Whether you’re a Muslim, Christian, Jew or Atheist, we all listen to scholars to educate ourselves. We spend hours upon hours watching lectures, sharing them and commenting on them. There is no doubt that they can be beneficial, but they can only be beneficial insofar as they allow us to engage with the primary sources of information from which they draw from. What this means, is that while we can gain a lot from watching a 20 minute lecture about the biography of some famous religious personality, we can gain a lot more by actually reading the biography or works of that personality. Let’s take for example, the Passion of the Christ movie by Mel Gibson. The primary goal of a movie is to entertain, not educate. Entertainment is guided towards gaining the attention and interest of the most amount of viewers as is possible. By promoting focus on entertaining, rather than educating, the movie will be successful and significantly less boring. We can see this by comparing the narrative of the Passion of the Christ as opposed to that of the four Gospels. The movie presents one narrative whereas the New Testament Gospels present a number of differing narratives that often conflict with one another. Unless the movie presented four different versions of the Passion event, the narrative it gives us must then be considered limited in scope and depth, it would exclude information otherwise unknown to us unless we had read the Gospels ourselves.
For a Muslim, let us consider the Seerah or the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam. In many of the books on the subject (I prefer Martin Lings’ edition of the Seerah), most of us who’ve read it would be familiar with the personality of Umm Ayman, otherwise known as Umm Barakah. An African wet nurse, or rather adoptive mother of the Prophet salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam. Her role, purpose and place in his life is truly one of the most beautiful historical events that we should be aware of. Yet, most of us who have only come to know the Prophet salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam through short lectures, or the few movies on his life are completely unaware of her existence. Most are actually surprised to know that the wet nurse or adoptive mother of the Prophet salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam was an African woman, moreso that she spent a significant amount of his blessed life with him, by his side, through his struggles. By omitting such an important piece of history from his life, many Muslims are unfortunately disregarding one of the most beautiful personalities in regard to the Prophet salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam.
The Qur’aan says, ” رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا” – which translates to: “My Lord Increase me in Knowledge (Qur’aan 20:114)”. It is one thing to experience the Prophet salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam through short videos of his Seerah or movies, but it is an entirely different experience to come to know him through the reading of his Seerah. Perhaps this image can put things into perspective:
Consider a book of 100 pages. It would take someone an average of 1 minute to read a page of 300 words. If there are 100 pages, and the person reads 1 page a minute, it would take them 100 minutes to read the entire book. That’s roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes. Yet, if a person watched a movie on the Seerah of the Prophet salallaahu ‘alayhi wa salam, as opposed to reading the Seerah, they would come to know significantly less about his life, minute for minute versus to two mediums. Sure, you can see beautiful images of grand desert vistas with Arab cultural music in the background, but in that same time you could’ve read a page or two and actually learned something. The question that needs to be posed to ourselves is quite clear. From where do the people speaking in videos, or the screen writers behind movies, get their information from? They get it from the same books we neglect to read! So if it is, that we truly admired the people we spend hours watching videos of, wouldn’t we stand to learn a lot more by actually interacting with the primary sources, as opposed to having watered down third person narratives fed to us? Quite frankly there are two kinds of people, those willing to learn and those willing to have someone spoon feed them information. I’m often reminded of the young Muslims who spend hours watching videos of Shaykh Ahmad Deedat or of Dr. Shabir Ally debating. Most are amazed at their level of knowledge and understanding of complicated inter-faith topics. Yet, most young Muslims would prefer to watch those videos to gain quick knowledge, than read any of the books that either of the two great personalities above have read to get their information and recommended for Muslims to learn from.
At the end of the day, we all have a choice to make. If we truly want to learn we can go directly to the books that house the information or we can choose to have tid bits of it given to us by persons who have read the works themselves. The only true limit of gaining knowledge, is the limit we place on ourselves. With this, I say, empower yourself, read, or as the Lord of the Worlds has said: “قْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ” – Read in the name of your Lord who created (Qur’aan 96:1).
and God knows best.