No Time to Waste

Photo credit: *USB* / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: *USB* / Foter / CC BY-SA

The Prophet (sa) said: “Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth before you become old; your health, before you fall sick; your wealth, before you become poor; your free time before you become preoccupied, and your life, before your death.” This Hadeeth teaches us the importance of time and its right use. Every day is a precious gift to us by Allah (swt) and we should make the best use of it- remembering the ultimate goal of pleasing Allah (swt) and not letting a minute to be wasted. This is not to say that we should constantly work and pray, because Islam teaches us to find the right balance and we have the right to rest. Rather, wastefulness is giving time to things and activities that take us further from Allah (swt) and lower our Iman. And some of the most common time thieves nowadays are- watching TV and listening to popular music.

TV – the vital or the virus?

One might ask, “What is wrong with the TV? Why to vilify it, when it’s so common it has practically become part of our lives?” The TV box may be on constantly, and we would hardly give it any thought – just letting it become the not-so-silent background to our day-to-day activities. Yet, if we have young children at home, we should certainly give it more than a fleeting thought, as TV has a profound effect on shaping the mind and it is rarely a positive effect. Even though there are some worthy channels with some content of benefit; the TV in general is full of violence, inappropriate images of genders and gender relations, foul language and un-Islamic ideology.

Also, the TV is addictive, especially for small children who may throw tantrums the moment someone changes their favourite cartoon channel; its content is beyond our control and by watching TV we simply become passive consumers of the broadcast. Getting used to this passive reception also leads to laziness and makes the traditional ways of acquiring knowledge such as reading, seem tiresome and difficult.

Some people may think that if they give up on TV, they would miss out on latest news, newest dramas, everything people might be talking about. But the truth is just the opposite for we miss out on real life, meaningful activities and authentic human interaction, because we spent too much time watching the telly. And same goes for children. Yes, they might learn their phonics and counting quicker from the TV cartoons, but they will miss out on learning good habits and socialising with other family members and guests. Considering all these arguments, I decided that my family would be better off without the TV, but how to make the switch off painless for children (and everybody else)?

Watching TV easily becomes an addiction and breaking off the habit may be more difficult than just turning off the set. It might be a little easier for the grown-ups, once they realize that spending time in front of TV or listening to useless songs really diverts our mind from worthy activities and thoughts and lowers our productivity.

It’s never too late to change

When trying to make a change, it’s always a good idea to replace a bad habit with a good one. For example- if we are used to watching the TV in the afternoon to relax and rest, we might instead reach out for a book or go for a walk. If we get into the habit of listening to music while doing kitchen work or any other household chore, we could instead turn on the CD with the Quran recitation or get busy with Dhikr. Just keeping in mind, why we want to make a change should be enough to keep us motivated through the difficult early stages.

Yet, the children may not be so easily persuaded. It might be much harder for them to understand why watching cartoon is bad and in the first stages they might express lots of negative feelings or even throw tantrums about not being allowed to turn on the TV. It is our role as parents to make the transition easier for them, while at the same time remaining firm about our goals. And this might be actually the hardest part for us as parents, because children occupied with watching TV shows makes the parenting job easier; giving mums a break from watching over kids when they are very busy.

Be there for your child

Yet, we should remind ourselves that the easiest option is not always the best; and bringing up children as good Muslims is our most important job and we should primarily focus our efforts and time on the right education. Once we switch off the TV, the children will turn to us to find them something to do and keep them busy. Expecting this, we should try to find for them activities that would be not only more meaningful, but also more fun for the kids. It would be perfect if we could manage to occupy our children’s time in a way that would be more attractive to them than watching TV. And if we put a little effort, they might not even demand for cartoons at all, preferring instead to spend time playing and learning with their parents and other family members.

Children who spend lots of time watching TV often have no contact with books and see reading as a boring activity. But, we should try to instil the love of reading in our kids from the early age; and that’s why, it is a good idea to build a family library and share stories together every day. Little children love listening to the stories told by their parents and looking at the colourful illustrations in children’s books. Little elder children are often interested in activity books and stories about other children. There is a lot of choice of good literature for children at all ages, and it doesn’t have to be very expensive to build the right collection for them with so many shops with good quality second-hand books available.

