My love of books started before I could even read. My mother used to regularly read bedtime stories to me and my siblings. I remember the books I used to skim through as a child, from classic fairy tales to traditional fables such as Sang Kancil (the clever mouse-deer), as well as stories from Islamic history.
Alhamdulillah, I am blessed to be surrounded by people who love books and have always had a deep connection to reading. Here are some insights on the benefits of bedtime stories:
1. A time to bond for parent and child
During my mother’s early years as a nurse, she had to work shifts which made being a full-time mum even more challenging than it already was. My father had a full-time job as well so we were looked after by our aunts or maids during the day when my parents were at work. Night time was the perfect time for bonding as they would get us ready for bed.
My mother would occasionally fall asleep when she was reading to us, she was so exhausted from her day job.
Reading before bed is also a great substitute to checking your phone. Exposing your eyes to blue light from electronic devices is detrimental to your sleep cycle. We’ve only got ourselves to blame for not getting quality sleep, so bedtime stories are not just for kids.
2. Instill reading as a habit
Regular bedtime stories instilled a love of reading in me and siblings. However, just because we would spend our evenings reading with our parents it doesn’t mean we instantly became book lovers or avid readers. Forming a sustained reading habit takes a lot of discipline, unless you are innately a logophile. As we got older, we turned to electronic entertainment and treated reading as a secondary activity.
Personally, bedtime stories played an important role in my love of reading.
It also helped make some of the most boring and difficult tasks more bearable, such as reading scientific papers in university. Certainly my love of reading made this a less painful experience.
If you are not into lengthy books, start with something light. The genre could be anything that sparks your interest, as long as you start!
3. Nurture imagination and good values
Fables and exemplary stories can illustrate invaluable life lessons. Children’s brains soak up information like a sponge, so it’s crucial they are exposed to positive stories with a moral.
“Ma, show us the pictures!” we would say, as my siblings and I were curious about what our mother had read to us. Not only did we have to listen attentively to the story, we had to conjure up images in order to illustrate the story in our minds. We were stimulated by imagination, which helped enrich our creative thinking.
Nowadays, movie producers and animators are constantly working to feed our minds with computer-generated imagery that translates one’s own imagination into “reality”.
Reading, on the other hand, is a different experience from watching a movie because of the way a place, a character or a conflict is described – with details that sometimes that can’t be portrayed in images. It’s no wonder that movies adapted from best-selling books sometimes miss the mark because they fail to please fans of the book.
4. Expand knowledge and perspectives
Before the dawn of social media and the Internet, children’s recreational life revolved around playing board games and outdoor activities. One of my favourite games was from a book called “Family Flip Quiz” which was a game that tested your general knowledge from history to mental math questions. The competitiveness between siblings pushed us to memorise the facts, but at the same time we were also reminded how little we knew about the world.
Anas ibn Malik reported: “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.’” [Sunan Ibn Majah 224]
From the hadith above, we can see that it is highly encouraged to seek knowledge as it is regarded as a form of ibadah (worship). Knowledge is a wise man’s treasure. During the golden age of Islam, the Bayt al Hikmah (house of wisdom) was established in Baghdad and became an intellectual center for both Muslims and non-Muslims. It was a library containing centuries’ worth of research by the Abbasids. Unfortunately, this was later destroyed by the Mongols and the books were thrown into the Tigris River which is said to have turned black due to the ink from all the books.
Imagine how much knowledge this library must have contained? This reminds me of an ayat that talks about how infinite the knowledge of Allah is:
“If the sea were ink for [writing] the words of my Lord, the sea would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like of it as a supplement.” (Al-Kahf: 109)
Mankind’s knowledge is often described as just a drop of water in the ocean. Hence, the more knowledge we have, the more we should be humbled before our lord, Al-Hakeem (The All-Wise). It is important to read beyond what educational institutions provide, with the intention to cleanse oneself of ignorance and arrogance.
Also don’t use exams and tests to motivate you to read. Read because you want to seek knowledge and because of that, Allah will surely make it easier for us to understand. Ultimately, we will be rewarded with a lifetime of wisdom and curiosity.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise.” [Sahih Muslim 2699]