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.
Perhaps one of the most important questions for each of us about life is what a good and flourishing life is and most generally if it is worth living.
Many people, including great philosophers and scholars of ethics and mysticism throughout history, have tried to find an answer to this question regarding life worth. Albert Camus, one of the famous authors and philosophers of the 20th century, tried hard to fulfill his lifelong quest to shed light on the meaning of our lives, such that he believed: “Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest […] comes afterward. Those are games; one must first answer this” .
Now let’s see how different people have answered this important question about life worth. We can divide these viewpoints into three categories:
1. They believe life costs a lot and has very few benefits for us. As Woody Allan, the pessimist American director, puts: “Most of life is tragic. You're born, you don't know why. You're here, you don't know why. You go, you die. Your family dies. Your friends die. People suffer. People live in constant terror. The world is full of poverty and corruption and war and Nazis and tsunamis. The net result, the final count is, you lose - you don't beat the house” . Or as Samuel Butler says: “life is one long process of getting tired” . So some of these people think why not we commit suicide to get rid of this miserable life?!
2. These people believe life is so valuable no matter how it seems and we have to live it at any price. Lots of people choose to think this way. Henry James has said: “Be not afraid of life believe that life is worth living and your belief will create the fact” . Or there is another quote from Ellen DeGeneres that says: “My life is perfect even when it's not” . Also, one of the most popular contemporary writers, Paulo Coelho seems to have a kind of optimistic view about life when he says: “Never give up. When your heart becomes tired, just walk with your legs – but move on” 
Some other people seem to have found the golden mean between the two previous extremes:
3. So, sometimes it is worth living and sometimes not. This is what Islam and Islamic leaders teach their followers about life worth. There are examples in the lives of the infallible Imams in which they indicate that we are not created only to live this worldly life and that this life is merely a path for us to reach a higher status. As the Holy Quran says: “while the Hereafter is better and more lasting” (87:17). So, we should always think if this earthly life will be to our benefit in the hereafter or not. If yes, then it is worth living; if not fight for those benefits even if you die.
One of the most significant role models for us in this regard is Imam Hussain (AS), the third infallible Imam, whose act of sacrifice has left a profound impact on humankind throughout history. Imam Hussain (AS) believed accepting humiliation and obedience to mean people is like living in hell. So, when all he did to guide his enemies to the right path failed, he said: “To me, death is nothing but happiness, and living under tyrants nothing but living in a hell” .
At this state, death to him is more desirable than living under the oppression of the tyrants and surrendering to their wishes. Therefore, when he was placed in a dilemma by the oppressors to be humiliated by swearing allegiance to the tyrant of the time, Yazid, or to fight and probably die, he decided to fight even if he died. He sacrificed all he had in this way and departed this earthly life with glory.
Now, after about 1400 years, every year in Muharram, lots of ceremonies are held around the world to commemorate the anniversary of his martyrdom. Lots of people from different religions get influenced by him and his ideology and sometimes it makes them embrace Islam.
Which point of view do you agree about life worth? Will you ever give up your benefits for the good of others to make them have a flourishing and more valuable life?
“He turned away from them and said, ‘Alas for Joseph!’ His eyes had turned white with grief, and he choked with suppressed agony.” (12: 84)
Reading the above verse of the Quran, many people may not perceive why prophet Jacob (PBUH) wept so hard on the loss of his son, Josef (AS) until he became blind. And he continued grieving on the loss of Josef so much that his sons told him “By Allah! You will go on remembering Joseph until you wreck your health or perish”. (12: 85) Was his grief merely because of the loss of Josef or the oppression that his brothers had towards him? Or was it because of his disappointment with his other sons who committed such a cruel act toward Josef?
When we read the story of prophets in the Quran, each of them say to their people that I want no reward from you, as “my reward lies only with him who originated me” (11” 51), while among all the prophets of God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) made an exception as God ordered him to tell people “Say, ‘I do not ask you any reward for it except the love of [my] relatives.” (42:23)
And therefore, it is for this straightforward order of God in the Quran that Muslims love the household of Prophet so dearly. It is narrated from the prophet who said: “Surely, there exists in the hearts of the believers, with respect to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, a heat that never subsides.” 
Therefore, if you visit Muslims who are weeping and mourning on the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS), many of them may not be able to explain why they are doing so. They may only tell you that there are a pain and grief that I feel within my heart, and they may speak of their love for the prophet’s household. However, apart from those feelings and emotions, let’s see what the logical reasons behind mourning for Imam Hussain (AS), his family and companions are?
