NOT ALL READINGS are the same, nor are all kinds of reading recommended. There is an erroneous and dangerous tendency among non-critical or inexperienced readers to revere and respect everything printed. It must have some value,we think to ourselves, otherwise why would it be printed? The author is a scholar, a PhD holder, a doctor, a famous intellectual, etc. etc.
No, not everything that is printed is worthy of it—there is a tremendous amount of baseless, misleading, factually incorrect, bigoted and harmful material out there in print. And bad reading is just as bad as bad company, bad viewing or bad conversation. Allah instructed the Muslims to leave the company of those who are mocking the din of Allah if we are not capable of stopping them. Allah says emphatically at least twice in the Quran:
Already has He sent you Word in the Book, that when you hear the signs (verses) of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, you are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme: if you did, ye would be like them. For Allah will collect the hypocrites and those who defy faith – all in Hell. [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:140]
When you see men engaged in vain discourse about Our signs, turn away from them unless they turn to a different theme. If Satan ever makes thee forget, then after recollection, sit not in the company of those who do wrong. [Surat Al-An’am, 6:68]
These instructions apply equally to all kinds of reading that encourage disbelief, disrespect the verses and the din of Allah. But how can we read today anything without it mocking God and His din, Islam, and the Quran? The news are full of it, the opinion pieces, the books, the think tank reports, the novels, everything. What can we do? Given that, if we are to read anything, we will inevitably come across misleading and Islam-bashing material, here are a few suggestions to minimize their effects:
(i) Read the Quran daily, with understanding, and listen to it frequently; this will fortify your heart against propaganda and insinuations of Satan and devilish humans.
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(ii) Read Islamic books first and more frequently; literature on hadith, Sirah, manners, great history of Islam, etc.
(iii) Read judiciously; even in non-Muslim literature, there is tremendous wisdom and benefit if you read the right stuff. The reading lists prepared by trustworthy and sincere Muslim reading experts will hopefully be a first guide to good reading. Seek recommendations from well-read and good believing Muslims among your family and friends.
(iv) Whenever any reading creates doubts about God and His din, or is otherwise provocative of haram deeds or thoughts, stop reading it, seek Allah’s refuge, and even offer two rak’ahs in prayer. If you must continue to read, such as for assigned readings in a class, discuss it with more learned Muslims of good faith.
I am not recommending blind faith, closing your mind against rational argument, or reading only what you agree with; I am only suggesting being truly reasonable and wise. To be more specific in my recommendation, let me enumerate different kinds of harmful readings and their cure:
(i) Stuff that is immoral, unethical, or erotic—this is plainly useless and haram. If you come across it, stop reading it, seek Allah’s refuge, and read some Quran or another Islamic book such as on death and Hereafter to make up for it.
(ii) Reading that might make you doubt the existence of God or the truth of God’s message—the only purpose of reading this could be to refute the arguments of such people—but for that you must be extremely well-versed in the Qur’anic and scholarly arguments about God and His Tawhid, and be in a state of spiritual strength, so you can fight off evil thoughts. I have had Muslim friends who find this kind of stuff interesting for some reason, without being well-versed in Islam, mostly because they are in a state of doubt—and we can only pray to Allah to guide them and reform their taste.
(iii) Readings that attack Islam from outside—that is, the reading material prepared by open enemies of Islam. Never read this stuff unless you are extremely well-versed in the Quran and the Sunnah, and have read profusely from Islamic perspective. Belief in God and His Message, Islam, is the most reasonable, most rational thing to do; and the more you know about Islam and the more you experience God’s presence in worship, the more you are settled in it and pleased with it. The fact is that most of these misleading readings are not appealing to your reason or convincing you to think about the ultimate purpose of life, they are rather deceiving you by making you focus solely on the pleasures and affairs of this world.
(iv) The trickiest and most dangerous kinds of readings are those that do not directly malign Islam, but pretend to be its friends, either as Muslims or non-Muslims, but in fact they are attacking the roots of Islam. Such books can be confused, by the unaware and inexperienced, with those books that are genuinely sincere to Allah and are critiquing certain misunderstandings and malpractices among Muslims. The best advice about such works is that these should never be your first readings. Always establish your faith on very firm grounds by frequently reading and reflecting on the Quran, by remembering Allah, and by reading straightforward Islamic books, and by reading traditional
Islamic literature, before you get into critical readings.