Blog released for the works of Imam Anwar al Awlaki rh - click the picture

Blog released for the works of Imam Anwar al Awlaki rh - click the picture
Insha Allah we will keep on posting the works of the sheikh in this blog, please visit frequently

Important Announcement

As-Salam Alaikum
Brothers and Sisters,

We Have a New Page Dedicated for the Works of Imam Ibn Qayyim Al Jawziyya (Rahimahullah)

Hope this would be of benefit :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sheikh Anwar Al Awlaki book reviews from behind bars

Review One : Quran

June-9-2008 (From Shaykh Anwar's Blog )
Assalamu alaykum all,
In this set of short blogs I will review the books that I had a chance to read while I was in jail. Here is the first:

This was during my first two months in the Political Security Jail. This was a time when I was allowed no visitors, no contact with family, and no contact with other prisoners. In fact I wasn’t even allowed to speak to the prison guards except in whispers and only for urgent needs. This was a time of complete isolation from the outside world.

I was in an underground solitary cell made up of four concrete walls with an iron gate on one side and on the opposite side a small window -rather a hole- covered with iron mesh to allow for some fresh air to come in. I couldn’t see much from it because it was about four meters high. Then there was the roof with a bulb hanging from it which was on continuously day and night. Then the floor with a mattress 2-3 inches thick, a blanket, a worn off pillow, a plastic plate, a bottle for water, and an empty bottle “just in case”.

And then there was a Quran…
In this environment there is nothing to do and nothing to read but the Quran, and that is when the Quran reveals it secrets. When the hearts are clean; when there is nothing clouding the spirit, the Quran literally overwhelms the heart.

I have never in my life felt the Quran so strongly. Thoughts, insights and feelings that I would fail to describe would come with every new verse that I would recite. Reading Quran then was not something I would force upon myself but I would recite it with eagerness for hours at end and never lose my concentration. The chapters of the Quran would carry me outside of this world and I would completely forget about my situation until a warden would slam the door open for restroom time or to take me for interrogation. Then I would wake up again to the depressing reality of this world.

So does the Quran speak to us differently in jail?
We approach Quran with a more receptive heart when we are being tested. We also come to understand Quran better when we are separated from the distractions of this world. Both these two elements exist in prison. One thing I came to realize is that the Quran does not open up its secrets to you unless you open up your heart to it. Quran does not spill its pearls to the undeserving.

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote while he was in jail that he had been reciting Quran and reflecting on its meanings and that Allah has opened up the meanings of Quran for him. He said he learned new meanings that scholars would wish to learn. He had learned from it meanings he had never thought of before and he went further to state that he regretted the time he spent in the past learning other aspects of knowledge and not focusing on the Book of Allah. Within a short period he said that he had read the Quran, from cover to cover, eighty times. This was due to the blessings of him being imprisoned. Allah says: “You might dislike a thing and in it Allah puts a lot of good”

During that blessed period of over two months when I was free of any distractions except for the interrogation worries, that is when I came to understand the statement of Uthman (r) when he said: “If the hearts are pure they would never satisfy their thirst from the Book of Allah”

Those moments are so strange to me now, and so different that they do not seem to be a reality, or even a far away memory, but rather seem to be a dream.

We ask you O Allah to make us of those who love your words and contemplate them.
“Indeed in that (i.e. Quran) is a reminder for whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present (in mind)” Sura Qaaf 37.


Review Two: Madarij al Salikeen by Ibn al Qayim
(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog ) June-16-2008

This is a three Volume book which represents one of the greatest works produced on the topic of spirituality. I had already read the book along time ago and was fascinated by it. When I was in jail and was thinking about what books to order when I would be allowed to do so, this book seemed to be the right thing to read in my present circumstances.  Steadfastness was what was needed now, and steadfastness was a deed of the heart, so it was the heart that I should focus on.

