Assalamualaikum everyone! Hope all of you are staying safe, well and healthy amidst the current pandemic. I’m pretty sure you’re reading this article because you are out of books to read, or you need some books to occupy your free time at home, or perhaps you need some recommendations to uplift and deepen your Islamic knowledge, or you are on a journey to Islam. Fret not, I will be sharing with you some books that you can read to know more about Islam and hope that they will be able to help and enrich you insyaAllah.
Image source: Wardah Books
“Almost universally, religious traditions have stressed the importance of the condition of the heart. In the Muslim scripture, the Day of Judgement is described as “a day in which neither wealth nor children shall be of any benefit (to anyone), except one who comes to God with a sound heart (26: 88-89).” The sound heart is understood to be free of character defects and spiritual blemishes. This “heart” is actually the spiritual heart and not the physical organ per se, although in Islamic tradition the spiritual heart is centred in the physical.”
Overview: The first book on the list is the refreshing book Purification of the Heart. Before you start on your journey with religion, you should have clear intentions as well as a pure heart, and this book is what it is all about. If we find our hearts severed from ourselves, or realise the lack of purity in our hearts, it will steer towards immersion in the material world and heedlessness of the Hereafter. And when that happens, it will ultimately lead to the spiritual death of the heart.
Our hearts need nourishment from the spiritual diseases that I believe reside in our hearts and lives. Hence the book tackles how to overcome them, by learning of the diseases of the heart – such as hatred, ostentation (riya’) and love of the world – looking at their etiology and what causes them, the signs and symptoms and then examining how to treat them.
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“Islam is made for human beings as they are in themselves as individuals. It is based simply on people’s primordial nature. That is why it is not bound by time or place. That is also why it has no clergy and no castes, and is not restricted to particular countries, nations or races. It seeks to make people better, wherever they are, and whatever time they have been born into.”
Overview: This is a gem of a book because as you can tell from the title, it beautifully explains to the readers what Islam really is. Not only does it provides a guide to the religion and its outlook but it also presents logical and rational explanations to the big and fundamental questions, such as “What is Islam?”, “Who is your lord?”, “Why did God create people?” and “What is worldly life?” What’s more interesting is that the questions are answered by the author using twelve verses across twelve different chapters in the Quran.
Why this is such a recommendation, especially to those who are just learning about Islam, is because not only will you get the answers to these questions, but each question is answered with a section called “Why is it important to know all of these things?” In addition to that, although the book touches on some important and complex ideas, the language is not complicated and is easy to understand and digest.
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“Human beings have a choice between a negative, worldly life which is futile and subhuman (and not real life), and a positive, fully human life of enduring goodness and righteousness. The first is like the life of cattle, and the second is real human life. God summarises this critical situation as follows: “The likeness of the life of this world is only as water, which We send down from the heaven, then the plants of the earth mingle with it, whereof mankind eat, and catter (eat) until, when the earth has taken its ornaments, and has adorned itself, and its inhabitants think that they are masters of it, Our command comes upon it by night or day, and We make it as reaped corn, as though the previous day it had not flourished. Thus do We detail the signs for a people who reflect.” (Yunus, 10: 24)”
Overview: The third book in this list is written by the same author as the second book on the list. As the title suggests, this book is about happiness and this is an important topic because people spend most of their time pursuing happiness, but most people don’t know what happiness actually is. With that in mind, the author goes through the meaning of happiness and life itself. Interestingly, he does not only deal with spiritual principles but also discusses the philosophical concepts as well so that readers are able to get a holistic understanding of the subject.
Of course, I won’t be sharing the ultimate meaning of happiness from the book, but a spoiler that I may give is that Islam’s view on what it takes to live a truly happy life is as startling and refreshing today as it was during the Revelation of the Quran, in seventh century Arabia. All in all, if you’re pursuing the meaning of happiness, go and give this book a try.
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“Dhikr (remembrance) of Allah is such an enjoyable and simple act of worship that can be performed at all times, with little thought, and it has countless virtues and benefits… It is obvious that dhikr does not benefit Allah in any way, as He is in no need of His servants remembering Him. Dhikr is essentially beneficial to the servant, as abundant dhikr strengthens one’s bond with Allah and nourishes the soul, through which it is raised and strengthened. Through this spiritual strength, it becomes easy to overcome syaitan and one’s base desires (nafs). And every time a person performs dhikr, good deeds are added to his record.”
Overview: All of us know that Islam has directed us to instil a sense of balance between two aspects of our lives: the worldly needs, as well as the needs of the religion and the Hereafter. Unfortunately, there is a widespread misunderstanding that practising the Islamic way of life is difficult and consequently requires us to sacrifice most worldly benefits, pleasures and comforts. On the contrary, practising and manifesting Islam in our lives is rather simple, and if properly developed and maintained, will be a source of strength and steadfastness for us.
Therefore in this book, the author has compiled, from the teachings of the Messenger s.a.w. deeds that are very easy to implement and practise regularly. At the same time, the author also provides important guidelines on how to practise the recommended deeds. Some of the deeds shared that can be performed without any major effort are initiating greetings of salam (peace), concealing the faults of others and so on. This book is recommended especially when we are nearing Ramadan, so we can know more about easy and rewardable deeds that can be manifested in ourselves and be incorporated during the holy month and beyond.
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“One should not be casual about what one is doing or why one is doing it. The challenge is to be God-conscious, watch one’s heart carefully to detect the residues of ‘I’ and cleanse one’s heart of such impurities. This is why one seeks refuge in Allah against associating anything or anyone with Him. Muslims are very careful about idol worshipping when the idol is physical, but the same should be applied to metaphorical idols such as fame and wealth. This is why the Sufis talk about the state of annihilation (fana’) whereby the heart is only aware of the Divine presence and nothing else.”
Overview: As we are learning about Islam, we should also learn about exemplary scholars. One great example is the theologian Imam Al-Ghazali. He carved a niche for himself in the world of Islamic thought and was the scholar par excellence in the Islamic world, with hundreds of scholars attending his lectures and teachings. His story is that of returning to Allah, of having the right relationship with this world in preparation for the Hereafter, of abandoning bad character traits and of inculcating good ones.
The book is an attempt to capture the essence of Imam Al-Ghazali’s corpus of writings, such as Ayyuhal Walad (Dear Beloved Son!), Bidayatul Hidayah (The Beginning of Guidance) and his magnum opus, Ihya’ Ulumuddin (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) which continues to be celebrated for its ability to infuse spirituality into the religious law (fiqh).