This article is meant to serve as a guide to help parents and teachers choose beneficial literature for their children according to Islamic values. Reading is an important part of a child’s life and the primary means of gaining knowledge. We already know that children are like sponges and that they absorb everything they are exposed to. Everything they read influences their heart, their way of thinking and beliefs. This is why it’s crucial for parents and teachers to make sure that the children read only the good and worthy books.
The first step towards choosing rich literature for your children is to have the right intention. The intention behind giving them books should be to help the children increase their knowledge rather than entertain them. If your children get used to reading books only for fun, then they will barely find motivation to read good books as they grow older and mature. This does not mean that each and every book that your child picks up has to be educational. For example, I would like to maintain a 3:1 ratio with my children. That is, they can read one good fiction book with every three non-fiction books. Generally, most nonfiction books for children increase their knowledge and are not problematic. These books therefore should be made widely accessible to them.
Let us talk about fiction books and see some of the recurring corrupt themes and references that most of us choose to shrug off. As a homeschooler you are often tempted to have your children read all the books belonging to the list of “Classical books that all children must read”. However, let us acknowledge that not all popular or classical books are appropriate for Muslim children. It is easy to follow someone else’s list of “great” literature, however it’s not the ideal approach. Parents and teachers must have certain criteria to differentiate between a book that is good and a book that is not. And this criteria should not be left to our logic or our understanding rather it should be according to the guidance of Allah and His Messenger (salAllahu alayhi wa sallam). Recommendations made by schools, websites, magazines, etc. should not necessarily be accepted without investigation. Books that contrast with the Islamic creed and teachings must be kept away whenever possible. In cases where it is not possible, such as it is part of a child’s academics, then it is the responsibility of the parents and the teachers to help the children approach the book from an islamic perspective.
One of the most popular themes in children’s books is magic. How many books have references to wizards, potions, witches, enchanted forests, fairies, elves, curses, and so on! Learning magic and practicing it is Major Kufr (major disbelief that puts one outside the path of Islam). One may argue that the kids are not learning or practicing magic rather simply reading a harmless magic themed book. Well, reading these books makes one no longer object to magic in one’s heart and no longer feels that magic and its practitioners are something abhorrent, and one no longer thinks of the seriousness of the sin involved before Allah. Such books make acts of disbelief seem normal and even fair at times. A Muslim child thus must be protected from such corrupted books. As with anything else, children should be taught and given a reason why these books should not be read.
A popular genre among children’s fiction that may often contain shirk (making others equal to Allah) and kufr is Fantasy. This literature is set in an imaginary universe. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds. Besides these great harms, fantasy literature may also affect the ability of a child to reason as they may find it hard at times to differentiate between the real world and the imaginary world.
Similarly, books with references to offensive language, music, immorality of various nature (prohibited relationships, immodest clothing, sexuality), following unworthy passions, bad attitude towards parents and siblings, honouring of cultures, traditions, and beliefs contradictory to that of Islam, and so on are unsuitable for a Muslim child to read.
In the last part of my article I would like to discuss the Islamic literature. The reality is that we have very limited Islamic books for children which are authentic and which portray the true Islamic teachings. It is a struggle to keep our young readers interested in reading Islamic books when there is not much choice out there. I really pray to Allah that Muslim educators and authors come together to create rich Islamic literature and curriculum for our children. In the meantime, we as parents and teachers should try our best to create a love for Islamic books right from the very beginning. Children should have easy access to a range of authentic Islamic books at home and at (Islamic) school. Older children can read Islamic books that are meant for adults with a little help from parents. They should be explained the virtues of reading Islamic books and gaining sacred knowledge so that they are motivated to be a regular reader. Books about the Names of Allah, easy to understand Tafseer (like by Imaam As-Sa’di), Islamic history, biography of the best of all creation – Muhammed (salAllahu alayhi wa sallam), biographies of the Sahaba and Islamic scholars, stories of the Prophets, easy and authentic Islamic creed or aqeedah, Islamic morals, character and etiquettes, and so on should all be a part of your home library. Most importantly, children should develop a habit of reading an easy translation of the Quran under the educated guidance of parents and teachers (I have been recommended The Qur’an – Oxford World’s Classics by Abdel Haleem). I believe that the Islamic literature is so rich and vast that older children with fluent reading skills and good vocabulary should seldom turn to non-Islamic literature (other than for their academic requirements).
This article isn’t intended to criticize the entire fiction genre. There are fiction books whose themes revolve around the love of nature, courage, kindness, persistence, strong family bond and so on. These books are acceptable to read Alhamdulillah as long as no references to unIslamic values.
As you may have realised, we as Muslim parents and teachers should meticulously choose books for our children if we want to make sure that they read only the good literature that will be of benefit to them and not distort their pure innate nature with which Allah created them (fitrah). It is our duty towards them for which we will be held to account by Allah. It is also important to note that benefit and goodness can only come from something if it is something is pure and permissible.
Some practical tips to keep in mind when choosing/ reading a book:
- Have right intentions before buying or reading a book.
- Choose a book that will benefit your children either in this world or next or both.
- When reading science nonfiction, reinforce the belief that science and Islam compliment each other (in fact, Islam is ahead of science) and whenever science opposes Islam it is due to a deficiency in science and not Islam.
- Teach children the names of Allah associated with knowledge such as Al ‘Aleem and Al Hakeem. Whatever knowledge is acquired by people is due to His permission and favor.
- Remind children that reading Islamic books is a kind of worship and so they should hope for reward from Allah when they read them.
- Discuss with children the kinds of books they should stay away from, and most importantly why. Remind your children that they will be asked about the blessing of sight and their ability to read by Allah and whether they used it for reading good things. This will make them responsible readers who make good choices due to their consciousness of Allah.
- Let your children see you reading good books. Model good reading habits.
- Make your own small library at home.
- Check the summary and review of a book online before buying or borrowing it from the library.
- Do not blindly buy an “Islamic” book without investigating the creed of the author or publisher. Many children’s Islamic books that are popular are unauthentic.
- Read aloud Islamic books to your children regularly and pause in between your reading to summarize and explain the portion you have just read.
- Reflect on the text. Don’t start a book just to finish it.
- Increase children’s vocabulary by asking them to look up for words in a dictionary they don’t know.
- When reading biographies of noble Sahabas make du’aa to Allah to bless you all with praiseworthy qualities too.
- Emphasize virtuous manners and qualities whenever you come across them in the text. Make reference to the Quran and Sunnah if such qualities are found in non-Islamic literature.
- Correct any unIslamic notion if found.
- If reading an unIslamic literature try connecting it with Islam by reading it from the Islamic perspective. Eg., How would the character have reacted in this situation if he had followed Islamic teachings?
- Explain to children that reading should not distract them from their duties such as praying daily prayers, reading their daily portion of the Quran, obeying the parents, completing their studies/ homework and so on.
I pray that this article helps us guide our children to read the best books, fulfil one of our responsibilities as shepherds of our flocks, and raise a virtuous generation who have love for knowledge.