A beautiful parable in the hadeeth compares a good friend with a perfume seller and a bad friend with a blacksmith. The least benefit one will acquire in the company of a perfume seller is that one will certainly get the beautiful scent of perfume, which will freshen the mind and heart. Likewise, a good friend will always be a means of benefit. Merely being in his company will incline the heart towards good. On the contrary the least harm in the company of a blacksmith is that one will breathe the toxic smoke that will be all around his environment. Likewise, the company of a bad friend is spiritually toxic. Merely being in bad company will influence one towards evil and sin.

While human companionship will generally have the greatest effect and influence on one, the company one keeps is much broader than being in the company of friends and associates. Many people spend long hours in the company of novels. Novel addicts can read a thick novel of a few hundred pages in a night or two. “Reading cannot harm you,” exclaim novel readers.

The question is; “Does a novel really have no effect on the reader?” Scientists believe otherwise. According to Dr. Gregory S. Berns, director of Emory University’s Centre for Neuropolicy in Atlanta, “Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person.” Berns says their findings suggest that “reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist.” Using MRI scans, the investigators noticed heightened connectivity in an area of the brain (of their subjects) which is associated with making representations of sensation for the body. They explain that, for example, when we merely think about running, we can activate neurons in the brain that are associated with the actual physical motion of running.

In the light of the above consider the contents of the vast majority of novels read by young and old alike. If merely thinking of running activates the neurons in the brain associated with running, which will make one want to start running, what happens to a person reading a novel whose entire plot is intertwined with materialism and illicit relationships? 

If “stories shape our lives” as scientists have found, what happens to the mind (and body) of the person reading the lurid scenes of zina in almost every novel? The minimum disastrous effect that this will most likely result in is that the heart and mind of the reader will regularly become engaged in zina – Allah Ta‘ala forbid. When the mind and heart will be repeatedly engaged in zina, what next?

Novel-reading is also among the major contributors towards the shameless behaviour that is becoming the norm. (Merely to highlight this, a non-Muslim librarian expressed his ‘confusion’ to his Muslim friend as to how come so many Muslim girls and young women donned in purdah borrow such ‘racy’ novels. May Allah Ta‘ala save us all from such shamelessness).

Among the greatest calamities of novel-reading is that such people are very often deprived of reciting the Quraan Majeed. For every hundred pages of a novel read, not even one page of the Quraan Majeed is recited. Innaa lillahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji‘oon! This is borne out by the confession of many novel-readers who repented from this evil ‘past time’.

It is thus not a novel idea to keep a novel as company. (The same applies to the modern-day version of novels — the endless BLOGS blabbing away their fictitious tales).

One should read good authentic Islamic books after consulting with an experienced ‘aalim. Most of all, daily recite ‘The Book of Allah Ta‘ala’. No book can ever be better company than His Book.