Many of us have vast collections of Islamic books as part of our libraries, with books spanning all different topics of Islamic knowledge. But if we go through each book in that library, and cannot recall some change in our lives from that book, than we have not done justice to the knowledge in the book. Many of us just read books to be able to check it off of our lists, but we do not gain much from them. This is unfortunate because the works of authors like Ayatollah Mutahhari and Allama Tabatabai cannot be fully understood in just one reading. Many of these scholars have spent decades studying their particular subject, so we should put in some time as well. This article will just go into some simple steps that can be implemented by any reader in order to get the most out of one's Islamic book of choice.
Take Your Time: Books written by our eminent scholars need to be savored. Speed-reading through a book such as Divine Justice by Mutahhari will not do the book justice, and can in fact make the reader more confused. If you can only fully digest 10 pages in one sitting before getting distracted, then that is what you must do. Insha'Allah we will be given the capacity by God to learn and comprehend quicker, but everyone is at a different level and should recognize that and work from there, instead of plowing through chapter by chapter just to finish off a book.
Create the Right Environment: Curling up with a book of philosophy or ethics while the family is running around and the noises of the world are surrounding you is usually not a very good environment to learn. Again, everyone is different, but it is important to create an environment which is conducive to learning and comprehension. Some people need absolute silence while others do better with a little ambient noise. Find what is right for you and stick with it.
Re-read if Necessary: Many a time I have read a number of pages in a book, only to realize I did not really comprehend much of what I just read. In this case, it is easy to just move on, but if you are serious about gaining knowledge, you should simply re-read what you have missed, but with more focus this time around.
Take Notes: Most students take notes for their high school and college classes, but fail to take Islamic studies this seriously and just read without any other form repetition. Taking notes or highlighting important facts is a great way to remember and also a good reference in case you need to come back to the book. If there are any specific questions, you can note them down and ask a scholar at the next local Q&A session. It is said that when the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) used to speak, companions like Jabir ibn Abdullah would be taking notes, rather than trying to memorize everything. We should all continue this practice when reading about Islam.
Re-visit a Finished Book: Views and opinions change. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has the same exact level of knowledge and the same opinions and viewpoints on controversial topics as (s)he did five years ago. Sometimes re-reading a book we may have read years ago will open up new ideas and ways of thinking. It can even seem like you are reading a totally different book! And it is always good to re-read a good book, as it can serve as a reminder to something we may have neglected
The best medicine available to cure someone's sickness is useless if it is just sitting on the shelf in its bottle and not being used to help the patient. Likewise, gaining knowledge and keeping it in our heads without using it practically is just as dangerous, if not more so. It is important then, along with gaining knowledge, that we actively strive to implement the knowledge into our lives and teach it to others when we are ready. Reading an Islamic book in an effective manner will reap all sorts of benefits. As Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) says, there are two kinds of people: teachers and students. And with a teacher such as our great Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), there is no limit to the knowledge we can obtain.