Intolerance, religious violence and all kinds of terror acts can be eradicated through the love of books
“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light” — Vera Nazarian, author.
Books are an important source of knowledge even in this era of technology. It is a fact that reading creates awareness amongst people and enables them to play a role in building a strong and well-informed society but it is an unfortunate reality that reading is drastically decreasing in our society every passing day, disarraying the minds of our young generation. This problem is more acute in the tribal areas where people have never been taught the importance of reading and the role of libraries. Due to this ignorance, terrorism and extremism are in full swing.
The role of modern libraries is vital in building well-versed societies, free of violence and extremism, because libraries are hubs of knowledge and houses of wisdom. The Omayyad caliphate of Spain had a collection of 400,000 books, their titles filling a catalogue of 44 volumes with 20 sheets each. This is just one example of the interest of libraries among Muslim leaders in the glorious history of the Muslim ummah (people). There was a trend in that era for people to own personal libraries. Bagdad was called the city of wisdom because of the large number of libraries. Mamun-ar-Rashid, known as the Augustus of the Arabs, reigned over the most glorious period in the intellectual achievements of Muslims. He used the best brains of the age to manage these libraries because he was well aware of the importance of this institution in building strong and literate societies.
Conversely, the state of libraries in Pakistan is vulnerable and, in most cases, there is no indication of any professional staff in public libraries. Why do our leaders not prioritise libraries? A priority of great leaders in history, during their rule, was to acquire the most knowledgeable minds to manage libraries. In Pakistan, however, the current specimen of leaders does not seem to care much for the importance of libraries. This lack of awareness is leading to the deterioration of reading habits and the flourishing of extremism. Intolerance, religious violence and all kinds of terror acts can be eradicated through the love of books. According to one saying, reading helps one differentiate between right and wrong.
There are many reasons for this appalling drop in reading and the loss of interest in books. One of the most important reasons for this decline is the deplorable condition of public libraries in Pakistan. Most public libraries do not even have sufficient books or the necessary equipment to house them properly. Lack of government interest in this regard is another hurdle in fostering the tradition of reading in Pakistan. Japan was bombed to ashes in World War II but it rose again with renewed vigour because of its preference for education over all other sectors. Being small and defeated did not stop it from charting an astoundingly unique path to progress. According to the 2002 census, Japan’s overall literacy rate was 99 percent and, in 2014, Japan made its place amongst the top three countries in the world with the highest literacy rate. This was only possible due to its clear preference of education over all other sectors.
This is the time to promote a culture of reading in our society, which will not only lead our future generations in the right direction but will also ensure the development of a nation that can tackle the violent fundamentalism and uncivilised behaviour currently prevalent in our society. It would also eliminate the menace of extremism of all kinds because literate societies always promote tolerance, harmony and work towards putting an end to hatred. Hazrat Ali once said: “A person who keeps himself occupied with books, will never lose his peace of mind.”
It is also very important to introduce the young to literacy classics and expose them to the magical world of books to engage them in books instead of guns. Exhibitions are also an easy source of access to reading material. The recent third annual Lahore Literary Festival, held from February 20 to 22, attracted thousands of people, including the young and the old, who could be seen leafing through books, attending readings and discussing their favourite books with vendors at the festival. The government should hold such literary events on a regular basis and in all our main cities to encourage people, especially children, to read and engage in thought provoking discourse. Such priorities from the government might pave the way for permanent peace, which may sound strange in a country where schools are bombed and innocent children are killed brutally and without justification. To fight against the drastic increase of intolerance and violence in our society, it is the need of the hour that among other things, we promote reading amongst our future generations and show them the magical power of the world of books, which may in the future become a great weapon against this war ruining our society whichever way we look at it.
The media can also play a role in bringing about this change. It is worth mentioning here that according to a survey conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and released by the organisation Alif Ailaan in Pakistan, the average number of stories on education in 13 newspapers grew from 29 per week in 2013 to 41 by the end of 2014. Seven English and six Urdu language newspapers were monitored in this study. That is only slightly encouraging as we still have a very long way to go.