Entrepreneurship in the Islamic World.
CALL FOR PAPERS
(From University Students, Academia and Professionals)
Entrepreneurship in the Islamic World.
CALL FOR PAPERS
(From University Students, Academia and Professionals)
THERE is one irrefutable truth when it comes to life: sooner or later it will be extinguished. It follows from this basic premise that life must be lived in a particular and the best possible manner — for it is short. As the days, weeks, months and years pass, we seldom give any thought to the fact that the moments gone by will never come back. The clock keeps on ticking, and that too at a fairly quick pace; but given that we are mere mortals, it is undeniable that one day it is going to stop altogether.
That eventful day — when we die — is a certainty, but for some unexplained reason we dismiss it. We imagine that death is for others and not for us. We offer our condolences to people when we hear about the demise of their loved one, but hardly reflect on the idea of our own departure from this world.
The ‘here’ and ‘now’ are so attractive to us that we revel in their glory and resist the doom and gloom that is associated with the end of life. Thus we never entertain the thought that one day we too — like everyone else — will leave this earth.
So no matter what our attitude is towards death, there is no denying that it is a certainty. It is an undeniable fact. It is a law. It is the truth. Whether or not we are comfortable thinking about it is immaterial. Each day and every minute takes us towards the certainty called the end of life.
For some unexplained reason we dismiss the inevitability of death.
We pretend as if we are here to live forever and even organise our lives around this lie. Our passions dictate our life’s purpose, making us forget that our present life is but a trial to prepare us for the next realm of existence. Wherever our desires and emotions lead us, it is that point to which we are drawn.
This is one view of life, in which the purpose of living is determined by one’s feelings and desires, and in which the idea of afterlife is rejected.
This mentality is paraphrased multiple times in the Quran, albeit with stern criticism: “And they say: ‘What! when we lie, hidden and lost, in the earth, shall we indeed be in a Creation renewed?’ Nay, they deny the Meeting with their Lord” (32:10).
To this materialistic purpose of life comes the Divine rejoinder: “Say: ‘The Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls: then shall ye be brought back to your Lord’” (32:11).
The intellect of ours when working under the rule of our passions deceives us into thinking that this world’s material life is all that there is, and that, apart from physical needs, we do not have any other level of existence; thus are we fixated on worldliness alone.
As we become slaves to our desires, to our wish for fame and fortune and the other usual suspects, we forget that the intellect alone cannot enlighten us when it comes to the ultimate purpose of life. Our passions and prejudices also lead to a clash of interest among individuals, for often one’s desires are at odds with the wants of the other. Thus, a life that is lived in this manner becomes a conflict zone.
Life’s true purpose can be conveyed to us uniquely and precisely by none other than our Creator, for as our Maker, He knows us best and is in the best position to inform us about our welfare. Let us not forget that all other warranties do not originate from the manufacturer.
He is the one who thus announces: “I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me” (51:56).
God’s messengers were sent to earth to convey the true purpose of life and to call on people to establish a connection with their Creator while advocating righteous behaviour towards His creation. They were also tasked to wake us up to the fact that we have short life spans, and that our actual home is in the Hereafter.
The purpose of creation and the inevitability of death was a constant theme in the ‘syllabus’ taught by Allah’s emissaries. They taught the people they were sent to that the world was not a place to be shunned but that one was to live life to the full while keeping the laws and commandments of Allah in front, for it is adherence to such law that develops the human soul and qualifies it for afterlife.
Allah says: “Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (2:38).
So here we are, living life to the full. The guidance of Allah is also with us but let us not forget that the clock is ticking. We owe it to ourselves to take up Divine guidance and apply it to our daily lives so that we fulfil life’s true purpose. Ignoring the truth of death will be sheer folly.
We can observe that in the Qur’an when something or some act is made unlawful, then it is explicitly mentioned. For example, Zina (adultery/fornication) is prohibited by the explicit command:
وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا۟ ٱلزِّنَىٰٓ ۖ إِنَّهُۥ كَانَ فَٰحِشَةً وَسَآءَ سَبِيلًا
“And do not come near adultery. It is immoral, and an evil way.” 17:32
Similarly murder is explicitly forbidden by the words:
وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا۟ ٱلنَّفْسَ ٱلَّتِى حَرَّمَ ٱللَّهُ إِلَّا بِٱلْحَقِّ ۗ “
And do not kill the soul which God has made sacred, except in the course of justice. ” 17:33
Intoxicants and gambling are made unlawful by the words:
يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا ٱلْخَمْرُ وَٱلْمَيْسِرُ وَٱلْأَنصَابُ وَٱلْأَزْلَٰمُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنِ فَٱجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“O you who believe! Intoxicants, gambling, idolatry, and divination are abominations of Satan’s doing. Avoid them, so that you may prosper.” 5:90
So we can observe in the above examples that the style of the Qur’an is that when it makes something totally prohibited then it does not leave it to guess work but explicitly and unequivocally mentions the prohibition. However we do not find a command in the Qur’an that explicitly bans music in all its forms. Instead there is a verse from which scholars have made an inference, that what was described in it can be said about music. The verse in question is Sura 17:64
وَٱسْتَفْزِزْ مَنِ ٱسْتَطَعْتَ مِنْهُم بِصَوْتِكَ وَأَجْلِبْ عَلَيْهِم بِخَيْلِكَ وَرَجِلِكَ وَشَارِكْهُمْ فِى ٱلْأَمْوَٰلِ وَٱلْأَوْلَٰدِ وَعِدْهُمْ ۚ وَمَا يَعِدُهُمُ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنُ إِلَّا غُرُورًا
“And entice whomever of them you can with your voice, and rally against them your cavalry and your infantry, and share with them in wealth and children, and make promises to them.” But Satan promises them nothing but delusion.” 17:64
In the above verse one of Satan’s methods to mislead man from the path of Allah is mentioned as “entice whomever of them you can with your voice (Arabic ‘Saut’. Literally sound)”. Some scholars have inferred the prohibition of all types of music from this verse, terming it to be an act from Shaytan (Satan). However we cannot deduce from this verse that all kinds of music that falls in our ears such as in advertisements or TV news programmes is haraam, for such would mean that every time one turns on the television or hears a ringtone on his or her mobile phone, then he has committed a haraam act. Moreover, Muslim countries ban the likes of explicitly haraam acts like obscenity, pork, usury, alcohol etc but there is not a single Muslim nation that has ever placed a total ban on music.
Also to observe is the fact that there is even natural music, sounds that occur in nature like singing of birds, rainfall, ocean’s breeze all of which are soothing to the senses. If music were forbidden totally, what about such phenomenon e.g. the birds that sing? God has made them and given them their beautiful sound making ability. To imply that the God who made a bird that sings also prohibits singing gives birth to an irreconcilable paradox. In the absence of a clear and unequivocal command which prohibits music it can be conceived that it is that kind of sound which mobilises one to engage in an evil and immoral act, i.e. an act endorsed by Shaytan that would fall within the purview of the verse 17:64. So we must see what is the end for which music and singing is being utilised? Is the musician’s voice calling one to commit a haraam (prohibited) act e.g. commit adultery? Are the lyrics of the song promoting hatred and killing, glorification of drugs or any other haraam acts? If yes, then most certainly listening to such music and lyrics that leads one to wrongdoing and disobedience of Allah should be avoided as indeed such would fall in the remit of the sound of Shaytan that stirs up or excites one to his obedience. However listening to music that is for everyday life’s convenience e.g. bells, watch alarms, mobile ringtone, news bulletin, anthems, songs etc that do not excite us to commit haraam acts would not fall within the phenomenon cautioned about in the said verse. Thus we as Muslims need to have a balanced approach towards music.
Religion is a complex phenomenon. It is multilayered and diverse. To place religion in a pigeonhole without taking into account its complexities is grossly erroneous. But regrettably many tend to do that and such oversimplification results in distortions. We often hear stories of evil acts committed by those motivated by religious zeal and correspondingly some will point fingers at that faith, blaming it altogether. Our failure to distinguish between the mainstream body of the faith and the tiny fringe responsible for the misdeed will create misunderstandings. Narratives that do exactly that are divisive.
Many fail to realize that religious groups under the spotlight for vile deeds are mostly founded as religious cults. Headline making groups such as ISIS, The People’s Temple of Disciples of Christ, and Aum Shrinkyo should not be seen as representatives of the mainstream of Islam, Christianity and Buddhism respectively but distinctively as cults in their entirety. Religious cults are high control groups founded by charismatic individuals. They may have broken away from a pre-existing body of believers or be a new religious movement in their own right, whatever the case may be, they are marked by charismatic individuals as founders with an ability to exert undue influence upon their followers to coerce them into an extreme level of loyalty and devotion.
To legitimize their existence they would be seen denouncing the extant version of the faith in which they grew out from, labeling it as deviant while pitching their group as its genuine version. Their taking on the vocabulary and paraphernalia of the religion within whose matrix they came out from deceives outsiders concerning their true identity.
Cult founders are messianic figures who would propagate an end of times narrative. Claims such as being the reincarnation of a revered historical figure along with self proclaimed honorific titles enable them to sell themselves to a gullible audience as the ‘the promised messiah’, an end of times savior who was foretold by scriptures. Such an awaited saviour is common within the apocryphal texts of majority of world faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but there are also strong scholarly voices dismissing such an idea all together.
Cult leaders are demagogues. They are masters of manipulation. They display psychopathic tendencies by love-bombing members, making them feel special and needed and then exploiting them later. Their prime stratagem is to remain unaccountable. To evade accountability they will resort to any means, and this is why religious groups should come under statutory regulation in order to prevent individuals with charm and charisma from exploiting the weak and the vulnerable. Without checks and balances, anybody can set up shop, make emotional appeals to a gullible audience, extract money, connections and much more, and then fly off to disappear in far away lands or worse to cause destruction and mayhem.
What distinguishes cults from the mainstream is that unlike the later, they do not disclose all upfront. Their outside persona is meant to attract, enquire and recruit. It is when one is deep within the group that the true face of the cult gets known. This deception is what makes cults anti-social and when espousing violence towards others, their proliferation becomes the subject of law enforcement. When a prospective members makes initial contact then he or she has not got the complete picture of what the group is all about and what it really means to sign yourself up.
Once inside, it is not easy to leave as “..cult members are systematically made to be phobic about ever leaving the group. Today’s cults know how to effectively implant vivid negative images deep within members’ unconscious minds, making it impossible for the member to even conceive of ever being happy and successful outside of the group. When the unconscious is programmed to accept negative images, it behaves as though they were true. The unconscious mind is made to contain a substantial image-bank of all the bad things that will occur should anyone ever betray the group.” (Steven Hassan, Combatting Cult Mind Control, pp 45)
Cults are on the prowl for those with whom they can identify an organizational fit. Recruiting on campuses and online preying on the lonely and confused. Controlling tactics also include confessions before the group leader. This makes the leader’s grip stronger as then he becomes the confidante of a follower’s private life.
Cults offer a utopian worldview that is far removed from reality. Any confusion is masked as questions and criticisms are discouraged. It is emphasized that people outside the group do not understand the absolute truth claimed within the group and debate is stifled. An ‘us verses them’ mindset becomes the order of things resulting in group members psychologically (and at times physically) cutting them selves off from loved one’s. Due to such extreme coercions, a carefully thought out intervention is necessary for the rescue and recovery of those trapped in a mind controlling cult.
An entire faith with millions of followers is not blameworthy when adherents acting in its name resort to committing evil, but we need to closely inspect the perpetrators and separate them from the mainstream. Religions have numerous strands within them. Neither do we find only one persuasion within a tradition and nor is one interpretation representative of all. Knowledge of religions and an awareness and appreciation of charismatic cults will enable us to distinguish between the peaceful mainstream and the destructive fringe.
Worldwide underage boys as well as girls are given in marriage by elders for a wide variety of reasons. Though the claim is made from certain quarters that child marriages are exclusively an ‘Islamic’ problem, statistics show that they are widespread in many cultures, including in ‘advanced’ countries such as the United States of America, where in one state it is even legal for a girl as young as 12 and a boy as young as 14 to get married with ‘parental consent’. Child marriages inhibit the development of children, causes pain and misery and can lead to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation as they are not ready for it physically and mentally. After marriage children are not able to continue their education. Young girls are particularly vulnerable to oppression. There is a high risk of death due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth; infants of such young mothers are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.
QUR’ANIC EVIDENCE TO REFUTE CHILD MARRIAGES
Given that Islam and Muslims are under the fire for this vile practice, it is expedient that directives from Islam’s holy book, be brought to light to determine its stance.
(1) Verse 4:19 “O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will.” rules out marriage of minor girls as due to their young age they are vulnerable to duress.
(2) Verse 4:21 “…and they (your wives) have Taken from you a solemn covenant (Arabic: Meethaq)..” amplifies that marriage is a ‘covenant’ (Arabic: Meesaq), and covenants are entered into by the free will of consenting adults and never by minors.
(3) Verse 4:3 “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four…” is addressed to adult male believers and makes it clear they are to marry females of their choice, and not the choice of their parents or guardians. Given their undeveloped physique, minor children are incapable of plural marriages.
(4) Verse 4:6 “Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of marriage; if then ye find sound judgment (Arabic: “Rushd”) in them, release their property to them..” identifies an age for marriage thus refuting the notion that one can be married at any age, even as a child.
(5) Also to be noted that it is when one possesses Rushd that one should be given property and not as a minor. While verse 4:24 “.. ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property..” makes possession of property a prerequisite for marriage, thus as a child does not possess Rushd and Maal (property) is disqualified for marriage.
(6) Verse 40:67 “It is He Who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength (Arabic: Ashuda); then lets you become old..” identifies the period after childhood to be ‘the age of full strength’ or Ashuda, and it is this time when one is capable of marriage.
(7) Verse 2:221 “Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe…” is addressed to an adult and not a child for the latter is not in a position to determine the imaan (belief) of a prospective spouse.
(8) Verse 4:3 identifies that marriage is to be contracted with Nisa or “women”, while verse 2:221 “..So keep away from women (Arabic: Nisa) in their courses,…” identifies that a female becomes Nisa when she has her periods, thus disqualifying young pre pubescent girls for marriage.
(9) The usage of the Arabic word Harath or “tilth” for Nisa in verse 2:223 “Your wives (Arabic: “Nisa”) are as a tilth (Arabic: Harath) unto you;” further indicates that one becomes Nisa when she is able to procreate, thus making child marriages invalid.
Look at the Qur’an from any angle and we discover a refutation for child marriages in it. Muslims should uphold the Book of Allah, raise awareness about its tenets, educate people and pass legislation that coincides with divine directives in order to eradicate this social ill.
Tolerance is a special quality. It means getting along with people who are different from us. It is a vital trait for peaceful coexistence and to build cordial and friendly relations between people. Being tolerant requires from us to be patient, understanding and accepting of anything different. People are different from us in so many ways. Some hold different religious beliefs others have different political beliefs. Some are of a different ethnicity others of a different gender. There are different languages, different dresses, different cuisine, even different habits and aspirations. Thus diversity has many facets and is a distinguishing feature of the human condition. Being tolerant of people requires acceptance. When we accept differences then we are not worried or anxious about effacing them. We then realize that the world is not meant to be monolithic, and that diversity is something natural. We will identify as tolerant individuals if we exhibit the following signs:
Learning tolerance from Qur’anic examples. Tolerance is a central theme in Islam’s holy text. God’s chosen emissaries were told that tolerance was a key character trait that enabled one to qualify as a righteous individual (2:256). It was revealed to the Messenger (pbuh) that everyone is responsible for his own conduct and is answerable to God on his own; therefore if people are not receptive to the message then he should not despair (6:34). Under no circumstances are people to be compelled to follow the course of righteousness (10:99). That his job was only to deliver the message, while it rested on God to hold people to account (13:40). This Prophetic standard is in stark contrast to the holier than thou mindset prevailing within many who think that they are on some sort of a divine mission to compel people to “righteousness”. That their version of morality should be enforced, even upon those who wish to follow an alternate course. This is not what is instructed in the Quran. The Qur’anic mandate is about one’s willing acceptance of its injunctions. Only that belief will bear fruit, which is accepted by one’s own volition and not because of pressure. Belief that is forced upon is futile and invalid because it does not motivate us to action.
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ARE we human or are we simply a species of animals? This question has perplexed many thinkers.
After all, are we not simply glorified animals, some proclaim? Do we not tend to do the same things that animals do? We go to work, earn money to buy food; animals also hunt or gather food. We eat and drink and so do animals. We sleep; animals also need rest. We live in homes or apartments; animals also have their caves and nests. We get married and raise children; animals also breed.
Animals live in packs or herds or flocks; we humans also tend to live with our own kind.
Animals fight other animals; we have been fighting each other since time immemorial. Animals mark territories, and we, as nations also draw our boundaries. So are we really different from animals?
To live a life beyond animal nature, we need guidance.
Depending on one’s worldview, we actually are. We possess what animals do not, and that is free will. Animals do not have a choice; they simply follow what they are designed to do. And because they simply follow their instincts, they are not held accountable for their actions. One has never come across a cow that was sued because it grazed from a pasture that was not its own. You never hear about a monkey getting arrested and jailed because it stole bananas.
No, we never hear about such things. But we do hear about people getting caught for devouring property that did not belong to them. So essentially, this is the difference between man and beast. We humans have free will, due to which we are responsible for our actions.
And because of responsibility there comes accountability. We have a choice to do or not to do something. We can either work hard to make a living or we can take away somebody else’s property by force or deception. Animals, on the other hand, do not have a choice. When they are hungry, they simply take a bite.
Because we have a choice, we need guidance. We need to know the rules. We need to know right from wrong. If we do not observe right and wrong in life, we will behave as animals and create a chaotic society.
The law of the jungle will prevail. Brute force and ‘might is right’ will become the order of the day. To rise to a human level, to live a life beyond animal nature, we require guidance.
We need to know the moral values that are universal, which have the benefit for all of our fellow human beings and which do not lean towards the selfish interest of a select few. We need to know morality which is absolute and permanent and which transcends time and space. Because humans are temporal beings, it is not within them to give such instructions. Only an intelligent guide who is not fixed in time and geographic location can give such guidance. There is only one being like that, and that is God.
Thus it is the Creator’s guidance that we need. The manufacturer is best suited to issue instructions on a machine. As it is the manufacturer who designed the machine, therefore, he is best qualified to inform us how to operate it without malfunction. So we humans need a manufacturer’s guide for living life peacefully.
We have such guidance from the Creator in the form of the Quran; its rules — if followed — keep a check on emotional recklessness. When people follow their impetuous passions, this leads them to declare: ‘my country right or wrong’. In contrast, the Quran cautions: “…And let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. …” (5:8).
Excessive greed goads people to a selfish and hedonistic lifestyle; on the other hand, the Quran gives the ideal: “… It [surplus wealth] may not (merely) make a circuit between the wealthy among you. …” (59:7).
Carnal temptations blur the line between the licit and the illicit, but consult revelation and you find that it proclaims: “Prohibited to you (for marriage) are your mothers, daughters, sisters; father’s sisters, mother’s sisters; brother’s daughters, sister’s daughters. …” (4:23).
Thus by following Quranic guidance, we become fully human and live a life above animal level. But by choosing to ignore divine guidance, people operate “…Like cattle — nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning)” (7:179).
Revelation is what keeps a check on our passions, gives rules for peaceful living, and provides the parameters for a just and balanced society. It gives values, which have the benefit for all mankind and not a select few. God’s guidance is available on earth. It is our prerogative to consult it and to abide by it and develop our true human potential.
Related Audio Talk on Soundcloud Man or Beast?
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Human greed and unabashed materialism has begat a monster, which is ready to devour us. Excessive pollution from consuming fossil fuels is disturbing the balance of our ecosystem and threatening to destroy life on the planet.
The spectre of climate change looms upon us but nobody seems to notice. Switch on to prime time TV in Pakistan and there is hardly a mention about it. Those on the pulpit debate vociferously about trivial matters but this fire which is ravaging to engulf saints and sinners alike is hardly a cause of concern for them. Rulers plan economic growth but do not say what use it will be when the planet is no more. Businessmen ignore the environment, seeking interim profit failing to realise that our actions are like boomerangs. They eventually come back to haunt us one day.
Global warming should be taken very seriously. It is a very real danger that threatens our existence. For the sorry state of the planet no one but we, ourselves are to blame. Each one of us individually for if we do not fall in the category of mass producers responsible for carbon emissions that harm the Earth’s ozone layer we definitely are among the mass consumers who drive such mindless economics.
Many of us also fail to realise that looking after the environment is equally the remit of those who believe in God. Polluting the air, poisoning the rivers, cutting off trees, destroying flora and fauna will not only have repercussions in this world but such will also have an impact on the afterlife of the perpetrators. The Quranic description: “When he turns his back, His aim everywhere is to spread mischief (Arabic: Yufsida) through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But Allah loveth not mischief (Arabic: Fasaad).” (2:205) warns that destroying the environment is an act of “Fasaad” (disorder, mischief) and is disapproved by God.
Going against the divine edict to reduce waste: “.. waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters.” (7:31) we over procure, over consume and waste profusely.
In contrast to the injunction “…Allah…loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” (2:222) our towns have a reputation for garbage littered streets and over flowing sewages. Not to mention the havoc created during Eid ul Azha, when the gory mess left on the streets is actually a blatant rebellion of Quranic injunctions to cleanliness.
Who will forget the choking suffocation caused to the elderly and those with respiratory disorders by the smoke enveloping the entire neighbourhood when some residents set fire to their rubbish? Or the agony caused by loud music during a celebration in the middle of the night? Or that of a preacher’s unsolicited sermon from a loudspeaker? It appears that the divine imperative “And do good to…neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers..” (4:36) has fallen on deaf ears.
The water we are supplied is unclean, the air we breathe is polluted, the food we eat is adulterated, the sounds we hear are agonizing. Parks and green spaces are disappearing. Shopping has become a weekly ritual for shopaholics seen stuffing groceries in plastic bags rushing to and fro from supermarkets, causing excruciating traffic jams and nervous breakdowns with their mad rush.
Take a look at our society, when it comes to managing the environment at a personal level let us admit unashamedly, we totally fail. We defy the rule revealed in the divine writ: “In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance.” (55:8) with our imbalances while shamelessly flaunting our empty religiosity at every juncture.
This is our life in which we are ever ready to worship materialism. What is it that we have but a mere empty claim to piety and godliness. We need to be educated about green living and how it impacts our future for without having a proper understanding we cannot take action. We need to make incremental changes in our everyday life. Actions like a personal target of planting trees, keeping possessions to the minimum, recycling materials at home and work, reduction of waste, and keeping the environment clean on a regular basis need to be a priority. A commitment to walking for errands instead of driving, opening up windows to make best use of natural sunlight during the day instead of using electricity, and lot more can be easily be done and should be done. Standards and procedures for sustainability at home or work need to be written down and put into action.
Study the Quran and you will discover that care for the environment and welfare of all living beings is a quintessential part of an Islamic lifestyle. Where prayer, fasting and pilgrimage are an Islamic obligation then so are frugal living and an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle.
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Inept border control procedures and a lenient attitude of rulers towards rogue traders means that our marketplaces are flooded with counterfeit goods. It has become very common to find bags, watches, eyewear, clothing, and all sorts of products having marks and labels of famous brands but which are in fact complete fakes. The popularity of a brand implies that a fake using its name can also be slipped in undetected. Just like rogue traders are having a heyday cashing in on corporate fame and the simplicity of consumers, the situation is not much different when it comes to matters of faith. Alongside genuine teachers there are also pretenders who exploit the faithful. But a failure to distinguish the genuineness and authenticity of the religious teaching one is led towards can have far more drastic consequences than perhaps the discomfort of using counterfeit fashion accessories.
For the total devotion demanded by faith implies that loss of family, friends, health, and wealth can result. Even one’s very life is at stake if one has not got the criterion to ascertain religious authenticity. The possession of such a criterion, one that filters truth from falsehood, right from wrong, the canonical from the apocryphal, is therefore the key to one’s well being.
This beacon which safeguards us from hazards posed by charlatans is none other but the Quran. An attribute of the Quran is “al-Furqan” or “The Criterion between right and wrong”. Where it narrates goodness, it also cautions about badness in all its forms. The archetypes it presents are ahistorical and can be related to any time or era. For that is why it is a guidance.
Numerous type of personalities are mentioned in the Quran that incur God’s displeasure. Some are outright rejecters, some believe in God while associating partners with him. There is one particular category of the disapproved kind which is not easily detectable to the untrained eye because it styles itself as staunch believers in God and claim that its deeds are in the very name of God. The Quran cautions:
وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَبِٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْءَاخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ
“And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah and the Last Day,” but they are not believers.” 2:7
Notice that they proclaim to be believers but Allah says they are not believers! This is so because:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ قَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ
“And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption (Arabic: Fasaad) on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.” 2:11
One’s claim to “Imaan” (belief in Allah) is immediately dismissed if he resorts to “fasaad” (disorder in the land, damage to life and property) as a pretext of “Islah” (Reform, correction). These verses bring to light that the identity of a believer is not the label he carries but his character. Also clear is the fact that violence was never ordained by God as a method of societal reform.
The Quran also cautions about that kind of a preacher who frequently uses the name of Allah in his speeches:
وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يُعْجِبُكَ قَوْلُهُۥ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَيُشْهِدُ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا فِى قَلْبِهِۦ وَهُوَ أَلَدُّ ٱلْخِصَامِ
“And of the people is he whose speech pleases you in worldly life, and he calls Allah to witness as to what is in his heart, yet he is the fiercest of opponents.” 2:204
One may ask what is wrong in citing Allah’s name in speech? The next verse gives the answer:
وَإِذَا تَوَلَّىٰ سَعَىٰ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فِيهَا وَيُهْلِكَ ٱلْحَرْثَ وَٱلنَّسْلَ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْفَسَادَ
“And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption (Arabic: Fasaad) therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption.” 2:205
So merely using the name of Allah to endorse a speech or merely labelling one’s self as Islamic or merely doing things in the name of Islam does not establish one’s bonafide. It is by virtue of behaviour and not labels that one is to be distinguished. When those who call for reforming society resort to violent means then they are not genuine believers in God but fakes.
If one possesses the peaceful behaviour of a believer as narrated by God in His Book, then and only then does he fit the label. But sadly we see that today the words Islam and Muslim are used carelessly as an appendage to individuals committing even the vilest of deeds. The Quran makes it amply clear that every claim in the name of God is not from God. Every deed meted out in the name of righteousness is not righteous.
We owe it to our well being that we do not take each and everything that is hurled towards us in the name of God to be actually coming from God but to take guidance from the Quran by ourselves and see the type of behaviour it has endorsed and the type that it has resented.
First published in Daily DAWN, dated 12 February, 2016
Gold is precious. Because it is precious, people seek it. They will pay a price for it and are eager to have it as a possession. Because it is precious, sought after and always has a clientele, fraudsters are also drawn to it. They know full well that if they can deceptively sell worthless things disguised as gold, then they can make a lot of money.
Like gold, religion too has popular charm and appeal. Its popularity enables a global following. People seek solace in it, and approach it to find answers to life’s most pressing matters. Entire life’s savings are dedicated for its pilgrimages. Its symbols adorn people’s homes, who go to great lengths to experience the sacred. It is because of this charm that religion also draws the attention of vested interests.
While there are genuine religious guides who offer a transparent exposition of faith and are regarded accordingly in the mainstream, there are also individuals outside the mainstream that take an unfair advantage of the popular appeal of faith and operate mind controlling cults. The phenomenon of cults exists largely in most religions and has been the subject of much academic research in the West.
However in our society, though cults exist profusely given the conducive environment for their formation, little is documented about their salient features.
When time and again we hear stories of how a self styled faith healer exploited the vulnerable or when we hear about youth lured into groups involved in acts of terrorism, what we are witnessing then, is cult phenomenon.
In a society like ours, where laws exists but law enforcement is non existent, the environment is ripe for such wolves in sheep’s clothing to not only mushroom but to thrive and prosper. Cults come in a wide variety and have varying objectives. Some are militant organisations but there are also non violent groups. Some religious but others overtly secular. Irrespective of their varying types, all cults have a common strand that distinguishes them.
Cults operate with hidden agendas. They approach potential recruits in the name of righteousness, but deliberately conceal their inner core on their initial interaction.
A harmless ‘Dars’ at the home of an acquaintance could in fact be an exercise in cult recruitment. Those who do not possess religious literacy – as is the case with most – may attend the lecture and think that the preaching encountered is from God’s Book and emanates from God. But the Qur’an itself fore warns us that everything preached in God’s name is not necessarily coming from God: “There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, “That is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah: It is they who tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it!” (3:78)
Cult leaders come not only in a pious garb but also with a dramatic stage persona. They enthral audiences, and deliver a performance, which once over, obliges them to return to their real selves albeit back stage. Unknown to many, they have their hawks in the audience who keep a watchful eye on all, and who will alert the leader to stage an exit when things are not in his favour.
The public persona of a cult leader is very different from his real person, which is visible only to those who observe him ￼in private. The ideal prey are the wealthy or the well connected who are ignorant of religious knowledge. Playboys and spoiled brats are a perfect clientele as are middle aged begum sahibs with problems at home and some cash to spare.
Youngsters from dysfunctional families and those who have suffered a personal bereavement are particularly vulnerable to cult recruitment because cult doctrine is designed to temporarily soothe their pain.
To grow, cults need not only money but also the talent and connections of members. That is why cults actively recruit for new members. Recruitment begins with misleading advertisements and false claims often spread through word of mouth. However nowadays shares and likes on social media also lend a helping hand.
Endorsements from celebrities is a well known marketing tactic of cults. While some celebrities formally join cults and actively work for them, a public figure who may not know the true colours of the group can also be targeted by the group to elicit words of praise, which are then advertised as a mark of legitimacy. Followers from high ranking officials are prized possessions in cults, because when the time is right their influence will be put to use.
The cult always has two sets of teachings – one for the public, one for the private. Newcomers are not told about the ‘special’ knowledge immediately. It is only when they are initiated and tried over a period of time that the ‘special beliefs’ of the group’s leader will be disclosed.
Outsiders thus have no idea at all about what the preacher and his group are all about. Beliefs are deliberately kept vague and often undocumented. What has been documented will undergo revision when lacunae are known, with earlier versions silently withdrawn from circulation. The group leader is reluctant to speak in front of the camera other than his own camera crew with the footage being released after careful editing. Camera shyness is a deliberate ploy to stay clear from public scrutiny and any form of accountability.
A cult environment is one where debate is stifled and critical thinking is discouraged. The group isn’t out in the public limelight but may operate out of a private residence with no signage or distinguishing marks. Cults aren’t registered bodies that have audited accounts or legal structures.
They operate mostly in secrecy and through deception. In present times, the internet and the world wide web is their territory. Once inside, members are gradually introduced to esoteric interpretations and an elitist mindset which paints everything in black and white. The cult has its own worldview which is the standard for its members. Those who accept the group’s leader and official cult doctrine are the only ones to have salvation, while the rest are destined for hellfire.
