“Son, that’s what happens when you read the Qur’an. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, you will be Changed, inside and out. That is the work of Allah in our lives.”
(September 2011 Makkah Al Haramain Salah Recordings)
ash-Shuraim (Imam of Makkah)
O people! The son of Adam has a great desire and an enflamed interest regarding the unseen, whether it is related to the past or the future, and refusing to accept that such a phenomenon exists, is ignoring a fact of life. People’s obsession with such phenomena is related to how close they are to the Sunnah of the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam) and Qur’an which firmly addressed this subject and clarified it, as Allah says, which means, “(He is) Knower of the unseen, and He does not disclose His (knowledge of the) unseen, Except whom He has approved of as messengers, and indeed, He sends before him (i.e. each messenger) and behind him observers” (Al-Jinn: 26-27).
It is no wonder that the further people are from the time of prophet hood, the more confused they become and mix facts regarding the issue of the unseen, and the more eager people with weak souls become to know the unseen. Some believe in illusions as facts, others accept what fortune-tellers say, and others guess and speak about the unseen during all times while the verses from the Qur’aan are recited before them day and night, like the saying of Allah, which means, “Say, ‘None in the heavens and earth knows the unseen except Allah and they do not perceive when they will be resurrected.’” (An-Naml: 65) as well as the sayings of the Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam), like the Hadeeth where he said, “Five things only Allah knows, and he recited the verse (the meaning of which is) “Indeed, Allah (alone) has knowledge of the hour and sends down the rain and knows what is in the wombs. And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow and no soul perceives in what land it will die. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” (Luqman: 34)”
Thus, it is not possible to know the unseen or address it, except through what Allah has told us, or what He revealed to His Messenger (Sallalhu ‘Alayhi Wasallam). Anything other than this would be guesses and illusions, or a mixture of words conveyed to people by some Jinn.
Islam removes confusion and illusions from the mind and guides those who stray from the straight path. Believing in the unseen cannot be equated with believing in fantasies.
Those who survive this phenomenon, get trapped by their eagerness to know the future, which they think is a major factor in deciding the stability and instability of their lives, so they try to reach that through dreams. You might meet a brother (in faith) or a friend and be greeted with a gloomy or cheerful face, but you would be surprised to discover that this disposition is due to a dream which they have seen in their sleep.
Slaves of Allah! This issue is not only the concern of individuals or common people, but many eminent figures join them in this concern. Dreams have disturbed many great people, and other dreams came as glad tidings to many others. Some dreams became the concern of nations, like the dream of the king of Egypt, which the Qur’an told of in the story of Prophet Yoosuf, peace be upon him. His dream included both glad tidings and warnings at the same time; it gave glad tidings of the increase in provisions for seven consecutive years, then warned against famine for the following seven years.
Slaves of Allah! Dreams have had great importance in people’s lives before and after Islam. Educated people and intellectuals might differ in the way they view dreams and judge their issue. Philosophers have rejected that dreams have any meaning at all and claimed that dreams result from the reactions which take place in the body and reflect the state of mind. Some psychiatrists have a negative stance towards dreams, which is actually very close to that of the philosophers. They refer it to the mood of people and certain parts of their memory which become hyper during sleep, making dreams purely biological.
On the other hand, Islam and its scholars have followed the prophetic path in dealing with dreams, and have judged dreamsaccording to the Qur’aan and the Sunnah. They have ruled that true dreams are from Allaah, some warn and others bring glad tidings. Ibn Mas’ood, may Allaah be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said, “Prophecy is finished but tidings remain” people asked, ‘What are these tidings?’ He Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam replied, “A true dream which a man sees, or others see for him” (Bukhari & Malik). These tidings could be good or bad as Allah says, which means, “So give them tidings of a painful doom” (Al-Inshiqaaq: 24).
Slaves of Allah! These dreams are the ones which the truthful and trustworthy Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam said about them that, “At the end of time, the believer’s dream will rarely be incorrect; the more truthful a person is, the truer his dreams are; and the dream of a faithful believer is a part of the forty six parts of Prophecy.” (Bukhari & Muslim).
In this era, many people’s hearts have little attachment to Allah. Belief in divine decree, pre-destiny and that whatever Allah wants happens and whatever He does not will not happen, and that everything happens with His command…all these aspects of belief have become weak in people’s hearts. Due to this, their hearts have become more attached to the issue of dreams, and in this way, they have differed from the righteous generations of our Salaf. They have started talking about this issue more and relying on it, until it has reached a level where it has overwhelmed people’s discussions in their gatherings, on satellite channels and religious inquiries, so much so that people ask more about dreams than they ask about matters of religion, and what should and should not be done by a Muslim.
These practices take place while people are heedless of what they should do regarding dreams, and how they should deal with them based on the prophetic instructions, which one should not transgress nor ignore. The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam left us with a clear religion, and he sufficed us regarding the issue of dreams, talking about it, getting attached to it, seeking to find out its interpretation or relying on it. People’s increased inquiries about dreams is a form of transgressing the limits set in the Sunnah and an imbalanced approach to the issue.
When some people see a dream, their lives become disturbed, and they become terrified and unable to relax until they find someone to interpret it for them so as to discover whether it brings glad tidings or evil news to him. If we stop at the limits which are set for us in the prophetic guidance, then such anxiety would not be felt, and people would not occupy themselves with this subject, which has become a way to attract audiences to the internet and satellite channels.
In order to discern the best way of dealing with this widespread phenomenon in our communities, let us listen to some of the etiquettes relating to this issue. Abu Salamah, (may Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘I used to see dreams and become sick because of it, until I saw Abu Qutaadah and told him about this.’ So he said to me, I heard the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alaihi Wasallam saying, “Good dreams are from Allaah, and bad dreams are from Satan, so if of you see in your dream something which you dislike, then spit three times to your left and seek refuge in Allah from its evil, then it will not harm you” (Muslim). In another narration Abu Salamah, (may Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘I used to see dreams and they would feel heavier on me than a mountain, until I heard this saying of the Prophet, then it never bothered me after that’ (Muslim).
Slaves of Allah! We see that not everything one sees in his sleep is a good dream that needs an interpretation, because what people see in their sleep is one of the three types, as narrated by ‘Awf Ibn Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said, “Dreams are of three types, some are from Satan to sadden the son of Adam, some are the result of what a person thinks about while he is awake so he sees it in his sleep, and some are one of the forty six parts of prophecy” (Ibn Majah). Imam Al-Baghawi said, ‘This Hadeeth proves that not everything which a person sees in his sleep in true and should be interpreted. The correct understanding is that some of it is from Allaah, and the rest are mixed up falsedreams which have no interpretation’.
An example for these mixed up false dreams is the story of the Bedouin who came to the Prophet Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! I saw in my dream that someone beheaded me, and my head rolled and I started going after it “ So the Messenger Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam said: “Do not inform anyone nor talk to people about whispers that come to you in your dreams from Satan” (Muslim).
As we were instructed through the Sunnah, the way a believer should deal with this type of dream is to seek refuge in Allah from its evil and the evil of Satan; to spit three times to the left; not to inform anyone about it; to stand up and pray as much as he is capable of; and then switch to the other side when he lies down. Some scholars added that he should recite the verse of Al-Kursee (the throne) because the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam) informed us that Satan will not be able to harm the one who recites it.
Imam An-Nawawi (Allah be pleased with him)said regarding the way to deal with evil dreams, ‘One who sees an evil dream should follow all the etiquettes which were mentioned in the different narrations from the Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam, and even if he does only some of them, it will protect him from the evil of Satan with the will of Allah’.
The second type of dreams is that which results from a person’s whims and what he thinks about during the day and that which occupies his mind. For example, if he has been thinking about traveling or a trade, then he would see in his dream similar to what he was thinking while he was awake. These mixed up dreams are also ones that cannot be interpreted.