Sometimes, we do have a lot of work and we cannot give children our full attention, but there are lots of activities to keep them busy and entertained other than watching TV. Doing crafts, painting and colouring are some of the things all the kids love. Otherwise, we might try to engage the elder children in our own activities, teaching them to help in the kitchen or with any other household work.

I believe that with Allah’s (swt) help, the right intention and a bit of determination, we can give up the unproductive activities and make better use of every minute of our time. Insha’Allah.

Developing Reading Habits in Children

booksImportance of reading

The first revelation of the Quran was the first five verses of Surah Al- Alaq:

“Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). Has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood).Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen (the first person to write was Prophet Idrees (Enoch)). Has taught man that which he knew not.” ( Al-Alaq 96:1-5)

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” (Richard Steele)

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn the more places you’ll go.” (Dr. Seuss)

Early bird catches the worm

Many parents are concerned about how to develop reading habits in their children and save them from unnecessary and time wasting activities. When your child is still a baby, there are some things you can do to help him or her learn! The first three years of life are very important in developing your child’s mind and abilities. Here are some ways to give your child an early and strong start.

1. Capture with picture

Picture reading can be started at a very young age i.e. from the age of 6-six months.

2. Bed time stories

Every night before sleeping, one of the parents can read a book to a child. Initially, the book should be pictorial. Then a book having few words, followed by a book with simple to complex sentences, as the child grows older.

3. Read and teach

Children are quite observant and love to explore everything around. So whenever they pick up a thing and if there is something written on it, adults can help them read in a playful manner.  Such as the text on jam jars, bottles of lotion, powder, water, packets of biscuits, rusk, chips, etc.

4. Read together

Every morning, when you read newspaper, make your child sit with you and play a game of reading headlines one by one. First you read one heading and then make the child read the other. Cuttings of interesting and knowledgeable sentences along with pictures can be pasted in a journal, as children love cut and paste activities.

5. Reading on-the-go

When going outside to Masjid, restaurant, shopping mall or any place, where you can utilize the time constructively, play reading games on way by reading the names of shops, banks, grocery stores, billboards, banners and slogans to enrich child’s vocabulary and observation.

6. Introduce reading etiquette

Establish a library area in the room. Encourage children to bring books, read them and put them back later on. Show them, how to hold and open a book, without spoiling or tearing it. Also, demonstrate as to how to turn the pages with care. Tell them about the different parts of a book in a conversational tone such as the cover, the end and the spine. When reading out a story, show them from where a sentence begins, in which direction do we read and how we read from top to bottom,  without expecting them to understand or remember straight away. Talk to them about different kinds of books like story books tell us stories, dictionaries give us the meanings of different words, encyclopedias tell us about so many different thing like animal, plants, buildings, history. This way you can introduce the Holy book Quran as well by telling them that this is the Book of Allah (swt) which is a complete and authentic guide for us, it is our Manual Book! It tells us how to spend our lives and most importantly Allah (swt) talks to us through it.

7.  Reader-friendly environment

Provide a print rich environment. Children learn to read fast by trying to make sense of the print they come across. We can support their efforts by labeling objects and areas in the house.

8. Flash cards rule

Making flash cards is a great help in learning letters and vocabulary. Prepare square cards with alphabets (any language you want your child to learn: Arabic, Urdu, English, etc.) and play matching games. Match the cards to objects and pictures which begin with a particular letter. Say the initial letter sound of objects and match it to the object that the letter represents. Begin with words that are personally meaningful for the child like his/her own name, name of family members, pets, favorite food and places. Keep an ear open for children’s interest and use words that are important for them to help them “read” letters of the alphabet and sight words.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” (Frederick Douglass)

Happy reading!

Need for Meaningful Activities for Youth

runSixteen-year-old Ahmed has great inspiration and passion for writing stories, drawing cartoons and making landscape. “That’s what I love to do!” he says, while making a sketch of a village life. He expresses his feelings in form of art and story writing. He engages himself in such activities to make his life exciting and meaningful.

