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The Importance of Reading and the MIC Library

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Mindworks Publishing was recently invited to participate at the inauguration ceremony for the Maryam Masjid Islamic Center Library. Sister Janette Grant, Owner and Executive Editor for Mindworks, delivered the following speech at the event:

The Importance Of Reading

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Verily, all praise is due to Allah. It is due to Him, and to Him alone. We praise Him and we seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil of our own selves and from the evil of our actions. And whomsoever Allah guides, there is none to misguide him, and whomsoever Allah leads astray none can guide him aright. I testify that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah, alone with no partner, and I testify that Muhammad, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, is His messenger.

As Salaamu Alaikum and thank you for inviting me here today. I am touched and humbled to have been asked to speak to you about the importance of reading and I pray that this library may be a blessing to many, inshaa’Allah.
I’d like to start by mentioning the first ayat revealed to our beloved Prophet Muhammad, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, in Surah Al Alaq:

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,
'Read! In the name of your Lord Who has created,
He has created man from a clot,
Read! and your Lord is Most Generous,
Who has taught by the pen,
He has taught man which he knew not.

The first blessed verses revealed to the Prophet, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, began with IQRA – Read. When pondering these words of instruction, one can understand how reading is necessary for the soul. Many people read for leisure, or read for their jobs and careers, but we as Muslims read for the sake of our souls. I will never forget the first time that I read the translation of the Holy Quran and how I felt. It was as if all of the questions that I had about belief and religion were answered, or at least given a context through which I could seek and discover the answers with structure and guidelines; and without confusion.

Today, Islam is second to Christianity as the largest religion in the world with 1.6 billion Muslims according to recent reports, and it is inspiring to know that each and every Muslim around the world is encouraged to read. We read or recite the Al Fatihah and other surahs daily in our prayers, we read the entire Holy Quran at least once a year during the month of Ramadan, and we read the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam. The rich tradition of learning and pursuing knowledge is one of the treasures of Islam that I have come to cherish, and there is a saying of the Prophet, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, in Sunan Ibn Majah, Chapter 1, hadith number 226 which reads:

Narrated: Zirr bin Hubaish
I went to Safwan bin Assal Al-Muradi and he said: ‘What brought you here?’ I said: ‘I am seeking knowledge.’ He said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, say: “There is no one who goes out of his house in order to seek knowledge, but the angels lower their wings in approval of his action.’”

According to this saying, seeking knowledge earns approval from the angels of Allah, subhana wa’ta’aala. In recent history, reading and writing was acknowledged as such an important aspect of human growth and fulfillment that during the 16th to 19th century, African slaves were prohibited by law within the United States from learning these skills as a means of keeping the slaves oppressed by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Literacy and education are a means to mental and spiritual liberation and have been proven to be contributors to the growth and success of nations.

The establishment of a library in any community nourishes and purifies the soul, promotes analytical thinking, creativity and the pursuit of life-long learning. Libraries play an important role in society both as a system for cataloging information and by providing people with free opportunities for reading through books, magazines, newspapers, and multimedia tools. Without libraries, it would be difficult to track the growth and development of a society.
It is exciting to know that our community will have access to a library of books solely dedicated to the history and traditions of Islam, especially when public libraries tend to provide limited amounts of information about Muslims. As a consistent public library visitor, I find it extremely satisfying to know that there will now be a resource in our community for quality books about Islam and Muslims where we will be permitted to check out books and to even have our very own library card!

A person’s memory may only last a lifetime, but the collective human memory has endured for ages and many of the stories of those who came before us are told to us through their books, through their art and through their languages. The earliest libraries date as far back as 1200 BC in Syria and there were at least twenty-eight public libraries of the early Roman Empire. Throughout the Islamic world, libraries complemented the existing oral tradition as a means of acquiring knowledge and throughout the Middle Ages reading was regarded as crucial to the preservation of cultural memory. The largest library, before the advent of Islam was founded by Ptolemy in 287BC at Alexandria and is alleged to have contained about a quarter of million books.

