What is a Book?

What is a Book?

Books are, in almost all cases, made by human beings. In other words, they are a human artifact. Therefore, if we really want to understand what a book is, one would do well to understand what a human being is first.

Bani Adam is a creature that has spiritual and physical realities seamlessly bound up as one. Yet, just as in the entirety of Allah’s creation, the spiritual is far more vast and far more fundamental than the physical. Physical realities exist at the bottom of the totem pole of creation, and the meanings and other realities that exist in the spiritual realms flow down and impact the physical realm constantly. To get a better understanding of this, read this Hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari when the Prophet ﷺ asked Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) about where the sun goes when it sets: 

“Do you know where it goes?”

Abu Dharr replied, “Allah and His Messenger know best.”

“It goes to prostrate itself beneath the Throne, at which time it asks permission and is granted it. Soon its prostration will not be accepted: it will ask permission and be refused it; and it will be told, ‘Return from whence you came!’ And it will rise from where it usually sets. This is His saying - exalted is He - And the sun runs to its resting place, that is the ordaining of the All-Mighty, the Knowing. (Ya Sin, Verse 38).

Mostafa al-Badawi comments on this in his book, Higher Reality: Manifestations of the Unseen.

“The higher worlds control and influence the lower, so that what happens in the subtle dimensions is then reflected in what happens in the material world. Thus when [the sun] is refused permission, the forces regulating the solar system will be more or less disrupted to bring about a cataclysmic event of the order of the earth reversing its spin so that the sun appears to rise from the West.”

In other words, the sun, in the higher unseen realms is constantly “running to its resting place” in prostration to Allah, and the system that we witness in this lower realm of earthly spin and rotation, gravitational forces and the like, are all a result of that unseen reality. The moment Allah does not give permission any longer, then there will be a complete change in what we see here in the physical world: the earth will change its spin, and the sun will rise from the West.

Similarly, Bani Adam has higher spiritual realities within him, that flow outward and manifest physically. We have an unseen soul with which we perceive and think and experience, and the soul’s activity manifests at the lowest/physical level as brain activity. The brain is the remarkable translation tool of the soul. It translates the soul’s activities into the physical world. At the center of that soul is something called a qalb - a spiritual heart. Our thoughts originate in our spiritual heart, are given form to by our brain, and then are made manifest by our tongue and limbs. We are, in essence, our soul/spiritual heart. When you are reading the words on this screen it is your soul that is doing the seeing. When you are feeling different things within you, it is your soul experiencing those feelings. All perception and thought originates in the soul. Now that we have understood, from a high level, what a human being really is, we can understand something about the artifacts he or she creates.

When someone writes a book, they are putting some of what is in their heart into the pages of that book. When you read a book, you are given a glimpse of the spiritual realities of another human being.

Thus, if the author of the book has a heart filled with light from taqwa and the remembrance of Allah, then there will be a corresponding subtle effect upon your heart from that book. If the language of the book content is well-written and easy to comprehend, then this facilitates the transfer of meanings that were present in the higher realm of the soul of the author.

So, what is a book? A book is a medium of transfer. It is a medium of transfer from that glimpse into the author’s unseen heart and soul, to your soul.

All books connect two souls through the mind and thus can inspire us to change the way we think. But a book written by an enlightened heart, can also change the way we are. A book by a luminous soul can also be about transformation.

But what transfers to the heart through the pages of a book is just a drop when compared to what transfers to the heart by keeping the actual company of the author himself. There is simply no substitute for the actual presence of a soul in its beating heart. If the pages of a book give one a mere glimpse of the spiritual realities of another human being, then the actual person himself - with their heart full of the light of the remembrance of Allah - gives one an expansive view of those spiritual realities. This is called “suhba”, or, simply, good company. And suhba is often the missing ingredient in the religious practice of a Muslim.

Many Muslims strive to pray, fast, give charity and do as much good as they can, alhamdulillah. Yet some continue to feel somehow stuck in their spiritual aspirations and goals. Almost inevitably, the solution to that sense of being stuck is to keep the company of a righteous person - a person of Allah. By keeping such company, the light that is in the heart of that righteous person will shine upon one’s heart, and steadily one will find that the remembrance of Allah and the abandoning of sin (i.e. having taqwa) become easier. Suhba is the secret to self-transformation. Suhba allows one to grow by the power of the light in another’s heart.

But what if one cannot find such suhba where one is? In that case, in addition to dua (and perhaps moving to a location where there are such people), one must remember that if one is in a desert and thus cannot drink a gush of water from a tap, that does not mean that one should not try to drink a few drops of water from his water-bottle. Similarly, though there is no substitute for actual good company, a book – as a medium of transfer – written by an enlightened heart, can give life-giving water to the soul.

So: if you cannot keep the company of the people of Allah, keep the company of their words.

In summary:

A book is a medium of transfer - a glimpse into the heart of another.

A book written by a person of Allah is, too, a medium of transfer - a glimpse into a heart of light.

Suhba – the good company of an enlightened heart – is essential to self-transformation and growth in one’s religious life. The people of Allah are enlightened hearts and carry within them such enlightened hearts.

Now that we understand what a book is, we can understand:

If you cannot keep the company of the people of Allah, keep the company of their words.

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