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WRITING: THE WHYS

Source: The Star

The whys and wherefores of writing


By DR MOHD ZAIDI ISMAIL
Senior Fellow, Centre for Science and Technology, IKIM

Insofar as Islamic intellectual tradition is concerned, the zest for books has often been described as all permeating.

APRIL 4 began with what by now is an annual affair, the 10-day long Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair at the Putra Trade World Centre.

Although one of the very few events worth attending for book lovers, it remains essentially an event for players with stakes in the book industry.

The occasion therefore, is more about writings being products to be marketed rather than as food for thought.

Writings – be they in such traditional forms as treatises, monographs, books, or in non-conventional modes – are media for the mind to express itself. As such, they play a significant role in the intellectual culture of any peoples.

Insofar as Islamic intellectual tradition is concerned, the zest for books has often been described as all permeating.

Numerous anecdotes testifying to such enthusiasm have been narrated.

The 13th Century scholar ibn Tiqtiqa, for example, reported in his al-Fakhri that a certain Caliph had sent for a certain scholar merely to share his company.

The servant who was instructed to meet the scholar later found him sitting surrounded by books which he was studying.

Having been informed that the Caliph had summoned him, the scholar answered: “Tell him some learned men are with me, and I am conversing with them. Once I have finished with them, I will come.”

The Caliph, upset as he was upon being informed of the scholar’s reply, asked his servant who those learned men the scholar referred to were.

The servant gave a straightforward answer: “In truth, O Caliph, there was no one with him.”

“Fetch him at once, regardless of what state he is in!” instantly came the Caliph’s command.

When that scholar arrived, the Caliph angrily queried: “Who were those learned men with you?”

“O, Caliph,” the scholar replied, “we have companions, trusty and trusted, whether absent or here to see, of whose talk we do not tire; they enrich us with their knowledge concerning knowledge of the past, counsel, educate, honour and dignify us; if you say they are dead you are not wrong, and if you say they are alive you do not lie.”

With such a witty reply, the Caliph knew that the scholar was referring to books, and did not therefore mind his tardiness.

Books are indeed the product of the human mind; as such, like any other mental act or operation, they are intentional. There are always reasons for one to write a book.

Ibn Hazm of Andalusia (Muslim Spain) (d. 1064) in his al-Taqrib, a treatise on logic, enumerated seven reasons for one to compose in a meaningful manner.

First, an author may have something original to write.

Second, he may want to complete something that had been left uncompleted.

Third, he may want to put right something that was erroneous.

Fourth, he may want to clarify and explain matters that are mysterious, abstruse or complicated.

Fifth, he may shorten, without omitting anything vital, a work by another person that is too long.

Sixth, he may want to gather information from numerous independent sources.

Seventh, he may want to assemble things that hitherto had been scattered like beads, and thread them together again.

In fact, ibn Hazm was alleged to have considered the above as the only categories for which scholars and perceptive people write.

That, however, is the opinion of a scholar of the 11th century in a place now part of Europe.

Eight hundred years later, in another part of the globe, the Indian Sub-Continent, we find the prolific Siddiq b. Hassan Khan al-Qinnawji (d. 1889) echoing the same sentiments in his three-volume Abjad al-’Ulum.

Al-Qinnawji argued that composition is of seven types from which no intelligent scholar can escape.

First, something having no precedence, which he therefore invents.

Second, something deficient, which he therefore completes.

Third, something abstruse, which he therefore explains.

Fourth, something lengthy, which he therefore abridges without affecting any of its original meanings.

Fifth, something scattered, which he therefore combines.

Sixth, something mixed or confused, which he therefore puts into order.

Seventh, something regarding which its author was in error, which he therefore corrects.

If ever we are writers with conviction, which of these groups do we consider ourselves?

COMMENTARY: Yes, which of these groups do we consider ourselves to be in ? Excellent questions! The quality of our thinking depends directly on the quality of questions we ask ourselves. Our brains start racing for answers unconsciously (subconsciously) and consciously the minute we pose our neurons some questions. Silly questions invite silly answers. Nevertheless, during brainstorming, it is not a good idea to label answers as"silly" as this will cause inhibition from the process of negative feedback. Furthermore, it is an elegant and great idea, to do "journalling" in our lives. Majority of management and motivational gurus like Jim Rohn, Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins strongly recommend their students to have hard-bound journal and write in them our thoughts, ideas, observations, commentaries, speeches and the like.

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