Meaningful activities are often done for enjoyment, pleasure and fun. Simultaneously, it is imperative that these leisure time activities must be meaningful and enjoyable. The scholars of Islam have emphasized the importance of lawful recreation to the healthy development of a person’s character. Al-Ghazali writes:

If the child is forbidden to engage in play and forced to spend his time in perpetual study, this will result in his heart dying, his intelligence waning and his manner of living becoming so wretched that he will seek from it any escape he can find.”

“After completing his bookwork, a child should be allowed to play in a nice manner, so that he can relax from the fatigue of his studies. His play should not tire him out. If the child is forbidden to engage in play and forced to spend his time in perpetual study, this will result in his heart dying, his intelligence waning and his manner of living becoming so wretched that he will seek from it any escape he can find.”

Our youth is lagging behind in knowledge, enterprise and productivity. Teenagers are not making fruitful use of their time – due to unproductive habits, they are suffering from such psychological disorders as anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear, anger and aggression. These anti- social behaviours compel a frustrated person either to commit suicide or engage in violent acts.  Furthermore, the increasing immorality and vulgarity of youth is pushing them towards anarchy and darkness.

The question is: how can a frustrated person relieve his stress? What kind of activities will facilitate mental and physical health and improving the quality of life?

Engaging in recreational activities not only helps in staying healthy but also relieves psychological stress and develops a bright and healthy personality.

Effective and Revitalizing Activities:

  • Morning walk and exercise help to relax, give a soothing effect to nerves and reduce stress. These are the best activities which refresh one’s senses and make one feel light again.
  • Good reading habits include reading newspapers, magazines and books. Reading an interesting book motivates a teenager to develop reading habit and enhances their learning and vocabulary.
  • Through writing articles, stories and diary entries, one can convey his emotions and sentiments.
  • Both indoor and outdoor games and sports, such as swimming, skating, cricket, football, hockey, volleyball, squash, tennis and badminton, help to maintain physical health as well as emotional and psychological stability of an individual.                      In the Sunnah, we see the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sa) participating in many different forms of activities. They engaged in such sports as running races, horse racing, wrestling and archery. They spent time in telling jokes and enjoyed lighthearted conversations. This helps to build up an active, positive personality and improve interpersonal relations.
  • Many teenagers are engaged in arts and crafts activities. Hobbies, such as drawing, sketching, painting, knitting, making artificial jewelry and other items from clay, are excellent for utilizing time effectively. Arts and crafts activities also enhance the self-confidence of a young person.
  • Teenagers in emotional distress should take an adult education class or a course at any institution. Participation in education classes motivates and inspires them to be optimistic and to adopt a positive way of thinking. These types of social gatherings give them opportunities to relieve stress and build new relationships.
  • Young people can engage in long and short term training for honing their skills. They will not only learn but also gain motivation for utilizing their skills.
  • Gardening has many benefits – it can ease stress for people, who have been diagnosed with depression and persistent low mood. Being surrounded by fresh flowers and plants helps in achieving peace of mind.

There is a dire need for young people to stop engaging in unproductive habits, which waste their time. Engaging in recreational activities not only helps in staying healthy but also relieves psychological stress and develops a bright and healthy personality.

Review: Get Fluent in Arabic

book1Being multilingual in today’s world is not only an asset but a necessity. The world has shrunk, bilingualism is commonplace, and as people scramble to gain an edge over others, adding a third or fourth language to one’s credentials is desirable.

Moniur Rohman’s book, “Get Fluent in Arabic” is basically a self-help motivational genre. He takes the reader along for his personal struggle in learning Arabic, with anecdotes and experiences that at times detract from the message. ‘Get Fluent…” is divided into four parts titled:-

  1. The Four Basic Skills
  2. How to Approach Learning Arabic
  3. Tools
  4. Going Abroad

In Part One, Rohman explains to the reader that there are two types of skills required when embarking on the language journey – Receptive and Productive Skills. The language student must train all four of these skills (reading, writing, listening & speaking) to attain fluency. He talks about the benefits of each skill. This is common knowledge to any person who has learned any language, even his mother tongue.

