The end of books approaches, but paper is paper.
I have not read a complete book in the past few months. I hate to admit it, but I do not read as much as I used to.
I was a voracious reader, finishing large novels over a weekend, lengthy e-articles while waiting at the doctor or mechanic, and buying fiction and non-fiction.
Did the infinite scrolling of my phone eat up my time? Or was it the short videos and random podcasts? If a self-proclaimed book lover finds himself in such a predicament, should he begin accepting that it is the end of an era?
The advances in AI, machine learning, and social media have led us to the edge of a revolution. It is a new way of living, learning, contributing to, and applying knowledge. Is it also the end of humanity as we step back from learning only to indulge ourselves in mindless hedonism? At the same time, can something else read, learn, think, create and act in our place?
Our generation that loved reading faces a monumental task to instil this love in our children. The world convinces them it is an inefficient and monotonous use of their time.
- Want to learn? Watch a video! Download this app! Play this educational game!
- Want to be entertained? Watch this cartoon! (It is informative!)
- Bored? Watch this hilarious TikTok!
And I’m not a defiant brick wall in front of the storming avalanche of the inevitable modern learning methodologies. But, you know what? There is a time and a place because some experiences shouldn’t be replaced. The beauty of books was that apart from providing you with everything these modern conveniences do, they also let you breathe. They allow you to be still and calm. Read a line and stop to think about what it may mean other than the obvious. Read a page, go back and reread it because its rhythm touches you. Mark a page that has something that speaks to you. Sit bored for a bit through a part that doesn’t interest you. Books teach us to be still and let our minds wander and imagine far beyond the page.
Books give you time to think and reflect without the noise and the fear that there is more and more and more that you need to absorb, learn, and achieve or you will be left behind. It is a timeless, voiceless connection between you and somebody you never knew. And sometimes you can only really feel it as that voice in your head reading the words with pauses and inflecions that make it seem like someone is speaking to you and not just in words.
You know what I mean. You feel it differently when you hear someone reciting the Quran from:
- repeating it yourself,
- pausing, wondering, and stopping in places because it feels like that ayah is for you,
- slowing down in places where Allah’s love shines through in words such that it melts your heart.
It’s your choice to walk down a road at your pace and look in your desired direction.
And sure, it’s faster to let someone else take you, tell you where to look, where not to look, pull you forward to hurry up, and get you where you need to be. Except, is there always a destination we must hurry to?
I return to books and find that special place in my heart where I can sit alone with Allah while I recite the Quran. I can look on from the periphery at the Prophet (sa) and the companions when I read Ahadith or Tafaseer. I can see reflections of my heart when reading books by a modern scholar, my age fellow, experiencing what I may be going through. I’m not looking at the video as it skips to its end. I’m not pausing and restarting it or waiting through an untimely advertisement. My heart softens as I read the words of the ancients who passed long ago. Imam Ghazali or Imam al-Jawzi peer from centuries ago into my heart and heartaches, tenderly telling me it’s okay to do a little when everything seems too much.
They tell me to stop. Wait. Don’t run. Be still, and let the words sink into your heart.
I found the right books, and there are days and nights of the right books. They can soften my heart and moisten my eyes. They can tell me to sit still and find Allah in the quiet. They can still my beating 21st-century heart.
This World Book Day, I can safely say that my heart still holds a special place for the books in my life. Do you feel the same?