Peace, one and all…
Books are merely the words of people, stylised in form and frozen in time upon a sheet of paper. It is the spirit within that lends the words their essential force. It is the quality of soul and mind contained within the writing that draws others towards them. This is why books can be useful; they can become time-machines of the soul, reaching out across the centuries towards thirsty hearts.
But, because books are frozen in time they speak in certain ways, in particular contexts with particular voices. Or, rather, they are merely one half of an ongoing conversation. In order to journey towards truth, we have to bring our own souls into dialogue with the things we read. That is, we must converse with the written word, and use that conversation to shape our own understandings of the world. In othet words, we must enter into sohbet (or suhbah in Arabic) with the things we read.
It is perhaps easier to converse with a living human being than with a book made from paper and ink. Moreover, books acquire an aura and an authority of their own: and the older the book, the more authority it seems to acquire. This is probably the reason why book learning (as mere intellection) can only take us so far. At its most unhelpful, such a surface approach encourages an unhealthy literalism, the idea that meanings are exhausted by their outward form. It can encourage us to end our search at the outer shell, and to see this as being sufficient in itself. But, words on a page are no more sufficient in the search for truth than the mere description of a meal is sufficient to cure hunger. To receive true nourishment we must eat. Furthermore, to receive a blessing from our ‘food’ we must eat with respect, gratitude and fair conduct. That is, sohbet is a banquet for the spirit, and the spirit, being of another world entirely, can partake of this feast in any form, in any place and at any time.
Wa akhiru da’wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen.