I often get asked to recommend books, speeches, scholars, etc, that Muslims (and the occasional non-Muslim) will find interesting, spiritually beneficial, and positively uplifting. I have no idea why people ask me such things, probably something to do with me having a beard and being a bit of a book-reading-lecture-listening-nerdy type.
With that in mind, I thought it best to present a list of my recommendations, things I have personally benefited from over the years, and things that hopefully will provide similar benefit to others. I have tried not to inundate people by just dumping a massive list of items, rather I have carefully selected things that I personally interacted with in some way, shape, or form. I hope they help you broaden your intellectual and spiritual horizons, as they have done mine. Enjoy!
8 MUSLIM SCHOLARS
There are many Islamic scholars out there on the lecture circuit, and it can get a wee bit confusing knowing who is ‘safe’ to listen to and who is not. After all, you don’t want an MI5 agent knocking on your door simply because you clicked on the wrong bearded guy to listen to. Rest assured, these lecturers are of the ‘safe’ variety, and I have listened to many of their lectures over the years with nary a knock on my front door. Where possible I have provided links to their websites, but please feel free to search for them on YouTube and Google for additional lectures.
Imam Suhaib Webb (Twitter)
Shaykh Ahmad Ali
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Sandala)
Shaykh Riyadh Ul Haq (Al Kawthar Academy)
Shaykh Zahir Mahmood (As–Suffa Institute)
12 ISLAMIC LECTURES
There are literally thousands of lectures to choose from, but here are a few really interesting ones to get you going. As mentioned above, please feel free to search for these online, or look for the CD’s in your local Islamic book stores. I have chosen 4 lectures each from 3 different scholars.
Shaykh Ahmad Ali…
History Of The 4 Madhabs
The Importance Of Knowledge
The Purpose Of Creation
Understanding The Deen
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf…
Building An Islamic Environment
Religion, Violence & The Modern World
Shaykh Riyadh Ul Haq…
Concern Yourself With Yourself
Embracing Islam Completely
Is Your Thinking Islamic?
For those of us who love watching movies, here are a few that may not exactly be about Muslims, but watch closely and you will notice many Islamic themes and lessons crop up in scene after scene.
A Simple Plan (a 1998 movie based on the book of the same name by Scott Smith, which has a moral tale of what happens when you let greed get ahead of principles)
Disney’s A Christmas Carol (the 2009 animated epic, based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens, if you still think getting more money is a suitable lifetime goal after seeing this movie, then God help you)
Good Will Hunting (the 1997 Academy Award winning movie that shows how, among other things, the arrogance of youth can be tempered by the humbling experiences of age)
The Shawshank Redemption (released in 1994 and based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption, a life affirming tale of hope against tyranny and evil)
They Live (a 1988 sci-fi horror and cult classic, about aliens manipulating the masses to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages in mass media)
4 DOCUMENTARY FILM MAKERS
Documentaries have been all the rage in recent years, especially since Michael Moore made the Iraq war documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, the highest grossing documentary of all time. Among the plethora of documentary film makers out there right now, here are 4 that have made prominent documentaries that I have found insightful and enthralling. If any of the documentaries mentioned below appear on TV, or you come across them online, please watch them as they come highly recommended.
Adam Curtis is a British documentary film maker who has made such documentaries as The Century Of The Self, The Power Of Nightmares, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream Of Freedom, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, Bitter Lake, and his most recent documentary, the brilliant HyperNormalisation.
John Pilger is an Australian award winning film maker and journalist who, over a number of decades, has made such brilliant must-see documentaries as Palestine Is Still The Issue, Paying The Price: Killing The Children Of Iraq, and The New Rulers Of The World.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is a Pakistani film maker whose 2 most famous films, Saving Face and A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness, both won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject Documentary, giving Pakistan its only Academy Awards to date.
Michael Moore is an American award winning film maker and journalist who, over many years, has made such brilliant documentaries as Roger & Me, Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story, Where To Invade Next, and more recently Michael Moore In TrumpLand (about which I did a blog post).