A distinguishing feature is a vocabulary coined specifically for use within the group. Peer review and academic critique is the hallmark of scholarship. In contrast cult leaders portray themselves to be beyond criticism to their followers. Critical voices are deliberately suppressed and those expressing them are gradually shown the door. Former members are shunned and existing members are discouraged from keeping any contact citing the contagious ‘impurity’ of the former.
Phobia indoctrination is another method to keep followers within the fold. When one is persuaded that something terrible will befall him should he criticise the group leader or leave the group, then this fear is sufficient to make him stay.
Solicitations for funds also do not come immediately but only after one has been fully programmed – within the group’s beliefs. For once the mind is under control, the rest comes easily.
Cult leaders are charismatic personalities albeit with a disturbed upbringing. By probing deep one is likely to discover a criminal past and even a history of mental health problems.
Religious lectures are a common tool for recruitment of new followers. It is impossible to tell if a commentary in a foreign language was in full accord with the original Arabic words of the Holy Book if one is not well versed in Arabic. When one is not in a habit of doing their own study, then he is prone to indoctrination.
The Qur’an cautions us about those who will present falsehood intermixed with truth by exhorting: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know [it].” (2:42). The Quran is replete with the phrase ‘Yasalunaka’ lit. ‘They question thee’ which shows that the Prophet (PBUH) never discouraged questions. It informs believers: “.. if you ask questions about things while the Qur’an is being revealed, they will be made plain to you” (5:101). It identifies that reason is never to be suspended for comprehending the Signs of God is conditional upon the use of one’s ‘Aql’: “We have certainly made clear to you the signs, if you will use reason.” (3:118)
We are not to blindly follow leaders for on the day of judgement: “[And they should consider that] when those who have been followed disassociate themselves from those who followed [them], and they [all] see the punishment, and cut off from them are the ties..” (2:166).
No human is above accountability for not only those to whom the Message of God was delivered but also the Messengers will be called to account: “Then We will surely question those to whom [a message] was sent, and We will surely question the messengers.” (7:6).
Coercion by force or through psychological manipulation is ruled out as: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) There are to be no secret teachings. All is to be preached out in the open and to all mankind as: “..those who hide our revelations and guidance after We have made them clear for people in the Book, they are those on whom is the curse of Allah..” (2:159).
The Qur’an immediately disqualifies those who are persistent for monthly ‘Chanda’ by stating: “Follow those who do not ask of you [any] payment, and they are [rightly] guided.” (36:21)
We owe it our well being that before we swallow everything hook line and sinker, that we do not shy away from asking some very basic questions about the group we are being asked to join. If before offering even the most menial of jobs to people we interview them and rigorously do background checks, then why must we not do the same or conduct an investigation even more thorough when we give religious guides the responsibility to come into our lives?
No God-fearing person evades accountability for it is the very trait of the genuinely Godly to be ever prepared to give their account. One who has not wronged anyone is not afraid to answer questions because he has nothing to hide, possesses a clear conscience and has lived an open and transparent life. But the moment you realise that questions are deliberately being avoided, that the group does not want to be filmed or come on record then that is the moment for you to realise that there is more to your dear Shaikh sahab than meets the eye.
Is it correct that “Taurat” is not the name of a book revealed by Allah but is the title of all those verses in the Qur’an that contain “Hukm Allah”, (Order, command of God) as stated in Al Maida 5:43. Does the Qur’an justify the view that “Taurat” is nothing but the name of all do’s and don’ts internally within the Qur’an?
Qur’an makes it clear that “Taurat” did not just contain Law, but also events and narratives. The verse in question is as follows:
وَكَيْفَ يُحَكِّمُونَكَ وَعِندَهُمُ التَّوْرَاةُ فِيهَا حُكْمُ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يَتَوَلَّوْنَ مِن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ ۚ وَمَا أُولَٰئِكَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“But how is it that they come to you for judgement while they have the Torah, in which is the judgement of Allah? Then they turn away, [even] after that; but those are not [in fact] believers.” 5:43
Those who maintain the view that “Taurat” is the name of all the do’s and don’ts of the Qur’an refer to the expression in above verse; “.. Torah, in which is the judgement (Arabic: Hukm) of Allah..” and assert that “Taurat” should be defined as all those verses of Qur’an which contain “Hukm Allah” or commandments of God.
However it is not correct to infer from verse 5:43 that all those verses of the Qur’an that are legislative are called as “Taurat”. Such would be a faulty inference which ignores all other verses of the Qur’an whose subject matter is the “Taurat”. We should not form conclusions from one or two words only but bring into inflection all the passages where the topic is discussed. We should identify the complete features of the “Taurat” by analysing its recurrence within the Qur’an. The following points bring to light such features:
1. Taurat did not contain just “Hukm Allah” but also “Wa’ad” (Divine promise):
إِنَّ اللَّهَ اشْتَرَىٰ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَنفُسَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُم بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ ۚ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَيَقْتُلُونَ وَيُقْتَلُونَ ۖ وَعْدًا عَلَيْهِ حَقًّا فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنجِيلِ وَالْقُرْآنِ ۚ وَمَنْ أَوْفَىٰ بِعَهْدِهِ مِنَ اللَّهِ ۚ فَاسْتَبْشِرُوا بِبَيْعِكُمُ الَّذِي بَايَعْتُم بِهِ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ
“Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah , so they kill and are killed. [It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah ? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment.” 9:111
To be noted:
وَعْدًا عَلَيْهِ حَقًّا فِي التَّوْرَاةِ
“..a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah ..”
Above verse clearly says that Taurat contains a promise of Allah. Therefore along with “Hukm Allah”, “wa’ad Allah” is also its feature. Hence the statement that “Taurat” contains ONLY the law (bearing verses in Quran) is proved wrong when we analyse verse 9:111.
2. Taurat cannot be a subset of the Qur’an or just a certain number of verses of the Qur’an because Allah mentioned Taurat separately from Qur’an.
To be noted in 9:111 are the words:
فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنجِيلِ وَالْقُرْآنِ ۚ
“… in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an…”
Note that “Taurat”, “Injeel” and “Qur’an” are mentioned separately in the verse.
If indeed “Taurat” was a component of the Qur’an and not a separate revelation on its own , then it would be meaningless to mention it separately as by the mention of “Qur’an” the “Taurat” which is subsumed within it is also included.
But as Taurat is highlighted distinctly, it shows that it is not a collection of certain verses of the Qur’an but has its own distinct identity.
3. The Quran identifies that along with “Hukm” (commandment) and “Wa’ad” (Divine promise), Taurat also contains “Mathal” (Parable)
Verse 48:29 also identifies the features of the “Taurat”
مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللَّهِ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاءُ عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاءُ بَيْنَهُمْ ۖ تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانًا ۖ سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِم مِّنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ ۚ
“Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. On their faces are their marks, (being) the traces of their prostration. This is their similitude in the Taurat..” 48:29
To be noted that in the above verse, the words:
ذَٰلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ ۚ
“..This is their similitude in the Taurat..”
Thus above clearly demonstrates another feature, that the “Taurat” is not restricted to “Hukm Allah” but also contains “Mathal” i.e. simile, or parable.
Its is clear from the Qur’an that the “Taurat” contains:
“Hukm” or Commandment as said in 5:43
“Wa’ad” (Promise) as said in 9:111
“Mathal” (Parable or similitude) as said in 48:29
We also see that Taurat is mentioned separately from Qur’an in 9:111.
Therefore in the light of above verses, it is clear that the “Taurat” does not refer to all the do’s and don’ts of the Qur’an, but is a distinct book having more than do’s and dont’s. Taurat was a revelation of Allah which contained laws as well as events such as parables, promises.
Q. I read a verse about prostitution of slave girls and it said “..do not compel your maids in to prostitution if they desire chastity”. Does this verse sanction prostitution?
Ans. The full verse in question states:
وَلْيَسْتَعْفِفِ الَّذِينَ لَا يَجِدُونَ نِكَاحًا حَتَّىٰ يُغْنِيَهُمُ اللَّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ ۗ وَالَّذِينَ يَبْتَغُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِمَّا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ فَكَاتِبُوهُمْ إِنْ عَلِمْتُمْ فِيهِمْ خَيْرًا ۖ وَآتُوهُم مِّن مَّالِ اللَّهِ الَّذِي آتَاكُمْ ۚ وَلَا تُكْرِهُوا فَتَيَاتِكُمْ عَلَى الْبِغَاءِ إِنْ أَرَدْنَ تَحَصُّنًا لِّتَبْتَغُوا عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۚ وَمَن يُكْرِههُّنَّ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ مِن بَعْدِ إِكْرَاهِهِنَّ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
024:033 Yusuf Ali Translation
“Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage keep themselves chaste, until God gives them means out of His grace. And if any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing, give them such a deed if you know any good in them and give them from the wealth of God which He has given you. But force not your slave girls (Arabic: fatayatikum) to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life. But if anyone compels them, yet, after such compulsion, is God, Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (to them)”
If we analyse this verse then it rules out sexual relations with slave girls because of the following:
(1) Those that cannot marry need to stay chaste.
(2) They are to free those that their right hands possess and certainly not force them to sex or prostitution.
(3) The word “Fatayatikum”, though translated commonly as slave girls, does not mean slave girl but a young girl. E.g. 21:60 the word “Fati” is used for Prophet Ibraheem in the sense of a young man.
(4) The verse also says that if young girls are forced then they are not blameworthy. The preceding clauses exhort against the compulsion and the remission to women in the last phrase in no way grants a right to compel young girls to sex outside of wedlock.
Thus if we read clearly then the verse is speaking against compelling girls to wrong conduct and not enjoining it.
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ وَلَٰكِن رَّسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا
“Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, but the Messenger of God, and the Seal of the Prophets; God has knowledge of everything.” 33:40
The verse 33:40 gives us three solid proofs of finality of Prophethood and shows from three different dimensions, the cessation of prophets after Muhammad (p.b.u.h)
(1) End of prophethood by virtue of lineage
The Quran shows that in some instances Prophecy continued in the family. A prophet’s son was also a prophet and prophecy continued among male descendants. E.g. Ibraheem (p.b.u.h) was a Prophet, his sons Ismail (p.b.u.h), Ishaq (p.b.u.h) and Yaqoob (p.b.u.h) were also Prophets. Yusuf (p.b.u.h) was also a Prophet like his father Yaqub (p.b.u.h) and grandfather Ibraheem (p.b.u.h). Zakaria (p.b.u.h) was a Prophet and his son Yahya (p.b.u.h) was also a prophet of Allah. Thus we can see the trend in the Quran for prophet hood continuing among male descendants of a prophet. However after the advent of Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) this was not to be the case. The phrase:
مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ
“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men..”
Makes it crystal clear that Muhammad (p.b.u.h) did not have any male offspring, thus continuation of the prophetic office by virtue of lineage has ended. No new prophet as a male descendant of Muhammad (p.b.u.h) can arise after him as he “is not the father of any one of your men..”.
Here it is also important to clarify an important point. Some cults in their Taweel (interpretation) of the verse 33:40 claim that since Muhammad (p.b.u.h) was not an “Abba” i.e. father or forefather therefore he did not exist historically as a person but keeps reincarnating in the person of various individuals such as their cult’s founder. This Taweel of theirs is flawed on many counts. Firstly the expression does not stop at “Muhammad is not an Abba” but continues to “of any of your men..”. Secondly the verse is not a negation of the historical existence of Muhammad (p.b.u.h) but simply a negation of his male lineage. It should be understood that if “A” is not the father or forefather of any man then this does not mean “A” did not exist as a physical human being at a certain point in time. All it means is that “A” does not have sons.
As Muhammad (p.b.u.h) is not the father of any man, therefore the verse makes it clear that the continuation of prophets from father to son has ended.
(2) End of Prophethood by virtue of limited period of commission of a Prophet
The Quran shows that previous prophets were sent for specific time periods, and to specific communities. After one prophet was gone another was sent after him. However in the case of Muhammad (p.b.u.h), he is not sent for a specific era or community only. His era is from the day of his advent to the end of times and he is the Messenger of God to all mankind till the day of judgement. This is apparent in the following expression:
وَلَٰكِن رَّسُولَ اللَّهِ
“..and but he is the Messenger of God..”
This expression will be read in the present tense till the day of judgement, thus Muhammad (p.b.u.h) is the Messenger of God till end of times. Logically, if he “is” and not “was” the Messenger, then no other Messenger or Prophet replaces him or comes after him.
Thus no new prophet or Messenger will arise by virtue of end of period of a Prophet’s era. “..He is the Messenger of God..” shows Muhammad’s era is from the day of his advent till the end of times.
(3) End of Prophethood through the seal of prophets
“and the seal of the prophets..”
Through Muhammad (p.b.u.h) prophethood has been sealed forever as the seal cannot be broken. The phrase ” Seal of the Prophets ” makes it clear that no new Prophet will come after Muhammad (p.b.u.h). He is the seal of finality of Prophets. “Khaatam” is seal of closure and finality in Quran, and not a stamp of approval for any existing or future Prophet as is wrongly claimed by some cults. The Quran itself explains what is the meaning of “Khatam” or seal.
خَتَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَعَلَىٰ سَمْعِهِمْ ۖ وَعَلَىٰ أَبْصَارِهِمْ غِشَاوَةٌ ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
“God has set a seal (Arabic: Khatama) on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering, and there awaits them a mighty chastisement.” 2:7
“..a seal on their hearts and on their hearing..” is not a stamp of approval or attestation, but a seal of closure, i.e. one which terminates or ends the (spiritual) function of one’s heart and hearing. Another verse makes the meaning clearer:
الْيَوْمَ نَخْتِمُ عَلَىٰ أَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَتُكَلِّمُنَا أَيْدِيهِمْ وَتَشْهَدُ أَرْجُلُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ
“That Day, We will seal (Arabic: NAKHTIMU) over their mouths, and their hands will speak to Us, and their feet will testify about what they used to earn.” 36:65
“.. We will seal over their mouths..” shows that when God will “seal” the mouths of disbelievers their hands will speak, thus the meaning of “Khatam” is made clearer. When the mouth has a seal then it is stopped from its function of speaking and the hands take over this function. Thus it is abundantly clear that when an object has a seal then the function of the seal is to end the object. “..We will seal over their mouths..” (2:7) and “God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing..” (36:65) explain the function of “..seal of the prophets..” (33:40) to end, to stop, to terminate, to cease, the coming of further prophets. The text of the Qur’an in no way warrants “Khatam” to be “a stamp of approval” for any existing or future prophets.
Muhammad (p.b.u.h) is thus the seal of finality of all prophets who were before him and as the seal cannot be broken, no new Prophet is to arise after him.
1. Translations are from “The Koran Interpreted: A Translation by A. J. Arberry, Oxford”
2. p.b.u.h is an abbreviation of “peace be upon him”, a mark of respect by Muslims for all Islamic prophets whenever their names are mentioned.
What is the activity of Salat? What are its exact times? How many Rakahs should be done? Can one read Salat in a non Arabic language? Are there are any special conditions for women and prayers?
Salat is an act of Ibadah (Servitude to Allah), which is ordained by Allah over believers at stated timesi. The Qur’an informs us that the command to establish Salat was given by Allah to all Prophets/Messengers and believers. It is a physical act which involves the body postures of Qiyaam (Standing), Rukuu (Bowing) and Sujood (Prostration) and is performed at specific times of the day. During Salat we ask Allah for guidance (al fatiha) and then recite a sura or ayat as a reply to that request. Thus Salat is a means to recall, memorise, rehearse the guidance of Allah, to praise Him, and to surrender to His will, so that such guidance becomes part of our daily life and we recall it when we are in a situation to practice the guidance. If done properly and in accordance with Qur’anic guidance, Salat develops our minds, bodies and souls, and enables us to truly and completely give submission to our Creator. If there is an act of Ibadah that we have to do everyday, continuously, till the last day of our life, then that act is Salat.
THE METHOD OF SALAT
The Qur’an does not stipulate a step by step procedure of Salat because it is an act of Ibadah that was existing during the time of previous prophets and the Qur’an has retained the same practice. The central place where Salat is preserved is the Kabah, which is the focal point of believers. The Qur’an says that as Allah’s Book is guidance, so is the Kaaba a source of guidance for believers, and instructs us in many verses to believe in its signs:
إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
“The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakka: Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings.” 3:96
Note that in above verse Kaaba has been termed as the “First House”, and as “guidance for all worlds”. As the Kaaba is the first house and the focal point for guidance believers of all times and eras, till day of judgement, it is there that Salat was practiced in times and eras of all Prophets including Muhammad (p) and Salat continues there even today. We too should take guidance from there as in the Qur’an, Allah commands believers to adopt Musallah (place of Salat) from Maqam Ibraheem at Masjid-al-Haraam (which is the masjid surrounding the first house).
وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا الْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَأَمْنًا وَاتَّخِذُوا مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى ۖ وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ
And [mention] when We made the House a place of return for the people and [a place of] security. And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer. And We charged Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], “Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer].” 2:125
Maqam Ibraheem is a place near the Kaaba where the Imam stands to lead the congregational prayer. By observing the actions of the Imam we can earn the complete method of Salat. Following the command of Allah: “..And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer..” we have to pray in the same method and at the same timings that is established at the Musalla at the Haram. Thus the method of Salat that is established inside the Kaaba, the number of Rakaat, the postures, the recitation, the timings, all are to be followed.
THE NUMBER OF RAKAAT
We have seen the Quranic command to take the place of Salat from Maqam Ibraheem. At the Musalla of Maqam Ibraheem, the Rakaat that are performed consist of: two for Fajar, four for Zuhr, Four for Asr, three for Maghrib and four for Isha. There are two Rakaats during Salat ul Jum’a. Funeral Prayer is also performed at Masjid-al-Haraam. Thus in line with the order of Allah, as believers we should perform our prayers exactly in the same method in our local mosques/homes.
THE TIMINGS OF SALAT
The Salat timings that are established at Masjid-al-Haraam are Fajar, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha. Tahajud is also prayed but it is Nafilah and the Tawaaf does not stop. Moreover that there are five prayers in the day is also established by the following verse:
وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ ۚ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ
And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night: For those things, that are good remove those that are evil: Be that the word of remembrance to those who remember (their Lord):
In the above verse the nominative masculine dual noun “tarafay” (at the two ends) and the accusative masculine plural indefinite noun “Zulafan” (approaches) clearly indicate that during Nahar (day) there are two prayers, while Layl (night) has three or more prayers (Arabic plurals refer to three or more). We also see a confirmation of these timings established at Masjid al Haraam, such that during day light there are two prayers (Zuhr) (Noon) and Asr (Afternoon), while night time has three prayers of Maghrib (Dusk), Isha (Night) and Fajr (Dawn). Thus the command to take the Musallah (place of Salat) from Maqam Ibraheem is also in confirmation of verse 11:114. We should follow the Salat at five times a day, which are two during day (zuhr and Asr and three during night (maghrib, Isha and Fajr.) The Qur’an also mentions a Nafl prayer called Tahhajud which is to be performed at Night. At Masjid al Haraam the Azaan for Tahajud is also given, but the Tawaf does not stop for a congregation. The congregational prayers which are obligatory are the five prayers. When they are happening, the tawaaf stops and prayer is performed. For Nafl (optional prayers) like Tahajud or Taraweeh or Witr Prayers during Ramadan, the tawaaf around the Kaaba does not stop, indicating that these are optional.
TAHARAH (PURIFICATION) IS A PREREQUISITE FOR SALAT
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ ۚ وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا ۚ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُم مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“O ye who believe! when ye prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; Rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles. If ye are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. But if ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands, Allah doth not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favour to you, that ye may be grateful.” 5:6
We can see in above verse that before performing Salat we need to be in a state of taharah (purification). This is attained by performing ablution by washing the face, arms to the elbows, performing masahaa (wiping) of the head and washing the feet to the ankles. In a state of Janaba (sexual emission) tahara has to be done. This is by bathing the whole body as mentioned in 8:11 (see below). Things which break the ablution are Safar (travel) Maraz (Sickness, vomitting etc), Al Ghaith (breaking wind, extretion/urination) Laamastum Nisaa (Sexual touch of women i.e. Sexual arousal). If any of these acts take place then ablution will have to be performed again. If one is in Junub (i.e. has sexual ejaculation) then the command “fa taharoo” purify yourself applies which is described by taking shower/bathing entire body in 8:11. However if water is not available or if one is travelling or is sick then “tayyamam” (dry ablution) can be done by rubbing against clean earth particles. Also see 4:43.
SALAT SHOULD NOT BE DONE DURING MENSES
We have seen in above verse that the Qur’an says that one of the conditions of Salat for believers is “Taharah” (Purification). It is mandatory that before one performs Salat he or she should be in a state of Tuhoor. For women, this means being in a state when they are not having monthly mensuration cycle, as the Qur’an says:
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْمَحِيضِ ۖ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًى فَاعْتَزِلُوا النِّسَاءَ فِي الْمَحِيضِ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ ۖ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ
“They ask thee concerning women’s courses. Say: They are a hurt and a pollution: So keep away from women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time, or place ordained for you by Allah. For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” 2:222
The above verse is clear in indicating that women are not having Taharah during monthly cycle. The verse mentions two states (1) “yathurna” (when they are pure) indicating the stage when mensural blood has stopped and (2) “ tatahharna” (When they have purified themselves) this is by taking a bath as stated in 8:11
إِذْ يُغَشِّيكُمُ النُّعَاسَ أَمَنَةً مِّنْهُ وَيُنَزِّلُ عَلَيْكُم مِّنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً لِّيُطَهِّرَكُم بِهِ وَيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمْ رِجْزَ الشَّيْطَانِ وَلِيَرْبِطَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتَ بِهِ الْأَقْدَامَ
“Remember He covered you with a sort of drowsiness, to give you calm as from Himself, and he caused rain to descend on you from heaven, to clean you therewith, to remove from you the stain of Satan, to strengthen your hearts, and to plant your feet firmly therewith.” 8:11
“..rain to descend on you from heaven, to clean you therewith..” shows shower/bathing entire body makes one tahir (purified/clean). When it is said that women are to purify themselves after their monthly courses: “..But when they have purified themselves..” then it is by taking a shower/bath. Thus it can be inferred from above verses that believing women should not perform Salat during mensuration. Once mensuration is finished, then they should take a shower/bath, and then it is permissible for them to perform Salat.
IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE QURANIC RECITATION DURING SALAT
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلَا جُنُبًا إِلَّا عَابِرِي سَبِيلٍ حَتَّىٰ تَغْتَسِلُوا ۚ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَفُوًّا غَفُورًا
“O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say,- nor in a state of ceremonial impurity (Except when travelling on the road), until after washing your whole body. If ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands. For Allah doth blot out sins and forgive again and again.” 4:43
The command “..Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say.” makes it mandatory on us to understand the meaning of the words of Salat we recite.
PRAYING IN NON-ARABIC LANGUAGES
Salat is to be performed according to the command of Allah i.e. He commands believers to take the Musallah from Maqam Ibrahim near the Kaaba. In accordance with this command we should pray in the language that is the medium at that place i.e. the Arabic language. Salat in non Arabic language is not valid because by doing that (a) we are not following the command of Allah of taking our Salat from Maqam Ibraheem and (b) we are not reciting the actual words that were revealed by Allah which were Arabic words and not non Arabic words. Thus we should familiarise ourselves with the meanings of those Arabic words that we recite in Salat. Also if one were to pray in a language other than Arabic then they cannot lead in prayer those people who do not follow that language. Imagine an Imam reciting words in Turkish, will non Turks be able to join his congregation? As Islam is an international Deen it has one uniform language of the Qur’an, whose standard is to be followed by everyone. We have to understand the Qur’an in its original and recite it in Salat in its original language. Translations do not replace the original.
According to the Qur’an, what is a believing woman’s dress code? If a woman wears a head scarf then does she violate any command of Allah, as certain modern-day Quran cults allege?
A believing women’s dress code is mentioned in two verses of the Qur’an. In Surat Al Ahzaab 33:59 and in Surat An-Noor 24:31. In Al Ahzaab, Allah says:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” 33:59 Pickthall
Whereas in Surat An-Noor, Allah says:
وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا ۖ وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّ ۖ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَىٰ عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ ۖ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ ۚ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.” 24:31 Pickthall
The orders pertaining related to the type of garments to wear and the parts of a woman’s body that are to be covered / uncovered are highlighted as follows:
1- Wear Jilbaab
As per the order “..draw their cloaks [ARABIC: JALABEEB, plural of JALABIYYA, JILBAAB] close round them..” 33:59 believing women should wear Jilbaab i.e. a cloak, a gown, which is a loose and long outer garment worn over Kamees that covers entire body and hides the figure and exposes only the head, hands and feet). This type of over garment is also known by the term Abaya.
2- Expose only those parts that the Jilbaab exposes
As per the order “..and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent..” they should uncover only those body parts that are exposed when they observe the order to “..draw their cloaks close round them..” i.e. the head, hands and feet. The rest of the body / figure should not be exposed.
3- Cover the neckline / chest with the Khimaar
As per the order “..and to draw their veils [ARABIC: KHUMUR] over their bosoms…” their Khimaar i.e. scarf or any other covering should cover the region below the neckline and chest area (Juyub) and this part of the body should not be exposed.
The word Khumur in the above verse is plural form of Khimaar which literally means ‘covering’, not specifically head covering but any kind of covering. A headscarf worn by women, as well as men is also called a Khimaar. The order in the verse is not to wear the Khimaar per se but to cover the chest-region with it, as the Khimaar was worn prior to Quranic revelation and is a neccesary dress of people dwelling in Hijaz region owing to extreme heat. The verse shows that women were already wearing the Khimaar, and the order specified that they are to cover the chest with it. Hence if a woman wears a head scarf and she extends it over her neckline in accordance with the commandment in the verse, she has fulfilled the order of Allah.
Jesus Christ is a Messenger of God whose personality is surrounded in controversy. Three world religions hold varying opinions about his person and his birth. On one extreme are some Jews who allege that Mary had produced a child outside of wedlock, while on another are those among Christians who claim that since Jesus did not have a father, his father is God. The Qur’an sets the record straight regarding such claims, and while defending the chastity of Mary, it identifies that Jesus was created and not procreated by God. Hence the mainstream Islamic view based on the narratives of the Qur’an is that Jesus was born miraculously by the will and power of God and that he is neither the son of God, nor the son of man. Along with defending Mary from human and divine fatherhood for Jesus, the Qur’an also refutes those individuals who in recent times have forwarded some theories negating the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus. One popular view forwarded by such individuals is that Mary was a Hermaphrodite who gave birth to Jesus through some process of self impregnation. This wild and bizarre notion is contrary to the clear cut statements of the Qur’an, as is the view that Jesus had a biological father. Here we demonstrate the origin of this heretical belief and how it goes against some very plain facts of the Qur’an.
Writing under the title “Immaculate Conception”, in the April 2004 issue of “Review of Religions”, an Ahmadiyya publication, the author, Moosa Qureshi LLB, while attributing the theory of Hermaphroditism to Maryam, states:
“Nevertheless, the Qur’an does intimate the explanation to the miracle of Jesus (as)’s conception in another enigmatic verse, hitherto perplexing to Muslim scholars: Remember when a woman of Imran said, ‘My Lord, I have vowed to Thee what is in my womb to be dedicated to Thy service. So do Thou accept it of me. Verily, Thou alone art All-Hearing, All-Knowing’. But when she was delivered of it, she said, ‘My Lord, I am delivered of a female,’ – and Allah knew best what she delivered and the male was not like the female – ‘and I have named her Mary, and I commit her and her off-spring to Thy protection from Satan the rejected’. (Ch.3:Vs.36-37). Puzzlingly, Allah does not confirm that the woman of Imran did indeed give birth to a female when she was delivered of Mary(ra). How should we interpret the enigmatic words – and the male was not like the female?”
By alluding to a mere word or two from Quran 3:36-37, the author attempts to build a mountain out of a molehill by concluding that Mary gave birth to Jesus without a father because she was a Hermaphrodite:
“..more convincingly, the mechanism of true hermaphroditism may explain the virgin birth of Jesus(as). This is a congenital condition where external genitalia and internal sex organs have both male and female characteristics. Both ovarian and testicular reproductive tissue is found in a true hermaphrodite, a quality that is still poorly understood. In 1990, a true hermaphrodite rabbit was found to conceive when kept in isolation in laboratory conditions (7). The tenability of autoreproduction in human hermaphrodites has also been affirmed: ‘If it is indeed true that in some (human) hermaphrodites auto-reproduction could be possible with medical intervention, another question may be asked: “Is it possible that such auto-reproduction could, with the greatest rarity, occur without such an intervention?” Indications exist in the mythology of various cultures which mention hermaphroditic reproduction, and there are references to virgin birth in the historical documents of several different societies.’(8) The Qur’an may indeed refer to such a biological condition of a true hermaphrodite when we read, ‘Allah knew best of what she was delivered and the male was not like the female’ (Ch.3:V.37). It is characteristic of the propriety and tactful beauty of the Qur’anic diction, that Allah should thus describe the hypothesised hermaphrodite quality in Mary (ra)…”
Thus according to the aforementioned Ahmadi interpretation, the mechanism of true hermaphroditism explains the virgin birth of Jesus. The view that Allah does not confirm that the woman of Imran did indeed give birth to a female when she was delivered of Mary is also grossly in error, once we explore all the narratives in the Qur’an concerning the subject. When we study the Qur’an it is crystal clear that Mary was not a hermaphodite.
Very simply, Allah does not term Mary as a Hermaphrodite or a creature of that sort within the Arabic text of the Qur’an. This is a plain fact. In Arabic the word “Mukhanas” is usually used for Hermaphrodites, and it is a fact that this term or any term close to it does not occur anywhere in the Qur’an. Thus the statement “Mary is a Hermaphrodite” is not a Qur’anic statement.
It is a grossly misleading to suggest that Allah does not confirm the gender of Maryam. The clear cut evidence of the Qur’an is that she is not dual sex but of the female sex. Throughout the Qur’an, wherever Mary is addressed, feminine pronouns are used which identify her as a female through and through.
يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ
“O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer].” 3:43
According to Arabic grammar, in the above verse “oqnutee” (be devoutly obedient) is a 2nd person feminine singular imperative verb, “lirabbiki” (to your Lord) is 2nd person feminine singular possessive pronoun, “wasjudee” (and prostrate) and “warkaAAee” (and bow) are both 2nd person feminine singular imperative verbs with feminine subject pronouns. Thus it is clear that this language identifies Mary as a female. It is evident that wherever Mary is mentioned and addressed in the Qur’an, she is always identified grammatically as a female and never as “dual sex”, thus refuting the view that Allah does not confirm her gender. It should also be noted that in the Qur’an Mary has been called “Bint” (Daughter), “Ukht” (Sister) and “Umm” (Mother) leaving no room for doubt as to her gender.
وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ
“And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” 3:42
In the above verse we can clearly see the words “..purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” which establish that Mary was of the female gender and not dual sex / hermaphrodite. She was chosen above “Nisaa al Alameen” (Women of all worlds) not above the world’s hermaphrodites!
قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ
She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. 3:47
A hermaphrodite who is capable of self impregnation would never ask the question “..how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” because from someone who possess male and female reproductive organs and is capable of self impregnation such a question is invalid! Very clearly we see evidence in this verse of Mary being someone requiring a person other than herself for her conception, thus proving that she is not a hermaphrodite.
Proponents of the hermaphrodite theory allude to the word “Nabataa” in 3:38 and draw parallels between Mary and asexual plant organisms who also “grow” to their state.
فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا ۖ كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقًا ۖ قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَٰذَا ۖ قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow [ARABIC: ANBATAA] in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, “O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?” She said, “It is from Allah . Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.” 3:37
This allusion is once again devoid of substance because the word “Nabataa” is not restricted for Maryam but also used for entire humanity:
وَاللَّهُ أَنبَتَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ نَبَاتًا
And Allah has caused you to grow [ARABIC: ANBATAKUM] from the earth a [progressive] growth [ARABIC NABATAA]. 71:17
In the above verse, the same word “Nabataa” is used for entire humanity. Does it mean entire human race consists of hermaphrodites?! This certainly is not the case. Mary is no asexual plant because of the word “Nabataa”, because the same word has been used in the Qur’an for all humanity as well.
In Surat Aal-e-Imraan we can see that the angels gave the good news of the birth of a child, while in Surat Maryam, we see that an angel was sent in the form of a human messenger to grant her the child which she conceived:
قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَنَا رَسُولُ رَبِّكِ لِأَهَبَ لَكِ غُلَامًا زَكِيًّا
He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you a pure boy.” 19:19
If indeed Mary was a hermaphrodite, then she would have been capable of self impregnation and two events mentioned in the Qur’an would not be necessary requiring the information of conception of Jesus and the second being the gift of conception. These two events delivered through the agency of angels make it clear that Mary was not a hermaphrodite capable of internal self impregnation but a woman who was to conceive externally. She did conceive Jesus externally, and that was by the will of Allah and through the agency of angels.
If indeed Mary was dual sex, possessing both ovarian and testicular reproductive organs, as is erroneously alleged, then such a feature would make her not only the mother, but also the father of Jesus – however we see in the Qur’an that Jesus addresses Mary only as his mother, and never as his father.
وَبَرًّا بِوَالِدَتِي وَلَمْ يَجْعَلْنِي جَبَّارًا شَقِيًّا
“(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;” 19:32
وَإِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَٰهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ
“And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” 5:116
Thus as Jesus addresses Mary as ‘Ummy’ i.e. “My mother”, and never as ‘Abi’ or “my father” and she is mentioned as his “Walida”, the biological mother who gave birth to him, and never as his “walid” or father, therefore the view that she was a dual sex, hermaphrodite possessing motherly and fatherly features is not consistent with the Qur’an.
How will Jesus be born? The Qur’an does not say through a hermaphrodite birth but by the will of Allah:
قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ
“..[The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” 3:47
The answer is very clear. It is Allah who will create Jesus as per His will. When Allah decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. This is how Jesus was conceived. Note how clear the verse is. Allah does not say that Mary will conceive Jesus as a hermaphrodite. No such suggestion is given. The simple and clear cut statement is that Jesus was conceived by the will and order of Allah. This Quranic statement should be the imaan of every Muslim.
وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ
And Maryam (Mary) daughter of Imran, who kept safe her private parts, (i.e., safeguarded) so We breathed in it of Our Spirit, and she sincerely (believed) in the Words of her Lord, and His Books; and she was one of the devout. 66:12 (Dr Ghali)
Like the above Egyptian translator Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali’s translation, many other translators render the masculine pronoun “fihi” literally “in him” to refer to the preceding word “FarjahAA” i.e “her private parts”, while Muhammad Asad, renders it as “We breathed of Our Spirit to that [which was in her womb]..” both these renderings, indicate that in this passage the masculine pronoun refers to the unborn child conceived by Mary.
“And We have propounded yet another parable for God-consciousness] in the story of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], and who accepted the truth of her Sustainer’s words – and [thus] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout.” 66:12, Muhammad Asad
Asad comments further on the expression whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], “into the as yet unborn child (Razi, thus explaining the pronoun fihi)..”
Thus the spirit which was breathed into Mary in 21:91: “whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit..” was ultimately for her unborn male child, “..whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb]..” in 66:12.
Numerous other verses of the Qur’an also corroborate the understanding that when God breathed of His spirit into Mary, then it was also received by [the masculine] Jesus who was conceived within the [feminine] Mary:
وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ۗ
“..We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit…” 2:87
ۚ وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ۗ
“..to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit…” 2:253
ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ ۖ
“..Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him..” 4:171
The above verses clarify that Jesus was strengthened by the holy spirit, and it proceeded from him, thus the expression “fanafakhna feehi min roohina” (so we breathed into him of our spirit) in 66:12 refers to the breathing of spirit into the male Jesus.
Moreover that “feehi” does not refer to Mary is also obvious by the fact that in the verse the words that refer to Mary are all feminine. E.g. “allatee” (she) “ahsanatfarjaha” (she guarded her private parts), “saddaqat” (she proved true), ”rabbiha” (her Lord), ”kanat” (she was). Throughout the Qur’an Mary is identified as a female.
Just like Adam was created by order of Allah without a male father similarly, Jesus was created by Allah without a male father – clarifies that Mary is not a hermaphrodite.
إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ
“The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be”. And he was.” 3:59
Adam was created by the command “Be”. And he was.”, similarly about Jesus we read:
قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ
She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is! 3:47
Thus both Adam and Jesus were both created by the will of Allah and His command “Kun Fayakun” i.e. “Be, and it is!”, and not through a hermaphrodite parent.
When the news of birth of Yahya (John) was given to Zakaria (Zecharias), he posed the question:
قَالَ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَكَانَتِ امْرَأَتِي عَاقِرًا وَقَدْ بَلَغْتُ مِنَ الْكِبَرِ عِتِيًّا
He said, “My Lord, how will I have a boy when my wife has been barren and I have reached extreme old age?” 19:8
To which the reply was given:
قَالَ كَذَٰلِكَ قَالَ رَبُّكَ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ وَقَدْ خَلَقْتُكَ مِن قَبْلُ وَلَمْ تَكُ شَيْئًا
[An angel] said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, for I created you before, while you were nothing.’ 19:9
When Mary was informed of the birth of Jesus, she posed a question on similar lines and the same answer that was given to Zakaria was repeated to her:
قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ قَالَ رَبُّكِ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ ۖ وَلِنَجْعَلَهُ آيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَرَحْمَةً مِّنَّا ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرًا مَّقْضِيًّا
How did Jesus come into the world? The Qur’an is crystal clear without citing any biological process involved: “..your Lord says, It is easy for Me.” This should be our Imaan. Allah is all powerful. He is capable of doing what He wills. It is easy for Allah to cause a birth without a father. We should have Imaan on this without speculating theories.
فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَىٰ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالْأُنثَىٰ ۖ وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وَإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah ].” 3:36 Saheeh International
Translations such as the one cited by the author of the article in “Review of Religions” along with Yusuf Ali, Pickthall and Shakir are inaccurate in their English rendering of the expression “Falamma wadaAAat-ha” in verse 3:36, and due to this inaccuracy, the wrong conclusion that Mary’s gender was not confirmed in the verse is reached. E.g.
“But when she was delivered of it, she said..” Cited by Moosa Qureshi
“And when she was delivered she said..” Pickthall
“When she was delivered, she said..” Yusuf Ali
“So when she brought forth, she said..” M. H. Shakir
We can note that it is not apparent in the above translations as to the gender of the child delivered by the wife of Imran. However once the expression “Falamma wadaAAat-ha” is translated correctly it is clear that the child she delivered was a female child, and this is being confirmed by Allah as the narrator of the expression is Allah in the Qur’an. It is in Saheeh International’s English translation by Umm Muhammad, Aminah Assami that the expression is accurately rendered:
“But when she delivered her, she said..” Saheeh International
Muhsin Khan also translated the pronoun “Haa” accurately as “her” in his translation:
“Then when she delivered her [child Maryam (Mary)], she said…”
Thus the assertion that in verse 3:36, Allah did not confirm the gender of Mary is wrong, as it is Allah Himself who has stated that the wife of Imran had given birth to a female child. It was against the wonderment of Mary’s mother for giving birth to a female and not a male child that Allah said: “And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered..”. In the preceding verse 3:35, we read that Mary’s mother had made a vow to dedicate her unborn child to Allah, expecting a male child, as tasks devoted to those in the cause of Allah such as leading prayers, or receiving prophecy and preaching were reserved for males and not females, she expressed how would her vow would be fulfilled now that the child she had given birth to was female and not male. It was at this that she was informed that Allah knew better what she had delivered indicating that even a female can be dedicated to Allah, and not necessarily a male. We read in later verses that her vow was accepted and Mary grew up to be a righteous woman and a mother of a Prophet, thus she was dedicated to Allah as a female in her own right. The narration also gives us a lesson that in the sight of Allah, gender does not matter. Whether male or female, Allah can select either for his work.
It can be concluded from the inflection of the Qur’an:
1. The Qur’an does not use any word which carries the meaning of “Hermaphrodite” for Mary. The statement “Mary is a hermaphprodite” is not to be found in the Qur’an in the original Arabic.
2. Wherever she is mentioned in the Qur’an, she is addressed in feminine gender and never as masculine or dual gender.
3. Feminine pronouns are used for her in accordance with Arabic grammar, thereby making it clear that she is a female.
4. The Qur’an narrates that she was chosen above the “women” of all nations, further confirming she was a woman and not a hermaphrodite.
5. Her question about how she can have a son when no man has touched her indicates she was a woman and not possessing male and female reproductive organs.
6. The word “Nabataa” (growth) in 3:37 does not imply asexual features for Mary because the same term is used for other people as well and because of the fact that Qur’an has overwhelming evidence about Mary’s womanhood.
7. Jesus always addresses her as his mother and never as his father, thereby confirming that she did not have a fatherly biological function.
8. Jesus was conceived by Mary by the will of Allah and through the external agency of Malaika and not through auto-reproduction.
9. It is false to suggest that in 3:36 Allah does not confirm the gender of Mary. In the beginning of the very verse, Allah identifies her feminine gender when He says “So when she delivered HER..”. The pronoun “Her” in this statement of Allah confirms that the child was a female.
Indeed, Allah has purified Mary, she has been purified of all sorts of false allegations that people have subjected her to, whether such allegations be of producing an illegitimate child, a child begotten of God, or the suggestion that she was a hermaphrodite Whenever Qur’anic evidence shall be brought to light about Mary, the fact that Allah has chosen and purified her above women of all the worlds will be manifest to all.
1. The Review of Religions, April 2004, Vol. 99, Number 4, London, UK
2. Quranic Arabic Corpus – www.corpus.quran.com
3. English Translation of the Qur’an by Umm Muhammad Aminah Assami, Published by Saheeh International, Abul Qasim Publishing, Saudi Arabia
4. English Translation of the Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Shaikh Ashraf Publishers, Lahore, Pakistan
5. English Translation of the Qur’an by Mohammad Mahmoud Ghali, Cairo, Egypt
6. Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Dar Al Andalus, Gibraltar
We often come across people who curiously ask us: “Where is God?” The problem with such an approach is that though they are asking the right question, it is misdirected. Why ask the creation to tell you about the Supreme Creator? Can’t God speak for Himself? If He is really there, then He is quite capable of communicating with His creation. So instead of asking self proclaimed middle-men about God, you owe it to yourself to get a direct appointment. God can answer you Himself in a manner that is specific to you.
People think that God is somewhere very distant, but the Qur’an teaches that He is very near:
“And when My servants ask you concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” (2:186)
In fact He is nearer to us than our jugular vein:
“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein. ” (50:16)
If the words of God spoken in the first person in the Qur’an: “I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me…” are true, and if God is really that close to us that He knows our inner most thoughts, then then it follows that you should address God directly for a sign or guidance. If He is really there, then He will show you the proofs about His existence.
So instead of asking intermediaries about God, for a change why not ask God directly, one on one? If you are serious, then all you have to do is ask.
Why not try it now, and see for yourself, at this very moment in time. Ask God for His guidance and see if you receive a sign in your life. Just repeat the words of the prayer below and see what happens:
“It is You we serve and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path!” (1:5-6)
Well, I knew that some of this blog was getting hard to follow – for example the discussion about how many days it took to create the world – but it was Zia’s reference to “complaining athletics” which had me completely stumped.
I read and re-read his paragraph, thinking what on earth have I been missing here. Athletics in the Qur’an. And then I realised it was a typo. Phew. But it was a serious point and one I will ponder because it hit something very raw in me. I have no problem at all with people who are very critical of belief but I find certain types of derision and ridicule very upsetting. I’m not talking about Jerry Springer style entertainment; to me, there’s a choice involved and I would probably not choose to see it. Neither, have I lost my sense of humour, I find the gentle wry commentary on Christ’s life by Monty Python wonderfully entertaining. But there is a combination of arrogance, certainty and ridicule which makes my blood boil. It makes me very angry.
So I found Zia’s definition of kufr as those who “consistently and perpetually deride those communities who believe in God” useful. However, I am still not sure that my reaction of such intense anger is appropriate or quite why I feel it so intensely so I would be interested in people’s comments and I will continue to think it over. My hunch is that my reaction is rooted in having met many, many very humble believers whose lives have been sustained and inspired by their faith in a myriad of small ways; mocking how they have made sense of their lives is a form of cruelty and intolerance – and one we see increasingly with the New Atheism riding an extraordinarily successful wave of popularity.
Moving on, I was very glad jammyfool picked up on DPavett’s point that “secular states show that you can live without religion”. Jammyfool is right that DPavett is just too fast in that assessment; we still don’t know. Like jammyfool, I think we are still living off a Christian legacy in western Europe; I’m struck by the fact that people with a strong social conscience (not, of course, all of them) often are the offspring of deeply religious parents. They have absorbed an ethical system and while they may have stripped out belief, much of it has persisted in the way they live their lives.
What is also interesting (in what is I admit a highly anecdotal, personal survey) that that post Christian generation have not always been very successful in transmitting their ethical framework to their children. So you could argue that the post Christian legacy is slowly fading, and concepts such as self-sacrifice are likely to just become increasingly incomprehensible. When I interviewed Robert Putnam, the US social scientist, he admitted he ponders the same question. His interest is how religion generates social capital, and he just can’t predict whether social capital will develop new mechanisms for self reproduction once religion is stripped out.
Finally, I thought Zia answered my points about fatalism really well. I very much enjoyed his explanation of how “fortitude and endurance derived from faith becomes an active, hopeful and liberating aid”. He seems to explain with great subtlety that tension between accepting fate and freeing oneself from it and how faith can be the “middle way” between the two (I agree with the blogger who points out that the similarity with Buddhism’s emphasis on the Middle Path is striking).
And I found fascinating Zia’s next point that it is exactly this type of relationship between otherwise quite distinct attributes which is key. For example, he writes virtue and pursuit of knowledge need to be linked, and concludes with a wonderful saying, “Pray and tie your camel.” That really left me puzzled, surely it should be the other way round.. won’t the camel wander while he prays?
Ms Bunting states:
“So I found Zia’s definition of kufr as those who “consistently and perpetually deride those communities who believe in God” useful. However, I am still not sure that my reaction of such intense anger is appropriate or quite why I feel it so intensely so I would be interested in people’s comments and I will continue to think it over.”
“Kufr” (rejection, concealment, covering up) is derived the triliteral root Ka-Fa-Ra which means “he became a rejector of, or a denier of”.
The term “Kufr” or “Rejection” in its various derivative forms in Qur’anic usage is in its generic sense, and wherever the word occurs, it does not imply or refer to “Non Muslims”.
E.g Prophet Abraham and his companions say in 60:4 that they have “rejected” the belief of their persecuters (Kafarna – Bikum). Similarly, in (26:19) the Pharoah, called Moses a “Kaafir” i.e. rejector, as Moses had rejected the belief system of his.
So as Abraham’s followers who are believers say that they reject polytheism and the word “Kafar” is used for that act of theirs and as Moses who is a believer and a Prophet had committed “Kufr” of the tyranny of the Pharoah, this demonstrates that “Kafir”, “Kufr” etc are not terms synonymous with “Non Muslims”, but are *acts* and *actions* by human beings.
Believers in the Qur’an are “Kaafirs” i.e. rejectors of idealogies opposing the Qur’an. Similarly those who uphold such ideologies, when they are faced with the Qur’anic message, and they consciously reject it, then they become “Kaafirs” of the Qur’an.
It is very common nowadays for some people to label all non Muslims as “Kaafir”. Not only is this grammatically wrong, this view is not supported by the Qur’an itself.
Somebody who has never heard about the Qur’anic message, is not conscious of its teachings is not a “Kaafir”, but in Qur’anic terminology a “Jaahil” (ignorant of the message) or a “Ghaafil” (unaware of the message) person.
For to qualify for “Kufr”, one needs to be clear about and be consciously aware of the message first. When the message has not even reached somebody, then he or she cannot be called a “rejector” or an “acceptor” of that message. It is only when one has *knowledge* of the message – that he or she qualifies for acceptance or rejection.
The Qur’an repeatedly says that people: “…reject the truth AFTER it was made clear to them….” (c.f. 2:109, 47:25 etc)
When the Qur’an uses the term “Kaafir” to those who reject the Qur’an itself, then it also qualifies their traits further that they do this, when the message is clear to them, and they don’t just stop at merely rejecting the message, BUT ALSO actively oppose people from it as well (c.f. 47:1), and if that is not enough, they also PERSECUTE those who uphold the message (33:58) , and cause them mental, physical as well as material injury (63:7-8).
It is on the basis of this intolerant behaviour and persecution that such are condemned. Cross referencing verses related to “Kaafir”, “Kufr” and analysing the behaviour pattern inherent in it makes this abundantly clear and clears the misconception that the Qur’an is intolerant towards or condemns people of all faiths.
It is a consistent theme of the Qur’an, that before holding any community accountable, the Divine message is first and foremost delivered to its people – and it is THEN that retribution comes in case of rejection and immorality and NEVER before hand. God of the Qur’an is not an unjust God, who holds people responsible for not observing a law, when people do not even now what that law is all about!
(6:131) “And so it is that thy Sustainer would never destroy a community’ for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware.”
The Qur’an very clearly states that those people who were weak on earth and for some reason were not able to receive the message, e.g. many are mentally handicapped, and not have the faculties to comprehend the Qur’an, or young children who die before reaching an age of consent or those resding in such localities were the message has not reached them – such people will not be held accountable by God.
(4: 98) But excepted shall be the truly helpless – be they men or women or children – who cannot bring forth any strength and have not been shown the right way:
(4: 99) as for them, God may well efface their sin – for God is indeed an absolver of sins, much-forgiving.
That “Kaafir” is a person who actively knows the message and then consciously rejects it, should also explain those passages where it is said that God has set a seal on their hearts. Many people misunderstand this (because they do not cross reference themes and passages, but are selective in their reading) to mean as if non believers or non Muslims have their hearts sealed by God – this is not so.
God is not acting arbitrarily and without reason in the Qur’an. Whenever certain people are condemned IT IS ALWAYS ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR BEHAVIOUR that this condemnation is narrated.
We see in the Qur’an that human choices and actions COME FIRST, and based on those choices and an ACT OF GOD occurs. Because people consciously reject the message, and choose to persistently behave in an immoral way, that is why a consequence of their repeated wrongdoing is sealing of their hearts, and it is not the case that their fate was sealed by God beforehand.
The type of actions we do in life, that type of results we get. Actions come first, results afterwards.
And we have the free will to choose whatever actions we want in life, says the Qur’an.
(18:29) And say: “The truth [has now come] from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it.”
MADELEINE BUNTING: I’m feeling a bit like a groupie. I watch the film, I write a blog, I chair a debate at the IslamExpo event last weekend: all on the Qur’an.
I thought the Channel 4 documentary, The Qur’an, was television at its old-fashioned best: meticulously balanced, profoundly thought provoking and beautifully filmed. The shots and commentary of the sharia court in Palestine was a wonderful way to subvert the anxiety and hysteria on the issue in the UK. The crowded shabby office and its handling of routine matters of family life illustrated how a lot of sharia in some countries is pretty mundane. No hand-chopping in sight.
But nor did the documentary avoid the really awful expressions of Islam which are chilling. The learned scholar who told us that more women should be genitally mutilated in the west so that there is less promiscuity. And there was footage of a terrified girl having the operation itself. It just is not enough for Ajmal Masroor in his otherwise very sensible and shrewd comments to conclude that genital mutilation is an African custom (he is, of course, not African).
Masroor’s comment provoked an issue which has been troubling me for a while. Every time something problematic crops up – such as genital mutilation or honour killing – Muslims have a tendency to dismiss it as non-Islamic and “cultural” or pre-Islamic. But my question is: many of these countries have experienced Islam for a millennium, how come the faith has failed to eradicate these brutal cultural traditions? Islam, we are told, gives women remarkable rights, but the reality is that across the Muslim world, women don’t experience precisely these rights. Why has Islam made such a bad job of eradicating that pre-Islamic past?
Now, on to the debate. Unlike many of the other sessions at IslamExpo, this was a very learned debate about spiritual faith, not about politics or power and foreign policy. The Guardian-sponsored debate was entitled “How to understand the Qur’an?” What was remarkable is how the vast hall was almost full – more than 1,000 people – to hear Tariq Ramadan, Sarah Joseph and Professor Abdel Haleem join Zia Sardar to discuss how people should read the Qur’an.
It is Professor Haleem’s translation that I am using so it was good to meet the great man himself. His message was clear: make sure you have the right translation. It was a point also made again and again in the television documentary. Some Saudi translations specify real intolerance for Islam and Judaism in a way unsupported by older translations and many other contemporary ones.
But it was Ramadan’s approach to the Qur’an which really helped clarify a few things. I will be offering only a rough paraphrase but Ramadan’s analysis broke down into three components. First, he said the Qur’an is a call. It is an invitation to a dialogue. Come, it is saying.
Second, it offers stories of the Qur’an and you project onto these stories your own experiences of life. It is your own emotional history and understanding which brings these stories to life – so it amounts to another form of dialogue.
Finally, it describes the way – the rules for life and society. But be wary, said Ramadan of making these up on your own. These require a lot of knowledge; they require caution and time and must be worked out collectively amongst those learned and skilled in such things.
So Ramadan seemed to offer a way of accommodating a very democratic – everyone read this book – approach with an emphasis on tradition in its interpretation of the rules by which people and societies should order their lives. These are issues we have looked at repeatedly in the last six months: who has the authority to interpet the Qur’an? Here was a complex answer: all believers can enter the dialogue, but the “way” is collective, a pooling of knowledge. Not the individual making it up as they go along.
Ms Bunting stated:
“…. But my question is: many of these countries have experienced Islam for a millennium, how come the faith has failed to eradicate these brutal cultural traditions?”
That these societies have experienced Islam (the true religion based on the Qur’an) is an assumption. One experiences Islam, not through cultural osmosis or by inherting the faith from ancestors, but through personal effort (see 29:69), thought and reflection (47:24), a personal study of the Qur’an (54:17)and a life of action based on its inspiration (6:19).
This is stated in not one, but numerous Qur’anic verses, and it is by passing through this very process that one truly experiences Islam. One is not a Muslim merely by being born or brought up in a community that labels itself as Islamic, but one attains the status of a Submitter (a Muslim) through conscious and willing submission to the Qur’an and a life of action based on its teachings (see 2:128).
Ms Bunting says that many of these countries have experienced Islam, but she didn’t identify which “Islam” have they experienced, or whether what these countries have experienced throughout these centuries really is Islam, or is something very different but using the label of Islam to justify itself.
When she really is able to prove that the socieites she is critical of have experienced Islam based on the Qur’an for a millenium and not an adulterated form of the faith, and yet remain unchanged, then her question would be valid. However, as she falls short of proving that these societies are truly Islamic i.e. based on Qur’an as supreme law and social order, her question ” how come the faith has failed to eradicate these brutal cultural traditions?” is out of mark.
Ms Bunting observed:
“So Ramadan seemed to offer a way of accommodating a very democratic – everyone read this book – approach with an emphasis on tradition in its interpretation …”
Did Ramadan cite any Qur’anic verses as evidence to back up his view or is this his personal opinion?
Does the Book say anywhere within its contents that it is in need of tradition for its interpretation? A book that claims perfection in need of material agreed upon as inconsistent by all? Ramadan’s offer of “…everyone read this book – approach with an emphasis on tradition in its interpretation..” is not at all democratic and accomodating because there is not single body of tradition which is common to all schools of thoughts, and if one chooses a particular version, imeediately he or she is at loggerheads with the version of the opposing sect. Not only that, tradition fails to amplify each and every verses of the Qur’an, for if that were the case, the commentators of numerous sects and scholls of thoughts would not have written their huge volumes of Qur’anic exegesis but would have found the tradition as a sufficient source of Qur’anic commentary.
The fact of the matter is that the Qur’an is not in need of either the tradition or the Judeo Christian texts for its exegesis, and I would turn the tables and put these texts BELOW the Qur’an and keep these AS SUBORDINATE to what Qur’an says. We have to study the Qur’an in the light of the Qur’an itself, and tradition/bible should be subjected to that Qur’anic understanding. If it is consistent to the Qur’an then we can accept it, but if it is not, then we reject the tradition and accept the Qur’an.
The Qur’an comes first and acts as its own commentary. No other book is an aid to or is equal to the Qur’an.
As a Muslim, I would consider the view that God’s book is in need of man’s book for its explanation otherwise it is redundant, to be blasphemy of the higest order.
Ms Bunting stresses:
“These are issues we have looked at repeatedly in the last six months: who has the authority to interpet the Qur’an? Here was a complex answer: all believers can enter the dialogue, but the “way” is collective, a pooling of knowledge. Not the individual making it up as they go along.”
Does the Book mention Who is its Teacher? Yes. It very well does:
“(God) Most Gracious. It is HE who teaches the Qur’an.” 55:1-2
“Nay! It is FOR US to explain it (the Qur’an).” 75:19
“Surely, it is UPON US to guide” 92:12
It is very clear in above and many other verses that GOD IS THE TEACHER of the Qur’an and ONLY HE has the authority to reveal and inspire it to whom HE wills.
People like Ramadan should be asked: Where exactly have you read within the pages of the Book that a committee of ‘specialists’ and ‘experts’ should pool knowledge and claim to be the authorities to interpret the text??
The Qur’an is meant for NAAS which is the Arabic word for HUMANKIND. And humanity is an all inclusive term and encompasses ALL and leaves NONE.
“Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, as GUIDANCE FOR HUMANKIND…” (2:185)
Every human being, whether black or white, rich or poor, scholar or layman, man or woman can understand, be inspired by and practice the Qur’an, but ONLY if he or she wants to.
What was very clear – and it was a relief to feel I understood something – was verse 62: Muslims, Jews, Christians – all will have their rewards from God. Even a monotheistic sect, the Sabians, would have rewards from God. What all these believers must do is believe in God, the last day and do good. This is a statement of religious tolerance which is more far reaching than anything you will find in the Bible, and very impressive; I begin to understand why Karen Armstrong maintains that the great strength of Islam is its recognition of plurality and tolerance of other religions. It’s a point which sadly is often obscured today; perhaps you can reflect here about the relationship between Muslims and Jews?
Also, I find some of the detail about parts of the cow striking a body to bring it to life (verse 73) pretty strange. In its time, it would perhaps have made sense but what are we to make of such references now?
Ms Bunting stated:
“…What was very clear – and it was a relief to feel I understood something – was verse 62: Muslims, Jews, Christians – all will have their rewards from God….. What all these believers must do is believe in God, the last day and do good…”
When the Qur’an stresses reward for belief in God (Allah), then it is belief in the Qur’anic God that is required, and not belief in the concepts or attributes concerning God that prevail in other Scriptures / faiths that will provide salvation.
This is so because reading in later passages one discovers that the Qur’an corrects Judeo/Christian attributions to God, and admonishes those who maintain such beliefs.
Exodus 31:17 vs Qur’an 50:38
Isiah 20:2-3 vs Qur’an 7:28
Judges 1:19 vs Qur’an 3:47
Genesis 21:1-2 vs Qur’an 6:102
In 1 John 5:7 God is one in three in a trinity, and belief in the trinity is widespread in Christiandom, specially the Catholic Church. In contrast the Qur’an in 5:76 as well as many other passages is strict in emphasising the oneness of God and refutes the notion that He is part of a trinity, and even warns those who believe in the trinity of dire consequences of maintaining this belief.
It is wrong to conclude from an isolated reading of 2:62 that acc. to Qur’an any Christian / Jew etc can attain salvation just because he/she believes in God as per his/her own scriptural depiction of God, but what is required of him / her is a correction of belief and acceptance of Qur’anic position regarding God. Acc. to Qur’an, God is not a trinity (see 4:171), He does not beget children (112:3), Jesus is not co-equal to God, but is subservient to Him, and was neither killed not crucified (see 4:157, 5:72).
