How to Read a Book

Transcript Details

Event Name: How to Read a Book
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 4/24/2019
Transcript Version: 1

Transcript Text

Part 1

bismillah r-rahman r-rahim hamdulillah

was so that was salam ala rasoolillah

Salam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

I wanted to say hello and welcome to

everyone welcome to everyone here and

then everyone listening or watching


welcome to Zaytuna College for the

second lecture in our faculty lecture

series F Kroc was the first word

revealed to our Prophet Muhammad peace

be upon him

meaning read or recite established the

centrality of reading in particular and

seeking knowledge in general in our

tradition therefore it's imperative that

in our community when we think of over

the place we are as Muslims in America

right now it's imperative for us to be

conscious about our relationship to

knowledge and our pursuit of knowledge

towards that end as a tuner college is

an important part of this story of Islam

in America and so we're asking for

everyone's support first with your

prayers please keep us in your drawers

second with your financial support such

as joining us on February 18th for the

benefit dinner with all three

co-founders in San Jose and third by

spreading the word about say tuna

considering applying while telling

others about applying and although the

application deadline has passed we're

still accepting late applications as for

today the title of chef Hansie Yusuf's

lecture is how to read a book which

alludes to a book written in 1940 by

Mortimer Adler the suggestion for this

lecture came from students and so we'd

like to thank them for that suggestion

and we'd like to say to everyone else

we hope that

can provide a step for allowing us to

work together as Muslims in America

thinking consciously about our

relationship to knowledge and building

institutions of knowledge here in

America and finally may God allow all of

us to benefit from everything that is

going to follow in this talk about

further ado Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Sarah -

either Mohammed Wadi was happy we set

him to steam and get here off well hold

on upward I had a Leonar beam along with

Dalia hikmah to ensure I didn't know

particular than GRE very kromm oh sorry

l'homme Odyssey they know Mohammed wanna

read Quran what I heard over our water

level and Allah it's good to see

everybody and I've been absent

I've actually haven't been well either

so I request everybody's draw the topic

and Cha minute discussed tonight is

actually taken from a book which I was

fortunate enough to actually have

studied with dr. Adler in seminars and

he was a friend of my father's and my

father had studied with one of his

mentor's who actually taught him how to

read a book and that was Mark Van Doren

who was my father's teacher at Columbia

for my father's duration at that

University and Van Doren used to teach a

course using great books or classic

literature and out of that came a group

of intellectuals in the united states

that adopted a certain program that they

believe would help revive liberal arts

colleges but one of the things that they

recognized an Adler wrote this book for

this reason is that most people do not

really know how to read very well we

learn abecedarian reading which is

basically how to read letters on a book

we can read a open up a book and

and and read words but to actually

become a really good read or a solid

reader is a set of skills it that are

acquired over actually a long period of

time and one of the things about our

tradition in particular it's it's really

is a tradition that is rooted in in

reading the Prophet SAW ACMs first

revelation was acara is read and and he

was told a crab bismi rabbika alladhi ha

decreed in the name of your lord and the


miss me in the name of is what the arab

grammarians Turnbull is Gianna it's -

it's the bud that you use the

instrumental bar in other words it's the

means by which you to read and so

there's a there's really a mystical

component to reading that is hinted or

alluded to in the in the first

revelation of Islam that there is a type

of reading that is done that is not the

reading that the Prophet SAW said was

referring to when he said man if you re

I'm not a reader so the Provos item was

talking about this type of just reading

a book abecedarian reading and the what

Adler refers to in this book as really

plumbing the depths of a book he talks

about comprehensive reading he talks

about elementary reading is one type of

reading that informational reading and

then he talks about comprehensive

reading which is reading for insight for

understanding and and that is really at

the root of Islam it's really getting to

insight and understanding and so this

this book actually I think is is really

one of the most important books that

I've seen in the English language

because it's a key to other books it

really can help you read other books and

it was written by somebody who who

learned how to read from a master reader

and the Adler talks about when he first

started teaching at Columbia

he took a course with John Erskine who

was a very famous

philosopher and it was a really

