1. Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern

This is a story about a beautiful yet mysterious young woman who lives alone in the hills near Cork, with a special talent of mimicry matching that of a lyrebird. The story moves with the world trying to understand her, and her trying to understand the world.

It is really interesting to see how the plot develops, especially the kinds of details that Ahern puts in the book. For example, how depth of communication would not only depend on effective listening and relay of information, but also personality and perception of life among the people involved too. As with many of her other work, it shows the depth of her knowledge, intertwined wity a imagination, which opens our minds and hearts to a lot of possibilities. The style of the narrative is what we know of Cecelia Ahern, but it is the finer details that makes each book different from the other, while keeping our attention to them.

I would give this book 4/5, for its depiction of Lyrebird’s life and the description of complexities of human interaction.

2. The House of Wisdom by Jonathan Lyons

This book, as the cover tells you, is about how the Arabs transformed Western civilisations. It started with the completion of Islam and goes on explaining us the thirst for knowledge amongst the Muslims of those age, which brought about scientific discoveries, development of printing press and ultimately turning a world of darkness into light.

This is the first book that I have read about Arab civilization, so I could not comment on the accuracy of its contents. Of course, I need to dig deeper into each major personalities that he mentions in the book, with their contributions to the modern world of knowledge and discoveries. Personalities such as the amazing Al Khawarizmi (without whom we would still be calculating with the impossible Roman numerals!), Al Idrissi, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, and so many others that we have heard briefly a during history lessons in school.

I found that the narrative is all over the place. It goes back and forth from one century to the other, which made it difficult to figure things out in a chronological order. Although at the beginning the author did draw out a chronological map. 

I would recomment all Muslims to read books like this for a number of reasons:

(1) We would realize that all the initial discoveries and developments were done because Muslims wanted to follow Allah’s book: the Quran. Like the development of astronomy because Muslims away from the Kaabah needed to find a way to determine the Qiblat. Or development of a good water supply system because Muslims need to clean and perform wudhu’. The use of a more efficient numbering system because Al Khawarizmi was trying to calculate the divisions in our inheritence law, which gave tise to algebra, without which modern engineering would not be possible!

(2) Us Muslims should learn from ANYONE in this whole world. We should travel and learn more, as Allah has made this world with its colours and cultures. The Muslims of old time learnt medicinal knowledge from Indians, learnt to make papers from the Chinese (because they needed to print and spread the Quran), learnt philosophy from the greeks, botanics from various people of different places. The Muslims of those times were not afraid of knowledge, they would NEVER say things like “this is not Islamic knowledge” or “the Prophet did not tell us to study this” or “we should only learn from another Muslim”. NEVER. This is the kind of book that will make us open our minds to more discoveries in this world.

(3) The rise of Muslims depends on how close we adhere to the Quran, and the fall of Muslims is when we get away from the teachings of the Quran.

I noticed the same pattern with the fall of each Muslim civilization – womanizing kings, re-emergence of slaves in the houses of the riches, luxurious lifestyles. Life comes with responsibilities, the place of rest and luxury is only in jannah. 

(4) The Arabs were ethical in their journey of searching for knowledge. I could conclude from this book that they mention the source of their discoveries, whether it is the Indians or Chinese or Greeks, because up to this date we could gather those information. However, the West were much less ethical than that. Some of them merely mentioned the Arabs, and some poorly translated the works of the Arabs and claimed them as their own! 

(5) Muslims should understand that science is WITH religion rather than against religion. Science is merely a discovery of the laws of nature, but the laws of nature itself is created by God. When science does not seem to tally with God’s words, you will find that either the research technique is wrong, or flawed, or biased towards what they ‘expected’ to find, rather than the real findings. Science theories that are against God’s words will end up as difficult-to-prove theories, with many loopholes and flaws. 

(6) As Muslims, we should not lament on the good-ol-days. We should get back to our Quran and push ourselves into the path of knowledge and discoveries.

3. Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah by Hamka

This book is actually a brief love story between two young people in Indonesia, with a background of the Hajj season in Makkah. It was written beautifuly, although this book was written in the 1920s, but the description of Makkah and its pilgrims could not be more similar than it is now.

Just reading about the Ka’bah and the desperate pilgrims (we are all desperate for something) made me tear up, because in the end of the day, no matter which age we live in, human nature remains the same.  

The book has some kind of Romeo-and-Juliet tragic feel but with the values of a Muslim and an Asian. It was an easy read, the book can be completed within a few hours.

Hamka was the man who wrote the first ever Indonesian trafseer of the Quran, which made it possible for millions of Muslims in this region to understand the Quran in better depth. Therefore his work depicts the kind of manners and linguistic profeciency that is expected to be seen in a person so deeply immersed in the study of the Quran. It is so much different from Sjuman Djaya’s script book, it is even different from A Samad Said’s, obviously I will be in search of more of Hamka’s literature produce in the near future.