An Introduction to the First Command Book Club
Channel: Hamza Yusuf
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Bismillah R Rahman Rahim masala Allahu ala Sayidina, Muhammad Anwar, it will stop you will send them to Sleeman Kathira Al Hamdulillah. First of all, I'm very, very happy to be initiating this book club which I've entitled The first command club based on the
Quranic verse Akara, which, according to our scholars, is the very first verse that was revealed to our prophets a lot. It's and, and it's, it's significant that it was extra read,
the act of reading is
probably the single most powerful
thing that human beings have. Because knowledge if the whole purpose of our creation is to acquire, and and use properly sound knowledge, then one of the most powerful ways of transmitting knowledge is through reading. I mean, obviously, oral teaching is very important. And that's why what's really fantastic about that verse is a cut out means both to read and to recite. So it has the oral and the literal aspect to it's our Prophet. So I sit down. Initially, when he was told to recite Quran, he actually said, manorbier, Ari, I don't read, because he was interpreting it one way. And then the angel said, If Cora
again, and he said, My antibiotic, I don't read, I'm not a reciter, I'm not a reader. And then the third time came each time he was hugged very intensely by the angel. And then,
in the last one, it was called Aircar abyss, mira, because the Halak read in the Name of your Lord, who created and then basically, that's the message was to read in the Name of your Lord. And so reading is basically
looking at signs and symbols and decoding them. And so there's two types of reading, there's reading the signs in the cellphone on the horizon. And then there's reading the symbols that human beings have used to transmit knowledge. So there's a reading what's called keytab, to duine, and keytab, to Queenie, these are the two books the book of Revelation revelation that's been revealed. And then the book of nature, ALLAH SubhanA, WA, tada has created this extraordinary theophany of Divine
Manifestations where he is revealing his attributes through His creation. And so reading is an extraordinary thing. And it's really important that you as human beings that we actually not only acquire the ability to read, and this is why the prophets Allah, Islam encouraged literacy. The reason that he remained in a state of orality was because his great miracle is a book. That is the foundation of literate Arabian civilization. And then Islamic civilization once the Arabs acquired it, and transmitted it to others. So it's really important to understand that that the prophets I sent him was somebody who brought a book and and it is a miracle that somebody who is not a person
of, of literacy actually brings a book. I mean, that is extraordinary. And then not only is the book, a book, it is the book. In other words, it contains the previous dispensations. It's a summary of all the previous dispensations that came to all the different peoples in it is news of the first people it has news of the last people. It has the highest moral ideals. It it gives us the most extraordinary stories. It it also is the first because it's the first book in Arabic From it comes all of the sciences, that the Arabs will develop grammar and rhetoric and logic all come out of the Quran. The mama of Azadi wrote a book based on the logic of the Quran itself, how the Quran uses
what's called he calls it PS INNOPOLIS in traditional logic is called enthymeme, which is a type of syllogism that removes one of the premises. So, this is this is our book and our civilization was the single most literate civilization in human history until the Europeans took a great deal of the Islamic knowledge and basically became a civilization of reading. They were not readers, and this is why the prophesy sent him said Accra worka in
Why and our turkey? This refers to the day of judgement when people are told to read from the Quran from their memory. And then they rise in station, the more they recite. But that idea of reading and rising, and there, there's been studies of the countries, the most prosperous countries in the world also. And this is not a coincidence. They have the highest amount of reading per capita. So each person in the countries that are most the most prosperous countries in the world today, actually, the individuals of those countries read more. And it's there's a direct correlation between reading and the success of a society. The more the people read, the more successful they are. And one of the
things about the West I mean, we can we can clearly see the signs of decrepitude dereliction, we can see some serious signs on the horizon, that do not portend well for Western civilization. But at the same time, and I am constantly
struck by this fact, they produce an extraordinary amount of
printed material. And a lot of it is actually quite interesting. I mean, so many interesting books come out. And I do keep up with a lot of what comes out. And so I'm always struck by how many interesting books come out and how many resources are whereas if you go to a lot of the Muslim countries, you do not see a real production of books. In fact, in most of the countries in the Arab countries where I have lived, or where I visit, traditionally, where I visited regularly, because I would always go to the bookstores, what generally what I would find is new editions of old books, critical editions, which is good. And there's a great deal of work to be done on the Arabic library
alone. And I'm certainly that, I'm certain that that's true and Persian, and in order to do and in many of the Turkish and many of the traditional Muslim languages, but the fact is, we're no longer a very productive culture, we don't produce new materials. And this is it's it's one of the signs of a society that has not only been in decline for a long time, but in many ways has fallen quite quite far down. So it's really important that we restore the practice of reading on a regular basis. And so that's one of the reasons why I wanted to start a book club. And the idea was basically,
I have been reading all my life I began reading very early, my family is a family of readers. My parents, both were prodigious readers. My father read constantly, I never remember any time in my life, where my father didn't have a book in his hand, or a book with him. Or he was reading a book, most of my conversations with my father were about books that we had read.