How can it be said that the Qur’an assures salvation for a Christian who maintains beliefs that the Qur’an refutes and admonishes about? Cross referencing of verses reveals that if a christian abandons such traditional christian beliefs and accepts the Qur’anic viewpoint, it is then that he/she will have reward in the hereafter, and not otherwise. That is why we find in a later verse:
“If then they believe AS YOU (i.e. Qur’anic Believers) BELIEVE in Him, then they are indeed on Guidance…” Qur’an 2:137
MADELEINE BUNTING:One of these verses could stand as a manifesto for contemporary religious tolerance; the next seems to be saying we should all become Muslim
The emphasis is unequivocal and even the language drives it home – race to do good; ultimately we will find the unity across different religious belief. The problem is that no sooner had I read this verse which could stand as a manifesto for contemporary religious tolerance, than we plunged into the next verse which seemed a complete contradiction. Aren’t verses 149 and 150 saying that you should become Muslims – whatever religious faith you had before? _________________________________
KASHIF SHAHZADA: Ms Bunting wrote: “I thought verse 148 was amazing. Perhaps one of the most remarkable I am likely to read in the Qur’an. The way I interpret it – and it is admirably clear, it seems to me – is that every community may have its own traditions and rituals, but focus on doing good and God will bring you together.” No. There is no contradiction b/w 2:148 and later verses. 2:148 does not give divine endorsement to the traditions and rituals of *every* community. It merely states:
“And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth..” v 148 Pickthall
We all have a direction in life that we are moving towards. Our actions, whether good or bad are constantly being requited – whatever direction we choose in life, God will turn us to it, i.e. we will get the resultant of the action that we chose to do. If we choose to do good deeds in life, we get good reward, and if we do bad, we get “punishment” for our actions. It is not God who wronged us if we choose the later; it is we ourselves who are to blame, as we chose the path willingly. Numerous passages of the Qur’an state that this law of requital is in place in the physical sphere as well as moral sphere of our lives. E.g. if we do physical fitness work every morning and eat healthy diet (good) we get better health (positive result), while if we maintain an unhealthy lifestyle, and eat junk food, you’ll discover your health is failing (“punishment” because of your action). Similarly, if you choose to be greedy, oppressive and unjust in life, you will get the wage for being such a person, whilst if you practiced kindness, charity and righteousness, then you will get the reward and you will also be in the company of those who had similar traits. Hence, acc. to Qur’an (see 2:281, 3:25, 3:56-57 etc) every action that we do produces a result and is shaping our body and soul, and we will be getting the result of the goal to which turned in life. This is what is meant by “And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth..”. The Qur’an describes that various paths that people choose in life, and also gives the results of those paths – but it does not endorse all of them. Which path is acceptable to God in the Qur’an? This we can read about in other passages of the Book. As 2:148 does not give Qur’anic sanction to the beliefs and practices of *all* communities, it is wrong to conclude that it is contradicting other Qur’anic passages that give divine approval for one particular belief and action. _________________________
FATIMA MARTIN: I can’t remember whether Zia ever made it clear at the beginning of this whole project that the Qur’an was never meant to be the sole guidance for the believer. Allah states clearly that we have to read it and interpret it in conjunction with the example of the prophet’s life. This of course is not an easy task, only the seriously interested will take the time to read the prophet’s biographies and hadith collections. Even then, all his actions need to be understood taking into consideration the time and culture he lived in. For example people might interpret the fact that he allowed the killing of the men of the Jewish tribe of the Bani Qurayza in Medina as horrendous and barbarian. This was the third Jewish tribe in Medina that betrayed the prophet. All three tribes had sworn allegiance to the prophet and later betrayed him. Twice the prophet showed mercy and let the Jews leave Medina, only for them to make trouble for him from outside. The third time he asked the Muslim allies of the Jews to decide their fate, and their leader insisted on the just punishment. He would have nothing to do with mercy. The Jews knew that by betraying their allegiance they risked their lives. When their plot failed they were executed, as were all the men of other tribes at that time, no matter what religion, who committed treason. We now know that allowing this harsh punishment the prophet in fact avoided a much bigger bloodbath when he entered Mekka later on, and the Meccans surrendered without battle, finally accepting the strength of the prophet and his followers. If you come across what seem like contradictions in the Qur’an, see how the prophet dealt with them, but be sure that you know the spirit behind his actions and decisions. __________________________
KASHIF SHAHZADA: If the Qur’an is God’s word, and the traditions are the word of men containing various grades of authenticity, then it is logical that the former has superiority over the latter. To those who believe and accept the Qur’an as the perfect and complete Book, originating from Allah, any traditions / narrations, attributed to any pious person and originating from any source whether they are from the Judeo Christian Scriptures or from any other compilation e.g. ahadith need to be studied in the light of Qur’an, and not the other way around, because (a ) Qur’an does not say anywhere within its pages that it is in need of other books for its exegesis, and on the contrary states that: “Is it not sufficient for them that We have sent down to you The Book which is recited over them?…” [29:51] b) Scholars of ALL schools of thoughts themselves admit that traditions are human compilations and are not free from discrepancy and agree to them containing aspects of errancy, hence the variation in various versions and compilations, therefore what identifies itself to be perfect and free from errancy (the Qur’an) is not dependent on what shows itself to contain the weak and inauthentic (ahadith). Even the compilers of the said reports rejected thousands before sifting a few for their compilations. So by their own admission these books are not perfect, why then must we subject the perfect Qur’an to the imperfect? Should it not be the other way around, i.e. that the Qur’an comes first. We see what the Qur’an says about a subject and then in its light see other sources. (c) The Qur’an warns us against mixing truth with falsehood (2:46). In other words, truth should be kept pure and pristine and not intermingled with the slightest element of what is unauthentic. And it is God’s word that determines what is authentic from inauthentic, and is the “furqan (criterion to judge right from wrong) and not human words, because by default they (humans) are liable to err, while God isn’t. In view of this, the Qur’an, which claims to be free from error (4:82), calls itself a clear guide (43:2) and a distinct light and beacon that shows the truth (14:1) is not to be made subservient to human reports like suggested above. It should be the other way around i.e. it is those reports that are to be made subservient to the Qur’an, and it is the Qur’an that is to act as a judge on their authenticity. Not only is this approach illogical, it is blatantly against numerous Qur’anic directives on the subject. The story cited above is also not correct. It goes against the person and character of the Prophet as mentioned in numerous Qur’anic verses. The Prophet acted upon the Qur’an all his life, and it is Qur’anic directives that he implemented, and the Qur’an nowhere commands him to do what is suggested in the earlier comment. (More on fighting and war can be discussed when the subject comes under discussion later). In short, the best Prophetic biography is the Qur’an itself. The deed, action and personality of the Prophets as reported by the Qur’an is their actual and authentic biography, and acts as the criterion and judge on reports concerning them in other sources. That is why in Sura 13, those who have Qur’anic knowledge have been called as witnesses over the character of the Prophet:
“…Say: ‘ (as a witness over my messenger ship)…sufficient between me and you is God and whoever has KNOWLEDGE OF THE BOOK.” 13:43
In the above, knowledge of The Book – one Book is required in order to qualify to give shahada (testimony) to the Prophet. Why just *one Book* is mentioned, why not numerous others, as has been suggested earlier. The truth is that if one were to consider the Qur’an as immutable and perfect, then one should not blindly accept any and every religious tale attributed to Islam and its Prophet that is hurled towards us, but we need to check its authenticity in the Qur’an first – if it tallies with the Qur’an, then it can be considered, if not, then it can’t be accepted at the expense of the Qur’an. Accepting a tradition that is against the Qur’an means one rejects the Qur’an, and rejecting the Qur’an is KUFR, i.e. rejection of God and qualifies one for his displeasure.
“…if they were to come together to bring something similar to this Qur’an, they can not bring anything similar to it, even if they backed up each other with help and support!” (17:88)
In Islam, the ONLY BOOK that has absolute and final authority is the Qur’an – No other source, whether a human scholar or writing is co-equal to the Qur’an, all else is subservient to it. ______________________
“MISKATONICUNIVERSITY” Kashif, there are Muslims who refuse to recognise the authority of the hadiths or the biographies of Mohammed, but it leaves them in a bit of a bind. The Quran is not capable of explaining itself – it’s too contradictory. For instance, what would the Islamic position on alcohol be without an external timeline to give the verses some order? _______________________________
KASHIF SHAHZADA: MiskatonicUniversity asked: “The Quran is not capable of explaining itself – it’s too contradictory. For instance, what would the Islamic position on alcohol be without an external timeline to give the verses some order?” Your assertion that the Qur’an is contradictory requires specific proof and reference. Among the many unique attributes of the Book is that it is free from “ikhtilaaf” i.e. conflict. We read in Sura 4:
“Do they not do “Taddabur” (pondering, analysis, reflection) on the Qur’an? If it were from other than God, THEY WOULD HAVE FOUND THEREIN, MUCH CONTRADICTION!” [4:82]
The Book claims to be internally consistent, and invites critical analysis of its contents to verify this. If it were a shoddy job, such a claim dare not be made. However, we can se in 4:82 that internal consistency will be apparent when one engages in “Taddabur” of the Qur’an i.e. a deep study, reflection and analysis of the text, and not a hasty and superficial study. So this is what is internally within the Book, i.e. it is free from contradiction. But you just suggested otherwise, and also made a comment about it, without furnishing exact citations from the text. Therefore, I would request you to cite the specific passage references pertaining to alcohol that deem to be contradictory and the translation (s) which you referred to for their study, so we can analyse whether 4:82 is right, or whether you are right. ______________________________ “MISKATONICUNIVERSITY”:
These are two of the verses about intoxicating liquor produced from dates and grapes – which one is correct?
SHAKIR: They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit. And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, that you may ponder SHAKIR: And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes– you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder.
There are others of course, for instance, how many days did it take Allah to create the world? Was it six (7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59) or eight (41:9-12)? Clue: neither, more like 4.5 billion years for the earth, and 14 billion years for the universe.
KASHIF SHAHZADA: 1) Intoxicants According to [2:219] intoxicants have both – a sinful as well as a profitable aspect. The Qur’an doesn’t prohibit consumption or use of intoxicants in total, what it bars is the ‘sin’ in them (see 7:33 about prohibition of ‘ithm i.e. sin’). It is undisputable that alcohol contributes to crimes and is a source of damage to society if used recreationally, and it is this aspect which is sinful. However there is also profit from it to society in its medicinal and industrial usage, and this is what is referred to in the verse statement ‘profit for mankind’. [16:67] on the other hand talks about ‘extracting intoxicants’, and not about consuming the sinful aspect. For believers, this extraction is for its utilitarian i.e. profitable use not for Sinful purpose You may perhaps be unaware that the word Alcohol itself is an Arabic word and Muslim chemists have done quite a lot of work on the subject in the past. As the Qur’an does not bar the use of intoxicants in totality, but bifurcates between its negative and postive aspects, in 2:219 hence it is not in conflict with 16:67 where extraction of intoxicants is mentioned which in the context of believers can very well be for profitable usage, and not sinful one. (2) Creation of heavens and earth In Arabic, the word “Yaum” is not used for a 24 hour day, but for a ‘period’ of time or eon. Hence the verses you reffered to do not talk about 24 hour days as calculated by human beings, but periods according to God’s own measure. As 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59 talk about the creation of SAMAWAT WAL ARD i.e entire heavens and earth in six periods, while the subject matter of 41:9-12 is not the creation of ‘SAMAWAT WAL ARD’ but of other seperate events, therefore there is no contradiction between these verses. There would have been had [41:9-12] talked of the same event as the later set you quoted, but as these speak of seperate events and objects, hence there is no contradiction, and the claim of the Qur’an in being free from conflict remains valid.
They fall into a long tradition of western incomprehension at this holy book. In part this is because it is measured up against implicit assumptions about faith, sacred texts which are rooted – however distantly – in the familiar biblical tradition. My first tip to any western reader is forget characters, forget stories: the Bible may be full of them – Abraham, Isaac, Daniel, David, Joseph, Jesus, Mary – but the Qur’an is not. It is a detailed description of the nature of God alongside instructions for every aspect of human existence. To put it crudely, think self-help manual rather than an anthology of of short stories.
There are characters and stories in Islam – most obviously, the life of the prophet – but they are not in the Qur’an. They are in the sayings of the prophet (hadith) and his life story, both of which are much revered by Muslims.
There are other obviously intimidating characteristics. The book works on repetition, the structure is spiral rather than linear, and it takes a while to notice how material is repeated and juxtaposed to form different patterns – like a kaleidoscope. There are moments of poetry and rich imagery, but I still balked at the suggestion that this is the most beautifully written book of all time because it is the word of God.
But the incomprehension at this book runs even more deeply. Perhaps the hardest process of intercultural communication is in reading the sacred text of another culture; take a look at Buddhist scriptures, full of references to lotus flowers, and the enormity of the cultural leap required is also immediately apparent. It requires a teacher conversant with the etymology of the original language and the cultural traditions of the historical context to begin to make sense of them. And they have to be very patient with their audience who inevitably bring their own unspoken cultural assumptions with them. Another faith’s sacred text encapsulates a whole worldview – and that is the hardest thing for any outsider to grasp.
So it was a brave project for Ziauddin Sardar to take on. It was also honest of him to confess in his introduction, that neither was a he traditional scholar nor did he speak Arabic, the original language of the Qur’an. That prompted a fascinating exchange because as one contributor, Abdullah al-Hasan, made clear, he regarded Sardar as having no right or authority to explain his understanding of the Qur’an. Al-Hasan argued that without years of study in a recognised Islamic institution and a full training in classical Arabic, you could not venture to interpret this book. Sardar’s retort was sharp: to his mind, the Muslim world was crippled intellectually and politically by exactly this impasse over the Qur’an. Its interpretation was jealously guarded by a group of institutions with a mindset dating from the eighth century while millions of young Muslims with unprecedented access to education were cut off from debating and thinking about the book which determined so much of their lives.
The fallout from this global cultural war within Islam is that there are precious few Muslims who are familiar enough with a western mindset and confident of their Islamic credentials to explain their book. The nature of the Qur’an and how it is to be understood is the single biggest obstacle between the west and Islam. Muslims want the book to be given proper respect while westerners, at best, find it utterly baffling.
Sardar and those blogging have helped me understand several key things. The first is that the Qur’anic emphasis on pluralism is quite simply astonishing. The tolerance and respect for the monotheistic traditions of Judaism and Christianity was extraordinary for its day and in sharp contrast to the exclusive claims of both the Old and New Testaments. No wonder that modern translations of the Qur’an are busily re-writing or even cutting some of these verses – they would re-write the politics of the Middle East if they were taken literally.
Sardar argues that the Qur’an has to be reinterpreted for every generation. Every word of it may be timeless, eternal truth, he claims, but every verse must be analysed and scrutinised according to the times to yield the appropriate insight and wisdom; reason is a crucial tool with which to unlock the teachings of the Qur’an. It’s a defence of the Qur’an which provides for both the belief in the book as the literal word of God as well as a room for more liberal interpretations on issues such as homosexuality or the hijab. But it sometimes seemed like a high wire act as Sardar tried to explain certain verses.
Some of my concerns about the Qur’an remain, for example, the gender bias against women. I accept that Islam was well ahead of Christianity for centuries in terms of recognising women’s property rights and acknowledgment of women’s sexuality (such as the right to be sexually satisfied) but still the Qur’an seems to be framed in a patriarchal culture. This debate cropped up over a verse in which women were compared to fields; it seemed like a prescription for female passivity but our Muslim bloggers wouldn’t have it and the discussion rumbled on as they tried to explain to me the hidden wisdom of the analogy.
What it confirmed for me was that the Qur’an was a text of its time and reflected the cultural assumptions of seventh century Arabs. It also undoubtedly represents a breakthrough text in human ethical understanding – alongside those from other cultures. But for Muslims such a matter of fact assessment is inconceivable because it strikes at the heart of their belief that this is a book written by God for all time. I would hope one can agree to differ, but I now understand much better how very difficult that can be.
Madeline Bunting says that a cabinet minister and a senior economist had been horrified upon reading the Qur’an. What exactly was it that they found horrifying, she doesn’t say?
Was the minister uncomfortable with the exhortation to extend justice to all, even one’s own enemies (4:135, 5:8) that didn’t go down well with the a certain government policy of supporting dictatorial regimes and bombing civilian populations in foreign lands?
Or was it the injunction to ensure a just and equitable distribution of wealth, so that resources of the land “do not remain in the hands of only the wealthy among you…” (59:7), that horrified the senior economist, as it went against granting privileges to the rich at the expense of the poor? So what exactly was it?
She may be right in suggesting that many in the west (or even the east for that matter) are at loggerheads with Qur’anic values.
After all the Qur’an is calling them to change, to mend their ways, to give up racism and policies based around regional and national interests, to extend justice and equity to all, to keep a check on their personal and carnal pleasures and share their wealth with the unfortunate for the sake of God, all this is definitely what they don’t want to do.
So why wouldn’t they express their horror at such a text, which asks them to move out of their comfort zone. Why wouldn’t they treat it as a ‘summer read’, instead of a serious manual for life mandatory for a sincere quest for truth?
Ms Bunting is not correct in generalizing that there is a long tradition about western incomprehension of the Qur’an. I am sure she knows that there are many in the West who find the Qur’an perfectly comprehensible! I am not talking of immigrants or 2nd generation believers, but native, westerners, who have studied the book of their own accord and appreciate it on its own merit. E.g.
“Quran takes the responsibility of man prosperity alone. I hope it will not be too late that time which I can unite all the scholars of all the countries together and establish a monotone society based on principles of Quran only which will guide people to prosperity.” Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1721)
“Everything made so much sense. This is the beauty of the Qur’an; it asks you to reflect and reason… When I read the Qur’an further, it talked about prayer, kindness and charity. I was not a Muslim yet, but I felt the only answer for me was the Qur’an and Allah had sent it to me.” (Yusuf Islam [Cat Stevens], British pop star)
Does Ms Bunting consider such individuals as Westerners or does the ‘West’ consist only of those that she mentions?
She claims to balk at the suggestion that the Qur’an is the most beautifully written book of all time because it is the word of God. Well, if it is God’s handiwork, then it won’t be second best will it then? First believe that it is from God, then the appreciation to beauty will come naturally. But there are many non Muslim individuals, who although do not consider the Qur’an to be of divine origin, yet appreciate and wonder at its marvel.
She suggests that incomprehension at this book runs even more deeply and recommends qualifications in foreign culture and language for a better grasp of the text, but what will she say to the fact that many outsiders to the faith have very well grasped the essence of its message, and that too without the qualifications suggested by Ms Bunting. Is not the actual existence of such individuals and their growing number in the west a living rebuttal to the claim of Qur’an’s incomprehension??
She also makes the fantastic claim about omission of verses on tolerance:
“No wonder that modern translations of the Qur’an are busily re-writing or even cutting some of these verses – they would re-write the politics of the Middle East if they were taken literally.”
This is really news to me! What a strange comment. Which modern translation has omitted any verse or verses on tolerance or pluralism from the Book. Can Bunting give names / references of publishers? Such a fantastic claim warrants at least some evidence, but none is given! Her claim makes the impression as if some editing and cutting is being done in modern translations of the Qur’an, a phenomenon commonplace within the Judeo-Christian tradition whereby not just verses, but entire passages were omitted and deleted from the Bible! I believe, Ms Bunting owes it to her readers to supply at least any reference to omission of verses on tolerance with any modern Qur’an translation.
She expresses her concern about the Qur’an being in a frame of patriarchy but the culture and society in which Ms Bunting is resident at present, would she say that it is matriarchal? Regarding her understanding of the verse on fields, it is obvious that reading the verse in its entire context makes it abundantly clear that the subject matter relates to sexual encounter, and woman’s likeness to that of the field should be seen in sexual terms i.e. she is the source through which another human being comes into the world, just like a field is the source responsible for producing forth living organisms. It is highly unfortunate that Qur’anic reflection of this ever important and natural state for women is viewed by Bunting as a passive act, whereas it is actually active in every sense.
It is natural for women to bear children just like it is natural for a cultivated land to produce crop – whether anyone agrees or disagrees with this simple fact won’t change anything! Indeed the Qur’an is true in its statement that women are like a tilth, i.e. they have child bearing capacity. This is a fact, that can’t be denied at all.
She considers the Qur’an to be: “.. a text of its time”. Indeed the Qur’an is a text of its time, but its timeframe is not 7th century Arabia, but day one of human existence. Since ever humankind has existed or will exist, Qur’anic era is in place with its values providing the divine guiding light. The problem with most critics of the Qur’an is the very motivation with which they approach the book. What is the purpose? Why do they wish to study the text?
Is it to explore its truthfulness? Or is it to find a reflection of their own likes and dislikes? I think, the type of motivation one has, that type of results he or she will get in the end.
“..He causes many to err by it and many He leads aright by it! but He does not cause to err by it (any) except the transgressors…” 2:26
AT TIMES our relationships with our elderly and aging parents can be challenging. It is quite common nowadays for people to send their parents to an old home at that period in life rather than bear them constant company. But what relations are Muslim sons and daughters to maintain with their parents, specially when they are in old age?
In what matters are they not supposed to obey them? Generally what opinion have people held concerning their parents and ancestors when the message of God was delivered to them?What should be believers’ relationship with their parents in case they are not sympathetic to Islam and are unbelievers?
The answers to such and many other questions are provided in the Qur’an as guidance for all humanity. The Qur’an provides a clear criterion to believers for establishing a relationship with their parents whether they be believers or unbelievers. This article explores such issues in the light of Ayaat (verses) dealing with this subject.
WHEN YOUR PARENTS ARE OLD
Believers are instructed about the sort of behavior that they are to maintain with their parents, especially when parents have reached old age:
“And your Sustainer has decreed that you will serve none but Him, and that you be good towards parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them (even) ‘fie’ nor rebuke them but address them with terms of honor.” (17:23)
“And out of kindness lower to them the wing of humility and say: ’O My Sustainer, Bestow on them your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” (17:24)
In the above verse believers are restrained from even saying ’fie’ i.e. a meager word of protest to their parents as people who are harsh on their parents and rebuke them are described as:
“And (there is one) who says to his parents ‘Fie’ on you! Do you hold out the promise to me that I shall be raised up, even though generations have passed before me?’ And they too seek God’s aid (and say) ‘Woe to you! Believe! For the promise of God is true.’ But he says: ‘This is nothing but tales of the ancients!’ (46:17)
“Such are they against whom is proved the sentence among the previous generations of Jinn (hidden persons) and mankind, that have passed away; for they are those in loss.” (46:18)
SUPPORT YOUR PARENTS FINANCIALLY
Believers are also commanded to spend on their parents from their resources as they cherished them in childhood:
“They ask you what they should spend. Say: ‘Whatever you spend that is good, is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever you do that is good, God has its knowledge.” (2:215)
DO NOT TREAT YOUR MOTHER HARSHLY
It is obligatory for believers to provide for their parents when they are in need and not to desert them in an old home. Furthermore they cannot impose any hardships on them. In the Qur’an, Jesus Christ is cited as an example to emulate in this regard:
(Jesus said) “And He has made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or miserable.” (19:32)
WHEN YOU SHOULD NOT OBEY THEM
While maintaining good behavior with their parents, the believers are instructed not to obey their parents in certain situations:
“And We have enjoined on Man concerning his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and his weaning is in two-years: Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: To Me is your goal.” (31:14)
“But if they strive with you to associate with Me that which you have no knowledge, then obey them not; Yet bear them company in this life in a recognized manner. And follow the way of those who turn to Me. In the end the return of you all is to Me, and I will tell you the truth of all you did.” (31:15)
You are not to obey our parents if they suggest ’Shirk’ i.e. association with God, yet bear them company in a just manner.
DO NOT BLINDLY ADHERE TO YOUR PARENT’S FAITH
Usually people maintain those beliefs in their lives which they have inherited from their parents and ancestors. Seldom do they analyze the inherited belief and faith by way of reason or evaluate it critically. A person calls himself a Muslim usually because he was born to parents who labeled themselves as such. It is rare to find a person to analyze his parent’s beliefs to see whether their version of Islam conforms to the Qur’an or not.
Similarly a person may label himself as a Christian, rarely on account of an informed reading of the Christian scriptures, but more due to the Christian faith that he has inherited from parents. This is the common trend in all religions. Majority of people are religious by birth and not necessarily by choice. People seldom follow a religion after its study and critical analysis, but lean more towards what parents hold to be true, as that is the easy path and a more comfortable identity for them.
As religious beliefs are spread mostly from generation to generation and held in veneration due to the emotional attachment and bonding that children have with their parents, it is not uncommon for people to take the faith of their ancestors to be the whole truth under the assumption that their elders and loved ones could not be wrong.
The Qur’an is against such an approach towards religion. According to it, the inherited faith has always caused a barrier in accepting the truth as the beliefs of ancestors are mostly at variance with the message of God. We read that in all times the foremost reaction of people, when the truth and reality of God is made evident to them is that they found their fathers following something else and they will stick to their ancestral beliefs. The excuse that people give when they are told to follow Qur’an is the same and they prefer the blind following of the sect or denomination which they received from their parents rather than personally consult the Qur’an for guidance:
“And when it is said to them: ‘Follow what God has revealed !’ They say: ‘Nay! We will follow what we found our fathers following.’ What! Even though their fathers were void of wisdom and guidance?” (2:170)
The faith of ancestors has always been a barrier in accepting the truth and God’s messengers were repeatedly given the same argument.
Response to Prophet Noah
“….Never did we hear such a thing among our fathers of old.” (23:24)
Response to Prophet Hud:
“…Have you come to us that we may serve God alone and leave that which our fathers served…?” (7:70)
Response to Prophet Salih:
“…..Do you forbid us that which our fathers served ? ….” (11:62)
Response to Prophet Shoaib:
” O Shoaib, does your Salat order that we leave of that which our fathers served…..” (11:87)
Answer to Prophet Abraham’s question:
“They said: ‘Nay we but found our fathers doing thus what we do!” (26:74)
Prophet Joseph’s reminder:
“If not Him you serve nothing but names which you have named, you and your fathers….” (12:40)
Response to Moses and Aaron:
“…Never did we hear the like among our fathers of old! ” (28:36)
Reaction to Muhammed:
“…This is just a Man whose intention is to oppose you from that which your fathers served…” (34:43)
It can be observed from above that the Qur’an strongly opposes the blind following of the faith of parents and ancestors.
It invites people to use their reasoning ability and intelligence in ascertaining the truth.[i] The Qur’an not only provides evidence for its claims[ii] but also asks its opponents to provide sufficient proofs.[iii] Blind following of ancestors involves a person to accept their beliefs without question or sufficient proof. The blind submission to ancestral beliefs is encouraged by Satan as his chief objective is to keep people away from the Qur’an:
“When they are told to follow what God has revealed, they say: ‘Nay we shall follow the ways that we found our fathers following! ‘What ! Even if it is Satan beckoning them to the penalty of the blazing (fire)?” (31:21)
Instead of taking guidance for all matters requiring guidance from the Book of God, people insist upon copying the ways of their fathers.
” What! Have We given them a Book before this to which they are holding fast?” (43:21)
“Nay! They say: ‘We found our fathers following a certain way and we will guide ourselves by their footsteps.” (43:22)
“Just in the same manner, whenever We sent a Warner before you to any town, the wealthy ones among them said: ‘Surely we found our fathers following a certain way and we will certainly follow in their footsteps.” (43:23)
By following the faith of their ancestors people get involved in worshiping those names and heroes which exist in their ancestral traditions and don’t serve God alone. Joseph also faced a similar situation and he reminded:
“If not Him you serve nothing but names which you have named, you and your fathers, for which God has revealed no authority: The government is for none but God; He has ordered that you be subservient to none but Him, that is the established judgment but most of mankind do not know.” (12:40)
IF YOU BLINDLY FOLLOWED YOUR PARENTS
It is essential once we have the opportunity in this lifetime that we use our reasoning and the evidence available to us in analyzing the faith that we have inherited from our parents, whether it can justified as the truth. In case we are not doing this exercise but are blindly following our fathers then our end has been foretold:
“Then their return is to the blazing (fire).” (37:68)
“Surely they found their fathers on the wrong path.” (37:69)
“So they (too) rushed down their footsteps.” (37:70)
God will question on the last day:
“The fire will burn their faces and they will grin therein with their lips displaced.” (23:104)
“Were not my signs rehearsed to you and you did but treat them as falsehoods?”(23:105)
“They will say: ‘Our Sustainer! Our misfortune overwhelmed us and we became a people astray!” (23:106)
People will further admit on that day:
“They will (further) say: Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we should not (now) be among the companions of the blazing fire!” (67:10)
RELATIONSHIP WITH UNBELIEVING PARENTS
To a believer, the cause of God is what matters the most. Believers cannot give preference to their parents, children, relatives, careers etc. over the cause of God. The following verse reminds us:
“Say: ‘If it be that your fathers, or your sons, or your brothers, or your mates, or your relatives; the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you fear a decline; or the buildings in which you delight–are dearer to you than God and his Messenger and the striving in his way;–Then wait, until God brings about his decision: and God guides not the Dissolute.” (9:24)
If parents and relatives hold such beliefs and actions that are against the teachings of the Qur’an , then they are not to be taken into intimate ranks:
“O Believers! Take not as protectors your fathers or your brothers if they love disbelief (Kufr) above belief (Eimaan). If any of you do so then they are from the oppressors.” (9:23)
In such a situation were parents are unbelievers, believers should strive to share God’s message with them and in case they do not respond positively and are harsh and aggressive, then bear such aggression with patience and should not retaliate harshly themselves.
Misbehaving would mean taking a stand on a person’s own ego, rather than following the guidance of God. The example of Abraham is to be followed when dealing with unbelieving and aggressive parents:
“And remember in The Book, Abraham; He was a true Prophet.” (19:41)
“When he said to his father; ‘O my father why serve that which hears not sees not and can profit you nothing?” (19:42)
“O my father! To me has come knowledge that has not reached you: So follow me. I will guide you to a way that is even and straight.” (19:43)
“O my father serve not Satan, for Satan is a rebel against (God) Most gracious.” (19:44)
“O my father! I fear that a penalty from (God) Most Gracious afflict you, so that you become to Satan, a friend.” (19:45)
To Abraham’s invitation his father responded in negative:
“(The father) replied: ‘Do you hate my gods O Abraham? If you forbear not, I will indeed stone you! Now get away from me for a long while! ” (19:46)
Abraham did not reply in a harsh manner to his father’s threat:
“(Abraham) Said: ’Peace be on you: I will pray to my sustainer for your forgiveness, for He is to me most gracious.” (19:47)
Imaan or belief is the ultimate cornerstone in the life of a believer and Qur’an describes them as not having affection or love for those who oppose the way of life prescribed by God even if they are their parents and near relatives:
“You will not find any people who believe in God and the Last day, loving those who oppose God and His Messenger even though they were their fathers or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written ‘Eimaan’ (belief) in their hearts and has strengthened them with a spirit from Himself. And He will admit them to Gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein forever. God well pleased with them and they with Him. They are the Party of God. Surely it is the Party of God that will prosper.” (58:22)
RIGHTEOUS PARENTS OF NO HELP
Even if our parents are genuinely righteous in the sight of God, even then they can be of no help to us on the last day. Each and every one of us is responsible for our own actions.[iv] How much we follow the guidance of God in our lives that we ourselves have to face.
The instance of Noah is evident in this regard as he being a messenger of God could not save his own son:
“And Noah called upon his Sustainer, and said: ’O my Sustainer, surely my son is of my family and your promise is true and you are the most just of judges !” (11:45)
We are responsible and accountable for our own actions, what our parents and ancestors did , we will not be questioned about them:
“That was a Nation that has passed away. For them is what they earned and for you is what you earn. And you will not be questioned as to what they did.” (2:141)
A REMINDER ABOUT THE HEREAFTER
People are reminded about the day when parents and children will be of no help to each other. In this life we are responsible for our own beliefs and actions and have been provided with the faculty of reasoning and the free will to choose our course.
It is our own duty to seek the truth and follow the guidance, rather than blindly follow our parents and ancestors. On the last day we cannot put the blame on our parents for the results of our actions.
“O Mankind! Do your duty to your Sustainer, and fear a day when no father can avail ought for his son, nor a son avail aught for his father, Surely the promise of God is true: Let not then this present life deceive you, nor let the chief deceiver deceive you about God.” (31:33)
[i] See 38:29, 47:24, 43:3, 21:10
[ii]See 4:174, 6:104
[iii] See 21:24, 27:64, 2:111, 37:157
[iv] See 53:38, 35:18
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before I begin my speech, I would like to extend the universal greeting of peace to all of you.
“Assalamu-alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatahu”
No! Don’t be upset, I didn’t cast a spell on any one of you, nor did I attempt to mesmerise or hypnotise anybody. The words I just uttered were in Arabic, and they simply mean May the peace and the mercy and blessing of God be on you. As most of the people present here are from a Christian background, they may know, that we read in the Gospels, when Jesus used to meet his disciples, he used to address them: “Shalom Alaikum”, which is the same as “Salaam Alaikum” in Arabic. Salaam and Shalom mean the same thing, “peace”. So you can relax now!
Coming to the topic, my presentation will cover two aspects. First I would like to demonstrate the meaning of certain terms from a Muslim perspective. Second, I would like to highlight some practical faith and related needs of Muslim learners in Colleges of Further Education.