When the opportunity arrived and I was allowed to order books it was on the top of my reading list...
The author starts by giving tafsir of surat al Fatiha. The rest of the book are the stages that the traveller moves through in “إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين” “You do we worship and You do we seek help from” [Fatiha, v5]

The book is based on a book written by Abu Ismail al-Ansari al-Harawi al-Sufi who was a Hanbali scholar from Hirat in modern day Afghanistan. The name of his book is Manazil al-Sa’ireen (the Stations of the Travellers). Imam Abu Ismail named one hundred stations that the traveller during his journey to Allah passes through.

The first station is “al-Yaqadhah” “The Waking up” This is when the heart wakes up from the slumber of unawareness. The next station is the station of “Azm” “The Resolve,” after the heart has woken up it decides to embark on its journey towards Allah.

Some of the stations that he mentions: The station of Fear, Repentance, Observation, Hope, Sincerity, Purification, Trust, Submission, Fortitude, Gratitude, Will, Certainty, Trust, Knowledge, Wisdom, Tranquillity, Purity, Drowning, Absence, Life, and Love.

The language of ibn al Qayim in his books is eloquent. But in this book his language is so high class that it represents the peak of his writing. This book is simply untranslatable. The terminology that he uses and the fascinating way of putting the concepts together would make any translation lose a portion of its beauty during the process. Now I don’t mean here by eloquence the beauty of the words and the use of a flowery style of writing but I mean the ability of the author to express complicated thoughts and sophisticated concepts, and what would otherwise be difficult to express, into readable words that not only are understood by the reader but captivate him and make him feel that the author is reading his inner thoughts and is seeing through into the depths of his heart to see his ailment and prescribe the cure.

Ibn al Qayim after mentioning the verses of Quran and hadiths blends his words with the words of Abu Ismail al-Ansari , whom he would refer to as shaykh-ul-Islam, along with the sayings of the great scholars of the heart such as: al Junaid, AbdulQadir al Jaylaani, al Tasturi, and al Fudhail bin Iyadh.
There are so many words of wisdom and valuable teachings in this book that are waiting to be observed and lived by.

May Allah bless us all and provide us with wisdom and guide us to righteous acts. We ask Allah to shower his mercy upon our great scholars whom Allah has made the instruments of teaching us the truth and guiding us towards the straight path. Ameen


Book Review 3: In the Shade of the Quran by Sayyid Qutb
(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog ) June-22-2008

This work by the Shaheed -by the will of Allah- along with “Milestones ” represent his greatest works and the fruits of his life. I received 5 of the 6 volumes along with Madarij al Salikeen as the first books I was allowed to have. This came after a period of two months with nothing but the Quran. Having had the chance to spend that time with the book of Allah and to contemplate on it, I wanted to read what our scholars had to say about Quran so I ordered Tafsir Ibn Kathir which is a proper classical tafsir along with “In the Shade of the Quran” which is more about thoughts and insights on the book of Allah in addition to it being a contemporary tafsir.
Sayyid is a very prolific and eloquent writer. His style is unique. If someone has read for him then he could recognize his writings without having to be told who the author is. With Ibn kathir his tafsir is full of Hadiths and statements of scholars and rulings so it must be read slowly. I would limit myself to a maximum of 30 pages a day. But because of the flowing style of Sayyid I would read between 100-150 pages a day. In fact I would read until my eyes got tired. My left eye would get exhausted before the right eye so I would close it with my hand and carry on reading with my right eye until it can handle it no more and would just shut down. My vision started deteriorating especially in my left eye. Was it because of too much reading, or was it because of poor lighting, Allah knows best. I found that deteriorating eyesight along with kidney problems where the two most common complaints of the prisoners.

I would be so immersed with the author I would feel that Sayyid was with me in my cell speaking to me directly. There was something about my reading in prison: I could feel the personality of the author through his words. So even though I was in solitary confinement I was never alone. I was with ibn Kathir for some days, with ibn al Qayyim, Sayyid Qutb, al Shawkani, al-Nawawi and many others on other days. How could I feel the loneliness when all of these great men where my companions?