15 ISLAMIC WEBSITES
These websites all contain valuable information that has helped me over the years to better understand my faith, and indeed these websites continue to provide me with valuable Islamic insights.
Al Kawthar Academy (set up by the aforementioned Shaykh Riyadh Ul Haq)
As–Suffa Institute (set up by the aforementioned Shaykh Zahir Mahmood)
Bayyinah Institute (created by the popular American scholar Imam Nouman Ali Khan)
Deen Port (there are plenty of Islamic forum sites out there, this is one of the better ones)
Halal Tube (links to dozens of really useful Islamic talks)
Kalamullah (many great resources, including some brilliant lectures)
Lamp Post Productions (a website featuring webinars, classes, books, essays, and more, from prominent American Muslim scholars)
Muslim Matters (an online magazine with some interesting articles)
Seekers Hub (a good website for those who want to systematically learn Islam, plus they do not charge for their courses that are taught by proper scholars)
Sheikhy Notes (features many a link to some brilliant Islamic lectures)
The Islamic Monthly (plenty of interesting well written articles)
The Mad Mamluks (wide ranging podcasts trying to engage young Muslims)
The Muslim Vibe (describes itself as “a grassroots media platform” that has “ethical and engaging Islamic content”, which it certainly does)
Yaqeen Institute (founded by the charismatic scholar Imam Omar Suleiman, this site has articles, lectures, and even some interesting infographics)
3 NEWS WEBSITES
The BBC, the Guardian, Time magazine, the Economist, and so forth, are all good news sources, but here are some you may not be aware of.
Counter Punch (contains many well written articles on current affairs, has information that goes behind the headlines in some detail)
Flip Board (gathers together the latest news articles about Islam from multiple sources)
Truth Dig (similar to Counter Punch, contains news and opinion pieces that are more informative than the mainstream)
Yes, 42 of them, and each one is well worth a read. It is very easy to get bogged down in reading book after book, with confusion and contradiction growing page after page. Likewise, there are many books out there written by those who clearly hate Islam and wish to take things out of context, such as Qur’anic verses, historical events, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, etc. So these books have been hand selected to hopefully provide positive guidance. I have tried to group these books together into something a little more meaningful.
Books to help you to know Islam better…
A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam: The Essence of Islam in 12 Verses from the Qur’an – HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad
He Came To Teach You Your Religion: The Hadith Of The Angel Gabriel – Jamaal Al–Din M Zarabozo (analysis of the famous Hadith of Gabriel, upon which our faith is based)
Islam For Dummies – Malcolm Clark
Islam: The Essentials – Tariq Ramadan
The Best Of Times: Virtues And Significance Of Important Days, Nights, Months And Festivals In Islam –Hafiz Abdullah Muhammad (every house should have a copy of this year-round reference as it tells you what to do in each Islamic month)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Understanding Islam – Yahiya Emerick
Books to help you know the Qur’an better…
How To Read The Qur’an – Mona Siddiqui and Simon Critchley
Reading The Quran – Ziauddin Sardar
Structure And Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study Of Symmetry And Coherence In Islam’s Holy Text – Raymond Farrin (if you really want your mind blown as to the complexities of the Qur’an then this is the book for you)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Koran – Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar and Brandon Toropov
The Koran For Dummies – Sohaib Sultan
The Koran: A Very Short Introduction – Michael Cook
Two books by Professor Bruce B Lawrence on the Qur’an…
The Koran In English: A Biography – Professor Bruce B Lawrence
The Qur’an: A Biography – Professor Bruce B Lawrence
Books to help you know God better…
A History Of God: The 4,000 Year Quest Of Judaism, Christianity And Islam – Karen Armstrong (understand the full history of religion)
The Case For God – Karen Armstrong (know the basic arguments of theology; written in response to the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Hirshi Ali, Spencer, et al)
The Name And The Named – Tosun Bayrak (know your Creator through the study of His Beautiful Names)
Books to help you know the Prophet Muhammad better…
Muhammad: A Biography Of The Prophet – Karen Armstrong (Armstrong is superb at what she does, and this biography is outstanding)
Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction – Professor Jonathan Brown (here is a blog post of mine featuring a quote from this book)
Muhammad: His Life Based On The Earliest Sources – Martin Lings (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf considers this one of the greatest biographies ever written about anyone)
The Messenger: The Meanings Of The Life Of Muhammad – Tariq Ramadan (a unique perspective taken by the world famous academic and professor, and here is a blog post of mine featuring a quote from it)
Two pairs of books written by non-Muslims that detail the life of the Prophet and the aftermath of his passing…
The First Muslim: The Story Of Muhammad – Lesley Hazleton
After The Prophet: The Epic Story Of The Shia-Sunni Split In Islam – Lesley Hazleton (follow up to the book above)
The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography – Barnaby Rogerson (if you’ve never read a biography of the Prophet, then this simple yet elegant book is the one to start with, and here is a blog post I did featuring a quote from it)
The Heirs Of The Prophet Muhammad: And The Roots Of The Sunni-Shia Schism – Barnaby Rogerson (follow up to the book above)
Books to help you know Islamic history better…
Islam And The World: The Rise And Decline Of Muslims And Its Effect On Mankind – Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (so many Muslims have strongly recommended this book to me)
Islam: A Short History – Karen Armstrong (as the title suggests, a short and concise history of Islam)
No God But God: The Origins, Evolution And Future Of Islam – Reza Aslan (excellent overview of Islam, focusing on certain periods in history)
The House Of Wisdom: How The Arabs Transformed Western Civilization – Jonathan Lyons (get to know the greatness we Muslims once achieved)
Books to help you to know yourself better…
Purification Of The Heart: Signs, Symptoms And Cures Of The Spiritual Diseases Of The Heart – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (understand yourself, specifically the subtleties and complexities of your own heart)
Reclaim Your Heart: Personal Insights On Breaking Free From Life’s Shackles – Yasmin Mogahed
Revive Your Heart: Putting Life In Perspective – Nouman Ali Khan
Vital Lies Simple Truths: The Psychology Of Self Deception – Daniel Goleman (if you think you know yourself then think again)
Books to help you know your environment better…
Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business – Neil Postman (detailed critique of the demeaning effects of TV in the modern media age)
Love All The People – Bill Hicks (a personal favourite of mine, from the greatest stand-up comedian ever, with his unique take on life)
Reel Bad Arabs – Dr Jack Shaheen (looks at how Arabs and Muslims have been portrayed in Hollywood; recommended for those who love movies)
Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles Of Concentration Of Wealth & Power – Noam Chomsky (based on the 2015 documentary Requiem For The American Dream, the worlds foremost academic intellectual gives the low down on how economies and politics really work)
The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains – Nicholas Carr (cannot recommend this book enough, read it please)
Other books you may be interested in…
1984 – George Orwell (many of our political phrases stem from here, ‘doublespeak’, ‘big brother, ‘Orwellian’, etc; it’s almost as though the powers that be have read this and taken this as an instruction manual! This book has been topping the best sellers list ever since Kelly Anne Conway, a key member of Team Trump, mentioned her infamous phrase “alternative facts” in an interview in Jan 2016)
Animal Farm – George Orwell (all animals are not quite created equal, thereby providing a good analogy to the divisions that exist in the current Muslim community)
Get Your War On: The Definitive Account Of The War On Terror, 2001-2008 – David Rees (a hysterical and satirical critique of the war on terror)
Palestine – Joe Sacco (a graphic novel that provides stunning detail to the Palestinian conflict)
The Religion – Tim Willocks (superbly written fast paced historical novel which revolves around Suleiman the Magnificent and his battles with the Knights of Saint John)
I think that’s more than enough recommendations for one blog post. Yes, there is a heck of a lot more out there, and some of you may be asking why I mentioned this item or person instead of something or someone else, but the above list is highly subjective. So here’s me hoping that, in a world of post-truths and alternative facts, these recommendations provide some objective reality, as best they can. Anyways, I’m going to go now, there seems to be someone knocking on the door…