The Language Barrier
As the title of the presentation is not of my own choice, but was suggested to me by the conference organisers, and looking at the vocabulary concerned, I deemed it important that the subject be addressed in precise and specific terms. This is so, because words mean different things to different people. Language, if kept vague, undefined and unqualified, can result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. One of the reasons of the prevailing misunderstandings between Muslims and other communities is language.
Terms that have a specific meaning and understanding are seldom defined in discourse, and instead inaccurate connotations are attached to them with an implied meaning, which is then popularized, resulting in creating misconceptions.
Take for example, the Arabic word Jihad, which will commonly evoke the meaning of “Holy War”, because it is this meaning which is (very wrongly) attached to this term in contemporary discourse, ignoring the fact that the word simply carries the basic linguistic meaning of striving or making an effort for anything. e.g. striving or making an effort to pass your exams at college is your Jihad to pass exams.
On the other hand for War, the original word in Arabic is Harab, and Holy in Arabic is Muqaddas. The accurate rendering of “The Holy War”, (a concept non existent in the Qur’an) is Al Harab al Muqadas, and not Jihad, as is erroneously mentioned in certain circles.
When we look at the terms Spirit and Spiritual, their notions may mean differently to different people, depending on their respective cultures, beliefs, faith, or linguistic patterns. To some it may mean simply being a good and moral person, to others Spirituality implies following a mystical tradition instead of organised religion. Maybe some may think that spiritual development has a connection with Spiritualists and has something to do with attending séances and recalling the spirit of the dead!
So in order to avoid confusion, it is vital, that first of all, we define what we mean by a term before building a structure upon it.
The difference between Nafs (Soul) and Rooh (Spirit)
In contemporary usage, Spirit is understood as the ethereal part of the human being, i.e. the ghost dwelling within the body, the human soul. However in the Qur’an, Spirit or its Arabic equivalent Rooh is not used in this meaning. Rooh is distinct from Nafs (the human soul), and it is not something that we already possess like the soul and the body, but is given to human beings as inspiration from God:
“And thus have We inspired in thee a Spirit (Rooh) of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path.” 42:51
We can see in the above verse that Rooh is concerned with imparting divine guidance to the human being and is the vehicle of revelation. Prior to its reception Scripture and faith remained unknown, and it is the light by which these are understood. By exploring all those verses where the term Rooh has occurred, one discovers that according to Qur’anic usage Spirit is not the human soul, but is distinct from it as the Spirit of revelation, and is the essence of God’s guidance to mankind.
The Qur’an teaches that the human being is not just a material entity consisting of the physical body, but is a combination of body and soul. It is the Nafs i.e. the soul which is the real driver of the body. On top of that we also possess Aql (Intelligence) and Hawa (emotions).
If the soul does not drive the body in the light of the guidance of the Spirit, then it can be overpowered by emotions and then utilises intelligence in their service.
Nourishment Of The Body, But Destruction Of The Soul
The physical body develops and attains nourishment by observing physical laws, while the Nafs develops by observing moral laws. For example consider the case that when someone consumes food that is legally purchased from a shop, and the same amount is stolen and then consumed, the material energy and taste to the body will be the same in both situations. Food, whether it is legally obtained or stolen gives the same amount of material benefit to the body. However the soul will be harmed if the consumed food is stolen, as it is acquired by virtue of breaking a moral law.
It is the Nafs whose development is the focus of Rooh. A Nafs which works without the aid of the guidance imparted by the Spirit will operate under the influence of emotions and focus itself on the body, but with the guidance of the Spirit it realises its true potential and maintains a balance between the needs of the body and demands of the soul.
The references to Rooh in the Qur’an are for God’s Spirit, and not the human spirit. I’d like to clarify again that human beings already posses a Nafs, or the Self, in latent form while the spirit is sent by God to guide the develop it.
No division between the worldly and the religious
It is also worth mentioning that the Qur’an enjoins upon a Muslim to learn and apply both physical laws, as well as moral laws, as the body is not distinct from the self, but is related to it:
“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for people of understanding.”
“Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and reflect on the creation in the heavens and the earth…”3:190-191
In the above we see that those who remember God, are also engaged in the study of the material universe, hence “Spiritual” is not separate from the “Worldy”, for it is how one functions in the material world that the Spirit gives guidance for.
If the term spiritual development in FE Colleges were to be retained then by it the Muslim would mean the development of the Nafs (soul) through guidance provided by the Rooh (Spirit) found in revelation.
Colleges of Further education may very well equip learners to know ways and means of meeting the needs of the human body, but what provision is there for the development of the souls that are housed within those bodies? Are educational institutions merely ‘factories’ that have an ‘assembly’ line of students to impart them with skills on how to make money and send them out the door? What about the values that those learners are to acquire to implement in their practical life? Such questions definitely deserve our attention.
The Muslim Community & FE Colleges
The British Muslim community is the second largest faith group in the UK with approximately six million adherents. However it would be wrong to suggest that the community has one set of beliefs or dispositions as there is a wide variety of diverse beliefs and practices that are being observed within the community. Apart from religious diversity, the community is also diverse in terms of ethnicity.
From a demographic angle, about a third of the population is under the age of sixteen and a half a million learners in the British education system are Muslims. This poses a challenge to educational institutions that are ill equipped to meet the needs of learners from this group. In an FE context, where learners often come from disadvantaged communities, the Muslim community is a prime target group, as it is often highlighted with poor socio economic conditions, inner city residences, highest rate of ill health, and a high unemployment rate.
Although (as mentioned earlier) there exist a wide variety of diverse views, opinions and practices within the Muslim community, a college is likely to get the following generic requests in order to meet the needs of learners. By addressing these needs the college will facilitate the take up of education from this group.
Muslim learners will almost certainly require catering facilities in accordance with their beliefs which demand. A diet in which alcohol and pork is restricted, and meat which is from poultry or cattle slaughtered by severing the jugular. Colleges need to make adjustment to their canteen menus to accommodate Muslim Halaal food requirements.
Toilets in FE colleges need to be equipped with adequate washing facilities, such as water containers in the WC, as Muslim learners are required to wash after attending the toilet, and do ablution before prayers.
Dress Code & Modesty
Provision for private cubicles for showers in changing rooms need to be made, as Muslim learners may feel uncomfortable from using such changing rooms where there are communal showers, due to total nudity in such settings not being approved in their faith.
Socialization – Alcohol & Clubs
It should be borne in mind that the Islamic faith does not allow consumption of alcohol for recreational use, and carefree intermixing of opposite sexes (outside the bond of marriage), hence any social or enrichment activities planned by the college where students are required to visit Dance Clubs, or Public houses will be inappropriate for practicing Muslims.
Time table adjustment for the festival of Eid
Muslims celebrate two major festivals in a year. Eid ul Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, and after two months of Eid al FitrEid al Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah. Muslims celebrate these two festivals with traditional fervour. Both these Eids are occasions as important to them, as Easter and Christmas are to Christians and in Muslim countries, days on which these events fall are official public holidays. Colleges which are having significant populations of Muslim learners may get the request for time off for students to celebrate these festivals, and timetable adjustments may need to be made. occurs
Space for Prayer
There are five daily prayers and one congregational prayer on a Friday that practicing Muslims observe regularly. For the purpose, a prayer room in the college is certainly a necessity. A multi-faith prayer room with neutral décor on the pattern of Airport chaplaincies would be sufficient to meet this need rather than a dedicated room for the faith.
Counselling & Support
For dealing with issues related to counselling and bereavement, it is important that staff members with the proper professional as well as theological training be inducted to give support to students undergoing a crises point in their life. There is also the need for well spoken and culturally aware faith leaders to maintain a link with the college to give advice and support to students when required.
Dialogue & Encounter
For many, an FE experience provides an opportunity for interaction with people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs which may perhaps not exist in their own locality. It is vital that FE colleges encourage a structured approach to interfaith dialogue, so that students can appreciate the diversity within campus, which reflects the diverse communities in wider society.
It is vital that colleges realize the changing demographic patterns of Britain and appreciate that for many among the Muslim community Faith is part of public identity. Given recent trends of immigration and influx of ESOL students who may be more religiously observant than local learners, and the non availability of faith provision in FE colleges as against schools, colleges need to be better equipped to provide multi faith student support.
It is equally important to realize that faith communities act as hubs of information and exchange, and colleges by maintaining a link with such, have an opportunity to promote their services to an unrealized potential. Faith leaders acting as influencers and gatekeeper in the community can endorse the ‘offerings’ of colleges.
The youth from the Muslim community, and particularly inner city dwellers have a tendency to pursue education at an FE college and it should be born in mind that although no fixed set of beliefs and practices exist, the community may appear to be more visibly observant in practical and day to day matters of faith, hence having an impact on the educational institutions that they go to. FE colleges are ideally placed for the social, economic as well as the moral uplift of the community, and for the purpose adjustments should be made to accommodate the faith needs of this community, which does not see any separation of the religious from the secular. In the end I would like to thank the organisers here for inviting me as a panelist at the conference. I will welcome questions and comments from the audience.
Formerly called “mercy killing,” euthanasia means intentionally making someone die, rather than allowing that person to die naturally. Put bluntly, euthanasia means killing in the name of compassion.
Euthanasia is different from assisted suicide such that in euthanasia, one person does something that directly kills another. For example, a doctor gives a lethal injection to a patient. In assisted suicide, a non-suicidal person knowingly and intentionally provides the means or acts in some way to help a suicidal person kill his or herself. For example, a doctor writes a prescription for poison, or someone hooks up a face mask and tubing to a canister of carbon monoxide and then instructs the suicidal person on how to push a lever so that she’ll be gassed to death.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are widely debated today and their practice is becoming legalised increasingly in western countries. As the subject gains worldwide prominence, the Islamic position regarding the subject needs to be highlighted in view of the significance in medical ethics.
It should be understood that humanity is not responsible for bringing itself into existence. Humanity at one stage was in a state of non-existence, and someone else caused it to exist. An impartial study of nature and the Book of nature make it evident that this being is no one else but Allah. It is Allah who is Al-Bad’ee (The one who brought everything into existence from a state of non-existence), and it is HE who is the creator of a human being, and human life is HIS property and not the property of individuals.
The material body that we have is not our own property but it is an Amanah (trust) that has been given to us. We being Ameen (trustees) of the body have to render back the trust to the One to whom it is due, and this means utilising our bodies in the manner prescribed by Him. We being human have been given the free will to chalk out a program of action for ourselves and in doing so we are individually and collectively carving out our own happiness and pain at each and every moment of existence. We are accountable for the manner in which we looked after what was entrusted to us.
The aim of every Muslim is to form Al-Jannah by his or her actions, i.e. a state of peace, and happiness and not Al-Jahanam, which is a state of misery, sorrow and pain. Suicide whether committed by one’s own hands or done so with the assistance of another person is a state of Al-Jahanam caused by aggression, depression, and pain in the life of a person and it is not allowed in the Qur’an. Suicidal thoughts occur in a person when he or she has lost all hope in life and is in extreme despair.
It is the environment that causes a person to commit suicide. The environment needs reformation and is the cause of sorrow and pain and not the ill person himself. Instead of taking life, we need to investigate the circumstances that led the person into that extreme state and think about ways of improving the environment and conditions of despair rather than terminate the individual all together. If our hand is aching, then we should not severe it from our body, but we need to investigate the cause of that pain and dedicate resources towards the tackling of the cause rather than amputation of the organ! The sanctity of human life is ordained in the Quran.
“Do not take life which Allah has made sacred.” (6:151)
“anyone who has killed a fellow human … it would be as he slew the whole of humanity” (5:32)
About suicide, the Quran is very clear:
“Do not destroy yourselves as Allah has been to you very merciful” (4:29).
Not only is suicide not permissible, but one who contemplates such is warned of a grievous punishment:
“And whoever commits that (suicide) through aggression and injustice, We shall cast him into the Fire, and that is easy for Allah.” 4:30
Taking away the life should be the domain of the One who gives life. True, there is Pain and suffering at the terminal end of an illness, but we need to explore ways of easing that pain rather than start ‘playing God’ by our self.
Another argument that is put forward in defense of euthanasia and assisted suicide is that it is too costly to look after the terminally ill. What a selfish argument this is! This is totally absurd and irrational. One the one hand we have the extremely rich who waste away millions on unnecessary luxury, while on the other we have patients who are dying and are getting ‘too costly’ for society! When society has no universal principles and lives a baser life of desires only, then this is the type of mentality that it demonstrates!
There is no doubt that the financial cost of maintaining the incurably ill is a factor. However, the question is when the human organism has outlived the productive span and its maintenance becomes a financial burden on society, should it be discarded abruptly or allowed to die naturally, gradually and peacefully? To meet this objective, the society has to reshuffle its values and priorities and divert funds from those spent on alcoholism, gambling, luxuries and other such “pursuits of happiness” to providing health care for those who are ill and allowing them to live with quality and die in dignity.
Why don’t the rich release the resources that they have trapped in their banks, for medical research and healthcare? Why is it that billions are spent on gambling, boozing, and satisfaction of lust while a major portion of humanity cannot even afford to have a decent meal? People need to realize that the so called ‘educated intelligentsia’ of the world is least bothered about humanity, and their main concern is their self interest.
Mind you, a Muslim is universal in his or her outlook. To a Muslim all humanity, irrespective of race, religion, social class, gender matters. The Qur’an teaches us to provide nourishment to individuals without even asking any reward or thanks (76:8-9), so there is absolutely no question of considering the weak and the sick as a burden on society as some ‘educated and intelligent’ people in the industrialized nations do. It isn’t the weak and the ill who are a burden on society, it is those intoxicated in power, wealth, status, desire and luxury who are the real burden on humanity.
A person who has suicidal thoughts is suffering from a psychological illness and is in need of help. Instead of putting such people to death or allowing them to commit suicide, the need is to improve their environment (the conflict in the family, home, any disappointments in past life etc) and help them in the alleviation of their pain and sorrow by medical means and counseling rather than put them to death. If a person willingly wants to commit suicide then his or her judgment is impaired, and should not be acted upon. This is a notion that is widely accepted by Psychiatrists the world over. Such people need medical and psychiatric help and should be educated about the purpose of life.
No ideology or creed gives the true purpose of life to humanity other than Islam.
Shahid Athar M.D., F.A.C.E. Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine & Chair, Islamic Medical Association, Medical Ethics Committee.
Critics often pose an innocent question to the faithful. “You people of faith blow your own trumpet. You claim that your religion is the best that there is, and that it has the solution to the problems of humanity. Then why is it that we see those who claim to be believers in dire straits, struggling for basics of life?”
They raise the question that: “after all, there are many Muslim countries in the world, where people may say that their religion is Islam and where they identify with the belief, and may even claim to have experienced Islam for a millennium, how come the faith has failed to eradicate their social ills and make societal advancements?” I believe the questioners have raised a valid point which needs addressing.
If we claim that ours is the best, then how do we justify our own backwardness? After all, the Muslims are not leading the world in science and technology, their countries are not having a good record of human rights and democratic freedoms, in fact tales of cultural oppression and backwardness are abound in the press concerning them. Then what right do we as Muslims have to say we have the panacea to all ills?
The Logical Fallacy of Backwardness of ‘Muslims’
However, there is a fundamental flaw in the argument. And that flaw is based on an assumption. The outsider thinks that those who label themselves as ‘Muslims’ are perfectly ‘Islamic’ in their conduct.
That whatever happens in their societies and environments is a result of Islam being put into practice. This is the grave error that they commit. That these societies have experienced Islam (the true religion based on the Qur’an) is an assumption. One experiences Islam, not through cultural osmosis or by inheriting the faith from ancestors, but through personal effort (see Qur’an 29:69), thought and reflection (47:24), a personal study of the Qur’an (54:17) and a life of action based on its inspiration (6:19).
The Authority For All Things Islamic
The authority for what is Islamic to what is not lies with the Qur’an, which is the word of God and the actual divine injunctions given to believers. Until or unless Qur’anic injunctions are put into practice in society, any claims of it being an Islamic one do not warrant any serious response. This is stated in not one, but numerous Qur’anic verses, and it is by passing through this very process that one truly experiences Islam. One is not a Muslim merely by being born into a Muslim community or being raised up in a community that labels itself as Islamic, but one attains the status of a Submitter (which is what the word Muslim means) through conscious and willing submission to the Qur’an and a life of action based on its teachings (see 2:128).
Critics are quick to say that many of these societies have experienced Islam, but they fail to pin point which “Islam” have they experienced, or whether what these countries have experienced throughout these centuries really is Islam, or is something very different but using the label of Islam to justify itself. When critics are able to prove that the societies they bring as evidence of Muslim backwardness have experienced Islam based on the Qur’an for a millennium and not an adulterated form of the faith, and yet remain unchanged, then their assertion would be valid. However, as they fall short of proving that these societies are truly Islamic i.e. based on Qur’an as supreme law and social order, their question about the faith being failed to eradicate social ills is out of mark.
But the critic won’t stop just there. He expresses his dissatisfaction on Islam’s holy text. Some even go to the extent of declaring that they had been horrified upon reading it, but what exactly was it that they found horrifying, they don’t say. Are they uncomfortable with the exhortation to extend justice to all, even one’s own enemies (4:135, 5:8) that didn’t go down well with their own agenda? Or was it the injunction to ensure a just and equitable distribution of wealth, so that resources of the land “do not remain in the hands of only the wealthy among you…” (59:7), that horrified them, as it went against granting privileges to the rich at the expense of the poor? So what exactly was it?
But we need to agree on one point with the critics, where they suggest that many in the West (or even the East for that matter) are at loggerheads with Qur’anic values. After all the Qur’an is calling them to change, to mend their ways, to give up racism and policies based around regional and national interests, to extend justice and equity to all, to keep a check on their personal and carnal pleasures and share their wealth with the unfortunate for the sake of God, all this is definitely what they don’t want to do.
So why wouldn’t they express their horror at such a text, which asks them to move out of their comfort zone. Why wouldn’t they treat it as a ‘foreign’ ideology’, instead of a serious manual for reform of life mandatory for a sincere quest for truth? Indeed righteousness is a foreign element in the mind of the malicious!
Islam is not a foreign import, but a part and parcel of Western Society
And they are definitely not correct in generalizing that there is a long tradition about Western incomprehension of the Qur’an. I am sure that people are aware that there are many in the West who find the Qur’an perfectly comprehensible! I am not talking of immigrants or second generation believers, but native, Westerners, who have studied the book of their own accord and appreciate it on its own merit. E.g.
“Quran takes the responsibility of man prosperity alone. I hope it will not be too late that time which I can unite all the scholars of all the countries together and establish a monotone society based on principles of Quran only which will guide people to prosperity.” Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1721)
“Everything made so much sense. This is the beauty of the Qur’an; it asks you to reflect and reason… When I read the Qur’an further, it talked about prayer, kindness and charity. I was not a Muslim yet, but I felt the only answer for me was the Qur’an and Allah had sent it to me.” (Yusuf Islam [Cat Stevens], British pop star)
Do people accept such individuals as Westerners? Some claim that they find Islam to be foreign an incomprehensible, and one whose study requires qualifications in foreign culture and language for a better grasp of the text, but what will they say to the fact that many outsiders to the faith have very well grasped the essence of its message, and that too without the qualifications suggested? Is not the actual existence of such individuals and their growing number in the west a living rebuttal to the claim of Qur’an’s incomprehension?
They expresses their concern about the Qur’an being in a frame of patriarchy but the culture and society in which they live themselves, would they say that it is matriarchal? They consider the Qur’an to be an old and outdated text, a product of its its time. Indeed the Qur’an is a text of its time, but its time frame is not 7th century Arabia, but day one of human existence. Since ever humankind has existed or will exist, Qur’anic era is in place with its values providing the divine guiding light. The problem with most critics of the Qur’an is the very motivation with which they approach the book. What is the purpose? Why do they wish to study the text? Is it to explore its truthfulness? Or is it to find a reflection of their own likes and dislikes?
I think, the type of motivation one has, that type of results he or she will get in the end.
“..He causes many to err by it and many He leads aright by it! but He does not cause to err by it (any) except the transgressors…” 2:26
DID you know what the real measure of love is? Sacrifice. Yes, that’s true. You can claim your love as much as you like, blow your own trumpet as loud as possible but its real measure, its factual test occurs when you make or do not make a sacrifice for the beloved.
What is it that you are willing to sacrifice; willing to give up; willing to let go for your love is what measures your commitment and devotion. The greater the sacrifice, the stronger the devotion. It is a prerogative of devotion that sacrifices should be made.
Devotion of any variety, worldly or romantic, to a cause or to a preoccupation, even to an art or a profession – all are equally demanding of sacrifices from us.
We make all sorts of sacrifices as a measure of our dedication. We sacrifice our time, or leisure, our wealth, our energies, all in the pursuit of our devotion.
But these are all passions of a lesser type. Have you ever wondered about ultimate love? One which is sacred, and supreme? The type of love, which is above all, and which demands our complete seriousness and full conviction.
As I am writing as a Muslim author you would have guessed it right.
I am talking about no other love, but the love of God. We come across a lot of people who would not hesitate to say that they love God. Which religious person would dare to utter that God’s love is not what he seeks.
Ask any preacher or priest, one who makes religion his day and night preoccupation, whether he loves God, and his instant reply followed by a frown will be, “Why, of course I do!”. You see, this type of lip service, anybody and everybody can do.
It is all very easy to say that we love God with all our heart and all our soul, but as I asked earlier, what is the measure of your love? What proof can we give, not to other people, but most vitally to our own persons, that we love God?
The answer in this instance is also – sacrifice. God’s love, like any other love, also demands a sacrifice from us. As divine love is supreme, so should be the sacrifice. As it is the ultimate form of love, so should we be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice as its measure.
People think that paying money in charity suffices as a monetary sacrifice in the name of God, but do you really think a few leftover pennies are a measure for a love as great as God’s love?
Facing the temporary hardships of a pilgrimage or the austerity of a discipline, even the blood of goat or sheep and in some cases even human blood has been offered as a way to attain nearness to the divine and redemption.
But are these really ultimate sacrifices in nature, or merely short-cuts of our own making?
If the hand offends us, then should we cut it off? If the eye offends us, then shall we pluck it out? Is the hand responsible for the sin, or the eye? Do we gamble because we have too much money in the bank? The answer is of course in negative.
Neither is the eye responsible, nor the hands, and it isn’t the existence of surplus money that makes gambling addicts destroy their lives.
The real culprit is the ‘person’ possessing the organs and the material possessions. The problem is in the thoughts and feelings of the person possessing it that takes the step towards games of chance.
Yes, it is the “you”. The person in charge behind the physical body and the material possessions that is too blame. And if sacrifices need to be made, then it is of your psyche, the ‘you’ as a ‘person’ is what needs to be fixed. This is the crux of the matter.
People do not do anything about their ‘person’. They don’t want to change it, but are ready to get rid of what can be readily jettisoned. While in fact the sacrifice that is needed is of their “self”, the “person” controlling their human machine, and not their physical possessions.
The False Belief Of Committing Suicide In God’s Name
If the love of God is supreme, then it demands that we make the supreme sacrifice, and be ready to give away our personality in place for a new one. It is not truncating your life that is demanded.
Suicide would be an easy way out. In fact suicide is not the ultimate sacrifice because it prevents us from the hardship of life and is in fact fleeing from responsibility and discipline.
Those who are deceived into believing that suicide or “martyrdom” as it is sugar coated to make the concept more palatable is a way to reach the divine are in fact in a hurry to go to paradise.
They are deceived into thinking it to be a short cut to salvation. If it is easier to just take your own life and land yourself in heaven instantly and be entertained with wine and women, then why undergo the hardship to mortify and train the self?
Why be a good and moral person, and follow the discipline of character building all your life, when your past sins can be forgiven and you reach the ultimate abode by merely taking your own life?
This is type of logic that advocates of suicide as a means for salvation use to dupe their followers into accepting it as a means for attaining salvation. But can we say that a quick and easy shortcut become the ultimate form of sacrifice? The Qur’an forbids us from taking our own lives:
“..and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction..” (2:195)
“..Whoso doeth that (commit suicide) through aggression and injustice, we shall cast him into Fire, and that is ever easy for God.” (4:30)
We see very clearly that suicide has been declared an act of aggression and injustice against one’s own self and its punishment is grievous. If such is the case, then how can it be claimed that suicide missions are the ultimate forms of sacrifice acceptable in Islam?
The same goes for those who claim that God sacrificed his only ‘begotten son’, and merely believing in his death will land one in the hedonism of paradise.
This again is also far from truth. Because if ever God were to sacrifice His own son, then that would not be the ultimate love on his part. He should have offered and sacrificed Himself for His creation and not someone else.
If I love you, then for your sake I should offer what is irreplaceable, and that can only be my own self. Why offer you something that can be sired over and over again? That wouldn’t count as an ultimate offering would it? Secondly, believing in the ‘son’ of God and thinking that one has made the ultimate sacrifice for the love of God by such a faith is yet again another short cut to salvation.
What ever happened to the personality, the character you possess? Why not sacrifice that to God and take responsibility for your own deeds, instead of passing the buck to ‘the son’ of God? You commit the crime but the son pays the price! And you think by believing in this you have made the ultimate sacrifice for God’s love? You haven’t moved an inch, my friend.
I hope that my readers will agree that committing suicide or killing somebody else is not the ultimate sacrifice that one can make. These are in no way replacements for the sacrifice of our own person, i.e. the persons that we are and in the manner we behave and act. What is needed is to be out with the old personality of sin, and in with the new personality of righteousness.
A greater and more dedicated form of devotion comes from the entire life lived in a morally upright manner and in accordance with divine directives.
Killing The Self
Love of God demands that we sacrifice the “self” i.e. ‘kill’ the personality that we possess and in its place develop a new personality that is based on God’s guidance. Such would be the true sacrifice. The life that one is living, is it being lived by one’s own standards or by God’s standards.
If the former, then no sacrifice has been made, irrespective of the number of pilgrimages made, the creeds you profess, the blood spilled or coins donated in charity.
We read in the Qur’an that Moses demanded such self mortification from his people to attain divine pleasure:
“And remember Moses said to his people: “O my people! Ye have indeed wronged yourselves by your worship of the calf: So turn (in repentance) to your Maker, and kill your ‘Nafs’ (the self, the personality, the psyche); that will be better for you in the sight of your Maker.” Then He turned towards you (in forgiveness): For He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.” (2:54)
When your ego is subdued and your inner arrogance, greed and pride is no longer upright before divine directives, it is then that the self has been killed. The realization and rejection of false belief and turning towards the truth of God is the first step.
Making God The Priority In Your Life
In the words of the Qur’an, until or unless you declare from all your heart and all your soul:
“Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for God, the Cherisher of the Worlds.” (6:162)
Till then, your claim that God is what you love the most has no meaning. The Qur’an warns those who purport to love God, and gives a yardstick against which to measure that devotion:
“Say: If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred; the wealth that ye have gained; the commerce in which ye fear a decline: or the dwellings in which ye delight – are dearer to you than God, or His Apostle, or the striving in His cause; – then wait until God brings about His decision: and God guides not the rebellious.” (9:24)
Next time you think you love God, then ask yourself, what sacrifices have you made for Him? Is God getting mere lip service from you, while you live your life as per your own wishes and give more importance to other considerations?
Are family, friends, career and homes dearer to you than God and the striving in his cause? If yes, then you have not made the ultimate sacrifice and your claim to love God the most is of no value at all. If you claim that it is God that you love the most, then ask your self, have I made the ultimate sacrifice for God?
Have I truly sacrificed myself and surrendered my will to His will?
After all is sacrifice not the true labour of love?
The journey to search the truth is not a smooth ride. There are hurdles on the way, strong winds, narrow paths and sharp turns. A rather perilous journey.
The problem you are most likely to face when you go about this journey is the sheer number of spokespersons you meet who attempt to define God for you. You are likely to be overwhelmed by these self proclaimed ‘divine’ emissaries, all of whom are ever ready with a new trick up their sleeve to lure you into conversion. The world is full of them. In every street and town, every nook and corner, seers, ‘holy’ men, preachers, sages, priests, and mystics, some claiming to be born again, some reincarnated, others even ‘eternally existing’ ready with their salesmanship, their eyes preying on you with delight.
These claimants to divine knowledge will, if you lend them an ear, send you in directions very different from each other. To one, the Lord came down to earth as a man, while the other finds such a notion sacrilegious. It is a part and parcel of true religion to devote oneself to an idol and image says one of them, while such would be a blasphemy of the highest order according to the other.
As many people you speak to, as many confusing views you are likely to come across consolidating the idea that all religions do not preach one and the same thing and that if you were to choose one path, you are very unlikely to end up on the same road as the others. Therefore, you as the traveler in search of truth will definitely encounter contradictory views about God and His religion from such self styled specialists, each unique and different in his or her own way.
Despite their uniqueness, there will be one common strand among them all. One commonality that pervades their differing and often opposing views – all of them will ultimately resort to faith, should they face rational questioning.
Faith i.e. belief without proof or evidence is what sustains their religiosity, when cornered by your logical inquiry. No evidence, no logic, no proof to convey any credibility, but just faith – blind faith on their sales pitch.
And faith is what you must ultimately have if you wish to join their cult and taste the spiritual fruits that they find so sweet. Reason and rational thinking, proof and evidence, have no room in their house of faith, for these are for worldly matters. For higher and spiritual ends, one needs an ‘inner sight’, and a very different way of looking, so they proclaim.
Adherents hold on to their beliefs, not because they are convinced to the satisfaction of their intelligence about their efficacy, or have some sort of proof or evidence to substantiate their beliefs but because they ultimately have ‘faith’ in them, and so should you. Their invitation to you is an invitation to faith, i.e. to blind acceptance without any evidence to substantiate their claims.
ENMITY TOWARDS REASON
Since time immemorial advocates of faith have spoken against arriving at truths by way of reason and intellect:
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”—Martin Luther, Table Talks in 1569.
Champions of faith can be seen holding reason in contempt. To them spiritual matters are related to the ‘inner’ soul of the human being, and have nothing to do with our rational capabilities. There is no room for reason and intellect in religious matters.
They can be very adamant in their own world of inconsistencies and contradictions in creed and dogma, for which they have one answer that solves all the problems – that one word answer is faith.
It is faith that makes you believe that God is All Powerful and at the same time also believe that He:
“ … made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day HE RESTED, AND WAS REFRESHED.” (Exodus 31:17).
It is faith in action when you acknowledge Divine Omnipotence and at the same time also accept that the Lord:
“..could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had CHARIOTS OF IRON.” (Judges 1:19).
It is on account of faith that you proclaim that God is the source of all goodness and compassion, but also bewilder yourself (and others) by quoting the Lord:
“..I make peace and CREATE EVIL..” Isaiah 45:7.
It is none other but faith that makes you champion the cause of modesty and look down upon impropriety but at the same time make you accept that God’s prophet:
“…hath walked NAKED and barefoot three years..” (Isaiah 20:3-4).
It is due to difficulties such as the above that make the faithful declare:
“Whoever wants to be a Christian must be intent on silencing the voice of reason” —Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” in Works, Vol. 23, p. 99.