I believe it was Ibn al Mubarak who when asked why he used to spend his time alone said: And how can I be alone when I am in the companionship of the Sahaba?

My favourite parts of the Shades were Sura Yusuf, and al Qasas. Sayyid has a beautiful way of presenting the stories of Yusuf and Musa in these suras. Then there are the introductions to surah al Ankaboot and al Ra’d. In his introduction of al Ankaboot he has some wonderful words about trails and in the intro to Sura al Ra’d he talks about the miracle of Quran.

Something that the reader of Sayyid couldn’t fail to feel is the immense love Sayyid had for the words of Allah.

I lived with “In the Shade of the Quran” for over a month. It carried me through and offered me solace during that period. May Allah reward him abundantly on the Day of Judgment. Then I moved on to Sharh ibn Aqeel which is a book on Arabic grammer and the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir but my next comments will be on the “al Bidaya wa al Nihaya” by Ibn Kathir.


Book Review 4: Al Bidayah wa al Nihaya by Ibn Kathir
(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog ) June-22-2008
Ibn Kathir is a Shafi’i scholar, who studied under one of the greatest Shafi’i scholars of all time, Abu al Hajjaaj al Muzi. Al Muzi loved him and drew him close to him and even married him to his daughter.

This 10 volume work, along with his tafsir, are the most famous works of Imam ibn Kathir. The title translates as: “The Beginning and the End.” As the name suggests the Imam covers history starting with the beginning of creation and ends with the righteous entering into Paradise and the evil entering Hellfire.
Here are some more details:
First he talks about the story of creation based on the verses of Quran and sayings of the Prophet but then he moves on to narrate stories that rely on “al-Isra’eelyyaat”, the stories of the People of the Book. Then he proceeds with the stories of the Prophets (This is what I based my series on the Prophets on).

The next part covers the seerah of Rasulullah. The advantage of his coverage of seerah is that he combines what the scholars of seerah such as ibn Ishaaq, al Waqidi, and Musa bin Uqba wrote along with what the scholars of hadith have included in their books such as Bukhari, Muslim, the four books of Sunan, al Bayhaqi, Ahmad, and al Hakim. This makes his coverage of seerah very comprehensive. The downside is that the story does not flow as it would with the seerah of Ibn Ishaaq for example and there is also a lot of repetition and sometimes there are contradicting narrations. This makes it serve better as a reference than a book to read. This part is translated into English by Trevor Le Gassick. However there are some mistakes that I guess stem from the translator being a non-Muslim and thus because of his lack of understanding of Islam chooses incorrect meanings for words that have more than one meaning. Ibn Kathir’s coverage of the time of the four Khalifs is detailed and avoids many but not all of the weak and fabricated narrations that exist in the history of al Tabari.

Then he covers the period of the Umayah khilafa. After that his history becomes quite Shaam-centric. Imam Ibn Kathir, in some cases almost conclusively, focuses on the histories of al Shaam (the area encompassed by present day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan,) Egypt, and Iraq.

What about North Africa, Andalusia, the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian penensula, and other areas of Islam?
There is some talk about North Africa and its relationship with the establishment of the Fatimi dynasty whom Ibn Kathir refers to as liars, and Impersonators, who wished no good for the Muslims (The Fatimids were outwardly Shia and inwardly Ismailis.)

Andalusia gets mentioned but many important events in its history are missing. Ibn Kathir talks about the land of Sind while mentioning the great conquests that occurred on the hands of Muhammad bin al Qasim but then neglects it completely until Mahmud Sabaktakeen arrives on the scene and achieves great victories on the Indian subcontinent. The Arabian peninsula is covered sparsely and when it is, it is mostly about what was going on, or who was ruling in Makkah and Madina. Yemen and Oman are lost in this narrative. And there was absolutely nothing on some areas such as East Africa for example.
Why is that?