The book, in Part Two introduces the reader to popular language accusation methods used by teachers all over the world. He denounces the Grammar-Translation method and advocates the Direct Method, using language immersion – the author moves to Egypt to study Arabic. I like his tip about not knowing ‘difficult’ words in Arabic, so he uses simpler words to describe what he wants, still using Arabic. For example, if you want to say, “The car has four wheels.” However, do not know the word for wheels, say, “The car has four circles,” but do not under any circumstances switch to your first language.

The book gives valuable advice to a novice seeking to learn Arabic, and for seasoned veterans I like his list of resources and self-check milestones scattered throughout the book.

Part Three, talks about the various ways he tried, failed at and succeeded in. Mostly it is about his experience living and studying at an Institute in Egypt. Rohman mentions the difference between Fusha (classical) and Ammiyah (vernacular), but does not dwell on it. To understand Quran you need Fusha, but to carry on a conversation with a native speaker you use Ammiyah. This part is by far the most useful; I found his analysis of the various opportunities including pros and cons very practical and informative.

In my opinion, Part Four is really common sense and didn’t need to be in the book. It talks about the pitfalls of staying in a less developed country that anyone can just Google in this day and age.

The book gives valuable advice to a novice seeking to learn Arabic, and for seasoned veterans I like his list of resources and self-check milestones scattered throughout the book. I feel his personal incidents in the Introduction detract from the value of the book as resource for Arabic Learning. My favorite parts in the book were Rohman’s summaries at the end of each chapter in Part One, his website resource list and advice on Arabic books and dictionaries.

Read in the Name of Your Lord

Read in the Name of Your Lord

By Dr. Muhammad Abid Ali – Master Mariner, PhD in Education, and founding member of two educational research institutes

Why should our children read? What are the effects of reading on children? How do we choose the books for our children? These are some of the important questions to answer, before giving any book to kids. I believe reading may be one of the most significant activities in the personality and character development not only of our children but any educated human being.

With Destination in Mind

We have around seventy to eighty years of earthly sojourn before our eternal afterlife, which is determined by our performance in this life. Our performance depends on how we are prepared to perform by both the external interventions and self development. Talking of external interventions, the priority falls on the parents’ nurturing of their children. Abu Hurairah (rta) has narrated that Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Every child is born on Al-Fitrah but his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian.” (Sahih Muslim, Sahih Bukhari, Al-Bayhaqi and Al-Tabarani – each with slight differences in wording)

Reading and the Process of Learning

If I am a Chinese, will anyone expect me to write like a Pakistani? Isn’t it an unreasonable expectation? Why does a Chinese write like a Chinese and a Pakistani like a Pakistani? This is because of the cultural overtone which is impossible to avoid. A western writing will depict western culture, underlying beliefs and core concepts of life. It is unavoidable, for we are very structured, thinking beings, who make statements around our thinking, or what we call paradigms. No human being can be separated from that. Reading is a strong learning intervention; as such, reading will definitely expose the reader to the culture, underlying beliefs and core concepts of the writer’s life. For a grown-up it may not be as influential as for a child, who is at a very active mode of learning.

Green and Brock have shown through experiments that children exposed to egalitarian reading material show more egalitarian responses and in spite of time passage, despite some reduction, the effect persists. They further elaborate that the narratives are persuasive and the morals rooted in them affect children’s worldview. Mar and Oatley observe that reading influences the process of learning. They claim that reading fiction has more effect, as the reader un-intentionally emulates the characters of the fiction. Hakemulder researched fifty-four reliable and valid experimental studies, in which fictional narratives indicated substantial effect on moral development, norms, values, and self-concepts. Mar and Oatley observe that change in personality is mediated by the emotions experienced while reading. Any intellectual exercise will affect a child’s learning, and reading is considered to be one of the powerful learning tools.