The only type left is the true, good dream from Allaah that brings good or bad tidings. It may be clear and not in need of an interpretation, as the dream of prophet Ibraaheem when he saw that he is slaughtering his son. Some may be ambiguous and need someone to interpret them, like the dreams that the mates of prophet Yoosuf saw in prison. This is the type which the Prophet sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam forbade us from telling except to scholars or wise people seeking their advice, the Messenger Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam said: “Don’t tell your dream except to a scholar or a wise person seeking his advice” (Tirmidhi).
All other dreams which one might see and it includes legislating things to be lawful or unlawful; performing certain acts of worship; deciding the night of Al-Qadr which the Prophet was informed with then later was made to forget it; or dreams which result in judging people, giving or depriving them of their rights, and whether they are truthful and honest people or not…all such dreams are mixed up dreams and doubts, which we should not rely on, according to the sayings of the majority of scholars, like Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim RH, Ibn Taymiyyah RH, An-Nawawi RH, Ash-Shaatibi RH and others. Ash-Shaatibi RH mentioned the story of the Caliph Al-Mahdi who wanted to kill the judge Shurayk Ibn ‘Abdullah RH. Shurayk RH asked him, ‘Why do you want to kill me, while it is unlawful for you to spill my blood?’ He replied, ‘I saw in my dream that I was talking to you and you were talking to me with your back to me, so I asked an interpreter, and he told me that this man (Shurayk) is one who visits you often and opposes you behind your back’ Shurayk said, ‘O leader of the believers! Your dream is not like the dream of (prophet) Yoosuf the son of (prophet) Ya’qoob, and Muslim’s blood cannot be shed based on dreams’ so Al-Mahdi bowed his head down and signaled him with his hand to leave, so he left.
Ibn ‘Asaker RH mentioned in the history of Damascus that some people saw Imam Ash-Shafi’ee RH in their dream saying to them, ‘Yoonus Ibn ‘Abdul A’laa lied on my behalf in narrating such and such Hadeeth, I did not narrate it’ Imam Ibn Katheer RH commented on this saying, ‘‘Yoonus Ibn ‘Abdul A’laa is a trustworthy scholar, and cannot be doubted simply because of a dream’.
Imam Dhahabi RH narrated that Al-Maroozi RH said, ‘I took Ibraaheem Ibn Al-Husari (a righteous man) to Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal RH, and he said to Imam Ahmad RH, my mother saw such and such a dream for you, and she mentioned you in Paradise. So Imam Ahmad said, dear brother, Sahl Ibn Salaamah was told the same by people, then he started killing Muslims. A dream should not deceive a believer’.
O people! If we want to be just, fair and sincere in our advice, then we should not put all the blame on the people who see thedreams, but we must also address those who interpret them, because they have a great responsibility towards people who see these dreams.
An interpreter should be a scholar in this great field of knowledge, and should be able to weigh the harms and benefits resulting from the interpretation. He should not take the lead in interpreting dreams, specially those who do it through satellite channels, and in big gatherings, because it is just like passing a fatwaa. The king said in the story of Yoosuf, as Allah says, which means, “And (subsequently) the King said, ‘ Indeed, I have seen (in a dream) seven fat cows being eaten by seven (that were) lean, and seven green spikes (of grain) and others (that were) dry. Oh eminent ones, explain to me my vision, if you should interpret visions.’” (Yoosuf: 43).
Ibn Al-Qayyim said RH, ‘A person passing Fatwaa, an interpreter and a doctor are exposed to the private hidden affairs of people, so they should conceal these things’.
Interpreters should not rush to interpret dreams, nor should they make people feel that their interpretations are facts. They should know the danger of this and the arrogance it could lead to. Ibn ‘Abdul Barr narrated that Imaam Maalik was asked, ‘Can anyone interpret dreams?’ he said, ‘How can people play around with matters related to prophecy’. Ibn ‘Abdul Barr also narrated that Imaam Hisham Ibn Sassan RH said, ‘Ibn Sereen RH used to be asked about one hundred dreams but he would not answer, but he would tell people, fear Allah while you are awake, then what you see in your dream would not harm you’ and he would also say, ‘I only say what I think to be the interpretation, and I could be wrong’.
If this was the saying of the leader of interpreters through the ages, how should people in our time act? We see a person asked about one thousand dreams, and not once would he say, I do not know, or say that they are mixed up false dreams.
Interpreters should also realize the danger of interpreting dreams through TV channels that millions of people watch or in big gatherings, for the following reasons:
First: It is dangerous because he is talking about the unseen, specially that no one can say for sure that what he is interpreting is going to take place or not.
Second: It is difficult to know the situation of the one who saw the dream through TV channels, and whether they are righteous people or not, which has a strong connection to how a dream is interpreted. Two men came to Imaam Ibn Sereen both saw that they were calling the Athaan (the call for prayer), so he interpreted it for the righteous man as performing pilgrimage according to the verse which means “And proclaim to the people the Hajj (pilgrimage); they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they w ill come from every distant pass” (Al-Hajj: 27), while he interpreted it to the other man that he will steal and his hand will be cut according to the verse which means “So when he had furnished them with their supplies, he put the (gold measuring) bowl into the bag of his brother. Then an announcer called out, ‘Oh caravan, indeed you are thieves.’” (Yoosuf: 70).
Third: Some people would not comprehend the way the interpretation was done through the screens, and ignorant people would think that it is a type of fortune telling which is prohibited, and the Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam said: “Say to people that which they are acquainted with, or do you want that people reject what Allah and His Messenger say” (Bukhari).
Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood, (may Allah be pleased with him), narrated that the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: “If you talk to people with words which they cannot comprehend, then it will be a trial for them” (Muslim).
Fourth: Preventing evil precedes accomplishing benefits, and the evil of interpreting through TV channels is greater than the benefits for many obvious reasons. One reason being the fact that it is talking about the unseen and interpreting is like passing Fatwaa and our Salaf used to avoid that. And then the evil resulting from the interpretation of some dreams is also great. For example a girl will not succeed in her marriage or another case whose husband will marry a second wife in secret. What do you think the situation of these women would be? One is awaiting failure in life and will remain depressed, and the other will always doubt her husband? Some people take these interpretations without referring to trustworthy scholars to confirm them, which results in the expected problems.
Some people give the excuse that the Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam) used to ask: “Who saw a dream?” (Saheeh Muslim) so that he can interpret it for them. We would answer saying,
· This was the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam, and his interpretations were undoubtedly true.
· His interpretations were in a mosque that was attended by a small number of people, not millions like the case of TV channels.
· The audience with the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam) were the companions whose wisdom cannot be compared.
· No one from the four rightly guided caliphs or those who came after them did that, and especially Abu Bakr RA for whom the Prophet (Salallaahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam) testified that he is knowledgeable in the field of interpretation.
“I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Why is it that some people seem to be able to read a book once and remember every detail of it for life, while others struggle to recall even the title a few days after putting down a book?
The answer is simple but not easy.
It’s not what they read. It’s how they read. Passive readers forget things almost as quickly as they read them. Active readers, on the other hand, retain the bulk of what they read.
There is another difference between these two types of readers: The quantity of reading affects them differently. Passive readers who read a lot are not much further ahead than passive readers who read a little. If you’re an active reader, however, things are different.
The more that active readers read, the better they get. They develop a latticework of mental modelsto hang ideas on, further increasing retention. They learn to differentiate good arguments and structures from bad ones. They make better decisions because they know what fits with the basic structure of how the world works. They avoid problems. The more they read, the more valuable they become. The more they read, the more they know what to look for.
Think back to the books you studied in school. Despite the passage of time, most us remember a lot about them. Even if the details are fuzzy, we can doubtless recall the basic plots, main characters, notable themes, and motifs. We didn’t just passively read those books. We actively read them. We had class discussions, took turns reading parts aloud, acted out scenes, or maybe even watched film adaptations. No matter how long it has been since we set foot in a classroom, we all probably remember Animal Farm.
Having a deliberate strategy for anything we spend a lot of time on is a sensible approach. But most people don’t consciously try to get the most out of the time they invest in reading.
For us to get the most out of each book we read, it is vital to have a plan for recording, reflecting on, and putting into use the conclusions we draw from the information we consume. In this article, we will look at a strategy for deriving the maximum benefit from every single page you read.