Well Ibn Kathir offers an apology somewhere (I cannot recall where at the moment) that he has omitted some parts because of lack of resources.
Now shouldn’t we think about this for a moment?

This great Imam who wrote some of the greatest works lacks resources on some important issues such as the history of Andalusia which made him omit almost 600 years of Muslim history in Spain (Ibn Kathir lived during the 8th hijri century) while we today have all the resources at our fingertips. Modern technology has brought with it a proliferation of Islamic knowledge but where are the ones who would take advantage of that?

Therefore, al Bidayah wa al Nihaayah is an excellent reference on the history of the prophets, seerah, the history of early Islam and the history of al Shaam and Iraq up until the year 768H.

During the period when I was reading these ten volumes I was living with the ummah. The ups and the downs, the victories and the defeats, the righteous and the evil, the just rulers and the tyrants, the scholars, the poets, the worshipers, the military generals, the deviants, the hypocrites, and the enemies.
We have a truly fascinating history.


Book Review 5: Al Tathkirah (The Reminder) by al Qurtubi 
(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog ) July-5-2008
All of the books I have mentioned until now were brought to me by my family. Because they were not ‘officially’ allowed to visit me yet, getting the books would take a long time. But at a later point, I had the added privilege of being able to place orders directly through a warden who made purchases according to the prisoners’ needs, such as clothes and books.
The first book I ordered was al-Tathkirah fi ahwaal al-Mawta wa Umoor al Akhira, (The Reminder of the Affairs of the Dead and the Situations of the Afterlife,) commonly referred to as “The Reminder” by al-Qurtubi. This was one of the books I used in the preparation of The Hereafter which I recorded in 1999. I ordered that book because we are always in need of reminding ourselves about the Afterlife.
It covers the topics of: Death, the Grave, the Day of Judgment, Paradise and Hellfire. The book is excellent except for the inclusion of many weak hadith. There are other books that I could have ordered that cover the same topic, but I have a certain fondness for the scholars of Andalusia; there is something romantic about that land. Having seen Andalusia, I can imagine the places where al-Qurtubi, al-Shatibi, Ibn Hazm and others lived, taught, and authored their books. It is also amazing to see how many great scholars were produced in a relatively small Muslim state.
A few days after sending for the book, I received it. And as soon as I received it, I started reading it. But then the light bulb in my cell burned out. This meant that I was in almost complete darkness at night, except for a glimpse of light that would come in from the corridor. I was also in almost total darkness during the day, except for some light that comes in from a small window close to the roof. It was impossible for me to see the print day or night. I informed the wardens about it but nothing happened that evening. I didn’t mind staying in the dark because I had been in artificial light continuously for a few months at that point so it was a nice break to experience darkness again. We forget that everything is a blessing, even darkness.
I wanted to read the book and I was very eager to do so. I asked the wardens again and they said that the process includes informing their supervisor who will then write a report that will be submitted to the head of the prison and he who will send a request to the electrician, who will apply for the lamp from the prison storage. It was going to be a while. What was I to do?
There was one warden who was polite towards me that offered to open the window on the iron door. This small window is used by wardens to pass small items to prisoners without opening the door. They also use it to peek in and see what the prisoners are doing. By leaving it open, a ray of light would come from the lamp in the corridor directly onto the floor about half a meter from the door. It was an inconvenient location, being very close to the door, but because I was so eager to go through the book I placed it under this ray of light and read that way for about 2 or 3 days until the light bulb was replaced.
For a period of about 4 to 5 days I was totally immersed in the Afterlife. Looking through the lens of the Hereafter puts everything in this world in the right perspective. We need to think about death and what will happen after death constantly. Rasulullah said: “Frequently remember the destroyer of enjoyment (i.e., death).” We ask Allah to wake us up from the state of unawareness we are in!


