Tuesday 29 July 2008

Reading Maths Books for Fun

I often come across the attitude that stories are a waste of time and that fiction is useless. On the one hand I get these views from traditional Asian parents (mine included) that believe that children should sit and read worthy books only (because Advances Statistics in maths makes great bedtime reading) and on the other hand from devout Muslims who believe that anything outside of religious texts (and necessary school textbooks at a stretch) are mukrooh (permitted but disliked) because they waste time and are of no benefit.

Perhaps this attitude is a contributory factor to the current stagnancy of thought in much of the Muslim world. I strongly believe that any great scholarly endeavour, philosophy or movement needs creativity and imagination – whether academic or Islamic.

Fiction helps us to imagine what is outside the limited world we live in, the possibilities that may exist. It helps us to think about what might happen in any given situation, how people might behave and their motivations for doing so, a level of insight that experience can only give us with a lot of suffering or with old age. Reading about other people, will help us understand people that are very different to us – people of a different country or race. You can’t hate or judge people if you figuratively walk a mile in their shoes, but you can understand them and speak to them a bit more clearly.

Perhaps this is why, whilst Eastern scholars are as capable (who are we to judge?), it is Western scholars who are so well-loved and seen as very relevant and accessible. The likes of Imam Zaid Shakir, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Abdul-Hakim Murad, Tariq Ramadan and many others stand out because they are able to understand how people feel and speak to them in a language and regarding issues which are relevant to them.

Reading maths books will not give us this quality (although it might provide the added bonus of turning us into geeks). Reading Islamic texts is important, but alone they are serious, sometimes without any context (the exception being the Seerah’s – biographies of the Prophet (PBUH) - which are full of emotion and detail) and often don’t relate to our lives today.

What happens when we provide ourselves and our children with the knowledge of the great texts – the tafseers, seerah’s, books of hadith and treatises of law and then allow our imaginations to run with how we use that knowledge in our lives, how we get it to people, how we bring ourselves closer to our Rabb (SWT) with it? Perhaps we can make these great texts come alive once more as when they were written?

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