First, let’s clear up some common misconceptions about reading. Here’s what I know:
- Quality matters more than quantity. If you read just one book a week but fully appreciate and absorb it, you’ll be far better off than someone who skims through half the library without paying much attention.
- Speedreading is bullshit. The only way to read faster is to actually read more.
- Book summary services miss the point. I know a lot of companies charge ridiculous prices for access to summaries written by some 22-year-old with zero life experience, but the point of reading for fluency is to acquire a repository of facts and details. Nuance, if you will. In this sense, you understand a bit more about why things work.
- Fancy apps and tools are not needed. A notebook, index cards, and a pen will do just fine. (For those of you wanting a simple and searchable online tool to help, Evernote is the answer.)
- We don’t need to read stuff we find boring.
- We don’t need to finish the entire book.
“Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself. But each map was incomplete, and I would only locate the treasure if I read all the books, and so the process of finding my best self was an endless quest. And books themselves seemed to reflect this idea. Which is why the plot of every book ever can be boiled down to ‘someone is looking for something’.”
— Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
Choose Your Books Wisely
There are no rules when it comes to choosing books. We don’t have to read bestsellers, or classics, or books everyone else raves about. This isn’t school and there are no required reading lists. Focus on some combination of books that: (1) stand the test of time; (2) pique your interest; or (3) resonate with your current situation.
The more interesting and relevant we find a book, the more likely we are to remember its contents in the future.
For older books or those that have been translated, check which version is considered to be the best. For example, the Hayes translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is regarded as being truest to the original text, while also having a modern feel.
Get Some Context
A good place to start is by doing some preliminary research on the book. Some books – for example, A Confederacy of Dunces and The Palm Wine Drinkard – have a very different meaning once we know a bit about the life of the author.
For older books, try to understand the historical context. For books written in an unfamiliar country, try to understand the cultural context. Some helpful questions to ask include:
- Why did the author write this? (Did they have an agenda?)
- What is their background?
- What else have they written?
- Where was it written?
- What was the political, economic, and cultural situation at the time of writing?
- Has the book been translated or reprinted?
- Did any important events — a war, an economic depression, a change of leadership, the emergence of new technology — happen during the writing of the book?
Know Why You’re Reading the Book
What are you reading this book for? Entertainment? To understand something or someone you don’t know? To get better at your job? To improve your health? To learn a skill? To help build a business?
You have to have some idea of what you want to get from the book. You don’t just want to collect endless amounts of useless information. That will never stick.
Skim the Index, Contents, and Preface
Before starting to read a book (particularly non-fiction), skim through the index, contents page, preface, and inside jacket to get an idea of the subject matter. (This article on how to read a book is a brilliant introduction to skimming.) The bibliography can also indicate the tone of a book. The best authors often read hundreds of books for each one they write, so a well-researched book should have a bibliography full of interesting texts. After you’ve read the book, peruse the bibliography and make a note of any books you want to read next.
Match the Book to Your Setting or Situation
Although it’s not always practical, matching books to our location and circumstances can be powerful. Books will have a greater resonance as they become part of an experience rather than just supplementing it.
When choosing books, take a look at your own situation and decide on genres or authors that might help you overcome any current challenges. Whatever your state of affairs, someone has been in the same place. Someone has felt the same feelings and thought the same thoughts and written about it. It’s up to you to find that book.
- Traveling or on holiday? Match books to the location — Jack Kerouac or John Muir for America; Machiavelli for Italy; Montaigne’s Essays, Ernest Hemingway, or Georges Perec for France; and so on. Going nowhere in particular? Read Vladimir Nabokov or Henry Thoreau.
- Dealing with grief? Read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Torch by Cheryl Strayed,or anything by Tarah Brach.
- Having a crisis about your own mortality? (It happens to us all.) Read Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life or Theodore Zeldin’s The Hidden Pleasures of Life.
- Dealing with adversity? Lose your job? Read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations or Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way.
- Dissatisfied with your work? Read Linchpin by Seth Godin, Mastery by Robert Greene, or Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
If I were a Dr., I’d prescribe books. They can be just as powerful as drugs.
You’ll remember more if you do the following seven things while you’re reading.
Making notes is perhaps the single most important part of remembering what you read.
The best technique for notetaking is whichever one works for you and is easy to stick to. You need to create your own system. Some people prefer to record notes on index cards or in a commonplace book; others prefer a digital system. Notes are especially useful if you write on a regular basis, although everyone (not just writers) can benefit from making them.
Start by writing a short summary of each chapter and transcribing any meaningful passages or phrases. If you are unsure how to simplify your thoughts, imagine that someone has just tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to explain the chapter you just finished reading. They have never read this book and lack any idea of the subject matter. How would you explain it to them?
In The 3 Secrets That Help Me Write and Think, Robert Greene describes his notetaking process this way:
When I read a book, I am looking for the essential elements in the work that can be used to create the strategies and stories that appear in my books. As I am reading a book I underline important passages and sections and put notes … on the side.
After I am done reading I will often put it aside for up to a week and think deeply about the lessons and key stories that could be used for my book project. I then go back and put these important sections on notecards.
David Foster Wallace recommends a similar form of active reading (for more, see Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing):
Not just reading a lot, but paying attention to the way the sentences are put together, the clauses are joined, the way the sentences go to make up a paragraph. Exercises as boneheaded as you take a book you really like, you read a page of it three, four times, put it down, and then try to imitate it word for word so that you can feel your own muscles trying to achieve some of the effects that the page of text you like did. If you’re like me, it will be in your failure to be able to duplicate it that you’ll actually learn what’s going on. It sounds really, really stupid, but in fact, you can read a page of text, right? And “Oh that was pretty good…” but you don’t get any sense of the infinity of choices that were made in that text until you start trying to reproduce them.
Decide that for the time you will be reading, you will focus on the book and nothing else. No quick Twitter checks. No emails. No cell phone. No TV. No staring into midair. Understanding and absorbing a book requires deep focus, especially if the subject matter is dense or complex. Remember, we are aiming for active reading. Active reading requires focus and the ability to engage with the author. (Focus is hard work. If you’re lost, start here.)
Referring to the time before the internet, Nicholas Carr writes in The Shallows: “In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”
If you’re struggling to stay focused on a particularly difficult or lengthy book, decide to read a mere 25 pages of it a day. It takes only a few minutes to nibble away at a challenging text. Completing a long book in this manner might take months, but at least you will have read it without getting overwhelmed or bored.
Mark Up the Book
Most of us were taught as children to treat books as something sacred – no folding the page corners, and no writing in the margins, ever. However, if you want to remember what you read, forget about keeping books pristine. I’ve spent a lot of time helping my kids unlearn the rule that books are not to be written in.
In fact, go crazy with marginalia. The more you write, the more active your mind will be while reading.
Jot down connections and tangential thoughts, underline key passages, and make a habit of building a dialogue with the author. Some people recommend making your own index of key pages or using abbreviations (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings writes “BL” next to any beautiful language, for example).
The first time you write in a book can be unnerving, but in the long term, it leads to a rich understanding and a sense of connection with the author.
Billy Collins has written a beautiful poem on the joys of marginalia: “We have all seized the white perimeter as our own / and reached for a pen if only to show / we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages; / we pressed a thought into the wayside / planted an impression along the verge. /… ‘Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.’”
Stop and Build a Vivid Mental Picture
Building vivid mental pictures is one of the most effective techniques for remembering anything, not least what we read. When you come across an important passage or concept, pause and visualize it. Make the picture as salient and distinctive as possible.
Make Mental Links
Books do not exist in a vacuum. Every concept or fact can be linked to countless others. Making an effort to form our own links is a fruitful way to better remember what we read.
Nicholas Carr writes in The Shallows:
The bond between book reader and book writer has always been a tightly symbiotic one, a means of intellectual and artistic cross-fertilization. The words of the writer act as a catalyst in the mind of the reader, inspiriting new insights, associations, and perceptions, sometimes even epiphanies. And the very existence of the attentive, critical reader provides the spur for the writer’s work. It gives the author confidence to explore new forms of expression, to blaze difficult and demanding paths of thought, to venture into uncharted and sometimes hazardous territory.
