One of the things that fascinated me about Christianity is the Ten Commandments that were revealed by God to Moses (peace be upon him), and as someone who believes that all religions come from the same source, I always wondered about how to make a list of the things that God has commanded us to do in Islam, sort of like an Islamic version of the Ten Commandments. I was reflecting upon this idea recently as I had gone ahead and written out my own personal commandments as part of preparation for The Happiness Project, as outlined by Gretchen Rubin in her book with the same title. I realized then, that we did have plenty of (definitely more than ten) commandments in Islam, and that the first one was in the first verse ever revealed: Iqra’, or “read”.
It’s quite profound, when you come to such realizations. Most people like to make religion look like it’s so complicated and no one can understand it – the Internet and real life is abound with people who say “go ask a sheikh” or “go talk to your priest” and similar things. In Islam, we have this view that we don’t need someone to be the intermediary between us and Allah – if we sin, we ask him for forgiveness directly, so why, why the hell, in fact, do we ask for guidance from humans?
Yes, it is important to seek the opinion of people who are more knowledgeable and experienced than us, but do we make decisions based upon that? No, we don’t. We don’t seek guidance from people – we have a special prayer (istikhara) to seek guidance from God directly. What we can ask from people is to give us various opinions and experiences, so that we use them to empower ourselves with the knowledge needed to carry out our mission.
Yet, what happens when these people have distorted notions of religion or life? What happens when what they think is the truth turns out to be completely false?
Here we see the importance of the first commandment Allah revealed to us – read. Reading is the only way we can empower ourselves with knowledge that will take us to the next level in life. Reading is the only way we can change our world. When you read something – be it a religious book or a totally nondenominational self-help book – you’re taking the opinion of this person who wrote the book, in an objective way – unlike the way you process the opinions of people like your parents, friends, mentors, or anyone else in your life. Yes, you can be influenced wrongly by reading a certain book, but if you keep reading other books, you will see where your thinking – and the writer’s thinking – went wrong.
As Muslims, the most important topic for us to read about is our religion, so no distortions can affect us or our practice of it in daily life. As humans living in a hyper-connected world, the most important topic for us to read about is finding our purpose and what we can do – no matter how small or big – to change the world around to the better. As women, the most important topic for us to read about is how to be effective members of our families, communities, societies, and the world as a whole.
Many people grow up not liking reading, due to the negative connotations our societies have placed on it, a lack of encouragement from a young age, and the lack of resources such as libraries. If you have a negative impression about reading, try listening to an audiobook instead. Open your mind to the possibilities, and you’ll find yourself capable of more than you think you can!
Don’t be careful with what you read. As long as you’re staying within the lines of your morals and values – religious or secular – read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Read about views opposing your own, and read about things that challenge your presumptions. Read even if you don’t agree with the writer, because you don’t always have to agree with what people say. It’s okay to agree to disagree.
Do you like reading? If yes, share with us the last book you read and how it changed your perspective. If no, then let us know why and whether you’d like to attempt to give reading another chance. Looking forward to reading your comments!