The mourning for Imam Hussain (AS) that is increasingly spreading all over the world after about 1400 years is one of the miraculous aspects of Imam Hussain’s (AS) uprising. However, aside from strong feelings that Muslims have for the household of the Prophet, there are so many narrations from the progeny of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that encourages people to weep on the sorrow of Imam Hussain (AS) and his family. For example the narration from Imam Reza that says: “If you weep over the afflictions of Hussain (AS) such that tears flow from your eyes and fall upon your cheeks, Allah will forgive all your sins whether big or small and less or large in number.” 
But why would great Muslim leaders emphasize so hard on spending time and energy on weeping and mourning, while people could spend the same amount of time and energy for doing scientific research or inventing something that helps humanity?
This question is raised by many people, and here I wish to mention a few reasons why reviving the tragedy of Karbala is so important.
“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)
When you read the Holy Quran, you see it full of stories of the past generations through which God portrays the most important human values in life.
The event of Karbala is full of lessons that are worth being reviewed every day and night, to help the growth of human society; lessons of heroism, standing against cruelty, defending human dignity, and complete obedience of God.
Holding mourning gatherings is a great reason where people of the society, from all different social classes and different ages, sit together and revise the most important humanitarian issues and values which awaken the spirit of chivalry in them and give them the courage to stand against the oppressors of their time.
After the event of Karbala occurred, there were no specific media to convey the message of Karbala and the aim of Imam Hussain (AS) from going to the land of Karbala. From then on, it was only the mourning gatherings that were a place to recite the tragedy of Karbala to others and through it, illuminate the right from wrong. This great event at the time of Imam Hussain (AS) where the rulers of society were trying to hide the way of righteousness was a magnificent move to help the religion of God: “O you who have faith! Be Allah’s helpers, just as Jesus son of Mary said to his disciples, ‘Who will be my helpers for Allah’s sake?’” (61: 14)
In today’s psychology, many believe that if you have a goal to reach, having an image of that goal in mind will help you reach it. In mourning ceremonies for Imam Hussain (AS) we keep repeating the great morals and values of Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions and household. We keep revising their kindness, wisdom, courage, their humbleness toward God and good people and chivalry toward the oppressors, etc.
Naming the above characteristics in such ceremonies and trying to be like those great courageous men and women, is more beneficial than any life-coaching sessions that try to help us revive ourselves and our lives, and it is at everyone’s access for free.
If we hate oppression and wish to stand against it, we need a guide to know how to behave in different situations; when to negotiate, when to disagree, when to yell our beliefs, when to make our movement revolutionary and call others to assist us, when to make peace, and finally when is the time to fight against the oppressor?
It is hard to find a true answer to all the above questions when we face the oppressors. But revising the history of Karbala and studying Imam Hussain’s (AS) behavior in a different situation can help us find the choice when we face similar conditions, as he has gone through the same path. Mourning ceremonies are the situation where this history is revised every time, and we can perceive through reading the history that Imam Hussain (AS) did not tend to start a fight from the beginning. At some point he even migrated from his hometown to avoid the war, When he was forced to give allegiance to the corrupt caliph, Yazid, instead of making riots, he left the city, while he had received so many invitation letters from people of Kufah to become their leader. But since the Kufies broke their oath, he had to faith towards Karbala.
However, even in Karbala, he did not tend to fight. But he sent letters and made negotiations. He gave speeches to illustrate the truth for people. He wrote letters to different classes of the society and advised people and invited them to follow the true path. Although his enemies never accepted to change their minds and follow the true path, he still did not start the fight, until he was attacked by the enemy. And he defended himself and his household only when he had no other choice. Therefore, Hussain (AS) and his behavior in different conditions can be a great role model for us, in life.
Hussain (AS) does not belong to Muslims only. His behavior and lifestyle represent a way of life for all humans who wish to live a prosperous life. It is in the nature of all human beings who hate oppression and cruelty and would like to stand against it. Hussain (AS) teaches us to have courage and chivalry in life. That is why he faced the army of the enemy on the tenth day of Muharram and said: “If you do not believe in any religion and do not fear the resurrection day, at least be free men in this world.” This saying clearly shows that Hussain’s teachings are not limited to Muslims only, but his way of life can be a role model for all of those who wish to live a humane life.
- Mustadrak al-wasail, vol. 10, p. 31
- Shaykh Abbas Qummi: Nafasul Mahmum, tradition. 9
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 45, p. 51