Keep Mental Models in Mind
Mental models enable us to better understand and synthesize books. Some of the key ways we can use them include:
- Confirmation bias: Which parts of this book am I ignoring? Does this book confirm my opinions? (Okay, but does it actually affirm your beliefs or are you just seeing what you want to see? If you cannot think of a single point in the book that you disagreed with, confirmation bias is perchance distorting your reasoning.)
- Bayesian updating: What opinions should I change in light of this book? How can I update my worldview using the information in it? Keep in mind the words of John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
- Pareto principle: Which parts of this book are most important and contain the most information? If I had to cut 99% of the words in this book, what would I leave? Many authors have to reach a certain word or page count, resulting in pages (or even entire chapters) containing fluff and padding. Even the best non-fiction books are often longer than is imperative to convey their ideas. (Note that the Pareto principle is less applicable for fiction books.)
- Leverage: How can I use lessons from this book to gain a disproportionate advantage? Can I leverage this new knowledge in a tangible way?
- Incentives: What motivates the characters or the author? What are they seeking? What is their purpose? Here’s how Kurt Vonnegut described the importance of incentives in books: “When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away – even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”
- Availability bias: Are the books I have recently read affecting how I perceive this one? How are my neoteric experiences shaping my reading? Am I assigning undue importance to parts of this book because they are salient and memorable?
- Stereotyping tendency: Am I unconsciously fitting the author, characters, or book in general into a particular category? Or is the author stereotyping their characters? Remember, there is no such thing as a good stereotype.
- Social proof: How is social proof — the number of copies sold, bestseller status, the opinions of others — affecting my perception of this book? Is the author using social proof to manipulate readers? It is not unusual for authors to buy their way onto bestseller lists, providing social proof which then leads to substantial sales. As a result, mediocre books can end up becoming popular. It’s a classic case of the emperor having no clothes, which smart readers know to look out for.
- Narrative instinct: Is the author distorting real events to form a coherent narrative? This is common in biographies, memoirs, and historical texts. In The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality, Hayden White explains our tendency to meld history into a narrative: “So natural is the impulse to narrate, so inevitable is the form of narrative for any report of the way things really happened, that narrativity could appear problematical only in a culture in which it was absent… narrative is a metacode, a human universal… Narrative becomes a problem only when we wish to give to real events the form of story… This value attached to narrativity in the representation of real events arises out of a desire to have real events display the coherence, integrity, fullness, and closure of an image of life that is and can only be imaginary. The notion that sequences of real events possess the formal attributes of the stories we tell about imaginary events could only have its origin in wishes, daydreams, reveries. Does the world really present itself to perception in the form of well-made stories, with central subjects, proper beginnings, middles, and ends, and a coherence that permits us to see “the end” in every beginning? Or does it present itself more in the forms that the annals and chronicle suggest, either as mere sequence without beginning or end or as sequences of beginnings that only terminate and never conclude? And does the world, even the social world, ever really come to us as already narrativized, already “speaking itself” from beyond the horizon of our capacity to make scientific sense of it? Or is the fiction of such a world, a world capable of speaking itself and of displaying itself as a form of a story, necessary for the establishment of that moral authority without which the notion of a specifically social reality would be unthinkable?”
- Survivorship bias: Is this (non-fiction) book a representation of reality or is the author failing to account for base rates? Survivorship bias is abundant in business, self-help, and biographical books. A particular case of a successful individual or business might be held as the rule, rather than the exception.
- Utility: If a book offers advice, does it have practical applications? At what point do diminishing returns set in?
Put It Down If You Get Bored
As a general rule, people who love reading never, ever finish a crappy book.
As Schopenhauer once wrote, “one can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books: bad books are intellectual poison; they destroy the mind.” Life is much too short to finish a bad book.
Nancy Pearl advocates the Rule of 50. This entails reading the first 50 pages of a book and then deciding if it is worth finishing. The Rule of 50 has an interesting feature: once you are over the age of 50, subtract your age from 100 and read that many pages. Pearl writes:
And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you are really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know… When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book…When you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover.
Nassim Taleb also emphasizes the importance of never finishing a substandard book:
The minute I was bored with a book or a subject, I moved to another one, instead of giving up on reading altogether – when you are limited to the school material and you get bored, you have a tendency to give up and do nothing or play hooky out of discouragement… The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading. So the number of the pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise. And you find gold, so to speak, effortlessly, just as in rational but undirected trial-and-error-based research.
“The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine percent of them is in a book.”
— Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Most people think that consuming information is the same as learning information. This idea is flawed.
The basic process of learning consists of reflection and feedback. We learn ideas gained through experiences – ours or others – that remain unchallenged unless we make the time to reflect on them. If you read something and you don’t make time to think about what you’ve read, your conclusions will be shaky.
The Feynman Technique
The Feynman technique is named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. You can think of it as an algorithm for guaranteed learning. There are four simple steps: choose a concept; teach it to a toddler; identify gaps and go back to the source material; and review and simplify.
Think About What You Can Apply
So, you’ve finished the book. Now what? How can you use what you have learned? Don’t just go away with a vague sense of “oh yeah, I should totally do what that author says.” Take the time to make a plan and decide how to implement key lessons from the book.
Reading alone is not enough. We have to contextualize the knowledge. When does it work? When doesn’t it work? Where can I apply it? What are the key variables? The list goes on. If you can take something you’ve read and apply it immediately, it will reinforce the learning and add context and meaning.
Teach What You Have Learned
Teaching others is a powerful way to embed information in your mind. This is part of the Feynman technique.
Upon completing a book, grab the nearest (willing) person and tell them about what you have learned. You’ll have to remove or explain the jargon, describe why this information has meaning, and walk them through the author’s logic. It sounds simple. After you try it the first time, you’ll realize it’s not easy.
If there is no one around who is interested, try talking to yourself. That’s what I do … but maybe I’m crazy.
And if that doesn’t work, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or post about it on Reddit or anywhere else where people are likely to be interested.
One of the benefits of our virtual reading group is that people are forced to actually think about what they are learning. We ask weekly questions on the assigned reading, and responses are diverse and thoughtful. The jargon goes away and people remove blind spots. It’s incredible to watch. The result is that after reading a book with us, people say “I’ve retained so much more than I would have if I did it on my own.”
It was Schopenhauer who said, “When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process.” To escape this, you need to reflect on your views and see how they stand up to feedback.
Catalogue Your Notes
There are endless ways of organizing your notes – by book, by author, by topic, by the time of reading. It doesn’t matter which system you use as long as you will be able to find the notes in the future.
Having a catalogue of everything you learn from reading creates a priceless resource which can be consulted whenever you need an idea, want inspiration, or want to confirm a thought. Over the years, you will build up a bank of wisdom to refer to in times of crisis, uncertainty, or need. It is hard to convey quite how valuable this can prove to be.
As General Mattis wrote: “Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
The options for cataloguing your notes include:
- A box of index cards, ideally organized by topic, author, or time of reading. Index cards can be moved around.
- A commonplace book (again, ideally organized by topic, author, or time of reading).
- A digital system, such as Evernote, OneNote, or plain old Microsoft Word. Digital systems have the added benefit of being searchable, which can save a lot of time if you refer to your notes on a regular basis.
Schedule time to read and review these notes.
Reread (If Necessary)
Great books should be read more than once. While rereading them can seem like a waste of time because there are so many other books to read, this is a misunderstanding of the learning process. The best time to start rereading a great book is right after finishing. The goal is not to read as many books as possible; I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. The goal is to gain as much wisdom as you can.
Rereading good books is of tremendous importance if we want to form lasting memories of the contents. Repetition is crucial for building memories. As Seneca wrote: “You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind.”
There’s no better way to finish this article than with the wise words of Henry Thoreau:
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind.