And, and I actually, in my early period, each one of us in the house that I grew up in, spent some time, we would trade bedrooms on a regular basis. But everybody spent time in the library as a bedroom. So my father actually built a library in the house that I grew up in, and it was filled with books, there were so many books in that library. And so I spent a lot of time reading as a child. And I and I loved reading it was took you into worlds that were unavailable to you otherwise,
there is no frigid like a book to take us lands away as Emily Dickinson said, a book can just take you to a whole other world. And so to read about
foggy London in the works of a conan doyle as as a 10 year old, that was just a really exciting thing. And I read those books over and over again, I read a Conan Doyle, I read Tolstoy, I read Dickens a lot of novels, but I also read nonfiction I read Shelby foots history of the civil war that my father gave me, I think when I was about 12 years old, and this is three volumes, amazing.
So history fascinated me. Many different things. So I have been reading all my life. I'm now in my seventh decade, and I feel like I have a certain level of mastery and reading I feel I don't want to make any claims, but I do feel that I am. I'm a proficient reader. And
To the I've always abridged important books that I read and very often have the the the abridgement typed up so that I could reread the abridged version if I'm interested in in retaining the information, one of the things I learned from my father, he wrote me a letter once. And he mentioned something about, it was something about virtue. And he said, This is an insight that I gleaned from St. Thomas Aquinas, his
section on virtue, a book that I've read three times, but I've never studied. And I think that that's really telling that somebody also that understands the nature of just simply reading something and studying something. So there's a very big difference between reading, a lot of us think that we've read something and that we really understand it. But the fact is, we haven't, we simply read it. But to study something is really to, to come to know and understand the material, and to actually retain that knowledge with you. And that's very different from simply reading, there are certain books that I've read countless times.
And then I remember once I asked my father, how many times he'd read Hamlet, and he said, at least 100. And
why I'm not recommending reading Hamlet 100 times, but my father was a scholar of Shakespeare, and he loves Shakespeare. But that's just an example of really, really, anything that is great that has been written is worth reading at least three times.
That's a bare minimum. And and I think that's very true. So many books, there's two ways. I think of reading. There's people that who love reading, I'm talking about people that love reading, there's wide readers. So there are people that read lots and lots of things. And then there are deep readers. And those are people that really select a group of books that are extremely important to them, and to the world, usually, and they reread them over and over again. So I tend to be more of the wide reader. My father was more of the deep reader at this age that I'm at now, I think that his way is actually I think,
a far more. It's a richer way of reading to read deeply into really important works, because there's a lot of time wasted in in books. I had a Mauritanian teacher who wants told me he said, the difference between the ancients and the moderns, in terms of books is he said, The ancients wrote a, a statement that could be commented on in a book. And he said, the moderns write a book that can be summed up in a statement. And I think there's a great deal of truth to that. But one of the things about reading a really, really good book, and I know this from underlining, is that a really good book, I start underlining the whole page. And that's when I really stopped underlining in books like
that, because I just find really good authors. everything they say is interesting. And there's very, very little that can really be excised from the book without affecting the overall impact and power of the book. Because it's, it's, it's all important, and many of our great writers, in fact, arguably all of our truly great writers, that's how they wrote. And when you get into the Arabic tradition, it's a very, very rich tradition, and just has untold treasures, and many have yet to be discovered. And I make no exaggeration about that. There are many books that have yet to be discovered. Very few people read through the great tomes that have been left behind very few people
have really read all of fahara Dina Ross's tafsir or
the email Tabori stuffs here, I know a moody Tanya and one of my teachers who lived for a period, I think of about 15 years, where he was in complete isolation. And he read through all of the books. He just went he read the entire commentary of Sai Muslim by email. No, he read through several tough seers and the things he gleaned from those books because we have, we have treasures in these books. So for many of you are only read in English, so we're going to be reading obviously in English, but I want to remind you that English is a extraordinary language. It's an amazingly rich language. It's a beautiful language. It has great literature, it has great poetry. It has great science. It has
many many treasures. And so I'm hoping to read some really important
certain books I I'm hoping I won't choose any book that I don't feel is important because I don't want to waste my time or your time. But what I would like to do is follow a methodology that CS Lewis put forward, that I think is a really useful one. And that never to read a current book without following it up by pre modern book, that it's very important to read the classics. And one of the most important reasons for that, is that when you read the classics, you realize that, you know, people say, Oh, this is such a crazy time. It's such a terrible time. When you read these ancients what you come to terms with is the fact that every time is crazy, every time is maddening.