Reading affects the learning process and, consequently, the personality of a child. Perception, or our worldview, is utterly affected by learning processes. Any event or knowledge that casts an impression on the human mind affects this worldview; as such, it is susceptible to modification. For the first few years of life, the changes are major, and as the mental maps become defined, the modifications become more subtle and selective. Muslim scholar Acigenc claims that all human conduct is ultimately traceable to a worldview; worldview is the “framework within which our mind operates”. Ibn Khaldun often compares it to a dye that lasts until the cloth, to which it has been applied, is destroyed. Whereas Stephen Covey claims that we see the world not as it is, but as we are – or as we are conditioned to see it. He further emphasizes that the lens, through which we see the world, shapes our interpretation of the world. And one of the major factors, which shape this lens, is an individual’s learning processes.

Furthermore, most Muslim and western intellectuals, such as Miskawyah, Al-Farabi, Ghazali, Ibn Khaldun, Frued, Adler, Millard, Dollard, Montessori, and John Holt, agree that the initial years of an individual are crucial for active personality development; which is the period of active worldview development. The learning interventions, which disrupt Islamic identity and values, will accordingly affect this personality development. Covey calls it the farmhouse rule: you always reap what you sow.

With the logic constructed above, if we take reading as a learning process, which significantly influences a child’s worldview and shapes the personality, it is imperative to keep the above farmhouse rule in mind. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. Any harmful or useless concepts from the Islamic perspective are garbage for us; for example, the concept of world without a creator or the denial of the afterlife. Concepts, which are the main features of the western sciences, reflect in their literature as well. The dependency on western literature is a self-inflicted tragedy in the Muslim societies. The learning interventions develop a mental map or perception, which is based on western thoughts, quite contrary to the Islamic worldview. As a result, we try to find our way through to the destination through the wrong map.

Effects of Learning on Beliefs and Actions

How does the learning and the worldview affect our beliefs and actions? Let’s look at a few examples.

My five-year-old daughter came with her mathematics book, covering a picture with her palm, and insisted that it was something, which couldn’t be shown to me. Upon my repeated requests, she exposed the picture of a lone lady in a bikini lying on a beach, depicting the solitary for the numeral one. She had not yet polluted her perception with the western concept of shame. For her, shame was still the map that we had created in theory. My son was taught from a British published history book in his O’Levels that Tipu Sultan was a rebel. Should we blame the British for this statement? From their perspective, he was; from our perspective – he was a hero.

A sister narrates: “I have noticed that my 9-year-old son is somewhat conditioned to happy endings, which once again can be the influence of children’s subculture and ‘happily ever after’ trends in cartoons. Just recently he read in his reading-aloud time a story in which the main character (11 years old boy) died at the end of the story, and felt very emotionally crushed by such an ending. He even said to me not to give to him such stories anymore, because he felt so very sad reading it. It gave us the chance to talk about the real life scenarios of sad events and how they differ from happy endings of most cartoons/fiction stories/fairytales.”

Another example is from a revert sister, who narrates how effectively the former Soviet Union could condition the students to the Soviet requirements:

“I was growing up in the communist system of the Soviet Union. The focus of government at the time was very much on the schoolchildren – to develop them into loyal citizens of the state. This was achieved by a heavy dose of ideology being pushed into young minds (which I was not aware of as a child, of course) through purposefully written school books infused with ideology and the requirement of Russian language and Russian literature courses in all schools, starting from the very first grade.”

Further, she elaborates about the results of this programming:

“Believe it or not, the system was extremely good and successfully produced the required results. I realized this, when after the break-up of the Soviet Union I went for studies to the US as part of a group of students from the former Soviet Union. We, the students, ourselves were amazed at how similar all of us were. Even though we came from different Soviet states, spoke different languages, had different local cultures, we still had the feeling like we’ve grown up in the same neighbourhood – we laughed about the same jokes, admired the same heroes and had the same sets of moral values.”