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ سِبَابُ الْمُسْلِمِ فُسُوقٌ، وَقِتَالُهُ كُفْرٌ ”
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said,
“Abusing a Muslim is Fusuq (i.e., an evil-doing), and killing him is Kufr (disbelief).” [Bukhari]
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، أَنْ رَجُلاً، لَعَنَ الرِّيحَ عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ “ لاَ تَلْعَنِ الرِّيحَ فَإِنَّهَا مَأْمُورَةٌ وَإِنَّهُ مَنْ لَعَنَ شَيْئًا لَيْسَ لَهُ بِأَهْلٍ رَجَعَتِ اللَّعْنَةُ عَلَيْهِ
‘Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) narrated that a man cursed the wind in the presence of the Prophet ﷺ, so he said:
“Do not curse the wind, for it is merely doing as ordered, and whoever curses something undeservingly, then the curse returns upon him.” [Tirmidhi]
عَنْ حُذَيْفَةَ قَالَ: مَا تَلاَعَنَ قَوْمٌ قَطُّ إِلاَّ حُقَّ عَلَيْهِمُ اللَّعْنَةُ.
Hudhayfa (Allah be pleased with him) said, “People do not curse one another without that curse coming true.” [al-Adab al-Mufrad]
وعن أبي الدرداء رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “إن العبد إذا لعن شيئًا، صعدت اللعنة إلى السماء، فتغلق أبواب السماء دونها، ثم تهبط إلى الأرض، فتغلق أبوابها دونها، ثم تأخذ يمينًا وشمالا، فإذا لم تجد مساغًا رجعت إلى الذي لُعن، فإن كان أهلا لذلك، وإلا رجعت إلى قائلها”.
Abu-Darda’ (May Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “When a person curses somebody or something, the curse goes up to heaven and the gates of heaven get closed. Then it comes down to the earth and its gates get closed. Then it turns right and left, and if it does not find an entrance to go anywhere, it returns to the person or thing that was cursed; if he or it deserves to be cursed; otherwise it returns to the person who uttered it.” [Abu Dawud]
For those that don’t know me, let me introduce myself. I am an Alim who studied in an institute for seven years, thereafter worked in several so- called Islamic institutes giving me enough experience to write this article, Alhumdu Lillah. I also have many Ulama colleagues and acquaintances, which has added to my experience! I will be fair, maybe it is because I am an Alim and have so many Ulama colleagues I have had such overwhelming experiences and in such a large capacity. Definitely more than the average person reading this, who may not be an Alim or has not had as many experiences because he/she does not know Ulama as well as some of us do.
CURSING A BELIEVER
I am going to start from recent events, as the whole reason I decided to lift my pen on such a crucial, but essential, critical, but vital topic is the image above which is my most recent experience, this was the final straw. How can we imagine anyone would give such a curse, let alone an Alim, a Mawlana, an individual who has studied Qur’an and Hadith of the Prophet ﷺ for several years under qualified Ulama. You must all be wondering what the reason was. I wasn’t going to write the story behind that message, not because I am scared, not at all. I am not afraid of the truth Alhumdu Lillah, nor am I afraid to admit my mistakes in public or in private. I feel it will get too long and I will end up going off on a tangent, as I tend to do. For the moment, I want readers to think of what possibly could be a justified reason to give someone such a curse (bud-dua)? What would be a reasonable explanation for it? Please do think long and hard. Has any one of you heard such a curse (bud-dua) before? Would you give such a curse (bud-dua) to your enemy or even a Kafir?
Well, we all use WhatsApp and have several groups for friends, family, maybe work colleagues and other social uses perhaps. Many Alims/Alimahs will have “Ulama/Alimaat” groups where they would discuss Fiqh/Hadith or Deeni issues (if the group is used for the correct purpose). I was on such a group not so long ago. There were many young Alims on the group, some may have still been studying. It was a simple issue of someone making a statement of not putting titles next to a scholar’s name and Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) was written just as “Aishah”, this scholar was a Mufti so he should have addressed himself as a Mufti and wrote “Allah be pleased with her” or “Radhiy Allahu Anhaa” after Aishah. This brother was corrected and he did not argue or reply back. Minutes later another person on the group went further and just wrote “IT” for Shaykhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (Allah have mercy upon him). I waited to see if anybody criticised him for it, as the first person was criticised. We should be fair in criticism and not pick and choose who we criticise. If our Ustadh makes a mistake we ignore it and when another person makes a mistake we magnify it? This is totally contradictory to the teachings of Islam. So, after seeing nobody commented and criticised this individual, I made a comment, I said, “We have gone a step further, far from removing titles, we are using acronyms for great Ulama.” This individual responded saying, or should I say ‘justifying’ his position, “It is acceptable, because it is the Urf to use short form on Social Media.” I understand people use slang and short form on Social Media, but since when did HE become Urf. Urf is a term used in Fiqh, something which is “common in the people”, something socially habitual. One man is not Urf! One man does not decide what Urf is! It is based on a “whole” society. He further went on to say, “if I did not like it I don’t need to use short form. He doesn’t mind using it, so he will use short form.” I found this a little arrogant, why? Doesn’t Islam say we should be doing “what’s right”? Not what “we want.” If everyone is going to do what they want, then what is the purpose of Qur’an and Hadith? What is the purpose of having knowledge? So to hear this behaviour coming from an Alim was shocking, he didn’t need to say that. He could have accepted he was wrong or proved his point. Not by making things up that it’s Urf because Ulama have said, which Ulama? He didn’t state one single Alim who has endorsed this short form for the names of Ulama or Salaf Saliheen on Social Media or public forums. I further emphasised that I found his statement arrogant, there’s a difference between calling someone “an arrogant individual” and saying something is “an act of arrogance”. No doubt, there are signs of arrogance in Qur’an and Hadith. As humans we use in everyday language”, e.g. “He/she was a bit arrogant that day.” This doesn’t mean we are claiming to be God! Only Allah knows what’s in the hearts, but what is in the heart is often revealed through our actions and especially our tongues. As Imam Ibnul Qayyim (Allah have mercy upon him) says, “If you want to get a taste of someone’s heart, look at his tongue.” Here, Imam Ibnul Qayyim (Allah have mercy upon him) isn’t claiming to be God, he is making a factual statement.
MOLVIS ARE GOOD LAWYERS!
Moving on, this individual demanded that I do not call him/others arrogant (despite me clarifying it was the statement that came across as arrogant), especially because they are Ulama. Wow! I was shocked, let’s just look at this carefully… so you can never EVER call an Alim arrogant? Despite what they do, great! This is some serious dictatorship, asking us to follow him blindly. I was then removed from the group, because the truth hurts. I rang the admin to ask why I was removed, he said because I called his teacher arrogant, even though I hadn’t. We debated the issue and he could not accept he was wrong. I bade him farewell. Regardless of what exactly happened, it is important to note the traits of evil Ulama, the corrupt ones, the ones cursed by the Prophet ﷺ. What I would like to point out at the end of this story, the Alim who removed me was confronted by several Ulama as to why he made this curse. He denied it, despite me sending a screenshot with his name, then another showing number. He replied saying it is all a lie and I had photo-shopped the image! Subhan’Allah, I have never known anyone in my entire life to lie so much, let alone an Alim.
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ” لاَ يَنْبَغِي لِلْمُؤْمِنِ أَنْ يَكُونَ لَعَّانًا ”
Ibn ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The believer is not one who curses others.” [Tirmidhi]
عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ لَيْسَ الْمُؤْمِنُ بِالطَّعَّانِ وَلاَ اللَّعَّانِ وَلاَ الْفَاحِشِ وَلاَ الْبَذِيءِ ” . قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ غَرِيبٌ
‘Abdullah (Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The believer does not insult the honour of others, nor curse, nor commit Fahishah, nor is he foul.” [Tirmidhi]
ARE ALL ULAMA CORRUPT?
