Reading fictional books that have doubtful aspects
I would like to know about the rulings on reading books that contain concepts that are contrary to Islamic beliefs. For example, my sister is attending school and her class is required to read a book where a character writes letters to God. Would reading this book affect her Iman? Or if one read the Harry Potter books for example, which contain stuff about magic (though it seems ‘different’ than the term magic in Islam), and one enjoys these books, does this take one out of the fold of Islam, since doing magic is kufr and being pleased with kufr is also kufr?
Wa’alaykum as Salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,
We have been created with a purpose; and that is to attain success in the hereafter. We should endeavour to use the little time in this short life to work towards that purpose. It is not befitting for a Muslim to waste his time in futile activities.
It is best to read books which will enhance our knowledge or expose us to good character. There are a host of Islamic books which we can read. By reading books on the lives of the Ambiya (prophets), Sahaba (companions) and pious predecessors, we will yearn to inculcate their qualities in our lives.
Our personality is affected by everything around us and anything that we come into contact with. Reading is no different.
According to a study by the University of Toronto in 2014, the researchers Maja Djikic and Keith Oatley found that books and literature can indeed impact a persons personality.
Often a reader will begin to tear over some emotional content. Similarly, if something humourous is written, the person reading will burst out in laughter. When reading romantic novels, a person’s desires are incited and his lust increases. In short, the content that a person reads directly impacts his emotions, reactions and conduct; from laughing, to frowning, to crying, to worrying and an array of other emotions.
Hence, it is best to read content that is of benefit us. Even if it is something secular, we can learn so much from educational, interesting and beneficial articles. All these will be permissible and encouraged.
We may also read fictional books, which in the very least will enhance our linguistic skills. We can learn grammar and vocabulary from such literature. However, the condition for reading fictional books is that they should not contain anything that is contradictory to our beliefs.
If the content is of a doubtful nature, or if the reader finds that these novels are affecting his mindset or way of thinking, then it will be Haram (impermissible) for him to read such books. And if a person is convinced that even though the content is blasphemous, it will not affect his beliefs, it will be Makruh (reprehensible) for him to read such material.
Likewise, if a person gets so caught up in reading that it causes him to miss his prayers or neglect other duties, it will not be permissible.
As for the ruling of the persons Iman, it will be based on whether he actually believes what he is reading or not.
The definition of fiction according to the oxford dictionary is: Something that is invented or untrue. Thus, a person knows from the very outset that what he is reading is merely imaginary, and to be believed.
Generally the reader is gripped by the actual story, and not the incorrect beliefs which may be imparted. Therefore, we cannot say that by mere reading, he has become a Kafir.
In short, just by reading something that is contradictory to our beliefs, or by being fascinated with an incident that portrays incorrect beliefs, a person will not become a disbeliever; although it is Makruh for him to read such literature.
الْقَصَصُ الْمَكْرُوهُ أَنْ يُحَدِّثَهُمْ بِمَا لَيْسَ لَهُ أَصْلٌ مَعْرُوفٌ أَوْ يَعِظَهُمْ بِمَا لَا يُتَّعَظُ بِهِ أَوْ يَزِيدَ وَيُنْقِصَ يَعْنِي فِي أَصْلِهِ، أَمَّا لِلتَّزَيُّنِ بِالْعِبَارَاتِ اللَّطِيفَةِ الْمُرَقَّقَةِ وَالشَّرْحِ لِفَوَائِدِهِ فَذَلِكَ حَسَنٌ. (الدر المختار ج 6 ص 422)