Other than the conditioning, the above examples indicate the effect of literature on a child’s mind. Every written matter has a message, and a child reader absorbs it more readily and completely than a grown-up, as the worldview of a young child is still raw and in a state of formation. The effects in childhood are long-lasting and more permanent, as compared to those of adults, who have already developed filters due to a more established worldview. For Maulana Maudoodi, exposing youth to an alien culture certainly results in the loosening of Islamic morals and loss of Islamic identity.

A revert sister, reflecting on the effects of reading English books by children, cautions: “…the foreign language and cultural baggage that comes along with it will leave lasting marks on the personality of the child and the way he/she views the world. This aspect is especially important for us, as parents of Muslims, to understand.”

Eighty years ago, another famous revert, Allama Muhammad Asad, sternly warned the Islamic world: “Islam and Western civilisation, being built on diametrically opposed conceptions of life, are not compatible in spirit. This being so, how could we expect that the education of Muslim youth on Western lines, an education based entirely on Western cultural experiences and values, could remain free from anti-Islamic influences?”

The tragedy the contemporary Muslim societies are inflicted with is the uncritical embracing of the Western educational interventions and learning processes. Long ago, Sayyid Qutb also cautioned us that when we indiscriminately use Western educational interventions, we undoubtedly borrow also a general scheme of philosophy and a mode of thought that underlies these interventions, “whether we like it or not”.

As I write this article, I observe my 14-months-old granddaughter and am so awed at the intelligence, which Allah (swt) has bestowed every child with. She has a different approach in behaving with each member of her close and extended family. Before me, she will avoid putting anything in her mouth, she will behave with more tenderness with my mother and has an entirely different behavior with my sister, whom she is extremely fond of. She cannot speak yet but understands our verbal conversation with her and follows our instructions. To think that at another two or three years, she will be less intelligent to absorb the message of any literature that we read to her seems to me extremely absurd.

We have to be very careful in exposing our children to any concepts alien to Islam. For certainly these will leave their impressions, no matter how much we try to control it. It is equal to developing an intimacy with the culture and approach of the presenters. The Quran warns us: “O you who believe! Take not as (your) Bitanah (advisors, consultants, protectors, helpers, friends, etc.) those outside your religion (pagans, Jews, Christians, and hypocrites) since they will not fail to do their best to corrupt you.” (Al-Imran, 3:118)

When we develop deep intimacy with alien thoughts and philosophy, we develop a cognitive structure based on their logic pedestal. As a result, we become alien to the Quran and Islam itself. “They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and have ears wherewith they hear not (the truth). They are like cattle, nay even more astray; those! They are the heedless ones.” (Al-A’raf, 7:179)

Iqbal quite vehemently advises us that from an educational perspective to use the literature that helps in creating higher ideals and motivates the nation towards acquiring those ideals. On the other hand, Iqbal also warns that this desirous nature of man can be dampened by wrong interventions, literature being an important factor.

I will conclude this article with a reflective insight and prudent advice from a revert sister:

“English was introduced to me at grade four level; however, it has not prevented me or any of my friends from achieving proficiency in it, if that’s what we wanted. No European non-English speaking country uses English as the medium in their classrooms – elementary level children are taught in their native languages. The fear of not becoming good enough in English, unless you start it at the age of 2.5 years and have it as your language of instruction at school, is totally baseless. If you learn how to express yourself well in your native language, you can later do the same in any foreign language you pick up. The foreign language (English in this case) does not magically give the child the skills of self-expression – it’s the child’s overall grooming and intellectual capabilities, which will make him/her good at using the foreign language.

Allah (swt) knows best.

Fajr Academy – Creating Readers and Leaders!

Fajr Academy – Creating Readers and Leaders!

By Umm Zakariya – Reading and Creative Writing Coach at Fajr Academy, Karachi

Reading is one of the greatest sources of knowledge and pleasure known to mankind. Avid readers will tell you nothing can replace a good book. Reading is a taught skill and though we all learn to read when we go through our educational system, we mainly treat it as a form of acquiring knowledge. We rarely find a school which inculcates in children the passion to read for pleasure.

