, I ask you for beneficial knowledge, and good, pure sustenance, and accepted deeds” [Ibn As-Sunni, Ibn Majah].3 Islamic knowledge is crucial, and we ‘re motivated to seek it when we hear or read the Prophetic saying, “Whoever Allah wills him good, He gives him (sound) understanding of the deen (religion: Islam)” [Bukhari]. For us to become integrative, cultured, and contributive members of society, though—and intellectually equip ourselves to defeat the enemies of Islam (Qur’an, 8:60)—we need to branch out and diversify our palate, especially if we are tullab al-`ilm (seekers of [Islamic] knowledge).
Social media has revolutionized our main modes of communication, and it has also made information and knowledge very accessible and very easily shared within social networks. According to Socialnomics stats, more than 1.5 million pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared daily on Facebook alone! And if we also subscribe to different blogs and websites, or various community and organizational mailing lists, we get tons of emails that we sift through and read quite frequently. We definitely need to be in touch with society’s affairs, current events and actively partake in affecting change in the world around us. However, when we are bombarded with so much information (willingly and unwillingly), there is a chance that we fail to practice selective reading and just read everything our eyes fall upon. Naturally, that consumes a lot of time, and as Henry David Thoreau states, “It is not sufficient that we keep ourselves busy. The question is: What is keeping us busy?”
Another effect of this influx is that we may become satisfied with the tidbits of information we receive, and consequently not bother to proactively seek deeper and more comprehensive knowledge. So, how do we transform our reception of information and knowledge from passive and scattered to proactively selective and productive?
- Focus but diversify. Choose a topic of interest (preferably within your field of work, if applicable), and read quality publications you can find on it. Develop your knowledge of that subject to become an expert in the field. At the same time, branch out into different genres and topics. Read magazines, novels, poetry and non-fiction; complement Youtube videos and lectures with reading articles and research studies; read about conservation and administration, history and sociology, geography and astronomy; read about economics and politics, counseling and teaching, fitness and medicine; read traditional books and contemporary works; read from authors you agree with and writers you don’t share common ground with.
- Select and Assess. Within the field you’re reading about, choose wisely before you commit yourself to a text. Especially if you read longer works, review critiques or ask trusted sources for feedback. If applicable, peruse each work’s table of contents, intro and conclusion, and skim through the pages to gain a general overview of the topic, style and organization. The worst thing is to get stuck reading a tediously boring, horribly written or poorly structured text.
- Aim and Plan. Specify a purpose for why you’re reading whatever you read. Is it for enjoyment? Or are you reading to gain wisdom and benefit? Are you reading to apply the knowledge? What do you know about the subject before you begin reading? What knowledge are you hoping to gain from this reading?
- Skim or Delve. Decide the text’s level of importance and difficulty, and pace your reading accordingly. If you’re reading a light piece for enjoyment or general knowledge, speed read and consider only reading the first line from each paragraph. If you’re studying the text and want to absorb the most, slow down and make sure you’re processing and differentiating between facts and assertions, generalities and particulars, specific meanings and overarching themes.
- Interact and Engage. Underline and highlight important points, and jot down main ideas or summaries of what you read. Ask questions and critically analyze the text. Compile the most important points and review your notes. About 80% of what we read is forgotten within two weeks of reading, but only 20% is forgotten if we review immediately after reading, through recall and recitation. 4 Also, try transforming the text into diagrams or mind maps to help preserve visually the meanings in your mind.
- Practice and Apply. Put the acquired knowledge to good use, and utilize the information for constructive purposes in our communities. Apply it to yourself—whether intellectually through paradigm shifts and broadening your ideological perspectives, or practically through changing behaviors, attitudes or correcting previously disseminated false assertions and statements. Share the knowledge with others through verbal or written communication! Besides benefiting others, teaching and explaining is one of the best ways to help retain newly gained knowledge.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala has favored our father Adam (`alayhi assalam) over the angels with the knowledge He bestowed on him (Qur’an, 2:31-34). We are also the Ummah of “Iqra’” (read/recite), and Allah has taught us with the pen; He taught us that which we didn’t know before (Qur’an, 96:1-5). Let us honor that privilege and responsibility by utilizing our minds to seek the useful and productive `ilm Allah has made so easily available in our times. And if we plan to serve our Ummah, and liberate the Holy Land from the Zionists—along with other Muslim countries from oppression, imperialist aspirations and military occupation-–it’s imperative that we sharpen our weapons of the mind, tongue and pen to collectively speak out against injustice, and actually act upon it.