Does the Quran have any direct verses about books? Can the Quran guide us on what kinds of books to read? How can a book that was revealed about 1400 years ago tell us about which book genres are useful and which are not?
In this text, we will study the status of reading books in the Quran and in Islamic teachings.
The first thing about books is the fact that the Quran, the miracle of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) is a book. Therefore, there is no doubt that there are no problems with reading books in Islam. But, the question that if there is any limitations in reading different types of books is considerable.
The word book has been used a lot in the Quran and has been used for three different meanings. Yet, all of them are used for a thing that records concepts and meanings and transfers them to the audience. In all different meanings of the book, it has been mentioned as a medium. The three different types of books mentioned in the Quran are as follows:
1- The books that contain religious rules and laws. 
2- The books that record the deeds and actions of people. 
3- The book in which all the events and details of this universe have been written and is kept by Allah. 
Writing books is also an important point in the eyes of the Quran, as books are crucial means of conveying messages and transferring history to the next generations. They are also great means of spreading knowledge, wisdom, science, etc. the status of books and writing are so high in the eyes of Allah (SWT) that there is a chapter in the Quran called “Pen” (Qalam) in which Allah (SWT) swears by pens and what is written by it. 
However, it is also very important that the written content should be useful, based on truth, and produced for the growth and improvement of human beings:
“So woe to them who write the Book with their hands and then say, ‘This is from Allah,’ that they may sell it for a paltry gain. So woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they earn!” (2: 79)
This can be a very important lesson and point to all of those who use their writing talent and produce written material for their audience. The above verse shows how enormous the effect of written products are on the readers.
Reading is also a very important point that is mentioned in the Quran. The most unique verse of the Quran that shows the importance of reading is, according to some Islamic scholars, the first verse of the Quran that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP):
“Read in the Name of your Lord who created; Created man from a clinging mass. Read, and your Lord is the most generous, who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.” (96: 1-5)
The above few verses show how learning knowledge and wisdom is connected to writing and reading. It is by writing that human beings transfer their thoughts and learnings to others, and it is by reading those writings that people learn from others. It is by reading that people think, contemplate, and come up with new ideas which lead to more learning, wisdom, discovery and inventions. Therefore, Allah compares those who seek knowledge and those who do not and asks us:
“… Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who possess intellect take admonition.” (39:9)
Despite the importance of gaining knowledge through reading in Islam [i], still we might ask if all the books available in the market are useful, worth reading and lawful (Halal) to read in Islam.
The point is that the Quran does not mention all different book genres and does not discuss each genre in detail. But, it provides specific frameworks that work as a type of criterion. Knowing the criterion helps us to distinguish which books are useful for us and which ones can harm our soul and spirituality.
For example, the Quran is not against stories or novels since the Quran itself is full of amazing stories, some of which are examples or stories . Allah (SWT) claims that He is the best storyteller when He says:
“We will recount to you the best of narratives in what We have revealed to you of this Quran, and indeed prior to it you were among those who are unaware [of it].” (12: 3)
Reading such books will result in many positive effects on our mind and soul. As Imam Ali (AS) says, “The greatest peace is obtained by reading books”. Also, at the times of difficulties and hardships, sometimes one finds no remedy other than taking refuge in books, perhaps to find a way out; As Imam Sadiq (AS) puts, “There will be chaotic days when people would not find peace unless within their books” .
However, this does not mean that reading all types of storybooks, novels or myths are useful. Allah mentions in the Quran that real believers are those who “avoid vain talk” (23: 3). Therefore, books in which we can find parts that would waste our time or those that contain stories, chapters, or lines that may harm human soul and spirituality are not recommended to read. Apart from the books that may harm our soul, reading and learning can be considered as a sign of a Muslim.
[i] “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon Muslims.” Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) .
- The Quran (38:29)
- The Quran (45:29)
- The Quran (10:61)
- The Quran (68:1)
- The Quran (39:27)
- Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.8126.
- Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol.1, p.52.
