The Passion Behind Writing

BOTH the beginning and the end of April 2017 seem to be busy days for book producers as well as lovers, especially in Klang Valley and nearby areas.

Selangor Book Festival took place from 30 March to 9 April while the ten-day long Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair (KLIBF) is slated to return to the Putra Trade World Centre (PWTC) from 28 April to 7 May, after a sojourn last year at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS).

Although both, as well as other occasions of their ilk, are among events worth attending by book lovers, they remain essentially ones for players with stakes in the book industry.

Such occasions, therefore, are more about writings being products to be marketed rather than as food for thought.

Writings, be they in traditional forms such as treatises, monographs, books, or other 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 the Islamic intellectual tradition is concerned, the zest for books has often been described as being all permeating.

Numerous anecdotes testifying to such enthusiasm have been narrated.

The thirteenth-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 which has been left incomplete.

Third, he may put right something which was erroneous.

Fourth, he may clarify and explain matters which are mysterious, abstruse or complicated.

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

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

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

In fact, ibn Hazm of Andalusia (died 1015 C.E.) was alleged to have considered the above as the only categories for which scholars and perceptive people write.

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

Yet, we find it more or less shared by Muslim scholars of repute in other parts of the world at different times.

Similar positions were maintained in Al-Muqaddimah by ibn Khaldun (died 1406) of North Africa, particularly Egypt; Kashf al-Zunun by Hajji Khalifah (also known as Katib Celebi) of Ottoman Turkey (died 1657); dan Abjad al-Ulum by Siddiq bin Hasan Khan al-Qinnawji (died 1889) of the Indian Sub-Continent.

Al-Qinnawji, for instance, 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 convictions, which of these groups then do we consider ourselves to belong to?

Rencana yang disiarkan ini merupakan pandangan peribadi penulis sendiri

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Dr. Mohd. Zaidi Ismail

Beliau merupakan Timbalan Ketua Pengarah Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (IKIM). Beliau berkelulusan Ijazah Sarjana dalam Bidang Pemikiran Islam (Epistemologi dan Falsafah Minda) pada tahun 1995 dan ijazah Doktor Falsafah dalam Bidang Pemikiran Islam (Ontologi) pada tahun 2006, kedua-duanya daripada International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (UIAM)

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