Fajr Academy is one of the rare schools that consider reading as top priority in their educational programme – for knowledgeand for pleasure. The newly-opened school is the brainchild of Mr. Asim Ismail, an educationist entrepreneur who has launched an extensive reading programme where children from the nursery level are exposed to a wide variety of books and literature. Two out of seven periods in a single day are dedicated to reading, where two to three reading teachers take a class of maximum twelve children. The reading teachers are also supervised by an experienced co-coordinator who keeps updating them with new ideas to make the reading lessons more effective. Depending on the reading level of the child, children are either led through a guided reading programme or are encouraged to read independently, with the teacher ensuring that the material being read is effectively comprehended. At all times, reading is made to be a fun activity, with children waiting impatiently to get their hands on the books so they can discover new places, people and ideas.

Each class at the school also houses an in-class library with age-appropriate books. Precocious readers in the class are allowed by the reading teachers to choose books from the main library as well to encourage them to read higher-level books. The school has invested heavily into the reading programme by purchasing books from all leading bookstores in the city. Experienced teachers have carefully selected books for the school in order to give children reading material covering a wide range of topics. The team of teachers also has a trained teacher for assessing children with learning difficulties, more specifically, dyslexia. These students are then instructed through multi-sensory modes to help them read effectively.

“The results of the reading programme have been beyond our wildest expectations”, says a teacher at Fajr Academy. The children of Prep 2 have already finished readers in the first term of the school year which are usually finished at the end of the school year in other schools. Some children of Prep-1 have become fluent readers as well. The children of Nursery, though young, have also become little book lovers, pouring over the pictures of the books while the teachers give words to what they see.

When asked to comment on the reading programme at his school, Mr. Asim Ismail simply states: “Reading is to the mind what food is for the body.” This small quote from him sums up the importance of the reading programme at Fajr Academy. He believes once the passion for reading is inculcated in children, they will excel at academics. This is because the best form of gaining knowledge is through the printed word. If children become fluent readers at an early age and enjoy picking up a good book to read, the scope of what they can learn would be beyond our wildest imagination. As they say, “today a reader, tomorrow a leader!”

Anybody Reading Anymore?

Vol 3- Issue 4 Anybody reading anymoreOne of the easiest means to gauge a nation’s reading habits is by its newspaper circulation. A leading Pakistani newspaper in the English language circulates approximately 50,000 copies in a month among a population of 160 million. Close to two hundred thousand copies are published of one of the prestigious Urdu dailies that claim the maximum readership in the country.

Today, subscribers of mobile phones, cable TV, and the Internet are setting unprecedented records, making investors in telecommunications very rich. It appears that Pakistan is a nation eager to jump into the age of technology without bothering to improve its intellect. Or is declined reading a worldwide phenomenon? Records state that China sells 82 million newspapers and thus is the country with the highest number of publications in the world. Japan follows with 70.8 million, then India with 57.84 million, and finally the United States with 55.18 million.

Readers can be divided into knowledge seekers and information acquirers. The above figures mainly reflect the information seekers. Today, most people get news from the headlines and are looking only for the icing on the cake. Knowledge has been replaced by information, which is quick and easy to get.

Considering the availability of countless audio and visual aids that match all needs, skeptics argue regarding the magnitude of reading today. Some schools have gone to the extent of replacing contemporary libraries with PCs rather than books. An educationist comments: “Reading print, blurs my eyes… I am so used to staring at my monitor!” Kids protest: “Books are boring and require patience. The gizmos provide us with information, entertainment, and lifestyle all in one go!”

Going back in time, the first of the Quran revealed was Al-Alaq, now the 96th in order. The Mighty words of Allah (swt) commanded the mankind: “Read in the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (writing) by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not…” (Al-Alaq 96:1-5).

Try figuring this out: Why did Allah (swt) insist on reading and highlight the pen among the rest of creations? Following is my humble analysis of this divine instruction.

Criteria for Reading

Many people mistake Al-Alaq for an unchecked freedom granted by Allah (swt) to read anything one pleases, as long as he or she is acquiring knowledge. Some excited mothers babble: “Thanks to Harry Potter, my kids have started to read!” It is worth to stop for a moment and ask ourselves: “Would Allah (swt) be equally excited to see us read Harry Potter of all the literary treasures available, even if it means developing a reading habit and enhancing imagination? So what, if it is all about magic, which is strictly forbidden by Allah (swt).”