- ibid, p.83.
After an exhausting day of unending work, you decide to have a night out with your friends. And you end up in a nightclub or casino where you can enjoy your time by playing a fun and simple-looking game. In no time you find yourself engaged in a gamble which seems to be going on forever. And you end up either losing the money – no matter how much - you have gained through too much effort, or achieve some money without doing any profitable action in return. That is only one instance of this kind of so-called fun called gambling. Though, it sometimes turns out to be much more than simple entertainment and results in losing one’s whole living in a matter of a few seconds. But does Islam allow its followers to go through such an experience? The answer is a definite No [i] & [ii], for this is a lose-lose situation for both parties, financially and psychologically, even though it may not look so. In this matter, Islam, as always plans what is best for the lives of human beings. Let’s regard this issue in depth. Is Gambling in Islam Allowed?
According to all Islamic jurists, games that include the special means of gambling such as cards, backgammon, etc. are forbidden if they are accompanied with betting. Moreover, every kind of game that is played through betting is forbidden. Nevertheless, some scholars believe that playing with the special means of gambling, even without betting, is not allowed [iii]&. This is because the one who plays with particular means of gambling will automatically be accused of betting or may seem like doing it.
The adverse effects of gambling on one’s life as well as the society he/she lives in are many and have been mentioned by many Islamic and/or non-Islamic scholars.
According to a study done in the United States, “more than $5 billion has been lost each year to gambling addictions. In addition, $40 billion has been spent on social services and creditor losses. These studies go on to state that two out of three gambling addicts will engage in illegal acts to pay for their gambling debts. The effect is that the addiction places a severe hardship on prison systems, public assistance programs and legal systems” .
Lose of credit and job is only one among many financial losses that are caused by gambling on an individual but it will not be limited to him/her and requires the society to take care of him/her. Moreover, when a game turns to a real-life lose or win, the one who engages in it sees his/her opponent as a real-life enemy whom he/she needs to defeat. This, as a result, spreads the feeling of enmity, avarice, and vengeance within the society . Quran also emphasizes the evilness of this action: “Indeed Satan seeks to cast enmity and hatred among you through wine and gambling, and to hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and prayer. Will you, then, relinquish?” (5:91).
No matter you lose or win in this game, the effect would be detrimental for you. Let’s say you are a very lucky person and win every time you gamble, what would you do with the growing sense of greed for money? Or with this incessant desire to gamble more and more to the point that you cannot think about anything except gambling? Losing also brings its own destructive results; aside from losing the money that you could spend in a much useful way for yourself or your family, you lose your own self-confidence and feel undermined.
The pressure that is inflicted upon the gambler will inevitably lead to physical problems. According to a study, “the stress of gambling problems sometimes causes health problems, for both the person who gambles and the family. This can include anxiety, depression and stress-related problems such as poor sleep, ulcers, bowel problems, headaches, and muscle pains”. Also, in some cases this mental pressure caused the individual to feel suicidal and want to end his/her life .
When your mind is occupied with gaining more money, how to beat your opponent on the next gamble or how to pay your debts, no place will remain for you to turn and remind yourself of your duty toward Allah and His mercy upon you. And when Allah is absent from your heart and mind, the result is the constant feeling of insecurity and stress, for: “…The hearts find rest in Allah’s remembrance!”(13:28).
Finally, gambling is the cause of many harms to the individual as well as the society. Based on a general rule in Islam, no one is allowed to either “cause harm or return harm”  to him/herself or others. As it was mentioned above, gambling brings many financial as well as psychological complexities for the people involved in it and the society they live in. Therefore Islam does not allow its followers to bear such disadvantages.
[i] (2:219), (5:90).
[ii] Imam Reza (AS) Said: “Allah forbids His followers from any kind of gambling and ordered them to refuse doing them and called them impure and evil…” .
[iii] It is important to note that for the participants in horse racing and archery the action of betting is allowed . The reason for that was Islam’s attention to the importance of learning the martial arts for Muslims.
