Browsing Around an Arabic Bookshop
Have you ever wondered what does the name of the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram actually means? It literally means: books (boko) are forbidden (haram), in other words: all un-Islamic education is sinful and must be forbidden, which is why the organization targeted school girls.
The irony is that Muslims do not stop bragging that ‘ikra’ (meaning read) was the first word of the Quran that was ‘revealed’ to Mohammed. Interestingly, Mohammed actually failed to read at the time, although he later parroted what Archangel Gabriel allegedly told him to say. Even today Muslims still fail to read apart from parroting those same old ‘revelations’. Muslim scholars produce a long list of verses and hadiths that urge Muslims to learn, but what they do not say is that all of those verses and hadiths urge Muslims to learn about one thing: Islam. As a matter of fact, Muslims often say: “science is about a verse and a hadith (al ilm aya wa hadith), outside this, it is a waste of time (or mashghala)”. As a matter of fact, the Arabic word for ‘science’ in Islamic terminology refers to Islamic learning and the word ‘scientists’ (ulama) refers to Islamic scholars (the singular is ‘scientist’(Alim)).
It comes as no surprise that when the Arabs decided to start writing books, the first book they produced was the Quran. It remained the only book in their collection for over a century. Later, when they had access to printing technology, the first book they printed was also the Quran. As the Western technology progressed more, the Arabs rushed to employ that technology to produce electronic copies of the Quran on CDs and computer applications.
Some may say that Boko Haram is an extremist organization and we cannot paint all Muslims with the same brush. Let us find out by browsing through the shelves of an Arabic bookshop to see what kind of books on sale. Obviously, those books must be the ones the Arabs like to read.
Although this article describes the contents of an Arabic bookshop (only because I happen to speak the language), it could also be describing bookshops in other Muslim countries as well. In fact, judging from what I see in the Islamic centers in the UK, Arabic bookshops actually do not look that bad.
The Quran, in various sizes and styles, always occupy a prime place in any Arabic bookshop. This is usually complemented by a huge selection of other books that help the Muslims to understand the Quran; its interpretations (tafseer) and translations to other languages. It is astonishing that despite the many major tafseer books that have already been produced centuries ago, the Muslim scholars still flood the market with even more books on the same subject. (In how many ways are we supposed to understand a single verse?)
In the section of ‘uloom al quran‘ ( Quranic sciences) you will find books about subjects like how to recite the Quran aloud (tajweed and tarteel), and the latest publications on the so-called scientific miracles of the Quran. This last subject keeps expanding year after year as Muslim ‘researchers’ “discover” new imaginary threads that link the Quran to science. This subject is so important to Muslim scholars that, in the future, they may have to divide it into subdivisions like: the Quran and medical science, the Quran and astrophysics, the Quran and Quantum theory, the Quran and atomic theory and so on! Yes, it is all there in the Quran as long as your imagination is active enough and eisegesis (reading something into a text that is not there) is part and parcel of this and and taken for granted. You can expect anything from people who do not see the point of reading anything outside the Quran and related Islamic books.
Hadith Science, or ‘uloom el hadith‘, occupy a large section in the Arabic book store. In addition to the famous six ‘sahih’ collections, you will find a huge selection of books that specialize in discussing the hadiths in those collections. If you think this a large section, wait until you see the section that deals with Fiqh, or Islamic law. In this section, you may find contributions by nearly every known and unknown Muslim scholar, past and present. It is like a forum where Muslim scholars compete to give the ‘best opinion’ on vital matters like adult breast feeding or the consequences of breaking wind. The most remarkable author in this section is sheikh Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), a powerful driving force of Islamic terror, and his follower Ibn Al Qayyim (1292–1350).
Still browsing the Arabic bookshop but getting tired of being surrounded by all those books on Islam, you may think it is better to move on to the next section- the history section. Unfortunately, you soon discover it is also Islamic territory. The shelves are occupied by books about Mohammed’s life, or Sira, including his marriages and wars. In parallel to those books, there are even more books specifically written to justify the many controversies (shubuhat) that surround almost every aspect of Mohammed’s life. It only makes you wonder: why is nearly every action taken by Mohammed deemed controversial and requiring of justification even by faithful, pious Muslims?
Predictably, books about the Islamic dynasties are plentiful in this section. World history is addressed only in a way that panders to the Arabs. You may find books about the European wars as well as the Americans’ oppression of the red Indians, which portray the West in the picture the Arabs love to see. There are no books that discuss history that is not connected in some way to the Arabs’ history or which paint a picture of Arab supremacy. For example, it is unlikely that you find books about the Vikings or the Aztecs. The two books that consistently feature in most bookshops, even in the small kiosks, are the Arabic translations of Mein Kempf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the latter of which every Arab utterly believes in as truth even though the Protocols are a known hoax.
There is an abundance of books about the modern Middle Eastern history. This is another forum for all the Arabs who are willing to write about current issues like Palestine, Iraq, Al Qaeda and so on. Yes, apparently they are all experts on this subject. Conspiracy theory books on this subject are plentiful and the more unlikely the conspiracy the more popular it becomes. It is worth saying that you do not find books about issues like Darfur, which had little media coverage anyway. A massacre in Darfur doesn’t really look like an Arab concern, even though it happened in an Arab country.
If you are lucky you might find a few books about real science. Books on Evolution and Darwinian Theory are very popular – provided that that “disprove” it (one particular example attempted to “disprove” evolutionary theory by showing pictures of lures used in fly-fishing).
After a few decades of Islamization, Islam has taken total control of the Arabs’ minds. It is on every shelf of the bookshops from the children’s section right through to modern science.
Back in the 1970s I bought a good Arabic book about the subject of evolution but is not on sale anymore. However, there are some serious books, authored or translated by Arabs, but do they sell well? I doubt it. People who buy books about the interpretations of dreams and how to use camel’s urine for treatment, will never become interested in real science.
When the Muslims’ army, led by Amr Ibn Al Ass, conquered Egypt in the seventh century, Amr came across the massive collection of books in the Library of Alexandria. He didn’t know what to do with them, so he sent to the rightly guided Caliph Omar asking for advice. Omar’s opinion was: “destroy the books because if they are bad we don’t need them and if they are good we have better” (meaning the Quran) (references 1,2,3).
That says it all.
1) Al Makrizi
2) Al Baghdadi, Al Ifada wa Al Ittibar
3) Al Malti, mukhtasar tareekh el duwal