To many, when they come across such difficulties, religion becomes a very bitter pill to swallow, and it is only when the architects of religion sweeten the pill with faith that it becomes palatable.
It is inconsistencies like these that contribute to a wholesale rejection of religion. Incomplete and faulty ideas about God and religion breed atheism. Religiosity is kept outwardly merely to please near and dear ones and to stick to social norms and accepted behaviors, but inwardly religious beliefs are held in contempt. The moment, those social pressures are no more and you are allowed to think for yourself, you find no reason to openly reject the belief system based on contradictory attributes.
FAITH AS A TOOL FOR OPPRESSION
While faith is a part and parcel of religious traditions, it is not the domain of the strictly religious only. Those who inwardly realize the weakness of faith, may outwardly use it as a secular ploy to maintain status quos and keep subjects under control and in subjugation. In such cases, vested interests declare that it is a grave sin to debate, to reason and inquire on official doctrines. Authorities imposed on you have a ‘divine’ warrant, so they say, and questioning them implies questioning God Himself.
Faith can very well be a tool for oppression when concocted in God’s name by vested interests merely to engineer their power over the masses. It is extremely useful to stifle dissent and lend credence to an otherwise illegitimate occupation.
AN ALTERNATE VIEW
Blind faith – whether you hold fast to it voluntarily, or one which is imposed on you, can it satisfy your intellectual quest for the ultimate truth? After all, if God is the one who made you, gave you your body and your mind, then will He prevent you from using your reasoning abilities? Why must we not use the mind to know about His matters?
When the intellect is paralysed and there is no room left for logical discussion, it is then that faith comes into play and matures itself. It is also when we close our minds and leave all matters to a blind adherence and trust without evidence or proof that the quest for the truth comes to a halt.
While certain faith leaders speak against reason to know spiritual matters, in contrast we also come across an alternate view. A view which presents religion in rational terms and which advocates the full use of your senses to decipher the truth. In this viewpoint you are not discouraged from using your intellect, but are in fact encouraged to ask questions and probe matters deeply.
This view is to be found nowhere but in the Qur’an. According to it, in attempting to know the truth, ‘Aql’ (reasoning) is to be employed:
“Certainly We have revealed to you a Book in which is your own reminder; what! Will you not then use your reason?” (21:10)
“We have made the revelations clear to you, if you will use your reason.” (3:118)
Truth will be known to you if you employ your Aql (Reason), while those who find thinking tedious are described as the denizens of hell:
“They will (further) say: Had we but listened or used our ‘Aql’ (reason), we should not (now) be among the companions of the blazing fire!” (67:10)
Such is the importance of being rational for religious matters, says the Qur’an. So much so that you can end up in hell fire if you paralyse your reasoning faculties. It is clear, therefore, that the Qur’an is no enemy of reason and does not regard it as a hindrance to your spiritual advancement.
PRODUCE YOUR PROOF!
According to the Qur’an, claims need verification prior to acceptance. Its general principle is that whenever people make a claim, demand proof from them. There is absolutely no room for blind faith in the Qur’an. It offers not only proofs, arguments and falsification tests for its own validity:
“O mankind! verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: For We have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest.” 4:174
But demands evidence and proof from its opponents as well:
Or, Who originates creation, then repeats it, and who gives you sustenance from heaven and earth? (Can there be another) god besides God? Say, “Bring forth your proof, if ye are telling the truth!” 27:64
It also declares that those who have deviated from serving the one true God and fallen into false worship do not have any proof for their claims, and this indicates the Qur’anic attitude towards blind faith, namely that it is unacceptable:
“Or have they taken for worship (other) gods besides him? Say, “Bring your convincing proof: this is the Message of those with me and the Message of those before me.” But most of them know not the Truth, and so turn away.” 21:24
There is one religion, which in contrast to others does not resort to emotional or blind faith for itself, but calls for an intellectual inquiry to ascertain its truthfulness, presents proofs for its claims and demands proof from those who doubt its message.
A CALL TO ACTION
Have you ever come across a situation when you were prevented from asking questions? When you were told about the ‘blessings’ and ‘merits’ of such blind faith, and were advised against rational inquiry about conventional dogma?
Did you ever wonder why must you be forewarned not to employ reasoning and rationality for spiritual matters? Will you be uncovering some secret that people do not want you to know? Are they afraid that your questioning and reasoning ability will expose some flaw or weakness in their claims?
Did you realize that blind and emotional acceptance of doctrines can very well make you obstinate and narrow minded and that it is against your very nature not to think and reflect.
You are free to think, to reflect, to ponder and contemplate. You need to labour for the truth and use your entire being for the purpose, the body, the heart as well as the mind, for all are gifts from God.
“Say: ‘This is my way: I invite unto Allah upon conscious insight accessible to reason, I as well as those who follow me, and glory be to Allah, for I am not one of those who associate (others with His laws).” (12:108)
What will it be then, a blind faith that is narrow and restrictive, or a rational belief that is liberating and creative?
The choice is yours.
Has God pre-determined the fate of people? Is all the good or bad happening to us in life pre-written for us in our fate? Belief in predestination is advocated in many faiths, and some people even claim that it is a central belief of Islam. Critics often raise the query upon reading certain phrases in the Qur’an, claiming that according to them, belief in fate and destiny is furthered. E.g. The expression “Then GOD leaves to go astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills” occurs in numerous locations, and by just taking this portion people reach the conclusion that God’s will is acting arbitrality on people, and He has decided beforehand who will attain salvation and who will have eternal damnation.
So rigid is this belief, that many (specially in the East) wholeheartedly surrender to the notion, and any outcome, or result is attributed to Divine will. When driving a car, if met by an accident, people proclaim that what could they do, it was God’s will that their car got smashed! Was God behind the driving seat, they do not mention. People even get into the habit of remaining in misery and ignominy, because they feel that its all a part of the Divine plan and no matter what they do they cannot change their circumstances, hence give up the struggle to change. Their own actions and efforts are meaningless; because only that will happen that God has willed, say the faithful.
That people do not have any free will of their own and rather, everything that they do is not a result of their own intention and choice but was divinely ordained for them in their ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’. Such beliefs on predestination are found in almost all faiths, e.g. Karma in Buddhism, Kismet in Hinduism, Qadar in Sufism, and more. By this belief, people think that no matter what they do, they can not change their ‘destiny’, and should instead accept their circumstances as they are.
However, what is the Muslim position regarding this matter? Let us see what does the Quran say whether we have the free will to choose our line of action or is everything we do pre-planned for us?
THE FREEDOM TO DO AS WE WILL
The following verses inform us clearly:
18:29 Say: The truth is from your Lord : Let him who will believe and let him who will reject (it)
Above verse clearly states that, to accept or reject the truth rests on a persons free will.
76:4 We have shown him the way, whether he be grateful or ungrateful.
73:19-Verily this is an Admonition: therefore whoso will let him take a (straight) path to his Lord!
25:57 Say: No reward do I ask of you for it but this: that each one who will may take a (straight) Path to his Lord.
The above verses clearly establish that human beings do have the free will to choose either way, or any path of action according to his own discretion. God further informs;
29:69 And those who strive in Our (cause) – We will certainly guide them to our Paths: For verily God is with those who do right.
Had our fate already been decided or sealed, God would have never mentioned that man is to strive in His cause, as it would have been meaningless to strive and struggle for something which has already been decided. Hence by informing that to strive in His cause we would be guided to His ways it is confirmed that it is our struggle and action that will lead us to the path and pleasure of God and not what has been pre destined for us in our ‘fate’. We are further reminded:
39:7 If ye reject (God) Truly God hath no need of you; but he liketh not ingratitude from his servants: if ye are grateful He is pleased with you. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. In the end to your Lord is your Return when He will tell you the truth of all that ye did (in this life). for He knoweth well all that is in (men’s) hearts.
If our fate was already decided, God would have never said; “…but he liketh not ingratitude from his servants..” As it would not be fitting to say that a certain action is not liked by God when it is God himself who has written that action for man in that persons fate !
Again we are reminded that to take guidance of God rests upon a persons free will and choice, and he is not under any compulsion, but it is entirely up to him whether he chooses God’s guidance or not. God informs us through His messenger:
80:11 By no means (should it be so)! For it is indeed a Message of instruction:
80:12 Therefore let whoso will keep it in remembrance.
Finally God in clear terms informs us that you have the freedom to act according to your choice, but your actions are under the supervision of God’s laws of requital.
40:41 “…….Do what ye will: verily He seeth (clearly) all that ye do.”
God gives you the freedom to work as you will. The above verses are proof that you have the freedom of choice when it comes to selecting the path of God and you are not under any pre ordained compulsion or any state of helplessness that what ever you are doing is not because of your will but was already decided in your ‘fate’. You very much have the freedom to chose the path you wish and use your free will in chalking out a line of action for yourself.
WE ARE FREE TO ACT, BUT OUR ACTIONS PRODUCE RESULTS
Every action you do produces a result. An action consistent with the laws of God produces a good result and working against those laws produces a negative result.
You have been given the free will to chose as you wish, but it is not in your hands to change the results of the actions you did , i.e. you have the freedom to eat very dangerous toxic substance or poison, and as a result you can die. You did that act of your own free will, but it is not in the scope of your will to change the result of that action, i.e. it is not possible that you consume poison and as a result get very good health, instead of dying or harming your physical condition. Whatever law God has framed for that poisonous substance, you will get the results of that law. The type of act you do, that type of result you will get;
53.31 And God’s is what is in the heavens and what is in the earth, that He may reward those who do evil according to what they do, and (that) He may reward those who do good with goodness.
ALL ACTIONS ARE REWARDED OR PUNISHED ACCORDING TO THEIR NATURE
45.22 And God created the heavens and the earth with truth and that every soul may be rewarded for what it has earned and they shall not be wronged.
If you do an act consistent or in consistent with the laws of God, you will get its result on your self. You cannot transfer the results of your wrong doings to anyone else. You have to pay for what you did. You have to carry your own weight Some other person can not be held accountable for what you did.
45.15 Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is against himself; then you shall be brought back to your– Lord.
The type of results you get is not because God had already decided your fate and you had no say in it and were helpless. The results you get depend on the actions and deeds you do.
27:90 And if any do evil their faces will be thrown headlong into the Fire: “Do ye receive a reward other than that which ye have earned by your deeds?
37.38 Most surely you will taste the painful punishment.
37.39 And you shall not be rewarded except (for) what you did.
If your actions and deeds where not consistent to the laws and commandments of God, you will get the results for those deeds as God has ordained:
52:13 That Day shall they be thrust down to the Fire of Hell irresistibly.
52:14 This: it will be said: Is the Fire – which ye were wont to deny!
52:15 Is this then a fake or is it ye that do not see?
52:16 Burn ye therein: the same is it to you whether ye bear it with patience or not: Ye but receive the recompense of your (own) deeds.
If your actions were consistent and in accordance with God’s laws you will get their results likewise;
52:17 As to the Righteous they will be in Gardens and in Happiness
52:18 Enjoying the (Bliss) which their Lord hath bestowed on them and their Lord shall deliver them from the Penalty of the Fire.
52:19 (To them will be said:) “Eat and drink ye with profit and health because of your deeds.
Each and every action will be recompensed and rewarded. Whether it is done by a man or a woman:
3:196 So their Lord answered their prayers, saying, `I will suffer not the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another….
You will most certainly be held accountable for the type of actions you chose to do, and the blame is definitely not on God.
7:147 I shall soon turn away from My Signs those who behave proudly in the land in an unjust manner; and even if they see all the Signs, they will not believe therein; and if they see the way of righteousness, they will not adapt it as their way; but if they see the way of error, they will adopt it as their way. That is because they treated our signs as lies and were heedless of them.
7:148 And those who reject Our Signs and the meeting of the Hereafter – their works are vain. Can they expect to be rewarded for anything except for what they do ?
If you chose to behave in the manner described in the above verse, then you will be turned away from the signs of God according to the law of God which is expressed as His will. You are to blame yourself for this as you chose to behave in this manner by your free will. It is you yourself who is responsible for the negative results you get for your actions and God is not to be blamed. He reminds in clear terms;
10:45 Certainly, God wrongs not men at all; it is they who wrong their own souls.
The following verses are more specific in informing that in case you do an act inconsistent with God’s law because of that you will be held accountable, and it is not God who is to blame:
16:33 Do they wait until the angels come to them or there comes the Command of thy Lord ? So did those who went before them. But God wronged them not :nay they wronged their own souls.
16:34 But the evil results of their deeds overtook them and that very (Wrath) at which they had scoffed hemmed them in.
You are yourself responsible for your actions, and in case you do wrong then the blame is on you, not on God, as the verse reminds;
41.46 Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is against it; and your Lord is not in the least unjust to his servants.
GOD’S WILL IS NOT ARBITRARY BUT ACCORDING TO PRECISE LAWS
God has expressed His will as His laws. His laws are ordained and in action in the physical universe, i.e. in the phenomena of nature as well as in the form of His guidance for Mankind contained in Al-Quran, which governs human affairs, and which also is unchangeable and permanent. Now the will of God is expressed in the Quran, but God has given us the free will to either accept those laws and derive the benefit from them in this world as well as the next life. Or go against those laws and suffer the consequences again in this world as well as the next. On one hand the Quran gives us the description and results of following the commandments of God, while on the other it also describes what would be the consequences of going against them. Both ways, if we select the path of God, or reject it, the results have been defined. Remember, the will of God is manifested by His permanent laws in the physical universe as well as human affairs.
It is the law of God which is permanent and fixed, not the fate of mankind. If man follows the commands of God he will get the results as ordained in law, if he goes against them he will again get the results as in God’s law. Man has been given the free will to select either way. Follow the commandments or go against them. In both ways the results will be produced accordingly, and those results cannot be changed. Now I’ll give examples of this from general science as well as Quranic verses
God has ordained the law for fire that if we put our hand in it, our hand will get burned. The burning properties of fire are ordained as a law by God. It isn’t possible that we put our hand in fire and get the result as if we had placed it in a cool place. Our burned hand will not get healed unless we treat it with medicine, and apply another law of God in the form of healing properties of the medicine. Putting our hand in the fire was an act which we committed by ourselves. It was our job to know and be aware that fire can burn, and in case we didn’t, then it is our own fault, and not the consequences of our fate.
Coming to the portion of the verse which is causing confusion:
14.4 ….Then GOD leaves to go astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And He is the Mighty, the Wise.
Now who are the people who are astray and what are their characteristics, this is abundantly clarified in the Quran at many places. Some verses that define those who are astray according to the law (will) of God are given below. Do note, if you have the qualities as mentioned in those verses then you are also astray according to God’s laws.
THE TYPE OF BEHAVIOUR IN PEOPLE THAT MAKES THEM GO ASTRAY?
(1) Those who are transgressors (fasiqoon):
2.26 Surely God is not ashamed to set forth any parable– (that of) a gnat or any thing above that; then as for those who believe, they know that it is the truth from their Lord, and as for those who disbelieve, they say: What is it that God means by this parable: He causes many to err by it and many He leads aright by it! but He does not cause to err by it (any) except the transgressors“
(2) Those who take shayateen (satans) as friends and protectors:
7:30 Some He hath guided: Others have (by their choice) deserved the loss of their way; in that they took the devils in preference to God for their friends and protectors and think that they receive guidance.
22:4 About the (Evil One) it is decreed that whoever turns to him for friendship him will he lead astray and he will guide him to the Penalty of the Fire.
(3) Those who disobey God and His messenger:
33:36 …. and whoever disobeys God and His Messenger, he surely STRAYS off a manifest straying.
(4) Those who are oppressors and are unjust (zalimun):
14.27 God confirms those who believe with the sure word in this world’s life and in the hereafter, and God causes the unjust to go astray, and God does what He pleases.
(5) Those who do not use their faculties of reasoning and listening to analyze the message of God:
25.44 Or do you think that most of them do hear or use their reasoning? They are nothing but as cattle; nay, they are straying farther off from the path.
(6) Those who follow the opinions of their chiefs and great men instead of the message of God
33.67 And they shall say: O our Lord! surely we obeyed our leaders and our great men, so they led us astray from the path;
(7) Those who are blind and heedless to the message of God:
17:72 But those who were blind in this world will be blind in the hereafter and most astray from the Path.
(8) Those who follow the opinions of the people who are in a majority:
6.116 And if you obey most of those in the earth, they will lead you astray from God’s way; they follow but conjecture and they only lie.
(9) Those who follow their desires:
6.56 Say: I am forbidden to serve those whom you call upon besides God. Say: I do not follow your desires. for then indeed I should have gone astray and I should not be of those who go aright.
The above verses describe who are those people who are led astray. Anyone who has above mentioned qualities manifested in him (or her) is astray according to the law of God. Compare above with what Quran says about who are the people who will get God’s guidance? See these verses 39:18 , 13:27 , 6:125 etc.
Above verses are clear in establishing that man has the freedom of choice to select right or wrong in his life. He will be rewarded according to the type of actions he does. God is not to be blamed for his wrong doings but he is to blame himself. People are led astray not because God wants them to go astray but by choosing those qualities for themselves which God has termed to be of those who are astray from his path. Their free selection of those qualities e.g. transgression, disobedience, following desires, not using reasoning and intellect in ascertaining the truth etc is what is making them astray and not God.
It will be apparent from engaging into a deep study of the Quran and by cross referencing its verses that it does not require belief in fatalism nor in predestination, but only in pre-measurement; that is to say the fixity of the laws and the intelligence to follow them. Human beings have the free will to follow whatever course of action that they have decided to choose for themselves, however the results of their actions will be in accordance with the laws that have been measured for such actions. If they suffer, then it is because of their own choices, and they should not put the blame for their misgivings on God.
Reincarnation is the belief that the human soul, upon the death of the human body, comes back to earth in another body or form. Also referred as ‘transmigration of souls’ this doctrine is a central tenet in many South Asian and East Asian religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism as well as ancient Middle Eastern religions. Due to the amalgamation of religious communities, this concept also crept into some Islamic nomenclature, specifically within the Sufi tradition. It is not uncommon to hear from those who subscribe to Sufism about the spirits of pious individuals as well as prophets who have passed away to be reincarnating in the earth and in some cases reappearing in front of the living and communicating with them.
Belief in reincarnation compels many people to claim that they have had ‘visitations’ from spirits. Some religiously believe that their dead still roam the earth and even eat food and thus they leave offerings to their spirits.
However prior to endorsing the belief in reincarnation as an Islamic concept, it is vital that we refer to the Qur’an to see if it has sanctioned the view. This being the case, then what exactly is the Qur’anic position on the spirit or souls of the dead? Do the dead come back to visit their relatives? What of saints, prophets and pious individuals? Are their souls on earth, appearing to us only in special circumstances? When we visit grave yards or tombs, then can their dwellers hear us or respond to us in any way? The Qur’an is not at all silent on this matter, but gives ample guidance.
ALL OF US UNDERGO THE STAGES OF CREATION, BIRTH, LIFE, DEATH AND THEN RESURRECTION
“It is He Who gave you life, will cause you to die, and will again give you life: Truly man is a most ungrateful creature!” 22:66
In the above three states are mentioned. Life, death and then afterlife. There is no reincarnation mentioned.
“It is God Who has created you: further, He has provided for your sustenance; then He will cause you to die; and again He will give you life. Are there any of your (false) “Partners” who can do any single one of these things? Glory to Him! and high is He above the partners they attribute (to him)!” 30.40
In the above, once again we see three stages. Creation, death and then resurrection. There is no mentioned of the dead returning to earth.
“It is He Who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old, – though of you there are some who die before; – and lets you reach a Term appointed; in order that ye may learn wisdom.” 40:67
The complete life span is mentioned. Stages of creation, life on earth and then death.
“Say: “It is God Who gives you life, then gives you death; then He will gather you together for the Day of Judgment about which there is no doubt”: But most men do not understand.” 45.26
It cannot be more clearer, that after death, people do not return or remain on earth but as the verse says: “God … gives you life, THEN gives you death; THEN He will gather you together for the Day of Judgment..”. Life followed by death, followed by judgment. This is the sequence all of us go through.
“From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again.” 20.55
Same sequence is stated in above verse. Creation from earth, death and burial into it, and then the resurrection.
“Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay);” 23.12
“Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed;” 23.13
“Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be God, the best to create!” 23:14
“After that, at length ye will die” 23:15
“Then, on the Day of Judgment, will ye be raised up.” 23:16
The words “After that, at length ye will die…Then, on the Day of Judgment, will ye be raised up.” are crystal clear in informing us about the direction we are going. Life is linear, traveling forward, not cyclical. We are not going around in circles, i.e. having birth on earth and then rebirth or reincarnation, but are born, live our life, are given death move forward and then receive our account and dwell in heaven or hell.
“He is the irresistible, (watching) from above over His worshippers, and He sets guardians over you. At length, when death approaches one of you, Our angels take his soul, and they never fail in their duty.” 6:61
“Then are men returned unto God, their protector, the (only) reality: Is not His the command? and He is the swiftest in taking account.” 6:62
If the angels are appointed by God to take the soul of a person and they never fail in their duty, then can it be said that someone escaped from their clutches and is still roaming around? Very clearly we see that according to the Qur’an, death is inevitable and upon it, we are transported to another realm, and don’t have the power to remain on earth.
NOBODY LIVES FOREVER, EVERYONE HAS TO DIE
“Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense.” 3.185
“Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must ye return.” 21:35
“Wherever ye are, death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!” 4:78
PROPHETS OF ALLAH ARE NOT IMMORTAL BUT DIE LIKE OTHER HUMANS
Some Quranic narrations concerning the mortality of Prophets/messengers are as follows: Jacob (p)
“Were ye witnesses when death appeared before Jacob? Behold, he said to his sons: “What will ye worship after me?” They said: “We shall worship Thy God and the God of thy fathers, of Abraham, Isma’il and Isaac, – the one (True) God: To Him we bow (in Islam).” 2:133
Jacob, a Prophet, and descendant of Prophets is mentioned to narrate his final hours. Joseph (p)
“And to you there came Joseph in times gone by, with Clear Signs, but ye ceased not to doubt of the (Mission) for which he had come: At length, when he died, ye said: ‘No apostle will God send after him.’ thus doth God leave to stray such as transgress and live in doubt.” 40.34
The statement in the above verse “…At length, when he died” demonstrate that Joseph, a Prophet of God, received death. Yahya (p)
“So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!” 19.15
“.. the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life..” mention the same stages for Yahya, a Prophet, that all of us are to undergo. Prophets are born, they die and then they are resurrected. We see the same for Jesus: Jesus (p)
“So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” 19.33
Birth, death and resurrection of Jesus is mentioned. Muhammed (p)
“We granted not to any man before thee permanent life (here): if then thou shouldst die, would they live permanently?” 21.34
God addresses Muhammed (p) directly, “..if then thou shouldst die, would they live permanently?” His mortality is again mentioned:
“Muhammad is no more than an apostle: many Were the apostle that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to God; but God (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude.” 3.144
“..If he died or were slain..” is proof that Muhammad (p) is also subject to the same law that messengers prior to him were. The above Qur’anic narrations clearly demonstrate that Prophets, also undergo the same law like the rest of human beings. They too are born, live life on earth, receive death, and then will be resurrected on the day of judgment.
THE DEAD DO NOT COME BACK TO EARTH FROM THE REALM OF SOULS
“It is God that takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed verily in this are Signs for those who reflect.” 39.42
“..those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life)..” shows that after death we don’t come back.
“But to no soul will God grant respite when the time appointed (for it) has come; and God is well acquainted with (all) that ye do.” 63:11
“..but to no soul will God grant respite when the time appointed (for it) has come..” indicates that we have only one chance for righteousness. Once we are alive and well on earth, is our opportunity to practice righteousness, as after death we won’t get another opportunity.
“Until when death comes to one of them he says: “O my Lord! send me back (to life) -In order that I may work righteousness in the things I neglected. By no means! It is but a word he says.”- Before them is a Partition till the Day they are raised up.” (23:99-100)
In the above verse, the cry of the evil soul “… my Lord! send me back (to life) -In order that I may work righteousness…” proves that souls of evil persons do not roam the earth, as otherwise they would not be asking to be sent back. The statement “..before them is a Partition till the Day they are raised up..” further proves that between the realm of souls and the realm of human beings, there is a barrier that cannot be crossed. The life we have is all that there is. We won’t get a second chance!
“And follow the best that has been revealed to you from your Lord before there comes to you the punishment all of a sudden while you do not even perceive; Lest a soul should say: O woe to me! for what I fell short of my duty to Allah, and most surely I was of those who laughed to scorn; Or it should say: Had Allah guided me, I would certainly have been of those who guard (against evil);Or it should say when it sees the punishment: were there only a returning for me, I should be of the doers of good.” (39:55-58)
The acknowledgment of the evil doer in the words “…were there only a returning for me, I should be of the doers of good…” makes it clear that he had only one lifespan, hence beliefs in reincarnation or spirits returning back to earth to haunt its denizens are totally ruled out by the Qur’an!
THE DEAD CANNOT COMMUNICATE WITH THE LIVING
“Neither are the living and the dead alike. Surely Allah makes whom He pleases hear, and you cannot make those to hear who are (buried) in the graves.” (35:22)
The statement that “…you cannot make those to hear who are (buried) in the graves.” cannot be more explicit in refuting those who claim to be in communication with the dead and claim to implore them at their graves and tombs.
By the above inflection of verses, we can conclude that once we die, then we don’t come back. Our souls are diligently taken by God’s angels and we then face judgment for the actions that we did on earth. All human beings undergo the same process. Even Prophets are no exception to this law. They too, are born, they die and on the day of judgment will be resurrected again. Souls of the wicked do not come back to earth, for they are not permitted by God, neither do those dead and buried communicate with the living or hear their cries. All mortals will go through the same process.
A common trend among many is to pick certain Qur’anic words within verses and claim on their basis that one can be a Jew, Christian, Muslim or of any religion whatsoever and all he or she has to do in order to attain salvation is to be a believer in God and practice righteousness according to their own faith. Many people claim if one is a Christian or Jew, then Islam does not call upon them to rectify their belief, but if they were to remain on their faith while professing belief in God, then they are qualified for salvation. Such individuals often cite some Qur’anic passages (or words within those passages) to support their view.
While I am not going to discuss the means of salvation or the concept thereof, I would like to briefly address this notion. Referring to some verses like Sura 2:62, 5:69 etc, people often claim that as long as they believe in God, they are going to paradise, and they do not need to change their beliefs or practices much.
In Qur’anic terms it is true that belief in God is the quintessential part of Divine acceptability but which God exactly is it that people are supposed to believe in? The adherent replies: “Why, Is there not just one God, that we all believe in commonly?” True again, that there is one God, but who exactly is He? What are His attributes? If we say that God is someone, who in fact He is not, then are we portraying God in the right manner? A study of world scriptures reveals that all the religions are at odds in their descriptions of God and His nature and ascribed purpose of man. What is it that makes God who He really is? This is not common between various faiths, and as a case in point I will cite texts from Judaism, Christianity and Islam to prove my point. In verse 5:69, which is often quoted to justify salvation for all faiths that believe in God, it is stated:
“Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good– They shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.” 5:69
The important part of this verse is: “..whoever believes in Allah…” as when the Qur’an stresses that a person should believe in Allah, then it is not referring to the concepts of God existing in other religions e.g. the Biblical God Jehovah but referring to Allah of the Qur’an. We can observe by comparative study that the attributes of Allah that occur within the Qur’an are not common to other religious texts, therefore, when the Qur’an promises salvation to believers who believe in God by the statement: “..whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good– they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.” then it is certainly referring to its own concept of God i.e. Allah, the One revealed within its Ayaat, with all His divine attributes and laws as described through His own words. The Qur’anic invitation for belief in Allah does not lend support to belief in the Biblical concept of God, whom the bulk of Judaism and Christendom claim to have faith upon, because Qur’anic Allah and Biblical Jehovah are two very different and distinct personalities (which I shall demonstrate later).
In view of this, the verse calls for any one who believes in Allah (with all his attributes and personality mentioned in the Qur’an, and not any other book) and the last day (once again the concept of Yaum ul akhira or the last day as mentioned in the Qur’an) and performs Amal Al-Salih (Lit. reformatory acts) of the Qur’an, then they should have no fear nor shall they grieve, no matter whether they are coming from a Christian background, Jewish background, whether they were Sabeans before or even if they are born to Muslim parents. If they read in the Qur’an concerning belief in Allah, then it is the Qur’anic Allah that they are to believe in, and not a God that is at variance with the Qur’an.
It should also be noted that such a belief is not something, which one can merely proclaim by oral admittance, but it is arrived at by using our reason and intellect and it isn’t what one inherits from ancestors. Belief in Qur’anic values (Imaan) is something that occurs after examination of evidence and proof, and is not blind faith. The Qur’an is a Book, which not only gives proof for its claims but also asks its challengers to produce their evidence. It invites the people to analyse its message using their faculties of intellect and reason to ascertain its truthfulness.
Following are verses from the Bible and the Qur’an which identify the personality of God, and give us a comparative view to see the difference between Biblical concept of God, and Allah mentioned in the Qur’an and enable us to confirm that the Qur’anic invitation to Allah is distinct from the Biblical version of God.
” . . for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and WAS REFRESHED.” EXODUS 31:17
What does the Qur’an say?
“And certainly We created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six periods AND THERE TOUCHED US NOT ANY FATIGUE.” 50:38
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. ” The first Epistle of John 5:7
In contrast, the Qur’an refutes this belief for God:
“They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy) verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.” 5:76
The Bible does not even spare God from illicit sexual aspersions being ascribed to Him: In the case of the conception of Jesus Christ, the Bible says that God Almighty arranged for Mary to conceive Jesus by the intervention of the Holy Ghost:
“The Holy Ghost shall COME UPON thee (the question is, how?) and the power of the most High shall OVERSHADOW thee (again, how?).” LUKE 1:35
Whereas in the case of Isaac, his conception took place in the womb of Sarah by the direct intervention of God himself¹, as recorded in the Bible:
“And the Lord VISITED Sarah, as he had PROMISED and FULFILLED what he had SPOKEN. And Sarah CONCEIVED.. ” GENESIS 21:1-2
“..not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant of Mine they broke, although I WAS A HUSBAND TO THEM, says Jehovah.” Jer 31:32
What does the Qur’an say?
“The Originator of the heavens and the earth. How can He have a son when He has NO CONSORT, and He has created everything and has knowledge of all things?” 6:102
Yes according to the Bible:
“When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they came in to any of them they chose.” Genesis 6:1-6:2
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” Psalm 2:7
No according to the Qur’an:
“He to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: no son has He begotten, nor has He a partner in His dominion: it is He who created all things, and ordered them in due proportions.” 25:2
“At the same time spake the Lord by I-sa’iah, the son of A’moz, saying,Go and LOOSE THE SACKCLOTH FROM OFF THY LOINS, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, WALKING NAKED and barefoot. And the Lord said, like as my servant ISAIAH hath walked NAKED and barefoot three years..” ISAIAH 20:2-3
In comparison, Allah in the Qur’an says the opposite:
“Say: “Nay Allah never commands what is SHAMEFUL: do ye say of Allah what ye know not?” 7:28
“Ye, shall take them (the slaves) as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them (the slaves) for a possession, they shall be, your BONDMEN (slaves) for ever..” LEVITICUS 25:46
What does the Qur’an say?