extraordinary course it was an honors

course they read two years they read

sixty great books in two years so they'd

read a book a week and then it would

come together and discuss it and these

were all really advanced students and he

was convinced that this was he said it

wasn't that I discovered gold it's that

I actually owned the mine that he really

felt that he had just take taken

possession of this incredible treasure

which was all of this knowledge that had

been passed down through the ages and

this radically changed his his

perspective on learning and he felt that

the best way to really learn at the

college level was through discussion it

was not it was through reading text and

really discussing them but what happens

is he he became when he graduated he

actually become a teacher of that course

and he thought oh I've done this course

I know all these books and I'm ready to


but being he said the diligent teacher

that he was he decided to read each of

the books again a second time even

though he was convinced that he knew

them and he said he was dumbstruck

because when he read them again it felt

like he'd never read them before and

this is one of the hallmarks of a really

really good book is that the more you

read it the more you get out of it it's

not you don't just read a really great

book one time and Adler argues really

that any book worth reading has to be

read three times but he does say that

the book can be by a master reader they

can learn how to do all three readings

in one reading but generally it's going

to take one or two weeks now one of the

things that I think a lot of students

just assume is one if they don't

understand something they'll just ask

the teacher all right so if I don't

understand something I can just ask the

teacher what does that mean and that's a

type of intellectual laziness when you

are grappling with something because the

fact that you don't understand it is

either one of two things it's so beyond


grasp that you just don't have access to

it so for instance if you're not trained

in mathematics and you pick up a book on

physics it's just not gonna benefit you

because you don't have the prerequisites

for for studying that book but the other

possibility is that you haven't given it

enough thought you haven't put the time

in now I'll give you an example the

metaphysics which is considered one of

the more difficult books probably the

most difficult book in Aristotle's

companion of writings the metaphysics

mile what lubya

in Arabic was was translated into Arabic

even Sina the great scholar philosopher

said that he had read the book 50 times

and still couldn't get it and he had

pretty much given up hope on it and he

said he went to a store and this this

scholar the this a bookseller said I

have a book that I think you'll really

like and it was an introduction to the

the terms that Aristotle was using in

the metaphysics and even Cena just told

him and I don't want that book I just

I've spent enough time on that book he

said you know you should really just an

amazing book and you should really he's

in it and I don't want it and so the man

said look you can have it as a gift so

he gave the man the book well even seen

him went home and he decided to read the

book and that book was the key that

unlocked the metaphysics for him so

sometimes a book needs prerequisites to

get to it right he had tried to

understand it but he didn't have the

tools necessary to understand the book

most of the books that you see in our

tradition if you take a book for

instance like Teton Valley which is a

commentary on imam at-tirmidhi if you

take a book like that the hadith pretty

much assumes one thing the Prophet SAW I

am assumes one thing when he's when he's

speaking that you understand the Arabic

of the seventh century because he was

speaking to

most intelligent literate people and he

was speaking to the most common people

of his Peninsula and he said Norman

Omiya than October and I said well we're

at an unlettered community meaning his

first community we don't read and we

don't calculate so everything that he

said according to imam ashabi was meant

to be understood by the average arab of

that time who was illiterate now when we

look at the language we can see how far

we've fallen as a as a species because

the Arabic language of the seventh

century was the pinnacle just like in

our culture it's been argued that the

the English language reached its

pinnacle in the late sixteenth early

17th century with people like

Shakespeare the committee that

translated the King James Bible

people like John Donne Milton I mean

this is where English reaches its

pinnacle and very often it's the poets

and because I just mentioned three poets

that represent the pinnacle of the

English language very often it's the

poets that achieve that supremacy over

other generations in terms of language

and and certainly in Islam it was no

different because in the 7th century

Arabic had reached its pinnacle with the

jihad poets and that's when revelation

comes as a crown on that vast body of

language that existed but it was because

they had such extraordinary language

skills and they were able to understand