Should we just throw out all our prized classics that we grew up reading? Not necessarily. All we need to do is ascertain the criteria. Who sets criteria for reading? Allah (swt), the Wise, has done so. Read all that is in agreement with Allah’s (swt) Divine Laws. Devour books that facilitate you to think, reflect, grow, and act with a sense of responsibility, whether you are a student, mother, doctor, technocrat or businessman. Knowledge and Allah’s (swt) Pleasure must go hand in hand.

Source of Life and Salvation

Today’s challenge is not in the lack of information, since mankind has never been more sophisticated resource-wise. The problem is that we choose not to read in the name of Our Lord – secular societies market the concept of godless education, which questions: “What’s the point of writing Allah’s (swt) name in a book of anatomy or business law?” Well, the point is to remind us that we are owned and watched by a Creator, Who wants us to excel in this world only the way He has desired us to. This is the only way the mankind will achieve its zenith instead of turning into animals.

The gap and imbalance between sacred and secular societies has turned many people into monsters. Huma Hassan a teacher of religion, suggests a parable – our connection with Allah (swt) can be described as that of a child connected to his mother through the umbilical cord, which is the child’s source of life and salvation. If we deliberately separate Deen (religion) and Duniya (worldly) knowledge, we end up turning into a Frankenstein.

Door to Knowledge

Allah (swt) has exalted the humankind with the blessing of being able to read and write. This prestigious status among the rest of Allah’s (swt) creations has to be maintained by investing time and effort.

Malcom X once said: “I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read evoked in me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”

Reading provides knowledge, which nurtures character. Despite reading being a dying habit, even now a well-read person commands respect and stands out in a crowd of countless. It is the power of knowledge that distinguishes him. Dr. Zakir Naik is my favourite role-model, who has never seized to amaze me with his extraordinary knowledge.

Provision of Employment

Not only did Allah (swt) teach us to read but also to write by using a pen, so as to provide further reading material. The goal was to empower. A popular saying goes: “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him forever.”

Reinforcing the same idea, a Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, an economist from Bangladesh, completely altered the way we look at the developmental economics. According to him, instead of providing funds to the developing countries, we should provide them with tools to make the money themselves. This is the concept of ‘agency’-the true empowerment of the people. The Quran advocated this concept 1400 years ago.

Knowledge Steering to Guidance

When Allah (swt) says that: “… It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah…” (Al-Fatir 35:28) it means that knowledgeable people are responsible and conscious beings. They are not heedless and impulsive. They fear the Creator’s Displeasure and make cautious decisions, accepting the responsibility of consequences.

Sadly, Pakistan today is a thoughtless nation that lives on whims and fancies. With no sense of direction or accountability, impulses drive us to the limits. Could it be so that we have shut our books and let our power of reason, reflection, and rationalization silently die out?

Means to Show Gratitude

Imagine your mind as a sponge that can absorb whatever you read. It then connects the words to your sense of understanding. This is an extremely complex process – people suffering from Dyslexia, a reading disorder, will vouch for that. Dyslexics struggle with words in spite of their average or above average intelligence.

In Mark Twain’s words: “The man, who does not read good books, has no advantage over the man, who can’t read them.” This is a blessing we should be thankful for and use it consistently to add value to our and other peoples’ lives.

Adding to Wonder, Beauty, and Focused Attention

Books, which spring from a writer’s imagination, set on fire the imagination of the reader and develop his sense of aesthetic. One can argue that all arts contribute to this sense; however, literature carries special significance.

Dana Gioia, NEA Chairman, can conclude this debate for me: “Reading develops a capacity for focused attention and imaginative growth that enriches both private and public life. The decline in reading… reflects a general collapse in advanced literacy. To lose this human capacity – and all the diverse benefits it fosters – impoverishes both cultural and civic life.”