For those who say this is only one incident and it is not fair to ‘paint all Alims/Alimahs with the same brush. Wallahi! I am not that judgemental and narrow-minded, as to use one incident and magnify it to give all Ulama a bad name. So far, I have not once said “ALL” Alims/Alimahs are corrupt. Nor will I be saying that in the rest of the article In Sha Allah. My main reason behind this article is not to name and shame an Alim or any Ulama (notice names have not been mentioned). The aim is to protect the general public from the corrupt and crooked, immoral and depraved Ulama. We must remember there are two types of Ulama; a) Ulama Haqq (rightful) and b) Ulama Soow (corrupt). From this we can deduce, contrary to popular belief not every Alim/Alimah will go to Jannah, and yes, the rule applies to males and females. Please see the Hadeeth.
In his book Ad-Daa’ Wad-Dawaa’, Ibn Al-Qayyim (Allah havemercy upon him) explains the Hadeeth of the first three to be thrown into Hell on the Day of Resurrection. He says: “from Abu Hurayrah, who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say, ‘Verily, the first to be judged on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who had died as a martyr. He will be brought forward. Allah will remind him of the favours He had bestowed upon him and the man will acknowledge them. Then He will ask him: `what did you do to express gratitude for it?’ The man will reply: `I fought for Your Cause till I was martyred.’ Allah will say: `You have lied. You fought so that people might call you courageous; and they have done so.’ Command will then be issued about him and he will be dragged on his face and thrown into Hell. Next a man who had acquired and imparted knowledge and read the Qur’an will be brought forward, Allah will remind him of the favours He had bestowed upon him and the man will acknowledge them. Then He will ask him: `what did you do to express gratitude for it?’ The man will reply: `I acquired knowledge and taught it, and read the Qur’an for Your sake.’ Allah will say to him: `You have lied. You acquired knowledge so that people might call you a learned (man), and you read the Qur’an so that they might call you a reciter, and they have done so.’ Command will then be issued about him, and he will be dragged on his face and thrown into Hell. Next a man whom Allah had made affluent and to whom Allah had given plenty of wealth, will be brought forward, Allah will remind him of the favours He had bestowed upon him and the man will acknowledge them. He will ask him: `what did you do to express gratitude for it?’ The man will reply: `I did not neglect any of the ways you liked wealth to be spend liberally for your sake’. Allah will say to him: `You have lied. You did it so that people might call you generous, and they have done so.’ Command will then be issued about him and he will be dragged on his face and thrown into Hell.” And the wording, “So these are the first of Allah’s creation the Fire will be kindled with on the Day of Resurrection“[Saheeh Muslim, 13/45/1905]
Then he says: “And I heard Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (Allah have mercy upon him) say, “Just as the best of the people are the Prophets, then the worst of the people is the one who imitates them, giving the false impression that he is from them while he is not from them. The best of people after them are the Ulama’ and the Shuhada’ and the Siddeeqoon and the Mukhlisoon, and the worst of the people is the one who imitates them while giving the false impression that he is from them, while he is not from them.” [Ad-Daa’ Wad-Dawaa’ pp38-39]
TWO CATEGORIES OF ULAMA
In the Hadeeth there are grave warnings of dreadful things awaiting the Ulama-e-Soow. They are among those who will be first to enter into Jahannam. They are astray and are lading others astray. The Prophet ﷺ said: “A person who seeks knowledge with the object of acquiring wordly riches, will not even smell the fragrance of Jannat.” [Targheeb]
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever acquired knowledge for the purpose of attracting people to be inclined towards him, will be cast into Jahannam.” [Targheeb]
and also “The worst of people, have the worst Ulama.” [Targheeb]
It is also reported that Rasulullah ﷺ said: “Knowledge is of two kinds: One type is that which is only on the tongue (having no effect upon the heart). This is Allah’s proof against men (that He completed His argument). The other type is that which is in the heart and is beneficial knowledge.”
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “The majority of the Hypocrites of this Ummah [Muslims] will be its readers [i.e. those who read the Qur’an and not act according to it].” [Musnad Ahmad no. 10/123]
In another Hadeeth He ﷺ said: “In the latter days the devout ones (Sufis) will be ignorant and the Ulama immoral.”
“Seek not knowledge in order to contest with the Ulama and to argue with the ignorant ones and to attract people towards you by it. Those who do this will be cast into Jahannam”.
Sayyidina Umar (Allah be pleased with him) said:
“On behalf of this Ummah I am most fearful of the Alim who is a hypocrite.”
People asked: “Who is a hypocritical Alim?”
Umar (Allah be pleased with him) replied:
“He is one who by tongue is an Alim, but in his heart he is ignorant.”
Hasan (Allah be pleased with him) said: “Do not become such that in spite of having acquired the knowledge of the Ulama and become acquainted with the deep researches of the thinkers, you behave and act in the manner of ignorant fools.”
Regarding the corruption and fitnah of the Ulama in times close to Qiyamah please this article on the link. The Prophet ﷺ said: “There will come a time on the people when there will remain nothing of the Islam except its [ism] name and nothing will remain of the Qur’an except its [rasm] outward form. Their Masjids will be full of people/very well built but will be empty of guidance. Their scholars will be the most evil under the heavens; from them [fitnah] turmoil will emanate from them and to them will it return.” [Baihaqi, Shu’bul Iman no. 2/788]
“DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET”
Ulama have always played a major role in the Ummah, no doubt Ulama of the past were very sincere and honest. They treated people fairly and justly. More importantly, they gave rulings and fatwas with complete knowledge and Taqwa. The Ulama of the past had the Hereafter in mind and were God conscious. It is because of these Ulama, Islam reached us in its pristine form – Alhumdu Lillah for their sacrifices, and I am not ungrateful. You can learn more about Ulama Haqq here. However, in the past there were also corrupt scholars and evil Ulama, the difference is today they have increased in number far more than that of the past. I heard a renowned Alim of the UK state, “Before Qiyamah, the majority of the Ulama will be corrupt.” Please do not take this statement lightly, let it sink in before you read any further. This means that the true Ulama will be few. No doubt there are good Ulama living today, even here in the West, but if we want the best for ourselves and our children we need to find those Ulama. Not every Imam is a God-fearing person, not every Madrasah teacher has Taqwa and piety. Many Imams beat their wives and stand like hypocrites on a Friday to lecture the community about peace and justice in their sermons. There are many examples I can give of “Molvis behaving badly,” unfortunately too many. I am pretty sure everyone reading this article will have had their own experiences too, at least with one Alim. I want to create a balance, give you the other side of the coin (every coin has two sides). We need good Ulama, to guide and direct us, but is every Alim good and pious? Imam Anwar Awlaki (Allah have mercy on him) once said, “Every deviant sect was made by an Alim.” So for those of you who are still in cuckoo land and think we must respect “every Alim”, that is wrong unfortunately. You respect the devout and pious Ulama, the way to find one is look at his actions, not his speech. Anybody can talk with a sweet tongue, looking eloquent and handsome.
There are many signs of corrupt Ulama. One example I would like to start with is, teachers who beat the living daylights out of our children when we send them to Madrasahs and Darul Ulooms, (this still goes on FYI). Some so-called Ulama damage our children so painfully, these children lose all confidence in themselves. They neither progress in Deen nor Dunya. They grow up hating Islam, hating Ulama, hating the Masjid and probably hate their parents for sending them to Madrasah. These children grow up distant from the Qur’an and distant from Islamic knowledge. Many later get married and have their own children, but they will not send them to the Masjid because of the experiences their father had when he was a child.
Who is to blame for all of this?
Simply because Molvi Saheb couldn’t control his anger?
Molvi Saheb didn’t get his tea on time that day?
Or due to the fact Molvi Saheb had an argument with his wife that day, he took it out on our children?
For all those evil Ulama out there, who justify child abuse, shame on you! I challenge any single one of you, show me one Ayah of the Qur’an, one Hadith where it allows you to hit a child. Show me one incident where the Prophet ﷺ hit a child? You may deceive the parents of the child by saying, “it’s for their own good!” La Hawla Wa La Quwata Illa Billah! How will you justify your zulm in Allah’s eyes?! I have no hesitation in calling such people zalims, Alim or non-Alim, zulm is Haram for everyone. It was even Haram for the Prophet of Allah ﷺ, but it has been made halal for Ulama? Allah himself declares zulm haram. Dear parents, beware of whom you send your child to, to learn Islam. Please don’t just look at convenience, “Molvi Saheb lives on the same street as us, SO HE MUST BE GOOD!” Such naïve thinking can be dangerous. Find good Madrasahs and good teachers, regularly talk to your children about their day at school and Madrasah. Ask them, “Does your Ustadh hit?” Being shy about these matters will only cost you and your child, their future. Zulm is zulm, wrong is wrong.