The birth of Islam provided a stimulus for human pursuits of knowledge and the necessity of preserving the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, following his death, initiated the collection of the sacred recitations and the sayings of the Prophet, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam , in various forms. This paved the way for the establishment of the earliest libraries in the world of Islam. In essence, the mosques which formed the centers of all political, religious and educational Islamic activities housed valuable libraries of books on religion, philosophy and science.

Muslims have distinguished themselves as patrons of learning and have contributed to the evolution of civilization in many ways. More than 2,000 sayings of the Prophet, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, were transmitted by Aishah bint Abu Bakr, radiallahu anu, and hadith scholars like Imam Muhammad Ibn Ismail al-Bukhari is said to have learned 600,000 sayings. During the Abbasid Era, Caliph Mansur founded a translation department in which classical and scientific works were translated from various languages into Arabic and Harun-ar-Rashid founded Bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom. The House of Wisdom was a library and institute of learning and it is said that its books were efficiently arranged and catalogued. The libraries of the Abbasid Empire gained so much popularity that by the close of the 11th century a network of them existed.

In addition, the principal mosques of the big cities of the world of Islam, which served as teaching institutions, also had sections of libraries attached to them. The Fatimid Caliph Aziz Billah was patron of learning and has the distinction of having been in rule when the famous academy of higher education, Al-Azhar University, was founded. Great scholars and scientists were attached to the activities and scholarship of the library, which was open to the public, and students were encouraged in research work.

Sunan Ibn Majah states in chapter 1, hadith number 243:
Narrated: Abu Hurairah that the Prophet, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, said: “The best charity is when a Muslim man gains knowledge, then he teaches it to his Muslim brother.”

Learning and teaching go hand-in-hand. We know that our blessed Prophet, sallalahu alaihi wasalaam, was in fact was unlettered, meaning that he did not know how to read or write, but by the grace and decree of Allah, subhana wa’ta’aala, he learned and taught his entire community. The first verses of Surah Alaq did not order us to pray, or to fast or to pay Zakat, which are among the pillars of Islam, but did in fact command our Rasool to ‘Read.’ The first duty in Islam to be revealed was to read and thus to acquire knowledge. We read to gain knowledge so that we can acquire an understanding and if we were not to read, then how would we learn and teach?

We are the followers of Islam, the believers of the divine faith, who have been given the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah, an ocean of knowledge and guidance. Through learning, we purify ourselves, increase our faith and thus increase our belief in the Unseen.

Despite the positive effects of libraries and reading, public library facilities are having difficulty keeping their doors open which makes this endeavor at Maryam Masjid even more important. With the onset of new technology such as the iPad, and E-book readers, along with the lack of funding for public facilities, it is difficult for many public libraries to continue to operate and thus it is even more beneficial for mosques to develop their own collections of books. And the establishment of libraries is in accordance with the vast intellectual legacy of Islam.

I’d like to end with a personal anecdote. I first met my husband in a library, subhanaa’Allah. I was completing my work-study job as a library clerk in college and he would come in every day or so to request Time or The Economist or some other magazine that impressed my 18 year old mind. I didn’t think much of it at the time and would diligently give him whichever magazine he was requesting for the day and we never said much to each other, but little did I know, Allah, subhanaa wa ta’aala, had a plan for us. Al-Hamdulilah, it was my husband who gave me my first copy of the Holy Quran and it was he who invited me to Islam. So, subhanaa’Allah, I can earnestly and personally advocate the benefit of establishing and visiting a library.

Thank you for having me and my family here today to inaugurate the Maryam Islamic Center Library and may Allah, subhana wa’taala, reward us for our good deeds and forgive us for our wrongs, amin.

Maryam Masjid Islamic Center has opened the doors to its new library as of Saturday March 29th 2014. Members will be allowed to check out books and library cards will be issued for $1. The hours of operation for the library will be Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 2:00pm, however, Maryam Masjid is hoping to extend these hours in the future.

Please contact Maryam Masjid with the information provided below for instructions.
info@maryammasjid.org
(281) 565 – 6557
504 Sartartia Rd.
Sugar Land, TX 77479

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