No man has the right to make others subservient to his laws, even though he may occupy the status of Prophethood.
“It is not meet for a mortal that Allah should give him the Book and the wisdom and Prophethood, then he should say to mankind: Be my slaves rather than Allah’s; but rather (he would say): Be Rabaniyoon (sustenance providers) because of your teaching the Book and your studying (it yourselves).” 3:79
JEREMIAH DECEIVED BY GOD (?):
“O Lord, thou hast DECEIVED me, and I was DECEIVED: thou art stronger than I and hast PREVAILED: I am in derision daily, everyone mocketh me. JEREMIAH 20:7
What does the Qur’an say?
It is the devil who deceives people, not God!
“He (Satan) gives them promises and excites vain desires in them; and the Shaitan does not promise them but TO DECIEVE.” 4:120
“And the Lord was with Judah, and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain, but COULD NOT drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had Chariots OF IRON.” JUDGES 1:19
What does the Qur’an say?
“..when He has decreed a matter, He only says to it, Be, and it is.” 3:47
It should be clear from the above inflection of Biblical and Quranic passages that the concept of God given in the two scriptures varies greatly. The concept of God that the Bible promotes is not the same as that which the Qur’an has given. In 5:69 people are invited to believe in the Qur’anic concept of Allah, and who ever does that then, they have nothing to fear for the consequences of their actions. The point to consider is that when Allah requires belief in Him, then it means in all His qualities and attributes as mentioned in the Qur’an and not any other book.
The attributes of Allah as described in the Qur’an are not to be found in any other scripture, and a Jew, Christian or any person coming from any faith background if and when he believes in the qualities of Allah as mentioned in the Qur’an, then it can be said that he has nothing to fear or grieve in Quranic terms. That is why at another place in the Qur’an it is said:
“If then they believe as you believe in Him, they are indeed on Guidance, and if they turn back, then they are only in great opposition, so Allah will suffice you against them, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing.” 2:137
The portion of the verse “If then they believe as you believe in Him, they are indeed on Guidance..” clearly establishes that people are required to have that belief on Allah, the Muslims are required to believe i.e. the one which is mentioned in the Qur’an, for that is the belief acceptable to Allah.
To state that the Islam endorses a person of any religion just because he or she believes in God, and that to as per his or her own concept or preferred scripture instead of the attributes of God as described in the Qur’an is to take cherry pick merely words out of the Book and ignore the entire context discussed in numerous passages. Such a tendency has been forewarned:
“There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, “That is from God,” but it is not from God: It is they who tell a lie against God, and (well) they know it!” 3:78
As the Qur’an corrects and refutes the attributes ascribed to God by adherents of Judaism, Christianity as well as other faiths, therefore it is not correct to suggest that it is content with the monotheism of such believers.
¹Ahmed Deedat, 1992, Combat Kit Against Bible Thumpers, IPCI, Durban, South Africa
I have been in Lahore for business since the beginning of July. The capital of culture, and the most happening city of Pakistan has been a target for bomb blasts and terrorist attacks since a few years. I was here in Lahore when the attacks at the tomb of Ali Hajveri and its adjoining Mosque occurred and have witnessed the first hand reaction of people since then. While there has been a spate of terrorist attacks in the city since the last few years, many of them high-profile in nature, I believe that the attack at the famous shrine has had quite an impact, given the fame and landmark status for the place.
The Root Cause
It is said that these attacks are the work of religious extremists, who wish to impose their brand of the faith by all means necessary. While I am not ruling this out, it should also be borne in mind that attacks of this type were almost non-existent before 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Did anyone ever hear about suicide bombings taking place inside Pakistan and that too on places of worship? True that there have been sectarian tensions and violence in the past, but gruesome and bloody to this extent? I think not. What we are experiencing is the fallout of the US military campaign in Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, and Iraq. Prior to the events of 9/11 when no such operations were taking place, inside Pakistani territory suicide attacks against local targets were not there at all.
Fallout From Afghan War
In fact had it not been for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the resulting glorification of religious militancy to win recruits for fighting the war in that country, Pakistan would not have to deal with the problems that it is facing now. I believe that the root cause of the problem that we are facing goes back to the Soviet era days, when to meet the demands of the cold war, religious militants were recruited, groomed and deployed for fighting the Afghan war and after the conflict was over, they were left to their own devices. The fallout from the Afghan war has been all over Pakistan. I remember it all growing up in Karachi in the 80’s.
The Past is Past Us
But that was the past. Whatever the case may be, we cannot undo the past. We can sure learn from our previous mistakes, but as to their effect; you cannot undo the harm. This is natural law. What you sow, that you shall reap. And we are reaping the rewards of what was sown in our territory long time ago. But all this begs the question, what now? What is to be done now to make our society peaceful again? A society where intolerance is replaced by inclusiveness, and were people of diverse beliefs can live peacefully and coexist along their neighbours?
Time To Give Peace A Chance
Attainment of peace, I think it can happen. But only if we want to. Only if we make it happen. The details must come later, for now I will talk about the first step. First and foremost, we need to become peace seekers – for many of us are not. While we moan and complain about terrorist attacks inside Pakistani territory and cities, we turn a blind eye to the damage our own military campaign does or the US drones do to other people. If we wish to see peace in our cities and towns then we must long for it in all manners and also choose the same for our fellow human beings. We cannot achieve peace, if we wish it only for ourselves, but deny it to those who differ from us in any way whatsoever. We must denounce violence. If we aspire for peace, then peace is what we must advocate. Violence, whether from the insurgents, or from our own government or any foreign invader, should not be justified or be accepted in any form whatsoever. My conviction for peace originates from my strong belief in Islam and a careful study of its revelation, the Qur’an. My motivation for peace is religious, for I believe upon perusing sacred texts that violence and blood shed is not God’s method of resolving conflict. All of His messengers called themselves to be “Rasool un Ameen” (messengers of peace), and that Allah extinguishes the fire of war when people kindle it (Qur’an 5:64).
If the US and NATO led war in Afghanistan were to stop; the supporting campaign Pakistani military is engaged in at its north-western border were to halt; the route of diplomatic talks and negotiations were followed among all stakeholders in the conflict; then I can guarantee that the spate of violence that Pakistani cities have seen will end immediately.
End the blood shed by governments, and it shall be ended by the insurgents, for violence breeds violence. If we mourn our dear ones in urban centers, then there are also mothers in rural bordering areas, who have lost their near ones in drone attacks and government led operations.
Lives lost; at all sides is no one’s gain. An American mother’s love for her son on duty in Afghanistan is no less than a tribal mother’s affection for her son who has joined the militants. Love is the same, it is universal and knows no boundaries and transcends languages and cultures. It is because of war that mothers on both sides are loosing their sons. Such retaliatory warfare was not there when there was no US invasion.
Blessed Are The Peace Makers
After we have resolved to seek peace, the second step is for us to become peace makers. You seek peace for yourself, but peace is not easy to achieve. Like many other things in life, we have to work for peace. We need to speak about it, act it out in our daily conduct and most importantly believe in it ourselves. It is when people lose faith in peace that the trouble starts. So along with one’s belief in peace, comes his or her work for peace. We need to make a solid stand for peace in our own circles and surroundings. Work hard to end conflict by all means necessary.
The need of the hour is not to take sides or support military means, but to remain neutral and call for an immediate ceasefire on all sides. Let’s have dialogue among all stakeholders instead of blood shed.
War never gives solutions, but only adds problems. If we want peace, then we should seek it at all costs and most importantly turn to the source of peace, and pray for peace, for He is the giver of peace and enjoins peace for His servants.
The Choice is Our Own
Peace on earth and an end to war should be our supplication. We can have peace in our towns and cities? We can have an end to suicide bombings. But the first step is for you and I to internally, within ourselves become peaceseekers, and externally become peacemakers. Peace for all, whether friend or foe. This is the first step and the precondition to our betterment, for I believe that true saints, revered by many, also advocated the same message. So if you think that the bombing of Lahore’s famous landmark Data Darbar was too much, then you must reconsider your priorities and become a peace activist, for this is the message that is reaching out to you from the blood stained shrine. We can have peace, but we will have to work for it, and walk in the footsteps of God’s messengers. Let us be peaceseekers and peacemakers in the way of God.
COUGHS AND COLDS, aches and pains, bills to pay and hungry mouths to feed – this is how the majority of humanity would have greeted the new decade. While some of us celebrated the end of 2009 with zeal, fervor and enthusiasm, sang songs and partied all night, with New Year’s Day not bringing on hardship greater than the hoary head from last night’s hangover, the bulk of humanity, our fellow human beings, did not have much to revel about.
At the beginning of the new decade, they still struggle for their survival and long for the basic necessities of life, which many of us take for granted in our privileged environments. What is a necessity for us is in fact still a luxury for them.
A new decade has begun, and it’s a decade unparalleled in history, as it is a time when we posses the most advanced technologies, the cleverest of brains, enjoy luxuries and wealth, are armed with the most sophisticated weapons, have made tremendous scientific and economic progress, but even though humanity owns such amazing strengths and capabilities, the vast majority still longs for the basics.
War, disease, poverty, illiteracy, intolerance and persecution, injustice and tyranny – all monsters of our own making, are still rampaging and devouring humanity in the so called age of advancement and progress.
We may well ask why this is so. Why, despite of all the progress, we haven’t been able to solve the most basic of problems of humankind? We don’t lack resources, we don’t lack intelligence and know-how, then why are we still unable to solve these problems?
I believe that the answer to such questions can be summed up in one word – belief.
Belief is what matters. What type of beliefs do you have about life, about yourself, about the purpose of existence? The type of beliefs you have, that type of behaviors you will display.
Our beliefs are the precursors to change. If one believes that he is not ill, then no matter what, he is very unlikely to go to seek medical advice of his own personal volition. It is only when their belief changes, that they take action.
If one believes that he cannot learn a new skill, then he never will. To make a change, the first thing he has to do is change his belief from believing he can’t to believing he can.
The type of beliefs we hold, that type of performance we give. If our beliefs are narrow and restrictive, then so are our performances. On the other hand, when our beliefs are not defeatist and narrow, when we believe in the unseen potential, and when we believe that we can make a difference, when we believe that something is indeed wrong, it is then that we seek remedies and make efforts to change our situations.
So belief is what comes first. It is beliefs that are the drivers of change.
BELIEF: THE MAIN CAUSE OF SUFFERING
When we see people who are evil, resort to tyranny and oppression, who enslave others and amass wealth and pursue personal pleasures at their expense, then we are really witnessing their beliefs in action. If you believe that you will not be held accountable in any afterlife for the actions you committed in this world, and that this material existence is all that there is, then why should you worry about helping those in pain and suffering? Why not just amass as much wealth, power and pleasure as possible and enjoy it all till the last breath?
You can also resort to unjust behaviour if you hold the (twisted) belief that your evil actions are in fact endorsed by a Higher Being, and it is in His name that you do whatever you do. In such an instance, your errant beliefs are yet again the cause of sorrow for many others.
On the other hand, if you firmly believe that the material plane is not the only level of existence, that you shall certainly have to give your account in life after death, and that the welfare of all humanity, irrespective of colour, creed, and caste is your remit, then you will not be concerned in amassing worldly pleasures, but will also make it your vocation to do that which will assist you in your journey in the after world.
So we can observe that how important belief is. Positive belief results in positive action, while negative or twisted beliefs impact accordingly.
BELIEF IN MATERIALISM VS BELIEF IN LIFE AFTER DEATH
A mindset which is inward and narrow, which concerns only itself, and cares less about others, which makes one indulge in pleasures while others suffer hardships and the basic necessities of life, such a mentality is representative of the belief that material life is all that there is, that our human organisms dwell only within our physical bodies, and are sent into oblivion upon death, and that there is no afterlife. That what people do in life, its consequences and repercussions are restricted only to their earthly tenure. The Qur’an describes this mindset as follows:
“If thou dost marvel (at their want of faith), strange is their saying: “When we are (actually) dust, shall we indeed then be in a creation renewed?” They are those who deny their Lord! They are those round whose necks will be yokes (of servitude): they will be Companions of the Fire, to dwell therein (for aye)!” 13:5
And this being the case, their entire efforts are for their personal well being, or for their immediate group and not for all humankind. They and their group strive to live life as comfortably as possible, as in their worldview of survival of the fittest, the pursuit of the material and worldly is the ultimate.
In contrast to the materialistic concept of life, there is another view of life, another set of beliefs, in which this worldly life, and our material existence is not all that there is. In that belief, our actions and choices travel with us beyond death, and we fully bear consequences and repercussions of those choices in our journey. Therefore, in such a belief, pursuit of the material is not all that one has to strive for, but also for the spiritual.
In this worldview, care and concern for our fellow human beings is of paramount importance, and compassion for the suffering humanity is what motivates them to act for their welfare, because in such a belief the view is:
“.. that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth…” 13:17
YOU CAN MAKE A CHANGE, BUT ONLY IF YOU BELIEVE
Many of us tend to think that they have had a tough life. We have our own standards to judge our hardships, and look at things from our own narrow perspective, always making comparisons with those above us, but rarely with those below.
I also believe that the people who I am addressing right at this very point in time, (my readers) are a group distinct from the vast majority of unfortunate people that I just referred to in the beginning and a group that can make a positive change for those in hardship.
You might say that I’m generalising here and might be guilty of assuming the privileged status of my readers, but I assure you that by addressing you on your computer screens, I am certainly not assuming anything.
If you think that you have had it tough in life, think again. If you can read this blog online, then you very well are somebody privileged above many others. In fact you are someone possessing what the bulk of humanity does not posses, i.e. the ability to understand and communicate in English, and access the internet, and even the spare time for some leisurely reading.
By reading this blog of mine, you convey to me the proof that you are able to read and understand English, and most probably accessed this article online, hence posses technology along with communication skills and also have spare time at your hand. All of this makes you distinct from the vast majority of people, who don’t speak English, are not online and have more things to worry about than leisurely pursuits.
This I believe is sufficient to categorise you among the privileged classes, and this also means that you are the person I was looking for, because what I want to draw your attention towards in this blog is something important and if you grasp it and decide to act upon it, then I believe that we can make this world a better place than yesterday.
You and I have within our ability to make a change, and change is what we need, not only around us, but also within us, for it is internal change that catalyses change externally. This point is emphasised amply in the Qur’an:
“..Verily never will God change the condition of a people until they change what is within their souls…” 13:11
So let’s make this New Year a year of significant change. While setting goals and objectives about our health, wealth, relationships and personal happiness and other private pursuits, let us not forget that we also need to pay attention to the fact that we are part of a wider human fraternity, and they too need something that we at times posses. It could be cash to spare, things to give, but it can also be spare time to volunteer to the sacred cause that aims to ameliorate suffering.
But as mentioned above, this external change cannot come about until or unless we have an internal change within us, until or unless we change our beliefs – beliefs about our own selves, about our fellow human beings and also about why we are here, what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go, and most importantly, belief about the Divine.
So it is the New Year. I ‘m sure you may have set yourself resolutions and desire change in many areas of your life. But I’d like you to reflect on your own personal beliefs as well. Why not review them and see where there is a need for improvement.
Let’s think and reflect.
“WHAT BUSINESS DO YOU HAVE to comment on festivals that belong to other people’s religion? And that too on the very day that it is being celebrated?” People can very well ask. Well, in the times we live in, it would be sheer folly not to do so. There are numerous reasons for this. The festival in question is celebrated by adherents of the world’s largest faith, while we are the second largest – if ticking of census forms is any measure. Christianity is estimated to be the world’s largest religion, and Islam occupies second place. In view of this, the relationships between two of the greatest religions of the world are certainly of importance to the planet.
Secondly, Islam and Christianity have a special relationship with each other. The central figure in Christianity also happens to be one of the mightiest messengers of God in Islam. The Qur’an happens to be the only non Christian religious scripture that contains narratives on the birth, message and finale of Christ, his mother as well as his disciples. In view of this, it would not be wrong to suggest that Christians do not have a monopoly on Christ. We Muslims have equal right to comment on any commemorations in his name.
Therefore, any religious perspective coming from the Muslims on Christmas should not necessarily be seen as a critique of the common Christian version but an expression of their own religious beliefs. It is very important to understand this.
The Nature Of Inter-Religious Expression
People upon hearing views that are different from their own, on themes that they believe in, sometimes feel that their version is being criticised. As all religions do not say one and the same thing and do not promote the same ideas on the divine, and because one encounters diversity in its full form during the course of religious dialogue, therefore, the expression of divergent religious belief from one group is not necessarily a critique of the other, but simply an expression of what one in his or her own tradition believes in.
So when a Muslim perspective on Christmas is being conveyed, it is what it is, i.e. what Muslims believe about Christmas, and nothing more and nothing less. So no need to worry too much on this one!
The Season For The Birth Of Jesus
On to the subject. Why Christmas matters? It matters to majority of Christians, as they believe that it is the day that Christ was born (although there is a minority that doesn’t). And the day for this is the twenty fifth of December every year. According to them, Christ came into the world during a winter in Bethlehem.
Well, on the other hand Muslims allude to both Qur’anic as well as Biblical narratives on the subject, to say that this is not the case. In the Qur’an, we read about the birth of Jesus:
The pains of labor drove her (Mary) to the trunk of a date-palm. She exclaimed: “Oh, if only I had died before this time and was something discarded and forgotten!” A voice called out to her from under her: “Do not grieve. Your Lord has placed a small stream at your feet. Shake the trunk of the palm toward you, and fresh, ripe dates will drop down to you. Eat and drink, and delight your eyes. ‘” 19:23-25
Important indicator about the season for Jesus’ birth is given in the expression, fresh, ripe dates will drop down to you. When do we have the season for fruiting of dates ? Is it the winter of December? Not at all. It is in the heat of summer. So according to the Qur’an, Jesus was born not in winter, but in summer!
Biblical evidence also points to the fact that Jesus was born when the climate was warmer, and not at the peak of december’s wintery season:
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Luke 2:7-8
The shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth. Late December in the middle of the night is not a comfortable time for the sheep to be out and about in the freezing cold, don’t you think?
In the same chapter, it can be seen that Jesus’ parents travelled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed….. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:). To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Luke 2:1-6
It is very unlikely that they made their Journey during winter when temperatures were below freezing and roads were poor condition.
All this leads to the fact that the time period of Jesus’ birth was not December, but according to the Qur’an it was certainly summer, as this is when dates are ripened, and according to the Bible it was much warmer. So here it is. The Muslim viewpoint. Jesus was not born in December, which means that Christmas day is not Christ’s birthday!
“Listen mate, are you telling me that I got it all wrong?” Our Christian friend asks. “Well, I am not saying you got it wrong. I am merely saying what I believe, just that you know where I’m coming from, so we know each other’s positions and can learn to live together!”. “Does that means you’re not gonna come to my Christmas party?”, he asks again. The Muslim replies, “Now I didn’t say that! I may very well be there, but make sure you have some non alcoholic cola and halaal pie there. And I certainly won’t stand under a mistle toe, when your granny is around!”
Participating In Christmas Festivities
Humour apart, I was once asked by a college manager in England who was organising a Christmas event for her students it is alright to invite Muslim students? This is a very important question. Especially for communities that are mixed, diverse and multifaith.
Whether people of different faiths can join in the celebrations of faiths that are different from their own?
My reply to her was in a yes and a no.
Yes, they can in the sense as observers, to learn about communities, to understand what people believe in and why they do so.
The answer would be a no, if the organisers expect students of other faiths to join and participate in religious ceremonies or to partake in activities that go against their own traditions.
But I would strongly recommend that in faith celebrations people of other faiths and beliefs are invited as well, because not doing so will isolate communities from each other.
When Muslims celebrate Eid, they too should invite people of other faiths to their celebrations, but it would certainly not be expected of their Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jewish friends to do the ablution and perform the prayer as they do. Non Muslims are simply there to share pleasantries and as observers. Also it should be ensured that food that meets the religious dietary needs of the guests is served. It wouldn’t go down very well if one were to invite Hindus or Buddhists who are vegetarians and serve them halal beef kebabs!
So a very strong yes to the invitation, a yes to careful pre-event preparations, but definitely a no to the religious participation bit.
There we are. It’s Christmas. We say to all who are celebrating it: have a good time. Spend time with your family. Think of the poor, and share with them too.
And remember, go easy on the dessert as it’s a tough job to loose those extra pounds gained during the festivities!
We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
How Muslims in Europe can tackle Islamophobia and also counter extremism within their ranks? There is a silent storm that is emerging in Europe. It is somewhat audible now and if counter measures are not taken, it is likely to cause significant damage. The storm is the rising xenophobia and its epicenter is the Muslim community of Europe.
The Swiss have recently passed a vote to ban minarets in their country. Denmark and the Netherlands have also had their fair share of anti-Muslim controversies. In the United Kingdom, the British National Party, which is openly against the presence of Muslims in Britain is making inroads and has even gained a seat in the European parliament. The French ban on religious dress in public educational institutions has made headlines. It seems like there is a sudden resurgence of religious intolerance in Europe.
Mind you that this sort of thinking is not new. It has been around since medieval times. Muslims and their religion have been portrayed negatively in Europe in the past.
Evidence to the effect is available when we study the translations of the Qur’an, the sacred scripture of Muslims that were done by medieval scholars in Europe, who do not make it a secret, as to the intention behind their work.
“…one of the first English translations commonplace in the English speaking world was that of George Sale, which is said to have been based on a latin translation by Maraci in 1689 with the Arabic Text and quotations from various Arabic Commentaries, carefully selected and garbled, so as to give the worst possible impression of Islam to Europe. Maracci was a learned man, and there is no pretence about the object he had in view viz.. to discredit Islam by an elaborate show of quotations from Muslim authorities themselves. Maracci was himself a Confessor to Pope Innocent XI; his work is dedicated to the holy Roman Emperor Leopold I; and he introduces it by an introductory volume containing what he calls a Refutation of the Quran. Considering that Maracci’s object was to discredit Islam in the eyes of Europe, it is remarkable that Sale’s translation should be looked upon as a standard translation in the English speaking world.” (Preface to an English Interpretation of the Holy Qur’an by A Yusuf Ali).
While translations of the Qur’an were deliberately distorted to malign Islam in Europe, it is also known that prominent institutions, such as Oxford University had Islamic studies as part of their teaching curriculum for hundreds of years but without the involvement of any Muslims at all!
In other words for hundreds of years, Islam was taught in Europe, not by those who believed in it, but by those who rejected the faith!
What type of an image the European masses would receive in such a situation shouldn’t be surprising. We should ask: If it would be strange to have a faculty on Women’s studies without women, it is equally strange to have a faculty of Islamic studies without Muslims!
Sadly, this is how some Europeans have known the Qur’an and Islam – not through an objective analysis, but through the works of those whose aim and intention was clearly to malign the faith, and it is no surprise that prejudices are deep rooted.
It is equally tragic, that the trend continues nowadays, the European public impression about Islam is being shaped by the right wing politicians, press, media, and even by extremists within the Muslim community, who in no way are representative of the moderate but silent majority.
If such are the motives, then we shouldn’t be surprised by the impressions that their work creates in the minds of common people.
The ball is in your court
The duty lies on the shoulder of the Muslim community residing in European lands, to have a dialogue with their European friends and colleagues, to remove misconceptions and increase understanding. If it does not then there will remain a vacuum, which will be filled by vile elements. So dialogue is the need of the hour in these turbulent times.
What should be done to remedy this situation? A lot can be done. But my emphasis is foremost on one aspect.
I believe that the presence and longevity of Muslims in Europe is dependent strongly on their link with the Qur’an. For as long as European Muslims take the Qur’an as their guide, instead of religious opinions that are contrary to it and apply its principles to their situation, their peace and sustenance will not be disturbed, for this is a divine promise.
Well, it may sound strange, but are not the Muslims already living their lives on the precepts of their holy book? To an outsider this may appear so, but a closer look at the community will reveal that this is far from the truth. Beliefs and practices that are prevailing within the community are in fact in no way endorsed or advocated by the Qur’an.
All those practices and habits which gain media attention and about which hue and cry is made are in fact anti-Qur’anic. Subjects like forced marriages, compulsory veiling, intolerance towards other faiths, partaking in violence on religious grounds, suicide bombers and all the other bad stuff that you hear about are not Qur’anic edicts but their source and origin lie elsewhere.
Muslims needs to re-educate themselves first and foremost by the Qur’an, as sadly they are not. A fresh look at the Qur’an to extrapolate guidance relevant to their circumstances is the need of the hour instead of looking at static interpretations of the past.
The outsider remains unaware that Muslims of today are in the habit of a ceremonial association with the Qur’an, and assume that all that they hear about the community in the press and media is probably the teaching of their holy book.
The hurdle between the Qur’an and the Muslim community
The actual case is that most Muslims in Europe may be able to recite the Qur’an in Arabic, but its meaning and teachings bear little relevance in their day to day lives. For decisions it is not the divine book that they turn to but to self styled religious ‘experts’. (A large proportion of European Muslims are from non Arabic backgrounds), many of whom are foreign imports from far distant lands.
When people in the Muslim community face religious dilemmas, they are in the habit of consulting such imams and scholars of various sects and schools of thoughts which have gained a foot hold in the community and it is rare to find a common Muslim being told by them to directly consult the Qur’an for their problem.
The Qur’an is deliberately kept as a means for blessing in spiritual terms, whose mere chanting is sufficient. But apply it in contemporary or religious matters of the common Muslim – this, the imams are reluctant to do so, because they have been advocating that the book is not for the common man, but for ‘experts’ only. ‘Let the ‘experts’ do the thinking and the common man blindly follow them’, so it is said!
The common Muslim is in fact discouraged from reading and studying the Qur’an by such ‘experts’, who instead have their own voluminous books and fatwas which the laity is to consult. Hence, the Qur’an is being restrained from the minds of the commoner, and a mere ceremonial and non intellectual reverence is prevailing.
Time to revisit the basics
The study and contemplation was not the sole remit of religious ‘experts’, but was the duty of each and every Muslim. The simple and clear injunctions are addressed to each and every one of them, to put into practice in their everyday lives, irrespective of their geographical location or time-dimension.
The Qur’an calls for each successive generation to engage with it, and discourages from blind imitation of the thinking of the past.
“A Book which We have revealed unto you, which is full of blessing, that they may ponder over its verses and that people of core take heed.” 38:29
“Do they not ponder over the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up by them?” 47:24
The call is for each addressee of the Qur’an to understand it in view of the circumstances that he or she dwells in and apply the guidance in their own relative situation. The Qur’anic principles are immutable, but people’s level of knowledge and circumstances keep changing and are not static. Therefore the interpretations of a past generation are not necessarily a standard for successive generations, as each generation will have to understand and apply the Qur’an for their own situation. Hence the Qur’an becomes a dynamic text applicable in all times and eras. It is also worthy to note that mimicking the wisdom of the previous generations is detested in the holy book:
“And when it is said to them follow what God has revealed, they say: ‘Nay! We will follow what we found our ancestors to follow!’ What! Even if their ancestors were devoid of guidance and lacked wisdom?” 2:170
Whether the matters be of personal nature like modesty, dietary prescriptions, gender roles, to religious practices like prayers, fasting, pilgrimage and charity, or of a wider public interaction like education, health, arts, social conduct, peacemaking, social and economic justice and community relations, Islam’s revelation has ample guidance for such and many more matters.
The intellectual affinity with the Qur’an is not there in the community. The need is for them to study the book as they would study an academic text to pass exams at school or college, making notes, marking pages, underlining texts and pondering deep on the meanings. What is the Qur’anic position on contemporary issues should be known to them.
Tackling violent extremism
Once they are educated by the Qur’an then they empower themselves with knowledge and can be in a position to counter the wrong portrayal which is promoted by right wing politicians, and also (sadly) by extremists within the Muslim community itself. The Qur’an is the anti-dote to this intolerance.
Extremism and religious fanaticism is a result of a stage by stage process. Before a person becomes fanatical, he or she undergoes gradual steps, which may involve reading certain types of literature and keeping the company of certain types of individuals, which fashion the person into his final radicalized form.
Qur’anic education is the best way to counter radicalization and prevention of violent extremism. Once the common European Muslims are educated about the contents of their divine scripture, they will then be in a position to know what is Islamic and what is not, and even if radicals attempt to instill their propaganda, Qur’anic concepts of peace and tolerance will act as a shield.
If certain elements approach the youth of the community with a particular narrative for conducting violent acts in the name of religion, then the empowered community will be able to tackle them and counter their arguments immediately, as through first hand Qur’anic knowledge they will already know what the true tenets of their belief are and that extremists are distorting the faith for their vile ends.
Hence the community will be able to tackle extremism and nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand. In this manner, Qur’anic education serves numours purposes. It is not only an antidote to Islamophobia and a means of community reform, but also the shield against extremist tendencies.
Such intellectual counter extremism measures initiated from within the Muslim community will also demonstrate to the wider European public that the conduct of mainstream European Muslims is not drawn from extremists or fanatical clerics, and they will be able to distinguish between the real Islam of the Qur’an and the false pretenses of religious exploiters.
Therefore the need of the hour is for a mass awareness campaign for the importance of Qur’anic education.
European Muslims should be able to quote chapter and verse directly from the book to demonstrate that it is a part and parcel of their value system to work towards the establishment of a society that is free from war, poverty, ignorance, superstition, fanaticism, discrimination, oppression, despondency and injustice, and one that flourishes with peace, prosperity, rationality, scientific achievement, equality, knowledge, tranquility and fairness in all segments.
This is the same Qur’an, about which a famous European once said:
“I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of Qur’an which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.” Napolean Bonaparte (Correspondance de Napoléon Ier Tome V pièce n° 4287 du 17/07/1799)
It is only the Qur’an which can save European Muslims, who have in the past faced genocides in these very European lands and had their entire populations wiped out. If Andalusia, Cordoba and Grenada were in the distant past, the events in Bosnia and Kosovo are only yesterday. The clarion call is sounding one more time and European Muslims needs to pay heed.
Their only hope is to go back to the original, reform themselves by it and counter those who deceptively portray the true Islamic identity.
European Muslims are at the cross roads. Turbulent times are coming ahead. However the challenges are also an opportunity to reshape the community which needs to wake up to the call of the Qur’an. The time has come for them to take the lead and instead of cultivating religious identities through ancestral tradition, human conjecture, religious charlatans, extremist groups or cultural practices of their ethnic communities, they need to mould their character through Islam’s original source and Revelation, the Qur’an. For it alone can help them:
“And We reveal in the Qur’an that which is healing and a mercy to the believers…” 17:82
The falling leaves of autumn. You notice them as you walk along the pathways. Blown away by gusty winds, some red, some yellow, some dry, some crisp – all heralding the moment of change and signaling to us that its time to seek a new beginning. As autumn is the season marking the periodic change in the natural world, it seems that it is also a period of change throughout human history.
From the discovery of Americas by Christopher Columbus to the Russian revolution to the unification of East and West Germany in recent times, many eventful occasions have marked the season throughout history.October seems to be a time of revolution.