Book Review 6: Commentary of Sahih Muslim by Imam al Nawawi
(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog ) July-5-2008

Imam al Nawawi is a fascinating scholar. He led an exemplary life. He lived exclusively for knowledge; he dedicated his whole life to it. The diversity of his knowledge made him an expert in many fields. His writings on fiqh are so important that when there is a difference of opinion among Shafi’i jurists, it is his opinion that becomes the official opinion of the Shafi’i School.

His book, Riyadh al Saliheen, (Gardens of the Righteous) is the most widespread book of hadith in the Muslim world. The Nawawi Forty Hadith is a household name. His book on the remembrance of Allah, al Athkaar, (The Remembrances) is one of the most famous books on the subject and his Commentary of Sahih Muslim is the standard in the field. He had begun writing a book on comparative fiqh, but died before its completion.

Isn’t it amazing that all of this knowledge came from a man who died at the age of forty-five?
He was a pious, ascetic, and unpretentious man. It has been mentioned that he lived in the library of Damascus for two years and read continuously. During that period he would not sleep on a bed but instead put his head down over a book and take a nap and then continue reading.

He started writing at the age of 30. One of the scholars said that the way Imam al Nawawi wrote all of these books in such a short time was that he would combine studying with writing. While he was studying, he would write notes about what he had learned. These notes would later become a published book. Without this methodology, it is hard to imagine how it would be possible for him to have authored such a large number of books.

The impression I have of Imam al Nawawi, is that he was a very serious person who was always doing what would draw him closer to Allah. He was a person who was not affected by temptations and did not slack-off or waver. He was someone who was consistent and deliberate. He was not diseased with jealousy or envy.

In his commentary, he described the isnaad, (i.e., chain of narration), then explained the meanings of words and phrases in the hadith and then gave a brief summary of rulings derived from the hadith.

Nawawi’s commentary of Sahih Muslim is brief, which may be the reason it is preferred by some Islamic universities for their curriculum despite the fact that Imam Ibn Hajar’s commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, the most important book of hadith, is regarded as the best commentary ever written on any book of hadith.

Comparing the methodology of the two, Ibn Hajar elaborated on details of the hadith, much like an encyclopaedia, and Nawawi was concise. When defining terms in the hadith, Ibn Hajar would elaborate on the language used and Nawawi would define the meaning of selected vocabulary. Ibn Hajar would mention all existing narrations of the hadith, and Nawawi would not generally include other narrations. Ibn Hajar referred to fiqh derived from the hadith with quotations from various scholars of different schools of Islam and Nawawi would usually quote from scholars who had written commentaries on Muslim such as al Qadhi Iyadh, al Maziri, and al Khatibi. Both would mention the various benefits to be deduced from the hadith but Ibn Hajar would do so on a larger scale than Nawawi. At the end, Nawawi’s commentary leaves the reader with a clear understanding of the hadith and Ibn Hajar’s commentary leaves the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the hadith and all that relates to it from the other books of hadith.

May Allah reward our beloved Imam and grant him al Firdaws.


Book Review 7: Nail al Awtaar by al Shawkaani
(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog) July-21-2008
This eight volume set falls under what is classified as the fiqh of hadith. There are books that concentrate on the fiqh derived from Quran, such as the books of Tafsir by al Qurtubi and AbuBakr bin al Arabi, and you have books of fiqh that are concerned with a particular madhab, and then you have books of comparative fiqh, and then there is the category that this collection falls into, and that is the fiqh of hadith. This collection of hadith was done by Majdudeen Ibn Taymiyyah, the grandfather of the famous ibn Taymyyiah, and al Shawkani wrote Nail al Awtaar as a commentary on these hadith.
Imam al Shawkani was born in year 1173 in Shawkaan, Yemen. He initially studied the Zaidi madhab, which is the closest of the Shia sects to the Sunnah. But, before the age of thirty, he left the madhab and became a mujtahid. He refuted the Zaidi scholars of his time and became a follower of the Sunnah.
In addition to being the carrier of the banner of Sunnah in Yemen, and offering the strongest critique of the Zaydi school of thought, his knowledge was so impressive that, at the age of thirty, he was also chosen to serve as the Supreme Judge for Yemen for the Zaidi Imam of his time: al Mansoor. He carried on in that post for three of the Zaidi Imams of Yemen for over 40 years. In addition to serving as the Supreme Judge and teaching students, he wrote 278 books and letters!
Al Shawkaani in Nail al Awtaar starts by studying the chain of narration of the hadith, and after that, all the books of hadith that narrated it. He then derives his conclusion regarding the classification of the authenticity of the hadith. He then explains the linguistic meanings of the hadith. After that he goes into mentioning not only the opinions of the four schools, but the opinions of the Sahaba, Tabi’een, and all other notable scholars (such as al Awza’ee, Sufyan al Thawri, al Tabari, Ibn Hazm, etc.). He then discusses the different views and frequently brought usool al Fiqh and Fiqh rules into his discussion.
Nail al Awtaar is an excellent resource for reference on both the evidence of every opinion, and the views of the different scholars on different aspects of fiqh. It is also a good study for students of knowledge to learn the tools of scholarship and how an opinion is derived in Islamic fiqh.


Book Review 8: Majmu Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah 
(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog) August-1-2008
I would not have been able to order this book. There was a brother who was transferred from a prison in Saudi Arabia to our prison, and he had the fatawa with him. The original print of the fatawa is 35 volumes but this brother had a condensed version that was 5 volumes. The pages where very thin and the print was very small. The brother told me that he had the fatawa and that the prison was holding it. I really wanted to get a hold of it so I asked him to try his best to convince the Prison Head to hand it over to him. It took some time, but eventually he got it and was able to sneak it in for me. Having such a reference in prison is a rarity, and when some of the students of knowledge who where in there heard about this, they were adamantly asking me to lend them some of the volumes. In fact, when I was being released, while I was walking out of the jail, one brother risked walking out of the wing where he was housed to get within my line of sight to wave to me and yell out his request to leave the fatawa for him.  I did.  But because I had to ask the prison guard who was with me to give it to him, I wonder whether he received it or not. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete it all before I was released.
The fatawa are a recent compilation of various works by Ibn Taymiyyah. It mainly includes his verbal answers to fatawa that were presented to him. It also includes some of his books and letters. Contrary to what the title seems to suggest, it is not a reference on fiqh alone, but also includes aqeedah, tafsir, usool al hadith, usool al fiqh, fiqh and spiritual aspects.
The verbal answers Ibn Taymiyyah would give to the questions presented to him are a testimony of the vast knowledge of this great Imam. He would start by mentioning all the verses and hadith relating to the topic and then mention the opinions of the Imams of the four schools of thought. He would even mention the various opinions that might exist within the school itself. Then he would discuss the evidence and give his fatwa.

Ibn Taymiyyah led a life of study, teaching, enjoining good and forbidding evil, and also jihad. He participated in jihad against the Mongols. He was also courageous in his advice to the rulers of his time and spoke out about their mistakes. Ibn Taymiyyah was chosen by Allah to go through the trials of prison a few times. He was patient and steadfast, and wrote some wonderful letters from jail including comments about his experience as a prisoner. Ibn Kathir, in his ten-volume work on history, wrote a eulogy for Ibn Taymiyyah that happens to be the longest and most detailed eulogy in his entire work. He said that the janazah of Ibn Taymiyyah was the greatest janazah that Damascus has witnessed – a sign from Allah of the righteousness of this great Imam.


Book Review 9: English Novels

(From Shaykh Anwar's Blog ) August-1-2008
There was a particularly mean Prison Head who decided to ban me from having any Islamic books. I then asked if I would be allowed to have English novels. He agreed. I have never been fond of novels. Most of my reading has been in Arabic. When I have read English, it has been Non-fiction, mostly related to current affairs. But, because any book that I ordered would have to be subjected to review by the prison administration, I was worried that if I ordered any current affairs books, that they would be banned. And that might lead to a temporary, or even permanent, ban preventing me from having any English books after that.

