Reading is an intricate part of Islam. The first chapter of the Quran to be revealed, Surah Iqra, and the circumstances surrounding its revelation is a clear pointer to this. Hence, seeking knowledge through reading is an encouraged legacy of Islam. While the beginning of a new year is not a recognized celebration, Muslims are encouraged to be introspective and mindful of the passage of time. Hence, I have compiled this list of books that I believe can boost one’s deen and improve their relationship with God.
- In the Early Hours by Khurram Murad: This book, written by the late Khurram Murad, emphasizes the importance of not separating our personal development from the state of our spirituality as Muslims. The book explores themes likes time management, how to approach acts of worship, how to relate with Allah SWT and Allah’s Messenger, how to relate with and spend for ourselves and Allah’s creations. This is a great book if one is looking to set ‘new year resolutions’ with deen as an important backdrop. I also wrote a short review of this book here.
- Explanation to the Beautiful and Perfect Names of Allah by Sa’di Abu. Abd al-Rahman Nasir / Blessed Names and Attributes of Allah by Abdur Raheem Kidwai: Learning the names of Allah and their meanings is one of the most profound ways to build (or revive) a relationship with one’s Rabb. Many books compile Allah’s names with their explanations, but I especially enjoy these two and my Ramadan experience in 2020 was a lot better after interacting with them.
- The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah: When books are mentioned in the context of Islam, our default is to only think of nonfictional books – we rarely consider the fiction. However, Islam is a religion that emphasizes nuances, and seeking knowledge from all scopes is encouraged if said scope is within the tenants of faith. Therefore, I have included this book because I consider it one of the few fictional accounts out there that represent Islam and Muslims accurately. The Beauty of Your Face details the spiritual journey of one woman and an encounter with a white supremacist shooter. You can find a detailed review here.
- Light Upon Light by Nur Fadhilah Wahid: This is another one that improved my relationship with God during Ramadan in 2019 when it was first published. Light Upon Light is a collection of 40 letters the author sent out to her newsletter subscribers between 2013 and 2014. Like In the Early Hours, these letters tie personal development to spirituality but with a more personal tone as the author reflects on day-to-day encounters. I highly recommend this book and wrote a review here.
- Prejudice Bones in My Body: Essays on Muslim Racism, Bigotry and Spiritual Abuse by Umm Zakiyyah (contributions from Khalil Ismail): Anti-Black racism is a controversial topic in Islam and sadly, rampant in many Muslim communities. This essay collection by prolific writer Umm Zakiyyah, contains different personal essays that explore anti-Blackness within Muslim communities. She also explores spiritual abuse and how religious leaders and even family members perpetuate and/or encourage this abuse in a way that continuously drive Muslims away from Allah, and eventually out of the deen. Needless to say, this collection is a must-read.
- Slavery and Islam by Jonathan A. C. Brown: Similar to anti-Blackness, the history of slavery in Islam and the Arab world is a sensitive subject in our communities. Since the morality that religion dictates leave no room for such a vile concept, reconciling slavery in Islamic history and one’s faith is a rocky path. I think this book makes commendable efforts to explore slavery in Islamic history and across different times in different parts of the world. I highly recommend this book, especially to Black Muslims.
- Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran by Asma Barlas: From the hijab to inheritance and husband-wife relations, now more than ever, the rights accorded to women in Islam has to be taught and practiced in Muslim spaces and homes. This book, although academic, explores the reimagining of some interpretations of the Quran that have been used to perpetuate injustices against Muslim women. I think this book is especially important for Muslims, especially women, who struggle with balancing their knowledge of God’s infinite mercy with the mistreatment of women in Muslim communities.
- Allah Loves/Prayers of the Pious by Omar Suleiman: Originally podcast series, Allah Loves and Prayers of the Pious by renowned Muslim speaker Omar Suleiman, were compiled into print in 2020 and 2019 respectively. The former explores the attributes that are loved by God and how we can imbibe them to better our relationship with our Rabb. Similarly, the latter is a compilation of 30 prayers made by pious predecessors and how we can utilize prayers and supplications to get closer to Allah. Prayers of the Pious has a list of keywords at the end of the book to encourage readers to form their prayers and improve their spirituality through the usage. These small but mighty books can be perfect Ramadan gifts for your loved ones.
- Communication with Allah: Rediscovering Prayer by Bassam Saeh: Unlike Suleiman’s books, Communication with Allah focuses on the solah rather than prayers, and how Muslims approach it. From the moment the adhan is called to the last tasleem at the end of the solah, Saeh walks us through the importance of mindfulness in every step of the solah and how this will improve our relationship with God drastically. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the opening chapter of the Quran, Surah al-Fatiha. This book is a must-read!
- That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story by Huda Fahmy: This is a graphic book by popular artist and author of Yes, I’m Hot in This, Huda Fahmy. The book details her journey towards finding a spouse in a halal way. I think this book is important because of the significance of marriage in Islam. Getting married is equivalent to “completing half of one’s faith” and part of the process is selecting a spouse in a way that is pleasing to one’s Rabb. This short graphical novel gives a realistic and real-life example of ways to get hitched the halal way in our present times.
- The Prick of a Thorn: Coping with Trials and Tribulations of Life by Dr Aisha Utz: Dr Utz is a Clinical Psychologist whose research interest involves the relationship between religiosity, religious coping and mental and physical health in Muslim populations. It is then unsurprising that she wrote about trials and tribulations. The book covers from an Islamic perspective, importance and reward of trials, coping with trials and the different methods to use, and the relationship between trials and our spirituality. However, the part of the book I find most interesting details trials faced by known prophets and how they dealt with it. A truly remarkable work.
- What Your Soul Already Knows by Dr Salma Farook: This is another book that explores how personal development feeds our relationship with God through the use of personal anecdotes. As the title suggests, nothing in the book is essentially new but as ‘reminding others to do good and abstain from evil’ is vital in Islam, this book is timely in that it reminds its readers of important things we tend to overlook. I think What Your Soul Already Knows is a type of book you get in physical copy and keep close to you.
In conclusion, a significant number of these books are published by Kube Publishing, an independent publishing house in the UK, and I must state this because they do a great job of amplifying beneficial books. Additionally, we should note that the most important book to boost one’s deen and awareness of Allah is still the Quran, and for its teachings to settle in our hearts, we are encouraged to also read its explanations and try our best to act on them. Ultimately, like the Quran, many of the books I recommended require regular revisiting – not as much as the Quran requires, of course – for their lessons to become a part of our daily habits. May the tranquility and sweetness of faith settle in our hearts till our departure from this world.