LEARN TO COMPLAIN
I understand it is hard for parents, especially mothers (usually the mothers do the running around) to confront an Ustadh or the principal with regards to these issues. Considering many Alims/teachers are defensive when it comes to acknowledging their own mistakes, the short story I gave at the start is evident to this. Nevertheless, confront them.
ARROGANT & NARCISSISTIC MOLVIS
I have met many Alims who are arrogant narcissists in their approach and manner and most won’t accept their mistakes. Some will use, or should I say MISUSE Qur’an and Hadith to justify their behaviour. I remember working for a so-called Islamic charity run by Ulama. One of the senior Alims, who I used to respect a lot in my naïve days, whenever I would disagree with him or air an opinion he didn’t like (because of his arrogance), would quickly quote the Hadith, “respect your elders.” I laugh now thinking back on it, to disagree with someone is disrespectful? Having an opinion is disrespectful? Then to misuse Hadith! Subhan Allah. Another sign of corrupt Ulama, true knowledge makes you humble. Arrogance was Haram for the Prophet (SAW), who made it Halal for Molvis?
WHO IS TO BLAME?
The blame is not always on Darul Ulooms, initially I blame the parents who are the mothers and fathers of these children. Many parents don’t have the correct intention for sending their children to Darul Uloom or making them Alim/Alimah. I have heard this from many Pakistani Ulama, in Pakistani families as long as one or two are educated and professionals, i.e. bringing the money in, the weaker children or not as bright are “shoved” into Madrasahs. So how can we fully blame Darul Ulooms for producing such arrogant individuals when their parents’ intentions were not sincere? So the lion share of the blame is on the parents, rather than the individuals themselves. They spend six or seven years in an Islamic environment, unable to change their ways and bad habits. How will such people make changes in the Ummah? But the one thing I will blame Darul Ulooms for, most of them anyway, is focusing on numbers, 40-50 graduates a year? What’s the need? Since when has Islam been about numbers? They need to stop lowering their standards and focus on quality not quantity. I understand times have changed from the 80s and 90s and there is more focus on the secular side, but then you need to look at some of the produce you are making. There is absolutely no need for such a great number of Ulama, especially when they are leaving with no Tarbiyyah and Islah (upbringing) whatsoever. Anyone who disagrees can ask me personally, the incidents I have seen/had with recent graduates. I won’t share them here, because my intention isn’t to expose anyone but nobody should suffer at the hands of these wolves. Yes, ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, or should I say, ‘Devils in Molvis’ clothing’! “Islam does not say suffer peacefully.” – Malcolm X (Allah have mercy on him)
“QUALITY NOT QUANTITY.”
Islam has never been about numbers, never. When Islam started the Prophet ﷺ only had Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him), He ﷺ only had his wife Khadijah (Allah be pleased with her). One man and one woman, why didn’t He give up? Because that one man and one woman was equal to a whole Ummah! “Quality not quantity.
On the day of Badr, there were only 313 Sahabah (Allah be pleased with them) against 1,000. Why didn’t they wait for more people to accept Islam? Simply because those 313 were unique and consolidated, they could overcome an army of 10,000 if you ask me! “Quality not quantity.”
Now this is a problem everywhere, especially on social media. It has become all about numbers, followers and likes. Please see this article for further information.
When Madrasahs/Maktabs/Darul Ulooms just focus on numbers, people tend to start thinking is it just about making money?! More students, more fees?! I am sorry Sherlock, but it doesn’t take a genius to work that one out There are Madrasahs in the UK who focus on quality, less numbers more productivity. I don’t see them closing down because they cannot pay the bills. My point being we need “less Ulama,” but good Ulama.
The Prophet ﷺ: “Knowledge (of the Deen) will be (imparted and acquired) for purposes other than the Deen, the dunya (wealth and fame) will be pursued with the deeds of the Akhirah.”
MONEY-MAKING MILLIONAIRE MOLVIS
Now we come on to the money-making Molvis, another sign of corrupt Ulama. These sell their Deen for the Dunya. Ulama who made their Madrasahs and Islamic schools into businesses, purely for money making. They neither care about the children nor the parents, as long as their surpluses add up at the end of the year. But the society is deceived and loses out. They charge extortionate rates to parents for fees, their teaching standards are abysmal. Which only proves one thing: they are bereft of any form of sincerity. I am not playing God nor being judgemental, sincerity has signs and so does a lack of sincerity. Not forgetting the ones who became millionaires by selling Taweez and taking advantage of people’s misfortune, but that doesn’t stop these Molvis from making their “fortune.” Read this to see how much scholars charge for lectures.
Then we have Ulama who are the power-hungry control freaks. The dictators. Nothing short of a Tyrant. Their word is the Gospel. You cannot question them or differ with them. They make Hitler and Stalin look like puppets. They will never let go of their “kursi” (position) once they hold it, Imam or principal. Some go to great lengths to get those positions. I know of an Alim in my local Madrasah who tried to absolute name me and shame for reasons Allah knows best (I don’t want to get defensive on here, nor come across defensive). But the dictator himself was not elected in management, another Alim had been selected by teachers by the majority of votes. This Alim in front of my own eyes swindled and dwindled the votes, then put his own name at the top. Most of you won’t believe it, but it is true – Allah is my witness. Masjids and Madrasahs are no longer JUST places of worship, rather they are places for politics and corruption. For power and greed! Inna Lillah Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’oon.
RACISM AND UNFAIRNESS
Oh yes! You all knew that was coming. Racism is in everyone, not just Ulama. So why have I mentioned it here? The Racism is in Ulama is to another degree, far more than the average person. Possibly because they have a lot of authority and control, but they use that to their own advantage. Not how Allah has taught them in the Qur’an. Any institution whose constitution is based on Racism can never ever be successful in the eyes of Allah SWT, Qur’an and Hadith teaches us that. How can you judge a person from the village their grandparents lived in?? Are you for real?! Nowadays we have schools that give preference to people from their own village. Once I had a debate with an Alim who was so very defensive in respect of such schools, in my naïve days I respected this Alim a lot as he worked in my Madrasah, but his Racism was unbelievable. Nice to know what these people keep in their hearts:
“Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, and what their breasts conceal is greater. We have certainly made clear to you the signs, if you will use intellect.” (3:118)
Unbeknownst to him the school have a policy, in which they give preference to certain members of certain mosques (all to do with villages in India). Wow! When you live in 21st century Britain you would think those days would have gone, you would think Racism was a thing of the past. Shame on such Ulama, would Fatima bint Muhammad ﷺ be allowed in your school? She certainly isn’t from your village. Why do I single these guys out, when all Mosques have similar policies? The Alim asked me this same question, but I am a fair man, Alhumdu Lillah. My answer; the Mosques are run by committees, who are mostly laymen, not Ulama. You should know better. Not saying they are correct either. I am not a member of any Mosque for this reason; their Racist constitutions. Unfortunately, I am unlike other Ulama who just look at their own benefit, I have principles – Alhumdu Lillah. Because Ulama lack principles, they tend to “stick up for their own”. This is totally against Islam.
Every Masjid and Darul Uloom is “Waqf”, nobody owns these buildings, they were made with the public’s money. When they ask for Lillah money they don’t ask you which village you are from?!