Don’t speak when it’s not a good time to talk.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no. 10274.
Any day on which you don’t commit sins or disobey Allah is a day of celebration (Eid).
Nahj al-Balagha, Wisdom no.428.
Looking at nature brings happiness.
Nahj al-Balagha, Wisdom no.400.
There are two things whose worth you will find out only after losing them; youth and health.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, vol. 1, p.449.
Do not impose your own traditions on your children, since they are living in a different era than yours.
Ibn abi al-Hadid, Interpretation of Nahj al-Balagha, vol.20, p.286.
Consult with your wise enemy, but avoid your ignorant friend’s advice.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.2471.
The wise, knowledgeable, experienced, and prudent ones are the best to consult with.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.4990.
Consult before making decisions and think before taking action.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.5754.
If you don’t endure the difficulties of working, you are made to bear the misfortunes of poverty.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.8987.
Be kind to the less privileged ones than you, so that your superiors be kind to you.
Muhammadi Reyshahri, Mizan al-Hikmah, Hadith no. 6960.
Rise in respect to your father and your teacher, even if you possess a high status.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.2341.
The world is founded on justice.
Muhammadi Reyshahri, Mizan al-Hikmah, Hadith no. 11955.
The fairest among you is the one who observes justice between people while in power.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.3242.
The fairest manner is to treat people the way you expect them to treat you.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.3170.
Don’t worry about how fast you do a job; instead, observe the best quality in whatever you do.
Ibn abi al-Hadid, Interpretation of Nahj al-Balagha, vol.20, p.267.
The worst homeland is the one that doesn’t keep its citizens safe.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.5712.
You need to have enough knowledge of a deed before doing it.
Nahj al-Bakagha, p.171.
Do every day’s work on that specific day, since each task is due to its special day.
Nahj al-Balagha, letter no.53.
The ones who don’t keep their promise do not believe in Allah.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.9577.
It’s beneath you to make a promise to your child and not keep it.
Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-Amali, p.342.
If you have a child, be childlike with him/her.
Usul al-Kafi, vol.6, p.50.
Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is yet to come, while today is a precious chance for you to make the most of it.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.9840.
The heart of the teenage is like an unplanted land that is ready to receive any seed planted in it.
Nahj al-Balagha, letter no. 31.
The greatest peace is obtained by reading books.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.8126.
Find the scholars’ heaven within the pages of the books.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.991.
The perfection of religion is in seeking knowledge and making use of it.
Usul al-Kafi, vol.1, p.30.
Pay attention to what is said, not who is saying it.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.5048.
Try to ponder and understand instead of quoting.
Muhammadi Reyshahri, Mizan al-Hikmah, Hadith no. 3355.
You will be helped, the same way as you help others.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.7209.
The faithful who help the destitute in the hardships and misfortunes of their lives are loved most by Allah.
Tuhaf al-Uqul, p.376.
I found peace, so far as it won’t degrade Islam, more beneficial than war.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.10138.
Don’t be happy about the mistakes of others, since you are not perfect either.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.10294.
Talk respectfully to people to hear respectful responses.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.2568.
Optimism reduces despair and keeps you away from committing sins.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.4823.
What is right is not distinguished by the people; You should first know what is right to find the ones following it.
al-Fattal al-Neyshaburi, Rawḍat al-wāʿiẓīn wa baṣīrat al-muttaʿiẓīn, p.31.
Whoever avoids holding grudges, his/her heart and mind will remain at peace.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.8548.
Be thankful to Allah on your days of comfort and happiness, and be patient on the days of difficulty and hardship.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, Hadith no.7148.
Health is more precious than any other of Allah’s blessings.
Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, p.483.
Women are Allah’s trusts upon you, do not hurt them, and do not put pressure on them.
Mustadrak al-Wasail, vol.2, p.551.
Enjoy your moments of happiness with all your heart to help you at the time of sadness.
Ibn abi al-Hadid, Interpretation of Nahj al-Balagha, vol.20, p.286.