Before going to jail, I had received one book that I was eager to read: Michael Scheuer’s Imperial Hubris, but this would be too much for them to allow. I did read it after my release and I strongly recommend it.
So, I asked my family to bring me Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This book was given to me as a gift by a friend of my father in the US when I was a child. I was very young at the time and it would have made no sense for me to read such a book. This book had stayed on my shelf for over 20 years because it was written in destiny that I would read it in jail. Now, I cannot say that it was a good novel; but in jail, anything is good. Even local government newspapers, which I would never contemplate wasting my time with, made interesting reading.

Following Moby Dick, I asked for more books without specifying which ones, so my parents brought me whatever was lying around in the house. This time it was King Lear by Shakespeare and Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Shakespeare was the worst thing I read during my entire stay in prison. I never liked him to start with. Probably the only reason he became so famous is because he was English and had the backing and promotion of the speakers of a global language. On the other hand, I read Hard Times thrice. So, I ordered more Charles Dickens and read Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and his masterpiece: David Copperfield. I read this one twice.

What fascinated me with these novels were the amazing characters Dickens created and the similarity of some of them to some people today. That made them very interesting. For example: the thick and boastful Mr. Josiah Bounderby of Coketown was similar to George W. Bush; Lucy’s father, Mr. Gradgrind, was similar to some Muslim parents who are programmed to think that only Medicine and Engineering are worthy professions for their children; the amazing cruelness of Stephen Blackpool was similar to some people who appear on the surface to be decent and kind human beings; and Uriah Heep was similar to some pitiful Muslims today.

Another novel was Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, which was an interesting imagination of the twists of destiny and the tragic ending for the evil and the favorable ending for the righteous.

Now, I want to stress that I do not encourage any serious Muslim brother or sister to waste time with novels. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was prevented from anything else, I wouldn’t have read them. And, I read them because apparently a person can begin forgetting his language, even if it is his mother tongue, if he does not use it for long time. There is even a joke that a man emigrated from an Arab country to America and did not learn English and ended up forgetting Arabic. Being in solitary confinement and not speaking English for a long time I needed refreshment.

So, there is some benefit in reading novels for those in the fields of public speaking and writing. And, once in while, there is a novel that is worth reading because of a pointed message that it tries to convey; such as the message in Animal Farm about communism, and the relevance of 1984 regarding how the West is treating Muslims today. But, for he who has the choice, there are better alternatives. There is so much out there to read. One should not spend the valuable time Allah has blessed them with on anything except that which will draw one closer to Allah.

I also read the memoirs of David Attenborough Life on Air. Having followed most of his documentaries, I felt it might be interesting to read about the experience of this Natural Scientist. I was disappointed to find out that such a person, one who has first hand knowledge and experience with some of the most amazing signs of Allah, is a person who believes in evolution and shows no signs of believing in a creator.

A final note: I believe that it is a problem to hear Muslim speakers extensively referring to disbelievers in their books or speeches. In fact, this may represent a problem with wala and bara (love and hate for the sake of Allah). If the quoting is relevant and beneficial and does not involve taking them as role models, then that is fine, such as al Bukhari quoting Heraclius’s conversation with Abu Sufyaan on Rasulullah or, in use of the abstract sciences and skills such as Salman al Farisi borrowing the idea of trenches from Persia. But, I believe that Muslims taking disbelieving ‘gurus’ and leaders as their shuyukh in fields such as management, time management or even learning from their success stories, leads to more harm than benefit.
Didn’t Ibn Abbass say to those referring to the people of the book: “How can they guide you when they themselves are misguided?”

And this is what Allah says about the disbelievers, including the brightest minds such as Plato, Einstein, Newton, and George Washington:

“They will further say: “Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we should not (now) be among the Companions of the Blazing Fire!”” (al Mulk: 10)

All of these great minds would stand in front of Allah and the creation and declare that they had no understanding and no minds.

So how can we learn from them? 

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