Book Review 9: English Novels
There was a particularly mean Prison Head who decided to ban me from having any Islamic books. I then asked if I would be allowed to have English novels. He agreed. I have never been fond of novels. Most of my reading has been in Arabic. When I have read English, it has been Non-fiction, mostly related to current affairs. But, because any book that I ordered would have to be subjected to review by the prison administration, I was worried that if I ordered any current affairs books, that they would be banned. And that might lead to a temporary, or even permanent, ban preventing me from having any English books after that.
Before going to jail, I had received one book that I was eager to read: Michael Scheuer’s Imperial Hubris, but this would be too much for them to allow. I did read it after my release and I strongly recommend it.
So, I asked my family to bring me Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This book was given to me as a gift by a friend of my father in the US when I was a child. I was very young at the time and it would have made no sense for me to read such a book. This book had stayed on my shelf for over 20 years because it was written in destiny that I would read it in jail. Now, I cannot say that it was a good novel; but in jail, anything is good. Even local government newspapers, which I would never contemplate wasting my time with, made interesting reading.
Following Moby Dick, I asked for more books without specifying which ones, so my parents brought me whatever was lying around in the house. This time it was King Lear by Shakespeare and Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Shakespeare was the worst thing I read during my entire stay in prison. I never liked him to start with. Probably the only reason he became so famous is because he was English and had the backing and promotion of the speakers of a global language. On the other hand, I read Hard Times thrice. So, I ordered more Charles Dickens and read Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and his masterpiece: David Copperfield. I read this one twice.
What fascinated me with these novels were the amazing characters Dickens created and the similarity of some of them to some people today. That made them very interesting. For example: the thick and boastful Mr. Josiah Bounderby of Coketown was similar to George W. Bush; Lucy’s father, Mr. Gradgrind, was similar to some Muslim parents who are programmed to think that only Medicine and Engineering are worthy professions for their children; the amazing cruelness of Stephen Blackpool was similar to some people who appear on the surface to be decent and kind human beings; and Uriah Heep was similar to some pitiful Muslims today.
Another novel was Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, which was an interesting imagination of the twists of destiny and the tragic ending for the evil and the favorable ending for the righteous.
Now, I want to stress that I do not encourage any serious Muslim brother or sister to waste time with novels. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was prevented from anything else, I wouldn’t have read them. And, I read them because apparently a person can begin forgetting his language, even if it is his mother tongue, if he does not use it for long time. There is even a joke that a man emigrated from an Arab country to America and did not learn English and ended up forgetting Arabic. Being in solitary confinement and not speaking English for a long time I needed refreshment.
So, there is some benefit in reading novels for those in the fields of public speaking and writing. And, once in while, there is a novel that is worth reading because of a pointed message that it tries to convey; such as the message in Animal Farm about communism, and the relevance of 1984 regarding how the West is treating Muslims today. But, for he who has the choice, there are better alternatives. There is so much out there to read. One should not spend the valuable time Allah has blessed them with on anything except that which will draw one closer to Allah.
I also read the memoirs of David Attenborough Life on Air. Having followed most of his documentaries, I felt it might be interesting to read about the experience of this Natural Scientist. I was disappointed to find out that such a person, one who has first hand knowledge and experience with some of the most amazing signs of Allah, is a person who believes in evolution and shows no signs of believing in a creator.
A final note: I believe that it is a problem to hear Muslim speakers extensively referring to disbelievers in their books or speeches. In fact, this may represent a problem with wala and bara (love and hate for the sake of Allah). If the quoting is relevant and beneficial and does not involve taking them as role models, then that is fine, such as al Bukhari quoting Heraclius’s conversation with Abu Sufyaan on Rasulullah or, in use of the abstract sciences and skills such as Salman al Farisi borrowing the idea of trenches from Persia. But, I believe that Muslims taking disbelieving ‘gurus’ and leaders as their shuyukh in fields such as management, time management or even learning from their success stories, leads to more harm than benefit.
Didn’t Ibn Abbass say to those referring to the people of the book: “How can they guide you when they themselves are misguided?”
And this is what Allah says about the disbelievers, including the brightest minds such as Plato, Einstein, Newton, and George Washington:
“They will further say: “Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we should not (now) be among the Companions of the Blazing Fire!”” (al Mulk: 10)
All of these great minds would stand in front of Allah and the creation and declare that they had no understanding and no minds.
So how can we learn from them?
Next: Food Reviews From Behind Bars