poetry and if you can understand poetry

in any language you can understand

anything written in that language I'm

talking about good poetry and that's why

poetry is so important to study because

one of the things that poets do poets

people you know people that have very

literal type minds they say why doesn't

he just say what he means

you know why is the poet why does he

talk in in metaphors why does he talk in

this ambiguous language

because when you study poems you know

like two roads diverged in a wood and I

right well what does he mean two roads

diverged in a yellow wood like what's he

mean two roads diverged in a wood is he

really talking about being on a path

walking down a Vermont bucolic scene and

he comes off two roads and a yellow wood

and and there he is sorry I could not

travel both you know so he's there kind

of wishing he could go down both is that

really what he's talking about or is he

talking about something deeper right and

there's different ways that you can read

things you can read them at a literal

level and that would be he just came on

to pass in a wood and it's fall probably

because the the thing everything's

yellow and the leaves are falling

because he talks about the leaves on the

path so maybe maybe that's one level

that's a level of reading called the

literal level so basically you know when

you when you look at this incredible

tradition of scholarship and and I was

using the example of that book authors

the Provost I said when he spoke his

prerequisite is that you understand 7th

century Arabic well and if you do you

can understand what he's saying

Idina no see aha there's a reason why he

said a Dean as opposed to Dean owned or

there's a reason why he said adeno he

didn't say no see a tune he could have

said adenine I'll see how to adenine no

see AHA but he used article of

definition for both the muqtada and the

Hubbell right for the subject and the

predicate in that sentence why there's a

reason and if you know you don't have to

know grammar to understand that if you

know Arabic in the way that the 7th


yeah the Arabs knew it because they

would know exactly what it meant that

was their language and so language the

prerequisite for understanding oral

communication is simply the skills that

we have in in language and and but

they're very complicated I mean even the

most Aboriginal languages are incredibly


doesn't matter how simple language gets

it's always complex and it's a miracle

that children learn how to speak just

syntax and how they work out and then

genera of grammar how they generate

grammar because children will say things

that they've that they've never heard

said before they'll start formulating

sentences at three four years old and

they've never heard those sentences

before but they're generating language

so humans are language generators we

naturally generate language now at a

certain point people started writing

down I love a bellum Allah says we

taught by the pen and because the low

hand muffled is one of the really

profound images in the Islamic tradition

this idea of the low hand the venom that

God made this tablet and then he made a

pen and he told the pen to write on the

tablet so everything that is was and

ever will be was actually written down

according to this narrative so there's a

reading and then on llamó qiyamah

what do you do you read your sahifa

you're given your book and you're told

to read it if Karachi that you have to

read your actions everything that you

did it's all recorded keith album are

cool and in some kind of who knows what

I mean you know that modern language

marco means digital you know Rock'em is

digit but it could also mean written a

written book or a digital book Aloha

Anna but it's a book that recorded

everything and we know that we've got

scriveners angelic scriveners that are

writing things down right taking note so

reading is central to the Islamic

tradition it's all about reading and

then reading signs in the self and on

the horizon so if you look when when

when when the problem was told to read

and he said I don't know how to read

he said no read

I don't know how to read read this is a

different type of reading it's a deeper

type of reading and then we're told and

this is very interesting because even

though semiotic sizz there's it's an

ancient concept the idea of the the

seemed seamless you know the symbols

it's it's an ancient concept I mean the

Greeks talked about it but the fact that

one of the most important areas of

philosophical pursuit is in this whole

area of semiotics and signs and symbols

and meanings and the fact that the

Parana identifies itself as a book of

signs and signs are to be interpreted

you have to know what a sign you have to

be able to read a sign in order for that

sign to be meaningful for if you don't

read the sign it's of no benefit if you

if you come and and there's a sign that

says danger cliff ahead sharp turn and

and and you speak Russian and the signs

in Arabic and you go off the cliff it's

because you couldn't read that sign but

if if you saw the sign you read the sign

in a language you understood you'd save

yourself from the from the danger of

possible destruction or destruction

itself so reading is is it