It seems as if human actions correlate with the natural world around them. They too, are in the habit of discarding the old and experimenting with the new. It may not come as a surprise, but human history seems like one great long autumn. People create one set of beliefs and its corresponding social structure, discover that it doesn’t work, then throw it away and experiment with another one.Out with the old, and in with the new. Just like leaves in autumn.
First came Autocrats claiming divine sanction, then came Theocracies, Capitalism glorified material gains albeit in the hands of a select few, Communism protested, but it too failed, now the flame of Democracy is dwindling, and God knows what will it be replaced by. How long this trial and error by humanity will continue, you never know. But the cost has been quite high for the games that people play.
But still – change is the theme of the season. Change is all around, the only constant, and so is it a central theme in Divine guidance, in the Qur’an, the Divine Book of Islam. Changing your self towards a new you – a new person that has shed his or her old habits and reformed themselves by Divine guiding light. However, the change that is spoken of in relation to human beings, is not one that is brought about coercively, but one that that we bring within us, by our own choice. It is the change within, the change of heart that is initiated by our own volition and personal reflection. This type of change, even God Almighty does not bring about, until or unless you want it:
“That is because God would never change His favour that He conferred on a people until they changed what was within themselves; and that God is All-hearing, All-knowing.” 8:53
He won’t force you to walk His paths, He hasn’t pre-programmed you to follow your nature, but has bestowed you with a free will – it is the free will which you must use to your benefit, and it is the free will that separates you from animals and beasts, all of whom simply follow their preordained nature, and are not held accountable in any court of law for their behavior. You on the other hand are free to exercise your choice, and it is this choice and decision-making ability which lays responsibility on your shoulders and holds you accountable for your actions. So you will have to change your self but by your own self. God does lend a helping hand in the form of signs and signals, guides and guide maps, but the destination is of your own choice. You have to bring this change upon yourself voluntarily.
LOOK INTO THE MIRROR
As we become conscious of our personal responsibility towards change, we are also conscious about those who consider it their divine mission to change the world. You frequently stumble upon such people who unfortunately see it as their divine duty to change the entire world to their own way of thinking. They teach and preach, plan and execute, mobilise and manoeuvre, under the guise of their conceited belief and the arrogant conviction of its superiority. They set out to change the world, at times on a secular campaign while on other occasions embark on a “Godly” mission to impose on others a consensus about beliefs that they see fit by themselves and patterns that are pleasing to their own eyes. Quick to point out mistakes in other people, it is rare that you observe them in self reproach and personal accountability. Making a wanton display of their unholy claims, they make the house of prayer into a den of thieves (Mark 21:13). They come to you in holy garbs claiming to take the speck out of your eye,’ but fail to see the plank in their own eye? (Luke 6:42). Unaware and careless of their personal responsibility, they set out to change the world, but can the blind lead the blind?
The divine injunctions have never stipulated that it is one’s duty to transform the world. One is accountable to transform no one but his or her own self:
“O believers, look after your own souls. He who is astray cannot hurt you, if you are rightly guided. Unto God shall you return, all together, and He will tell you what you were doing.” 5:105
This is so as on the hereafter he or she will be questioned about nobody’s but his or her own conduct:
“Every one of them shall come to Him upon the Day of Resurrection, all alone.” 19:95
While it is true that Divine injunctions call for sharing of Divine peace and eternal bliss but never enjoin conquest of diverse beliefs that exist in the world as per Divine plan:
“And if thy Lord had willed, whoever is in the earth would have believed, all of them, all together. Wouldst thou then constrain the people, until they are believers?” 10:99
So talking about change – it is our own that we need to worry about and no one else’s salvation. Whenever we point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at us. It is our own neck that we need to worry about. Look your own self in the mirror. It is all about you and nobody else.
PREPARATION FOR TIMES TO COME
The falling leaves of autumn signal a moment of change towards the new, but the chilly winds of the season also indicate the dark and cold winter to come. Autumn marks the transition from summer into winter. It is a signal for tougher times ahead, for which one must be prepared. We see in the natural world that plants and animals prepare for this in advance by storing fuel and preserving fuel through hibernation.
This is all natural for them. After all they are simply following the course they have been programmed to act on. But we on the other hand need to learn and be educated about preparing for the morrow. Reflect on what you do today, and what will be its bearing in times to come, is the rejoinder in the Qur’an:
“O ye who believe! Fear God, and let every soul look to what (provision) He has sent forth for the morrow. Yea, fear God: for God is well-acquainted with (all) that ye do.” 59:18
Your now is important, as the clock of life never waits for anybody, Its batteries do not need recharging and simply keep going. What you do now, will impact your tomorrow. So now is the most important part of your life. We can’t stop the clock of life.
It won’t wait for anybody. Just look at your own life. Your childhood, your youth, your adult life, Doesn’t it all seem just like yesterday. Aren’t we constantly travelling towards our end? Is not each and everyday of our life bringing us closer to that ultimate reality called death?
DEATH IS A FACT OF LIFE
Yes death. A taboo for many. Rarely do you think about it. But it is a fact, just as you are, your existence is. Do you remember attending the funeral of a near or dear one? Remember the wailing and the grief? Do you recall leaning over the face of the dead person? How white it was, how frightening, still and lifeless?
Now imagine yourself in the same situation, because one day this will certainly be you. It is an undeniable reality. A fact. The same will happen to us all. What is born, it must die. The important question is what have we done about it? Are you prepared for death? Should it come tomorrow? Today? Ask yourself. Are you ready to face death? Do you want more time? Time is short. The clock is ticking. What are you doing about it?
If our worldly material life is all that there is, then life as it is can be very boring, don’t you think? What about the wonder and the mystery of afterlife, the hope of carrying on beyond the material body, and joy of meeting those who have left us?
Also, and more importantly, if there is no afterlife, no accountability after death, no heaven for the righteous and no punishment for the wicked, then that would mean that the tyrants and oppressors of the world got away with it scot free! They looted and plundered, maimed and murdered, became beyond the reach of law and justice, mightily took away what belonged to others, and enjoyed the spoils all their life, and now that they are dead, no body will hold them to account?
It is this type of mentality, that denies the accountability of afterlife which poses a danger for humanity and it is against such ideologues that Divine emissaries taught their followers to seek God’s refuge and proclaim:
Moses said: “I have indeed called upon my Lord and your Lord (for protection) from every arrogant one who believes not in the Day of Account!” 40:27
Refuge with God must be sought from them because such people believe that the material life is all that there is and if they can be above the law and acquire power and influence then their personal interest is supreme at the expense of others. With such an outlook of life, they disdain not in doing horrible things, acting criminally and hurting others. All of this is so because in their hearts there is no belief in accountability of their actions in life after death:
And they say: “What is there but our life in this world? We shall die and we live, and nothing but time can destroy us.” But of that they have no knowledge: they merely conjecture. 40:24
If you are not prepared for death and accountability in after life, then tough times are ahead for you. Just like in autumn one needs to prepare for the long dark winter, one needs to prepare for the day when he or she will be held accountable for his or her actions. We need to shed our old past that was devoid of divine inspiration and change ourselves to make way for the new.
Change is happening all around you this autumn. Go out. Take a walk in the park. The leaves of autumn are falling. They glorify their Lord and offer Him complete submission.
Hearken to their message of change.
Life is a journey. We are but travelers. But there is a road that is less traveled, a path less trodden. Pointers to that road come in our life but many tend to ignore them.Consciously or subconsciously we follow paths in life, make choices and pursue ends. We keep on moving with the same old routines, the same common milestones until suddenly we are at the cross roads.
Make full use of the cross roads, read the signs properly and you will reach a pleasing destination. On the other hand, close your eyes to the rejoinders, ignore the signs and keep on moving in your self inflicted pride then there is no question about you getting lost. This is not a simple journey, but a journey of far greater importance – one more momentous, one where the slightest wrong turn can have dire consequences.
We all come across turning points in life. These are major events or incidents that act as catalysts leading to the cross roads.
A turning point is an occasion that makes us reflect on life itself, on its meaning and purpose. We question not only ourselves, but the day to day status quos that we often embroil ourselves in. They make us think, reset our priorities, change course or step on the brakes.
LAST RESORT IN TIMES OF DISTRESS
But turning points do not occur randomly. They always follow an eventful occurrence. Trials and tribulations that are a cause of distress. The illness of a near or dear one. A near death experience. The loss of someone very close. Or an escape from some sort of a calamity. Events of this sort, where we feel helpless and powerless to do what we want to do, to attain what we hope to attain.
When all the people we know, when all the wealth we have isn’t of any use. When we desperately turn to the people around us for help, but are forsaken by all, hear no for an answer from all quarters and our pleading is of no use. When there is no hope, no joy. When all is about to be lost and our hopes and desires about to be shattered. When we finally acknowledge how weak and powerless we are. It is then, that we finally turn, in such a state of humiliation, we turn to a Higher Being for help:
Say: “Who is it that delivereth you from the dark recesses of land and sea, when ye call upon Him in humility and silent terror: ‘If He only delivers us from these (dangers), (we vow) we shall truly show our gratitude’?”6:63
Say “It is God that delivereth you from these and all (other) distresses: and yet ye worship false gods!”6:64
We plead Him, beg Him, fall down on our knees, cry and moan. In humiliation and humbleness imploring for one last chance. A last chance, which if we are granted then we vow to lead a righteous life, to turn over a new leaf solely for His sake, live according to His will and plan. We pray in solitude:“Oh God! Please, please don’t let this happen! Please change things for me! I promise to turn over a new leaf, it will be a new start for me, if I am granted this prayer… I will do what you will…just save me from this distress!” It is supplications like these that emanate from the depths of our heart and shudder our very being. This is the inner feeling of every human being, says the Qur’an:
“When trouble toucheth man, He crieth unto Us (in all postures)- lying down on his side, or sitting, or standing…” 10:12
When we are in pain and suffering, and there is no hope in sight, when everyone has abandoned our requests, then as a last final resort we turn to God for help. Yes, we very well do. Each and everyone of us, no matter whether we are religious or not, no matter how staunch one may be in his or her disbelief, at that crucial moment, that vital juncture, when they are powerless and helpless to prevent what is about to befall, they too turn to the One who they had ignored and ridiculed, all their life, begging Him for one last chance, promising Him to turn over a new leaf, if only the peril and danger that is in their life is removed:
Say: “Think ye to yourselves, if there come upon you the wrath of God, or the Hour (that ye dread), would ye then call upon other than God? – (reply) if ye are truthful! 6:40
“Nay, – On Him would ye call, and if it be His will, He would remove (the distress) which occasioned your call upon Him, and ye would forget (the false gods) which ye join with Him!”6:41
This is man, any and every man. He implores God as a final resort when all else fails! While pain and distress is an occasion for a new beginning, a signal for change of course, a time to take action, a search for a remedy, sadly, most people forget this episode when the affliction is removed and return to their old usual ways:
“But when he delivereth them, behold! they transgress insolently through the earth in defiance of right! O mankind! your insolence is against your own souls, – an enjoyment of the life of the present: in the end, to Us is your return, and We shall show you the truth of all that ye did.”10:23
They ignore God, they forget that they had prayed and their prayer was answered. God had done His job, but did they do theirs!
Therefore, we need to learn from our distress. Analyse what we are doing, whether it is right or wrong and learn from our mistakes. An event that leads us to a turning point where we focus on God is a blessing in disguise and an opportunity of a lifetime.
THE TURNING POINT – AN OPPORTUNITY
Our afflictions and miseries also prove to be blessings in disguise, for such is the situation when we are granted an opportunity to avail the turning point in life. It occurs when we, in times of trouble, helplessness and despair turn to God for help – as a last resort, praying to Him to remove our afflictions and making a commitment in return to lead a righteous life:
“And indeed We will make them taste of the Penalty of this (life) prior to the supreme Penalty, in order that they may (repent and) return.”32:21
If you ask them, people will say they know God. They may have read about Him, have some sort of a conception about His person, grasped from the environment, or even made up by their imagination – an All powerful, Supreme Being with whom all things are possible, not the helpless humankind they observe daily, but someone quite capable of doing what He wills to do. However, the praise and reverence in a ceremony, or the theology of a seminary do not necessarily bring a person more closer to God, than a deeply personal and distressful call in times of trial and tribulation:
“And ye have no good thing but is from God: and moreover, when ye are touched by distress, unto Him ye cry with groans;” 16:54
It is in these situations, that a being who was for us, merely a concept in books, or a subject of spoken words and conversation, is now a reality, for we are calling on Him to remove our afflictions in a very real and intense way and waiting to see if someone is really ‘up there’ to answer us. Distressful occasions can be an opportunity of a lifetime, for you then focus your attention to God, His power and His majesty. You make a commitment with Him in your heart and wait and watch. When God’s mercy is bestowed, it is then time for you to be true to your word, and follow in His paths:
“Your Lord knows very well what is in your hearts if you are righteous, for He is All-forgiving to those who are penitent.”17:25
This is an opportunity for you, to go on the path that very few have chosen, and about which God has revealed His messages in all times and eras:
“Whenever We sent a prophet to a town, We took up its people in suffering and adversity, in order that they might learn humility.” 7:94
Your past can be forgiven. You can be healed of the excesses you committed, and regain your health, but for that you will have to follow the given advice and make changes in your life:
Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. 39:53
LAST MINUTE SUBMISSION OF NO USE
If we have made contact with God, acknowledged His existence and seek his guidance, then the time to re-evaluate our priorities is now. Now is the time to be serious about who we are, where we come from and where are we going, and how God relates to us? What use is going to a doctor at the last stages of the illness? The time to seek remedy is before the disease spreads to a stage in which it cannot be curbed. Will it be of any benefit if one were to surrender to the doctor’s prescription when the end is near? Certainly not. The time for medical help was in the early stages of the disease, not in the final one.
Similarly, God’s guidance is our healing from the ills we incur and the mistakes we have committed in the past – it reforms ourselves from the ill effects of past mistakes, and strengthens us for times to come. The time to surrender to God is now, and not at the last moment of our life. Do we think that we can commit excesses, waste, destroy, loot and plunder, act immorally in all sorts of ways, lie, cheat, deceive and oppress while ignoring God, and then at the last moment of our life, or at the time of death the repentance from our wrong doings will save us from the effects of our past actions?
“Turn ye to our Lord (in repentance) and bow to His (Will), before the Penalty comes on you: after that ye shall not be helped.”39:54
“And follow the best of (the courses) revealed to you from your Lord, before the Penalty comes on you – of a sudden while ye perceive not! 39:55
Turn to God now; follow His guidance, now – and not when the water has risen above your head.We should not allow iniquity to further itself, before it takes up our entire being, and hardens our heart, we need to address it and reform ourselves of its impact.
The Qur’an gets the point across about last minute soul saving techniques. All his life, the Pharaoh was a tyrannical ruler, but when he realised that the end was near and that his power was of no use, it was then that he submitted to God; but that last minute acknowledgement was of no use:
“We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: “I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit (to God in Islam).”10:90
(It was said to him): “Ah now! – But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion! – and thou didst mischief (and violence)!” 10:91
“This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!”10:92
The Pharaoh’s last minute acknowledgement was not accepted. Will taking a pill save you when you are at your death bed and the cancer has spread terminally?
A CALL TO ACTION
Well then? Have you thought about the afflictions in your life? Did you turn to God for help, implore Him and beseech Him to remove your period of trial? What did you vow in return? He did His bit, have you done yours yet?
“When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.”2:186
He listens to you, but you also need to listen to Him. He will improve your condition if you do:
“But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad – for it is the Truth from their Lord, – He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition.” 47:2
So here we are. Into the second stage of Ramadan. First ten days gone. The month of mercy is still here. Nights of guidance and revelation still on.
But it begs the question in terms of the road less traveled; where are you now, and where do you want to be?
The choice is yours.
Are you someone born and brought up in a Muslim household, who accepts by default, that the Qur’an is a Divine text? Or someone not-so-sympathetic, someone who was told a lot of negative things about the Book and now you harbour such views yourself. Or simply in search of the truth – a common voyager without any strong affiliations. In any case, you owe it to yourself to know what the Book is all about. Compare what people claim it to be to what you find it to be yourself, of your own personal study and without any external influence or coercion whatsoever.
Make up your own mind, my friend, form your own conclusions! Don’t just follow the crowd! Don’t blindly listen to those who praise it, and on the other hand don’t pay heed to its critics unquestioningly, but weigh and consider your options.
Something is not true just because our parents lovingly taught it to us, or we embraced it from our society. Truth stands on its own two feet, can fight for itself and is not dependent on anyone for its existence. So what we have been tutored to accept does not necessarily mean, is the truth. We have to labour for the truth, and arrive at it objectively.
I am sure you will agree with me that it is not honest and wise to form an opinion about something without really knowing what it is. How would you feel if someone who never met you, who never came across credible evidence about your real personality, suddenly starts your character assassination in front of other people?
Same holds true for the Qur’an. We shouldn’t form an opinion about its origin, message and features without ever bothering to check it up ourselves. But sadly, many people do that. They hold views that they have been ‘programmed’ to accept from their peers and environment, such rarely being an outcome of their personal investigation.
So for your curiosity and interest, in this blog, I would like to discuss with you some of the claims of the Book, with a desire that you will perhaps examine these claims of your own effort and then make an informed decision about their validity.
The salient feature of these claims is that they originate internally, within the Qur’anic text itself. In other words you are going to read about what the Qur’an claims to be by itself, and not what people say what it is.
Mind you these are claims, whether they are true or not, you owe it to yourself to confirm. Here are a few of them.
1. A REVELATION FROM GOD
“The revelation of this Book is from God, Exalted in Power, Full of Knowledge.” 41:2
Very clearly, in non ambiguous terms, the Book claims to be Divine Revelation.
2. THE TRUTH
“That which We have revealed to thee of the Book is the Truth…” 35:31
3. GOD’S SPEECH IN THE FIRST PERSON
“When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.” 2:186
A reflection. Who is the speaker in the above statement?
4. ADDRESSED DIRECTLY TO YOU
When reading the Book you discover that it is addressed to you, i.e. the Reader with the Speaker claiming to be God and addressing you directly at this very point in time:
“O Man! What has beguiled you from your Lord, the Gracious one.”
“Who created you, then made you complete, then made you symmetrical?”
“Into whatever form He pleased He constituted you.”
“Nay! But you give the lie to the judgment day.” 82:6-9
In the above, the “you” is “Al Insaan”, i.e the Human being and he is being addressed directly. God is speaking to you right at this very moment when you read the Qur’an!
5. CONTAINS ITS OWN EXEGESIS
“And no question do they bring to thee but We reveal to thee the truth and the best explanation (thereof).” 25:33
“A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail;- a Qur’an in Arabic, for people who understand.” 41:3
6. GOD IS ITS TEACHER
“(God) Most Gracious! It is He Who has taught the Qur’an.” 55:1-2
“Nay more, it is for Us to explain it (and make it clear).” 75:16-19
7. PRESERVATION VOUCHSAFED BY GOD
“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).” 15:9
“Those who reject the Message when it comes to them (are not hidden from Us). And indeed it is a Book of exalted power. No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it: It is sent down by One Full of Wisdom, Worthy of all Praise.” 41:41-42
Say: “If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support. 17:88
“This Qur’an is not such as can be produced by other than God…” 10:37
9. CLEAR AND PLAIN
“By the Book that makes things clear.” 43:2
“…We have made plain to you the Signs, if ye have wisdom.” 3:118
The Book claims to be clear and plain and not confusing.
10. EASY TO UNDERSTAND
“And We have indeed made the Qur’an easy to understand and remember: then is there any that will receive admonition?” 54:17, 22, 32 & 40
The Speaker claims that He has made the Qur’an easy.
11. FOR ALL HUMANKIND
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind,…” 2:185
Not sent as a guide to Arabs or Pakistanis but to humankind. It is for everyone who falls within humanity.
12. THE CRITERION TO DETERMINE RIGHT FROM WRONG
We all have our own standards and judgments for accepting or rejecting things. On the other hand the Qur’an also has standards. In its pages, we find that while identifying the right conduct, the wrong behavior is also highlighted so people can amend themselves. Continuing the same verse cited above, another of the Qur’an’s attributes occurs i.e. Al Furqan which means The criterion or judgment between right and wrong:
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong)…” 2:185
13. FREE FROM DISCREPANCY
“Do they not consider the Qur’an (with care)? Had it been from other Than God, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.” 4:82
A very clear cut statement. That the Book has no internal conflict and is consistent with itself. And also states the nature of what is not coming from God.
14. FOR ALL TIMES AND GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATIONS
“Verily this is no less than a Message to (all) the Worlds!” 81:27
“Zikr un Lil Alameen” – a remembrance to the Worlds. Notice that the literal meaning of Alameen is “Worlds” (in plural). Does it mean that the Qur’an is a guide to mankind beyond the boundaries of this world as well? Strange, is it not? We are just dwelling on planet earth at present, the moment we conquer outer space and make habitations on other planets, it is then that this claim will really be put to the test.
15. HAS ALL THINGS NECESSARY FOR GUIDANCE
“..and We have revealed the Book to you explaining clearly everything, and a guidance and mercy and good news for those who submit.” 16:89
“Is it not enough for them that We have revealed to you the Book which is recited to them? Most surely there is mercy in this and a reminder for a people who believe.” 29:51
“Say: ‘Shall I seek for judge other than God? – when He it is Who hath sent unto you the Book, explained in detail?” 6:114
“…Nothing have we omitted from the Book…” 6:38
16. PROMOTES PEACE
“…There hath come to you from God a (new) light and a perspicuous Book, Wherewith God guideth all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety…” 5:15-16 17.
17. A SOLACE TO THE SUFFERING
“We send down (stage by stage) in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe…” 17:82
18. REMOVES YOUR ILLS AND IMPROVES YOUR CONDITION
“But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad – for it is the Truth from their Lord,- He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition.” 47:2
19. CONSISTENT WITH NATURAL PHENOMENA
“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for people of understanding, Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the creation in the heavens and the earth, (With the thought): “Our Lord! Not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire.” 3:190-191
The Qur’an is calling to study the natural world. Would it do so if it were not consistent with it?
20. PROPHECY ABOUT CONQUEST OF SPACE BY MAN
“And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: Behold, in that are Signs indeed for those who reflect.” 45:13
21. PROPHECY ABOUT LIFE IN OUTER SPACE AND ITS CONTACT WITH HUMANITY
“And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and what He has spread forth in both of them of living beings; and when He pleases He is all-powerful to gather them together.” 42:29
Here it foretells us that there are living beings in both – heavens as well as earth and one day they can join together! Time will tell.
22. IT WILL AMAZE YOU
“Say: It has been revealed to me that a party of the jinn listened, and they said: Surely we have heard an amazing Quran!” 72:1
Aren’t you amazed by what you have read so far?
23. IT WILL BRING YOU OUT FROM DARKNESS INTO LIGHT
“A. L. R. A Book which We have revealed unto thee, in order that thou mightest lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light – by the leave of their Lord – to the Way of (Him) the Exalted in power, worthy of all praise!” 14:1
24. IT WILL TOUCH YOUR HEART
“And when they listen to the revelation… thou wilt see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognise the truth…” 5:82
“…Whenever the Signs of (God) Most Gracious were rehearsed to them, they would fall down in prostrate adoration and in tears.” 19:58
So here you are. Two dozen claims. Quite a long list. You hold in your hand a Book that claims to be from the Almighty Creator, claims to be perfect, free from discrepancy, incorruptible and perfectly preserved, claims to provide Divine guidance for your day to day living, wherever you may be, and in whatever time frame you may exist, is easy and comprehensible, but will be revealed on you according to situation and spiritual development.
These are some really unique claims worth investigating, don’t you think. Ever come across any other religious Scripture that has within its pages such direct claims?
To the Muslim reader. As I said earlier, you need to take up the Book by yourself. You have tarried long enough with your ignorance. It is your own job to know the reality, not the job of your local Imam or your mother or father or brother or your in-laws to do it for you for that matter. You don’t know the Book and your non Muslim friend doesn’t know it either. What makes you special then?
So have you got your copy of the Qur’an ready? Have you started to read the meanings and make notes and pointers?
Now to the skeptic. It is very easy to attempt to disprove the Qur’an. All you have to do is come forward with the proof to nullify these claims.
E.g. in 2:23-24 it states that no one will be able to produce a Surah similar to the Qur’an. All you have to do to prove that the Qur’an is wrong is to meet this challenge.
Or in 4:82 it states that there is no discrepancy in the Book – you just need to come forward with one contradiction to prove your case.
The Qur’an not only offers claims, but also provides numerous tests for its authentication. Above are a few claims – why not work at them, because if they are indeed true, and you are in the habit of falsifying them without credible reason then it is your neck on the day of account.
I have presented to you an alternate view, then one which perhaps is known to you. But I won’t ask you to believe everything just like that. It is not within my domain to make you believe or accept a certain viewpoint.
Nobody can convince anyone. We need to arrive at the truth about things at our own pace, and as a result of our own labour and reflection. Therefore what will be stated is for your personal investigation and analytical study. So the ball is in your court. Go to your Qur’an and start studying.
This series of Blogs that I intend to write during the ongoing month of Ramadhan are meant for newcomers to the Qur’an. This does not necessarily mean non Muslims, but also includes those who may be born into Islamic households.
Non Muslims aside, many of those who style themselves as Muslims are unaware of the nature, purpose and application of the Qur’an – sadly due to the prevailing tendency in a vast majority of Muslim societies to recite the Qur’an in Arabic without understanding, and considering the mere chanting of words to be a blissful act – without any engagement with the meaning behind the words. There is also widespread ignorance about the message of the Qur’an because of a general lack of literacy and education within the Muslim community.
If you happen to take a walk in the crowded street in a Muslim country and stop someone in his tracks and ask; “…excuse me sir, do you know what does the Qur’an say about..?” or “Could you please quote me chapter or verse?”, and chances are that you will receive a blank stare, a nodding of the head, or you could very well be signposted to ‘an expert’ for such matters.
Therefore, I am not differentiating between Muslim and non Muslim readers, but simply categorizing my audience as newcomers to the Qur’an – those who have never come across the Qur’an before or might have in a rudimentary manner, be they of any background, any faith and I assume no prior experience or expertise.
As long as they can communicate in English, these blogs are for their benefit.
To the newbie
So to the newbie, I’d like to address you directly, for it is for you that I endeavor and labour during this blessed month. But my intention is not to preach or proselytize. And also please don’t feel patronized by being labeled as a newcomer; because I think in the process, I too will be learning something new, so this exercise is for my own benefit as well as yours. We are all learners, and learners we shall remain, for it is God who is the ultimate teacher:
“(God) Most Gracious!”
“It is He Who has taught the Qur’an.” 55:1-2
I take a strong exception to those who proudly label themselves as experts of the Qur’an. No body can be an expert of God’s Book. They could master the books that they have written, but if God’s Book is the fountainhead of divine and perfect knowledge, then it follows from this basic premise that the imperfect human mind cannot logically be a master of infinite divine knowledge. The finite cannot master the infinite. That’s illogical. We all receive according to our situation and capacity.
Obtain a copy of the Qur’an for personal study
If you don’t posses one already, then I would request you to obtain a translation of the Qur’an when you read these blogs, because I will be quoting extensively from the Book, and as this exercise is meant to stimulate discussion for Qur’anic understanding, it would be practical and convenient to have your own copy nearby. There are many translations available. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, that I carry on my person, Pickthall which is old English, but literally close to the Arabic, Arberry which is also close to the original Arabic, Asad’s voluminous version with commentary, and many more. Go to any good bookstore, and under the Religion section, choose the one which is an easy read. Alternatively you can browse the web for translated versions, but I prefer the real book in hand.
How is the Qur’an structured?
Once you have your own copy handy, have a look at the contents. After the translator’s forward or any other opening remarks, you will come across the contents. Chapters will be labeled as Suras. There are a total of 114 Suras in the Qur’an. The first one is Sura Al Fatiha (The Opener), and the last (No. 114) is Surah-An-Naas (The People).
The longest Sura is Sura No. 2, Al Baqara (The Cow), containing 286 verses, while the shortest is Sura No. 108, Al Kawthar (The Abundance) with only three verses.
Division of the Qur’an is initially in Suras or Chapters, and the Suras are then further divided into Ayaat or Signs, (verses to some). This division is not man-made, but claimed by the divine author in the Book internally. We find internal references to Suras and Ayaat within the text itself. E.g.
“A Surah which We have revealed…” 24:1
“These are the Ayaat of the Qur’an..” 27:1
So Suras are chapters and statements or verses within them are the Ayaat, and this arrangement is claimed by the Author of the text itself, and not done by the publishers.
If you open up the first Sura or Al Fatiha, you will note that it has seven Ayaat or seven verses. Each ayah is usually numbered in a translation. For brevity, I won’t be quoting the full name of the chapter, but simply cite the chapter number, followed by a colon and then the verse number. Therefore If I quote to you 2:185, then this means chapter number 2, which is Al Baqara, and verse number 185. Usually, most translations have chapter number on the top of every page, so just open up the page and look up where it says what number it is. Just look up Al Baqara, or Sura 2, and then look for verse number 185. Also have a pencil at hand to scribble notes and references on the pages of your personal copy itself. They act as useful signposts when revisiting a topic.
Getting used to it
Why don’t you do an exercise right now? Check up these references in your own Qur’an and see what they say: 54:17, 22, 32, and 40. You’ll be amazed with the discovery.
This exercise will help you browse the Qur’an and enable you to look up easily what is written where. So please have your Qur’an ready, for I’m sure, that a profound revelation awaits you in the coming days.
The month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In this month Muslims all over the world observe a fast from dawn till dusk. They refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations at God’s instructions. It is a month in which religious zeal is at an increase, mosques are filled with the faithful, supplications are abound, charity is also distributed; – it is a sacred month in all its glory.
It is a month of reform, a month of reflection, a month of discipline, a month of alms giving, and a month of thankfulness. But most importantly, it is a month of revelation. Yes, that is right; Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an – God’s communication to humankind. We read in chapter 2, verse 185 of the Qur’an:
شَہۡرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانُ هُدً۬ى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡهُدَىٰ وَٱلۡفُرۡقَانِۚ فَمَن شَہِدَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّہۡرَ فَلۡيَصُمۡهُۖ
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong)…” (2:185)
From East to West, North to South, people of all hues, of all backgrounds, engage with the Qur’an in this month. Some do so ceremoniously, while others approach it intelligently. It is the practice of the Muslim community to recite the entire Qur’an at night in congregations during this month. This practice is prevailing at Al Masjid Al Haraam, the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and in other mosques all over the world. The faithful, fast during the day, and stand for prayer by night, reciting and listening to the entire Qur’an, from the first to the last chapter and strive to go through the entire Book till the end of the month.
From the first day of fasting, the faithful join in for daily nightly endeavors known as Qiyaam Al Layl or Salat Al Taraweeh which is the special nightly prayer in which the Qur’an is recited from start to end. They also reflect on the meaning of Qur’anic revelation and explore selected Qur’anic themes, as they occur during the course of daily readings. These reflections reveal new insights to us and inspire us to study the book of our own accord. As Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an, newcomers to the Quran will find the month a useful starting point to browse through the Book just for these four weeks, for starters.
If not out of reverence, then perhaps out of curiosity.