As part of the launch of Barakah Academy, we’re excited to partner with Omar Usman, who’ll lead our brand new Book Club inside the Academy. Below, Omar Usman puts forward a powerful case of why we need to develop faith-based critical reading skills. He also shares how we intend to develop these skills through our new Barakah Academy Book Club.
How do you filter what you read through the worldview of iman (faith)?
As the saying goes “if you read what everyone else reads, you’ll think what everyone else thinks”. And in an age of information overload and viral content, we’re reading what everyone else is reading more than ever. Hence, it can be difficult to nurture our Islamic worldview and find ourselves more secular in our thinking and approach to life.
A Muslim believes with certainty that the purpose of life is to worship Allah [SWT]. As Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And I have not created the invisible beings and men to any end other than that they may [know and] worship Me.” [Qur’an 51: 57]
That puts our world view immediately at odds with many ideals that are taught and promoted.
Books written from a secular perspective, by definition, adopt a different paradigm. This paradigm argues that by eliminating religion, you eliminate bias. Therefore, a secular worldview enables looking at the world through observable reality which is more tangible and less controversial than a faith perspective that many people may not believe in.
The problem with this is that a secular or even academic approach is its own worldview. It presupposes certain ideals. Business books and personal development books are full of assumptions; such as the ultimate goal being the fulfillment of one’s own potential.
In a secular worldview, the potential must be measured on – again – “observable” realities. These measures often come down to tangible markers like money earned. I remember hearing a popular leadership author speak about the idea of adding value to others. He said when you add value, you get rewarded with certificates of appreciation – the green kind with president faces on them (i.e. dollar$!). Adopting this world view means acknowledging to some degree that those who add the most value to society are those who generate the most profit. Clearly, this is not the case and yet, people internalize it as motivation in their quest to succeed.
Intangible measures of success in a secular worldview will often come down to ideals such as ‘doing whatever makes you happy’, or ‘being so passionate that you never feel like you’re working’, or ‘be the best version of yourself.’
The secular paradigm will always be handcuffed by the popular ideals of society at any given time. That means the definition of “best version of yourself” is subject to change based on what society values. As an example, if society de-emphasizes the importance of family while lionizing the ideal of the individual – then the family can be seen as something that holds someone back from the personal success they feel destined for.
A faith-based world view is meant to be more holistic. Islamically, we do not separate religion from other aspects of life. Religion (deen) is a way of life. This way of life regulates not only how we define success, but also the means by which we attain it.
The best version of yourself, from a faith lens, is fulfilling your purpose in life in being a true ‘Abd (slave) of Allah and fulfilling the rights and responsibilities of those around you as ordained by our Deen. This paradigm may very well mean that you’ll turn down a lucrative job due to the sacrifice it would require with family. Monetary gain is not a scoreboard by which to measure your value. Rather, monetary gain is looked at critically by how it was attained and for what purpose.
A faith-based world view demands much more than evolving ethics – it introduces a component of morality which simply cannot (again, by definition) exist in a secular paradigm.
Many books are written about leadership, communication, marketing, psychology, interpersonal dynamics, persuasion, media, and so on. A secular world view cannot regulate what people do with that information or education. For example, grit and perseverance are revered characteristics. They are part and parcel of every feel-good story in which someone works hard to triumph against all odds. Unfortunately, grit and perseverance are also found in the stories of those who rise to power and cheat or oppress others.
It is a faith-based world view that provides the regulation, by way of religious ethics, to ensure these tools are used for good. An Islamic world view means filtering what we learn through the lens of the Hereafter. What am I learning? How am I using it? How is this helping me to improve? How is this helping to improve the lives of others?
What we need then, is a way to critically examine and filter the information we consume. We must find a way to benefit from the observed realities in books while also understanding the biases that helped create the conclusions the author reached. We need to critically assess how we can implement the lessons learned in a way that increases our spirituality instead of decreasing it.
Which Leads Us To … A Different Kind of Book Club
It is with all of the above in mind that I am, alhamdulillah, excited to announce the launch of a new book club as part of the Productive Muslim Company’s new Barakah Academy that’s starting October 1st, 2019.
In this book club, we will tackle a theme each quarter. That means we will read 2-3 books every 3 months around one subject, looking at it from different angles.
Within the book club is a weekly reading plan to help you not only keep up but also develop a habit of reading. There will be additional resources every week to go deeper on the topics covered. You’ll also have a chance to engage with other members of the academy going through the book in a dedicated Slack channel as well as get your questions addressed during the quarterly mastermind calls.
If you’re tired of reading personal and professional development books whilst scratching your head wondering what our faith says about the concepts within, then this book club is for you. And if you’re not a regular reader, but want to get into the habit of reading, then this book is for you. We look forward to having you in the book club. Join us today!