I wrote this whole article after one incident where I walked into a Masjid in Blackburn and I was told by an Alim I wasn’t welcome because I am not from their village in India!!! I am really sorry my parents weren’t born in your village (THANK GOD THEY WEREN’T). What makes it worse is when I related the incident to some acquaintances, I was told to ‘chill out and relax. It was just a joke?!’ I apologise for my lack of sense of humour, but Racism is Haram and so are Racist jokes. Dear Molvis, don’t make Haram into Halal because it suits you. Islam is not a buffet, you can’t pick and choose .And for the record, I have a prefect sense of humour, Ma Sha Allah. There is a fine line between immaturity and cracking a joke, learn the distinction between the two. If your local Masjid or Madrasah or any organisation, be it a charity does wrong, it is wrong. I am sorry for stating the obvious, but some Ulama find this really hard to digest. Because they are blind and too stubborn to accept the truth. If an Alim or any Islamic organisation does wrong they must be condemned, NOT condoned and overlooked. Zulm is not just in Syria and Burma, we have many Ulama who oppress people right here in the UK, but it is brushed under the carpet. More importantly, when an individual complains and speaks up he is made to look like the bad guy. Why? Because we are deceived by the long turbans and flowing beards of Molvis. You respect good Ulama, not the bad ones. And you certainly do not worship them and make them into God! If people dislike and loathe what I say, then teach your staff members and parents not to behave with me in a Racist and arrogant manner. Alhumdu Lillah! My mother did not give birth to a coward, I CAN speak and SHALL speak till Allah wants me to. Allah says about the Jews and the Christians,
“They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.” (9:31)
One final factor that has a major role in corrupt Alims/Alimahs is part time classes, which I have never agreed with, Absolutely Dead Against.
Here’s the proof: have you ever heard of a part-time pilot? Part-time doctor? Part-time surgeon? Part-time lawyer? Part-time engineer? No! But we hear of part-time Alims/Aimahs, disgraceful.
If you were in an operating theatre and you were told the surgeon has only studied a part-time course, would you be happy for them to operate on you? Only a fool would be.
How on earth can we rely on part-time Alims/Alimahs? I understand the need to educate and equip our boys and girls with Islam but I don’t understand the need of so many Alims/Alimahs, ESPECIALLY when you are not doing a proper and thorough job of it, sorry. Let them learn Arabic and Tafsir and Hadith within a few years. You don’t need to give them a title of a scholar when they have not studied in depth. If this continues, you will see more and more evil spread in the Ummah because of these half-baked scholars. Parents are not to jump on the bandwagon and follow what everyone else does, Allah gave you Aqal. The full blame though, lies on the founders of these places, many just open because the mosque next door has opened an Alimah class, Competition?
JEALOUSY AND ENMITY
On the topic of competition, Alims and Alimahs need to learn to work together and avoid jealousy and hatred on Every Little Thing! Seriously, it is not healthy AT ALL! There are Ulama that have conspired to shut another Madrasah down because they opened on the same street. Does this Alim not believe in Taqdeer? Rizq is in Allah’s hands? Unity/working together? Someone once famously said,
! ایک گلی میں دو کتے رہ سکتے ہے لیکن دو مولوی نھیں
“Two dogs can live (peacefully) in one alley, but two Molvis cannot.” Well said, I fully agree.
THE TRUE SCHOLARS
“…Those truly fear Allah among His servants are those who have knowledge (Ulema). For Allah is Exalted in Might and is Forgiving.” [Al-Fatir: 28]
Regarding “…Those truly fear Allah among His servants are those who have knowledge…” Imam Ibn Kathir (Allah have mercy on his soul) stated that, “The more the knowledge of Allah and His SWT power is complete, the more He SWT will be feared by those who have the complete knowledge.”
Imam Al-Qurtubi (Allah have mercy on his soul) said that, “The scholars are those who know the power of Allah SWT. They are in no doubt of His SWT punishment no matter what the sin is.”
It was narrated by Ali (Allah be pleased with him) that Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) said, “The scholars are those who know that Allah is capable of anything.”
On the authority of Ziyad ibn Lubayd the Prophet ﷺ said, ‘….and knowledge will go [or disappear].’ He said, ‘O Messenger of Allah how will knowledge leave [disappear] whilst we read the Qur’an and our children read the Qur’an and they will make their children read it till the Day of Judgement.’ He said, ‘May your Mother lose you I thought your one of the men of understanding of Madinah. Don’t you see these Jews and Christians reading their Torah and Gospel but they don’t practice anything of it.’ [Ibn Majah no. 4048]
Ali (Allah be pleased with him) said I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ says, ‘Fit-nah will certainly come.’ I asked what is the way out O Messenger of Allah ﷺ ? He replied, ‘The Book of Allah [swt] is the way, for it contains in-formation of what happened before you, news of what will come after you and a decision regarding matters that will occur among you….It is deciscive [fasl] and not a joke [hazl]. Whoever leaves leaves it, is a tyrant and Allah [swt] will break him, and if anyone seeks guidance else-where [other than the Qur’an] Allah will lead him astray. It is the rope of Allah [swt], the wise reminder, the straight path, whims would not deviate it nor the tongue become confused, and the scholars cannot be fully satisfied [i.e. still more to explore]. It is not worn down by repetition nor do its wonders ever cease……He who quotes it speaks the truth, he who acts according to it is rewarded, he who judges according to it is just, and he who invites people to it [i.e. the Qur’an] is [himself] guided to the Straight Path….’ Tirmidhi no. 2906 [Dha’eef – the chain is weak but the meaning is Saheeh –scholars comment that this is more likely the statement of Ali and not the Prophet ﷺ]
Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ood (Allah be pleased with him) said, “No age will dawn upon you but it will be viler than the one preceding it. I do not mean a ruler better than another ruler, or a year better than another year, but (I mean) that your Ulama and Fiqh will disappear, and you will not find (uprighteous) successors to them. Then there will come people who will issue ‘fatwas’ [legal opinions] based on their own opinion.” And in another narration, “Who will blunt Islam and destroy it.”
Hakeemul Ummah, Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (Allah have mercy upon him) states: “Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) directed us to follow the ‘Sawaad-e-A’zam’ in times of fitnah. From the different opinions of Ulama, the preferred view seems to be the one that is understood from the Zaahir (text) of the Hadith i.e. ‘follow the majority.’ This view is restricted to the Khayrul Quroon when Khayr (goodness) was dominant (ghalib). Today’s “majority” are not the purport of the Hadith (i.e. the Sawaad-e-A’zam Hadith), because today the majority consists of misguided people.”
يحيى بن معاذ ينشد في مجالسه كان
مواعظ الواعظ لن تقبلا…. حتى يعيها قلبه أولا
يا قوم من أظلم من واعظ ….قد خالف ما قاله في الملا
أظهر بين الناس إحسانه ….و بارز الرحمن لما خلا
I have written this article as a reminder for myself and other Ulama, first and foremost. A wise man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Becoming an Alim is easy, especially in this day and age when standards are so low in Darul Ulooms. Anybody can pass like wind through six years, we have all heard of “Arafati Molvis.” But we need to live up to the title.
I always say, “Ulama LOVE the title ‘Mawlana’, but very few people LIVE the title of a Mawlana.
In no way, means or fashion do I think of myself as a true Alim or from the Ulama Haqq. I am not perfect and there is no pretence or artificial humility there. You don’t need to be perfect to complain and speak up. You don’t need to be flawless to criticise someone. You just need to be clear and be sincere. Humility leads you to criticise your own, arrogance leads you to always “defend” your own. I have always believed that, feel free to disagree. I am not going to criticise Brelwi Ulama and Salafi Ulama when we have corruption in our own, you put your own house fire out first! Why should I be afraid to speak the truth, when these corrupt Ulama are not afraid of lying? I intend to empower people to stand up to the Ulama that deceive us and mislead us, learn to wake up and speak up! Don’t be afraid of these bullies and cowards. Many are just armchair critics, they can never meet you and have a challenge face to face. Please do listen and follow the true Ulama, I have not said once stop following Ulama. Just learn that there are two types and look for the right type. Allah keep us united on the truth. Allah grant us ALL Hidayah and guide us to the straight path. Allah protect us from being amongst Ulama Soow and save us all from Hellfire.
Ismail Ibn Nazir Satia (Unafraid to speak the truth, Alhumdu Lillah!)
10th Safar 1439
“The most dangerous man in society is he who has nothing to lose.”