Every time is bizarre. And there's always problems. And I think Dickens in the tale of two cities in that opening
paragraph where he talks about it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, I think he was really talking about every time every age is like that we were all going to heaven, we're all going to, and then he doesn't say the other place. But the point is, is that, in reading these pre modern peoples, we really begin to see these constant patterns that moral problems are human problems. War is a human problem. It's a constant in human existence. plagues are part of life on Earth. I mean, there have been many, many plagues in human history. And this is just one. It's a very strange one. Undeniably, technology has added new dimensions to it. But ultimately, these are the realities. So
the first book that we're going to read is how to read a book. My father always thought it should have been entitled How to read a great book. And I was once reading this book, and my son said, What a ridiculous title for a book. How can you have a book called How to read a book, if you don't know how, how would you read it? So he obviously, was taking it just at face value. But most of us really don't know how to read books. And the original book, which was by Mortimer Adler, who was actually my father's friend, and one of my teachers, so I did study with him, I was really fortunate to study in Seminar, style and read some books with him. He was a master reader. He gleaned this art of
reading actually from medieval manuals on reading, which believe it or not, came out of the Arabic tradition. So it's really important that that you understand that the Muslim world taught the West how to read. And this is not an exaggeration. And in many ways, in that famous hadith of Gibreel, it said I'm where the prophets Allah anyway, it was sending them was asked about the signs of the end of town, he was first asked about the hour and he said, the one asking doesn't, the one being asked, does not know more than the one asking. And then he said, you know, tell me about its signs that I shut up. And one of the signs was untended, that a mature better, that the Mistress would give birth
to her master. And I really think one of the meanings of that is that Islamic civilization would give birth to European civilization. Because it just seems to me that that the Renaissance you know, this rebirth, this rediscovery came through the the Europeans discovering Muslim civilization, and the great commentators on even their Greek works like Aristotle, Aristotle first came into Europe through Arabic And Aquinas calls Aveiro is the commentator, the commentator, in other words, he was shot. He was the commentator of Aristotle. And so this book is very useful book. If you can get the first edition. It's a much better edition. i My father always said that he felt and I hate to say
this because the Van Doren families have extraordinary family and Charles Van Doren was actually quite an extraordinary person. And I know his
is the grandson who's a friend of my he was a friend of my father's Adam Van Doren who's actually a professor at Yale, and really beautiful person, but his grandfather was my father's teacher at Columbia University, Mark Van Dorn, who my Christian name was actually after him. But
Charles Van Dorn rewrote the book with Mortimer Adler in the 1970s. The original book was printed in 1941. You can only get it in USD editions, but it's called how to read a book, The Art of getting a liberal education and it's sold
out, and it's been in print ever since. But they redid it and called it how to read a book, the classic guide to intelligent reading. I had to read this as an undergraduate when I was in university, but I would say, I've read this book several times, I've abridged it, and I will put up inshallah a an abridgment for people that are in this book club, to just have a way of reviewing it over and over again, because it's really something that you want to, to really master these rules. The one type of reading that they missed, interestingly enough, is what I was called devotional reading. So Adler did not mention devotional reading, which I think was something that is very
important devotional reading, because we can actually read devotionally. And while it's important to, to, to do what's called to De Boer, to reflect deeply to ponder the Quran, to think about the Quran, to reflect on the meanings of the Quran. It's also simply extraordinarily beneficial not only for your spirit, but also for your afterlife to simply read the Quran, with understanding or without understanding, and one, its sounds have an effect on you. If you think about this, if you think about just how the Quran begins, because the fact he has is the opener of the Quran, it's what opens the Quran, but it's like a prologue really. But if you look at the very first opening of the Quran,
I would have been that human a shell on already
That is extraordinary, that the Quran opens with phonemes
because one of the things that the Western linguists say, and they came to phonetics and linguistics much later, when Muslims were doing this work centuries ago, the Europeans only came to it in the 19th century, and I think from us as well, but the
in linguistics, they really see the phonemes as meaninglessness. And so meaning comes out of meaninglessness, which really is consonant with their whole philosophy of the modern materialistic world, that you have to make meaning out of meaninglessness? What the Quran is telling us right from the start, its meaning all the way down, like even these phonemes that the Quran is made up of. And isn't it interesting that there are 29 letters in the Arabic alphabet, literally half of them are in these Macapa at letters that are in the Quran. So Allah has used half of the alphabet that contains all of these extraordinary meanings that are found in the Quran. And the Quran is infinitely
reassembled the the amount of meanings that God could, could bring out of the words and the letters that he's made the Quran. From that we have, we don't know what the Quran is with God. But the infinite possibility of meanings just from these 29 letters, is quite stunning in the fact they're called Sun and Moon letters,
light letters and
reflected light letters. So and then the fact that if you'd think about the Fatiha
there's no really difficult because we'd rules in the Fatiha was quite interesting.
