The third etiquette with regard to books is that one must strive to keep his books clean and preserved. This means that his books should be clean and have no dust attached to them. They should not be dirty nor should they have any bad markings on them. They should also not be put in an improper place, meaning the book should be put in an appropriate place that is befitting for it.
From that which is not befitting for books – especially the books of the people of knowledge in which can be found a clarification of the meanings of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah – is that they have dirt, dust and filth on them. Keeping books clean is a sign of one’s respect for what is contained in them and a proof that one magnifies the symbols of Allaah. Allaah says:
ِبﻮُﻠُﻘْﻟا ىَﻮْﻘَﺗ ﻦِﻣ ﺎَﻬﱠﻧِﺈَﻓ ِﻪﱠﻠﻟا َﺮِﺋﺎَﻌَﺷ ْﻢﱢﻈَﻌُﻳ ﻦَﻣَو
“And whoever magnifies the symbols of Allaah, then that is truly from the piety of the hearts.” [Surah Al-Hajj: 32]
So if the book is on Tafseer or on the Sunnah or on Fiqh – the lawful and unlawful – or on Creed, then a person should strive to preserve them. Maintaining books clean falls under honoring Allaah and honoring the religious knowledge that is taken from the Qur’aan and the Sunnah.
When dealing with books, from the perspective of preserving and safeguarding them, a student of knowledge should also be careful of not turning his book into a parcel for his documents, special essays or receipts, i.e. such as the sales receipts for the books he bought and so on. If you were to pick up one of his books and look at it you would find that there is a receipt and a treatise inside it or that there is a pen and an eraser inside it and so on an so forth. Some of the scholars have said: “Do not turn your book into a bouquet or a parcel.”
This is one of the important etiquettes with regard to books – that you not turn them into storage bins such as by placing pens inside them or treating them like repositories for money and currency. So if you were to open up a book you would find all of these things inside them and notice that the book’s binding has become worn and that the book has changed and so on due to the book not being preserved properly.
A book should also not be turned into a bouquet, i.e. it should not be folded in an inappropriate manner, since a book contains the words of Allaah and the words of the Messenger of Allaah (Peace be upon him). So it is not proper to treat a book in this manner.
It is also not proper to put a glass of water or a cup of tea or their likes on top of books. The books of the people of knowledge, which contain texts from the Qur’aan and the Sunnah should be put in the highest places and not in the lowest places with pieces of paper and such on top of them. Abiding by this etiquette instills respect in the heart for the words of Allaah and the words of the Messenger of Allaah, not to mention the knowledge that is derived from these two sources.
What is also related to preserving books is when a student of knowledge is careful in the manner that he records text from books. Sometimes, we see books with written comments in them that are annotated in such a way that their benefit is squandered. In what has preceded, we have seen that the scholars forbade from writing small letters in books, such as when you write notes using tiny lettering or when you make notes on points of benefit found in your book using such small letters that if a student of knowledge wanted to, he would not be able to benefit from them. In what has been reported, Imaam Ahmad one time regretted having recorded ahaadeeth with small handwriting. This is since when he needed to refer to them in his old age, he was not able to extract these points of benefit because they were written in very tiny letters and the ink from the letters were so close to each other that it was hard to read and thus the benefit was lost.
Some scholars or students of knowledge may not have good handwriting. This is not a flaw. However, one should arrange his letters in such a way that they are written clearly. This is since some of the scholars who didn’t possess good handwriting would not be able to read even their own handwriting, as was the case with Shaikh-ul-Islaam Ibn Taimiyyah whose writings would have to be extracted by one of his students. This is mentioned in the books on Biographies.
Al-Haafidh Ibn Katheer indicated this in the 14th volume of his collection al- Bidaayah wan-Nihaayah while discussing the year in which this student of Ibn Taimiyyah passed away. He said: “And he was the one who would be able to extract the second sermon of Ibn Taimiyyah. And whenever Ibn Taimiyyah would want to take a portion (from his writings), no one would be able to extract it except for him since Shaikh-ul-Islaam (Ibn Taimiyyah) would write in a hurry and his writings would be unclear, so at times it would appear obscure to him.”
This was due to the letters being written very small. This could work, however it is not possible all the time, which is why a student of knowledge needs to know how to write in his books.
The scholars of Hadeeth have advised in their etiquettes on writing that when a student of knowledge wants to write, he should start from the line that he is in or in which can be found the note, then continue by going up towards the top and not the bottom. This means that when you study a book with a teacher or you make notes in a book and you come upon an area where you begin writing (a comment), you should transfer from that line to a line above it. The reason for this is because you may encounter a point of benefit in the line that follows that one, which requires you to write a note for it, and so then you will be confused on how to write it. Start ascending to the line above it. If you write from the bottom to the top, this will ensure that your writing will be clear.
You should also try to make your lines straight but designed in a sloping manner such that if you want to correct anything later, you can insert that correction in the empty spaces that are between the slants. Perhaps some of you have seen some of the old books with notes in them and noticed that these (notes) were written in blocks of text that appear to be in the shape of triangles. This was not done in vain and without purpose. Rather, these books were written this way – in the manner of the ancestors – because they needed to be verified afterward. The corrections would be placed in the empty spaces (on the sides of the triangle) or the book would be compared to another manuscript and notes from that manuscript would be annotated in these empty spaces.
So therefore, you must give great importance to having handwriting that is clear and organized in terms of knowing the place where the writing starts. So if I were to look at what you wrote and the notes you made, I would know where the note you made for this sentence begins and in which direction it will go.
Also, if you reference the books on terminology, their authors have explained how to write and make notes in books using guidelines and details that they have established on either preserving the text, explaining a word, making a correction, writing a footnote, clarifying which manuscript it is or how to write valid phrases and so on. So we should refer to these books on terminology because their authors wrote about this and talked about it in detail.