Dealing With The Books Of Knowledge
Author: Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Saalih al-Uthaymeen
Source: Fataawa ash-Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen, Kitaab al-Ilm, p. 87-91
How should he deal with the book?
Dealing with the book involves several things:
the subject of the book – so that he can benefit from it, because he
needs to specialize. It may be a book of sihr (witchcraft) or trickery
or falsehood. So he has to know the subject of the book so that he can
benefit from it.
- He has to know its terminology.
Because knowing the terminology means that you will save a lot of time.
This is what the scholars do in the introduction to their books, for
example we know that when the author of Buloogh al Maraam says “agreed
upon”, he means that the hadeeth was narrated by al-Bukhaari and
Muslim, whereas the author of al-Muntaqaa uses this phrase in a
different manner – when he says “agreed upon”, he means that the
hadeeth was narrated by Imaam Ahmad, al-Bukhaari and Muslim.
in books of fiqh, the scholars use the words qawlayn, wajhayn,
riwaayatayn and ihtimaalayn differently. Riwaayatayn (two reports)
means two reports from the imaam; wajhayn (two views) means two views
among the companions, i.e., the companions of the leaders of the
madhhab; ihtimaalayn (two possibilities) is used in cases of
uncertainty as to which of the two views is correct; and qawlayn (two
opinions) is more general in meaning than that.
we also need to know what an author means if he says ijmaa’ (consensus)
or wifaaq (agreement). If he says ijmaa’, he means consensus among the
ummah, and if he says wifaaq he means agreement with the three imams,
as is the usage of the author of al-Furoo concerning Hanbali fiqh.
Similarly the followers of each madhhab all have their own terminology,
so it is essential to know the terminology of the author.
the style and phrases used in the book. Hence you will find that when
you read a book for the first time, especially the academic books which
are filled with knowledge, you will come across a phrase whose meaning
you will have to ponder over, because you are not familiar with it. But
if you read the book again you will become familiar with it.
is also something which needs to be added to the book, which is writing
comments in the margins and at the foot of the pages. This is something
which the seeker of knowledge needs to make the most of. If he comes
across something which needs further explanation or evidence, and he is
afraid that he may forget it, then he should make a note either in the
margin or at the foot of the page. Often a person misses out on such
benefits because he does not make notes which take no more than a
minute or two to do. Then when he comes back he may or may not remember
The seeker of knowledge has to pay
attention to that, especially in books of fiqh. In some books you may
come across a matter and its rulings which causes you to be confused
and have doubts. If you refer to books which are more comprehensive
than the book you are reading and you find something which explains the
matter, then you should make a note of it so that you can refer to it
again if you need to, without having to refer to the original book from
which you have quoted it. This will save you time.
Reading books is of two types
- Reading in depth to ponder and understand. This necessarily takes time.
quick reading to get an idea of the subject of the book, the topics
covered and the content of the book. This is done by thumbing through
the book and skimming it. This does not involve the same level of
thinking as the first method. The best way to read books is to ponder
the meanings and seek help from scholars who have understanding. It
comes as no surprise that the book which is most deserving of such a
reading is the Book of Allaah. You must be patient and persist in
reading, for man has not been given any greater gift than patience.
seeker of knowledge should be keen to collect books, but he should
prioritize. If a person does not have much money, then it is not good
and is not wise to buy a lot of books and have to pay for them, because
this is bad management. If you cannot buy books with your own money,
then you can borrow them from any library.
Being keen to read important books
seeker of knowledge must be keen to read the most important reference
books, not modern works, because some of the modern writers do not have
deep knowledge, so if you read what they have written you will find
that it is superficial. They may quote things verbatim, or they may
distort them to make them longer, but it is all waffle. So you have to
read the most important reference works written by the salaf (pious
predecessors), because they are better and more blessed than many of
the books of the later generation.
of the books of the later writers are short on meanings but
long-winded. You may read a whole page which could have been summarized
in one or two lines. But you will find the books of the salaf to be
easy, straight forward and well written, with not even one word that
has no meaning.
Among the best books that the seeker of knowledge must be keen to read are
the books of Shaykh al-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah – rahimahullaah – and his
student Ibn al-Qayyim – rahimahullaah. It is known that the books of
Ibn al-Qayyim are easier, because the style of Ibn Taymiyyah is
strongly-worded because of his abundant knowledge and alert mind, and
Ibn al-Qayyim saw the knowledge of Ibn Taymiyyah as a well-built house,
and his own role as that of organizing and adorning.
Ibn al-Qayyim was free minded; if he thought that his shaykh’s view
differed from what he thought was correct, he would speak up. When he
thought that the pilgrim should go out of ihraam for Hajj then re-enter
ihraam for ‘Umrah, because Ibn ‘Abbaas (radiAllaahu ‘anhu) thought that
if the person who has not brought an animal for sacrifice enters ihraam
for Hajj or Qiraan, he must go out of ihraam for Hajj then enter ihraam
for ‘Umrah, whereas Ibn Taymiyyah thought that this applied only to the
Sahaabah, he [Ibn al-Qayyim] said,
“I am more inclined towards the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbaas than to the opinion of my shaykh.”
clearly stated that he was of a different view, so he was independent
in his thinking. But it comes as no surprise that he followed his
shaykh – rahimahullaah – in matters which he thought were true and
correct. Undoubtedly if you think about most of the opinions of Ibn
Taymiyyah you will find that they are correct. This is something which
anyone who ponders his books will know.
Books may be divided into three types:
- Good books
- Bad books
- Books which are neither good nor bad.
to make sure that your bookshelf is free of books which have bad
content. There are books which are described as literature, but they
simply kill time without producing any benefit. And there are harmful
books which contain specific ideas or promote incorrect ideology. These
also should not be allowed on your bookshelf, whether that is because
the methodology they use is wrong, or because of their wrong
understanding of ‘aqeedah, and revolutionary books which promote a
In general, no harmful
book should be allowed on your bookshelf, because books nourish the
soul just as food and drink nourish the body. If you nourish it with
books such as those it will cause you a great deal of harm and you will
follow a methodology which goes against the methodology of the seeker
of sound knowledge.