Other than some of the letters that are a little difficult for people to pronounce, and then you have med Lasme. But that's you don't have the type of rules that come later that are a lot more difficult for people to recite. So the Quran opens up just literacy for our community. And it's always been the source of literacy. So hopefully we're going to look at this book, but one of the things that he says and I'll conclude with this, and this is unfortunately the first edition, it's an I don't know why they took it out of the, the the later edition that they redacted.
This is so important though. On on page 365. He says, where men lack the arts of communication, intelligent discussion must languish where there is no mastery of the medium for exchanging ideas, ideas cease to play a part in human life. When that happens, men are little better than brutes. They dominate by force are cunning, and they will soon try to dominate each other. In the same way. The loss of freedom
follows when men cannot live together as friends, when a whole society is not built on a real community of understanding, freedom cannot flourish, we can live freely only with our friends. With all others, we are constantly oppressed by every sort of dread, and checked in every movement by suspicion. preserving freedom for ourselves and our posterity is one of our major concerns today, a proper respect for liberty is the heart of a sound liberalism. But I cannot help wondering with our weather, our liberalism is sound, we do not seem to know the origins of liberty or its ends, we cry out for all sorts of liberty, freedom of speech, of the press of assembly, but we do not seem to
realize that freedom of thought is the basis for all these others. Without it, freedom of speech is an empty privilege, and a free conscience, nothing but a private prejudice. Without it, our civil liberties can be exercised only in a pro forma way. And we are unlikely to retain them long if we do not know how to use them well. So
hopefully, one of the books I want to read is why liberalism failed. And because he, he said, a sound liberalism. So that's an interesting
proposition in itself, can liberalism ever be truly sound, but his point, I think, is really important that when we lose the ability to communicate with one another, then we become like beast, and part of this whole cancel culture that we're in is really about not being able to communicate not being able to listen to somebody else's ideas. But one of the things people now they ask you, oh, are you vaccinated? But they're what they're really asking is, Which team are you on? As if a decision that you make in your life one decision determines everything about your entire life, these are the type of sloppy, sloppy
ways in which people entertain prejudiced thoughts without even realizing their prejudices. This is a type of default thinking. It's, it's where we're not really thinking, because default thinking is not thinking. It's just simply relying on canards and old prejudices, to basically determine how we view anything, but to have a truly open mind which, like a parachute only works when it's open. The you have to learn how to think and thinking is not easy, it's actually a difficult thing to do. And that's his insight about that comes from Kierkegaard probably who Kierkegaard said that, that freedom of speech is usually just simply because it's people demand freedom of speech, because it's
a lot easier than freedom of thought, demanding freedom of thought for themselves. So if you can't think, then your freedom of speech becomes empty, because all you're going to be doing is uttering your own prejudices, usually, not even your own just acquired from somebody else. So hopefully, we'll be able to read this book and and then use it as a basis. And by the way, there are books in our tradition on how to read a book. So we do have books, unfortunately.
There, they're not there, they're in Arabic, I think there's some in Turkish as well. And I haven't found a translation that I really liked. There are a few that have been translated, but I didn't didn't really like the translation. So we're going to read how to read a book. It's a book I know very well. And that'll be the first book that we do and I really look forward to reading with you and and helping you along the way. I'm sure some of you are excellent readers already. But whatever I can do to help those of you who are still acquiring good habits and reading, hopefully I can give you some sound advice that's helped me because I've learned a lot partly from mistakes also, but
more importantly from reading with Ruth, really great scholar. So I've read many, many books from cover to cover with really truly great scholars and really learned how to decipher and understand things at a deeper level. So I'm looking forward to this and Inshallah, more on the way so botica Luffy, calm, subtle money calm moranto layover calm.