بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Especially Merciful.
السَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَةُ اللهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ
May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you.
Throughout my first year at university, one of my lecturers always stressed on the point that it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand what we read. Just take what you understand and need, and move on. I guess that’s fine for (certain parts of) sociology, but not general reading.
Why am I telling you this? Well, recently a fellow student shared a profound lecture by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, “How to read a book” and he highlighted some basic but crucial outlines for actually reading a book, so I decided to share what I took from both his lectures.
1) We need to firstly understand that not all books are easy for us to understand, especially if we have not yet delved into the subject matter. Therefore, sometimes it is best for us to read introductory books/a book in order to understand the terminology and fundamental concepts that are going to be further discussed in our main reading. Keep a note of anything you feel would help you in your reading from this point onward.
2) Think of the context in which the book was written, the words being used and the sentence structures. Often we misunderstand the point being conveyed as we are not familiar with the contemporary use of language and syntax.
3) Even if you are not reading the entire text, read the introduction, preface and contents-page in order to understand the overall purpose and structure of the book itself.
4) If there are words you don’t know the meaning of, use a dictionary! Don’t think ‘it’s fine I don’t need to know, as long as I understand what is going to be said after.’ No. Just no. Trust me, the word will haunt you later on and you will have no choice but to find out what it means eventually. Make it easy for yourself from the beginning. This is necessary for students studying another language. We need a dictionary to survive during the struggle!
5) I’m guilty of this, but we really should avoid reading what other people have said about the books we are not bothered to read the main text. Yes, it’s tiring to read 40-80 pages for each lecture every single week, yes we just want to cut through time and get on with everything else but it really won’t help us in the long run. Eventually we will have to turn to the primary text. The more effort we go through now, the easier it will be to read difficult texts as we go along our course(s). If we keep the doors closed, we will never develop. Just think back when you were in primary school, what would have happened if you never pushed yourself to go through the more difficult books, the bigger books? Would your vocabulary and interests expanded? It’s exactly the same right now too.
6) Discuss what you read. It’s easy to take notes and leave our amazing findings in between pages, but what really develops our understanding is sharing what our thoughts and opinions are. Ironically, that’s exactly the purpose of seminars but many of us don’t share enough to develop our conversations on the topic. Read with and under your teachers. They are experts at this! I’m not saying to constantly ask them the meaning for xyz, but ensure you have a good relationship with them so that they know you’re on the right track.
7) I left this point until last because it’s a bit obvious after having discussed all the above. So, please, don’t skim read.
Here’s to the critical readers…
- Read with an open mind. Try to understand where the author is coming from.
- Merely disagreeing with the author does not make you critical. This is a skill which takes time and effort to do so. Find out if the statements are true or not. More importantly, find out the reasoning of the author’s proposal or explanation. There’s more detail to what he or she says than we think.
- Assume the writer is correct in their understanding and look at the world through their lens. What do you see?
- Now.. the fun part. It’s time to question. (For me, it’s the part where I scribble all the thoughts I have been bottling up inside of me.)
Lastly I just want to remind us all (especially myself), if we’re not conscious about what our eyes are following on the pages, if we are not thinking about the meanings, then that reading is pointless as we will not benefit from it.
I ask Allah to increase us all in knowledge. May He open doors for us so that we may become more understanding in our fields of studies. May He grant us the strength to go through the long terms of lectures and seminars, readings and assessments and revision and exams so that we may give something back to our families and communities. Ameen.
Lecture 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHIiqWqPOng
Lecture 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KorqQ25-h0k
Please note that my contact details have changed – head over to “About me” for my new email address.
May you be accompanied by safety/peace.