By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam
21 April 2020
Rediscovering Islam: A Fresh Islamic Perspective on Contemporary Key Islam
Author: Dr Khalid Zaheer
Publisher: Al Mawrid Hind Foundation, New Delhi, India
Year of Publication: 2019
Pages: 172 Price Rs 300
Islam as a religion is misunderstood not only by the non-Muslims but even Muslims are not aware of its principles, priorities and projections. This misunderstanding is a result of disengagement and non-serious attitude towards understanding the holy scriptures of Islam. The sectarian Ulama have abused teachings of Islam, in order to tailor them to fit their exclusivist literal discourse. Meanwhile other theologians and doctors of divinity have made understanding these scriptures so difficult that a common man feels helpless and ill equipped to understand them, particularly the Holy Quran. In this manner the religious class maintains grip over the common masses who accept anything coming from them in the name of religion.
The current book under review is a rebellion against this status quo. The author of this book Dr Khalid Zaheer is an important contemporary scholar of Islam, who believes that Islam first needs to be understood then believed and later followed. “It is not only my right but a duty to state what is unique in the understanding of my faith. The only condition I must satisfy is that I should justify my understanding from the original sources of Islam.”
Offering key perspective towards understanding and application of Islam, given the changing context and era Dr Zaheer writes, “Faith never changes nor do its basic principles and expectations. However, the perspective with which faith is understood and applied changes. The glasses being used are the same, but the view they observe undergoes changes. The important thing is that while the view is different, the colour of the glasses should remain the same.” This is quite a new manner of approaching the scriptures and encouraging Ijtihaad. Meanwhile all other sectarian Ulama believe in upholding the status quo and applying the same legal instructions that developed in a certain context that too going back to few centuries. They have failed to understand and evaluate the demands of changing times, so their interpretation of Islam has remained stagnant and fixated in time.
In the traditional approach as espoused by sectarian Ulama and taught in madrasas, questioning as a pedagogical practice is desisted. The students of madrasas develop a non-questioning attitude reinforced by blind following of religious injunctions (Taqlid). So, for these scholars questioning is something quite abhorrent, that leaves a number of doubts not only in the minds of common people, even the scholars are not immune from it. But Dr Zaheer believes in a different approach that he expresses as, “This approach also believes that Islam is a religion based on intellect and that faith encourages questions in pursuit of truth. This thought continues to develop and produce thinkers and reformers who firmly believe that Islam and the Quran deserve to be read and understood analytically as man continues to evolve his intellectual powers. I lay claim to be an ordinary follower of this religious-intellectual movement.”
Further reinforcing his definition and claim about the essence and productivity of this approach, he observes, “We seek guidance, ask questions, and make up our minds. This is very much a part of the exercise of acquiring faith. Genuinely questing and doubting one’s faith neither makes an individual faithless, nor is against the expectations that God has of believers.” (P-6-7) So questioning about various aspects of faith is encouraged. So this book is a result of same approach, “This book is based on some of the responses I had given to the questions I received in the last ten years or so.”
The book is divided into a number of chapters following a pattern of question and answers that haunt a believer and seeker of truth with a modern mind. The perennial question why people suffer, problem of evil, predestination and free will are answered lucidly. The new definition about Kaafir being a category of those who reject the truth instead of following the traditional Muslim, non-Muslim dichotomy is a worth read. The religious status of suicide bombing, Jihad, stoning those guilty of adultery is answered in a manner that destroys the arguments of the opponents.
The human relationships including dealing with non-Muslims, polytheists, atheists is understood in the new context. The new age issues including human rights of LGBTQ, Gender relations, Divorce, Illegitimate child and his/her status in Islam are engaged with progressively. A progressive interpretation of Islam is desisted by traditional Ulama who describe it as conspiracy against Islam. They decry that the new interpreters of Islam are twisting Quran and Hadith to suit their own agenda, but Dr Zaheer upholds the supremacy of Quran in these words, “We may disagree on what the text is saying, but we cannot overrule its verdict to suit the considerations of modern times once its meanings and implications are clear to us. Muslims believe that the Quranic text must be followed diligently because it is the divine message that has come to guide them; they cannot alter it or ignore it to suit the changing trends of their times. The fact that it is fully preserved rules out the possibility of human error creeping into it.” (P-79)
It is further being alleged about progressive scholars like Dr Zaheer that they are Munkir e Hadith (Those who reject sayings of Prophet Muhammad), though he believes, “But to ignore it completely will amount to ignoring an extremely valuable treasure of knowledge about the religious opinions and conduct of the most important man in the world of Islam.” (P-66) So believing and using these primary texts of Islam, Dr Zaheer engages with a number of issues across the spectrum that concern social, political, economic, educational, religious and new issues like Islamophobia. Aspects related to husband-wife relations, Taqlid, Bidah and innovations, mysticism and others are seriously answered by Dr Zaheer.
This book is written on the pattern of question and answers and a reader is free to follow any pattern while engaging with the text, as it doesn’t call for a systematic reading. Any chapter can be studied or any given question can be engaged with by the reader. This book is an important addition to understand a number of questions related to Islam as well as its position viz a viz the contemporary issues.
An occasional columnist for NewAgeIslam.com, M.H.A. Sikander is a writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir.