Friday, August 5, 2022

Engaging With The Qur’an - A Compendium Of Admonitions, Commandments, Prescriptions, Proscriptions, Injunctions, Edicts, And Sermons

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam 6 August 2022 The Biggest Casualty Of The Suppression Of Islam’s Speculative Tradition Was The “Muslim Mind”, Which Shut Itself Off To “Ijtihad” (Independent Reasoning), Allowing ‘Over-Inclusive Scripturalism’ To Dominate The Islamic World, Turning Even Trivial Questions Into Scholastic Religious Debates. ----- The Qur’an, literally “the recitation”, also transliterated as Qur'an, Koran, or Al-Qur'an, is the Word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the medium of a human language. This is the book, about it there can be no doubt; it is a path for those who are aware of God”. The Qur’an is the central religious text or scripture of Islam. It stands as a moral compass and primary source of belief and practice for Muslims. It informs Muslim conduct, law, faith and practice across the whole spectrum of religious and temporal life. " No other sacred scripture has ever had a similarly immediate impact upon the lives of the people who first heard its message and, through them and the generations that followed them, on the entire course of civilization. The Qur’an provides a comprehensive answer to the question, "How shall I behave to achieve the good life in this world and happiness in the life to come?” The Qur’an was revealed by the angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad in the west Arabian towns Mecca and Medina beginning in 610 and ending with Muhammad's death in 632 CE. The word Qur’an is derived from the verb Qara’a- "to read", "to recite". The Qur’an was revealed by the angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad in the west Arabian towns Mecca and Medina beginning in 610 and ending with Muhammad's death in 632 CE. It is shorter than the Christian New Testament and is divided into 114 chapters (Sura, plural Suwar) and 6,616 verses (Aya, plural Ayat). The word Aya means "sign". As a literal transcript of God's speech, the Qur’an is regarded as sacred, pure, uncorrupted and infallible. It is the earthly reproduction of an uncreated and eternal heavenly original, according to the general view referred to in the Qur’an itself as "the well-preserved tablet" (al-law al-Mahfuz; Qur’an 85:22). The Qur’an was sent down in Arabic: “Indeed, we have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand” (Q. 12:2). The special message of Islam is twofold. It first completes the message of the previous prophets— Muslims recognize the Judaic prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah who have also been adopted by Christianity—by putting an end to the dispute between the Nestorians and Jacobites about the nature of Christ: Muslims believe that Christ is of the Spirit of God, not God Himself, because God "begetteth not nor was begotten. And there is none comparable unto Him" (112:1-4). In other words, Christ, for Islam, is a prophet, not part of the Godhead. Then the Qur’an goes on to support the message of Christ, and to reproach those who denied it: "And verily We gave unto Moses the Scripture and We caused a train of messengers to follow after him, and We gave unto Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs (of Allah's sovereignty) and We supported him with the Holy Spirit. Is it ever so, that, when there cometh unto you, a messenger (from Allah) with that which ye yourselves desire not, ye grow arrogant, and some ye disbelieve and some ye slay?" (2:87). Islam is thus seen as a continuation of the true spirit of religion as revealed by God to the earlier prophets: "Say (O Mohammed), We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was vouchsafed unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered" (3:84). The Qur’an is not arranged either chronologically or thematically—for the most part, the suras are arranged from beginning to end in descending order of length. The first surah, al-Fatiha, is the most recited chapter of the Qur’an as it is said multiple times in every ritual prayer. The Suras range in length from three to 286 verses. They also vary in style and content. Each surah is named after some conspicuous word in the text, such as “The Elephant”, “Light”, “Dawn”, “Thunder”, “The Cave”, “The Moon” or “Smoke”. The largest number of verses deal with God's majesty and power and with the various aspects of His creation. Most of the Qur’an's legal or quasi-legal pronouncements are concentrated in a few of the longest surahs. The subjects covered by Qur’anic law include dietary regulations (e.g., the prohibition of consuming pork or wine), matters of family law (e.g., inheritance rules), ritual law (e.g., the performance of ablution before prayer or the duty to fast during the month of Ramadan), commercial law (the prohibition of usury) and criminal law (e.g., the punishment for theft or manslaughter). There are didactic parables about former biblical and Arabian personages and communities. Adam, the first man, is expelled from Paradise for eating from the forbidden tree. Noah builds an ark to save a select few from a flood brought on by the wrath of God. Abraham prepares himself to sacrifice his son at God's bidding. Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and receives a revelation on Mount Sinai. Jesus‒born of the Virgin Mary and referred to as the Messiah‒works miracles, has disciples, and rises to heaven. In the same way that the universe has its fundamental laws and its finely regulated order, the Qur’an lays down laws, a moral code and a body of practice that Muslims must respect, whatever their epoch and their environment. The Qur’an speaks to the nature of reality and the cosmos and pronounces moral and spiritual principles for the individual and society. In its core message, it exhorts its adherents to stand by fairness and justice and replace vices like hatred, arrogance, greed, lust and anger with the virtues of love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. The tragedy is that the Qur’an is still inaccessible to the majority of Muslims either on account of illiteracy or because they are resorting to self-exclusion, harbouring a notion that the Qur’an can be handled only by specialists. Most Muslims today know the message of the Qur’an from secondary sources, which may not be reliable. The Qur'an is an “open” book, a spiritual and moral resource that, properly understood, provides Muslims with useful guidance through the complex maze of modern life. The Qur’an came to speak to all of humanity. However, it came to speak not in a vacuum, but within a historical context. Hence, its immediate objective was the moral and religious situation of the Arabs of the Prophet’s time Through the science of Tafsir (exegesis), the Qur’an is kept alive as a force in the lives and cultures of Muslims everywhere. It remains relevant to every age through commentaries that are no longer limited to Arabic. However, the ecosystem of Islamic thought is no longer as vibrant as it was in its formative years. Unlike the great scholars of the past, who were polymaths and valued criticism, most of today’s traditional scholars lack the tools of contemporary critical scholarship. Much of the Qur’an is recounting stories of people and communities from the past who received revelations in the form of various scriptural texts. And, much of the Qur’an is also a relaying of past peoples who transgressed the boundaries set by God and who worshipped other than God—all as a way of warning and redirecting readers and believers to a life of what is good and right and to an absolute and pure monotheism in which nothing and no one is taken as a god besides God. To Muslims, the sacredness of the Qur’an is expressed even in their relationship to its physical presence. Islamic teaching spells out that Muslims must not touch the Qur'an without first undergoing a ritual hand-washing called ghusl, which makes them ritually pure. I still remember my childhood days when the Qur’an used to be wrapped in a specially stitched satin or velvet cover. We could not dare to have an access to the Qur’an; our Qur’anic recitation and learning came from the Qur’an primers. The Qur’an and the primers were placed on the head of a tall shelf to be absolutely out of reach of teenagers. The entire Qur’an was spread over thirty such primers called a Juz. If these primers, perchance, fell to the ground they had to be hastily priced up, kissed, and placed against our forehead to renew our commitment to their sanctity. A hard reprimand was a usual penalty. Our teacher used to tell us to give out a Kaffara (an equal amount of food grain as a charity) to atone for this sin. The Qur’an is eternal. It is timeless, its words unchanged since it was first revealed. The Qur’an itself says: “And if all the trees on earth were pens and the ocean (were ink), with seven oceans behind it to add to its (supply), yet would not the words of Allah be exhausted (in the writing): for Allah is Exalted in Power, Full of Wisdom”(Q31:27). We call it Holy Qur’an, Noble Qur’an, Glorious Qur’an, Al-Furqan, Al-Kitab, Al-Zikr, Al-Noor, Al-Huda. We studied the Qur’an with the aid of several classical and contemporary commentaries, under the guidance of a cleric. The Qur’an is a compendium of admonitions, commandments, prescriptions, proscriptions, injunctions, edicts, and sermons. If the Qur’an is the divine word of guidance, the Prophet’s life is a model that transmuted this message into a persona. He was the Qur’anic figurehead, an individual who expressed best, the ideals of the Islamic faith in human incarnation. He was sent with this Book to serve as an all-embracing code of ethics, morality, and religious duties that was to last unto eternity. Just as the Qur’an embraces every facet of human life, so the life of the Prophet penetrates with exceptional versatility the complete domain of human experience, both public and private. While there are several translations of the Qur’an in several languages they cannot substitute the original Arabic, where we can see the real import of the verses through their application to our changing context. While every language has words and concepts, which have no counterpart in others, oriental languages are suffused with words that are invested with meanings not recorded in dictionaries. I have always carried a conviction that English is not adequately equipped to convey the subtleties of an eastern language like Arabic whose individual words are laden with great luminosity. It is virtually impossible to find an accurate and succinct equivalent in English for Arabic words. Hence all translations of the Qur’an are at best functional translations. One of the most evident problems in the translation of any religious text is the differences between the culture of the original text and the new culture for which the text is being translated. In cases where there are doctrinal differences among groups within the faith, competing translations of ambiguous passages tend to be composed and promoted. It would not be out of place to remember the great intellectual, Martin Lings who provided a very distinct and unique perspective on the understanding of the message of the Qur’an. He feels that we have heard many times the words “development. (tatawwur)” and “progress (taqaddum)” and “renewal (tajdîd)” and “renaissance (nahdah)”, and perhaps it will not be a waste of time to pause and consider what they mean. “Development” means moving away from the principles; and although it is necessary to move a certain distance from the principles to make applications of them, it is of vital importance to remain near enough for contact with them to be fully effective. Development must, therefore, never go beyond a certain point. It implies that we should not fear increasing our distance from the principles to the point where development becomes degeneration: Guide us upon the way of transcendence. Yet the Prophet said, “The best of my people are my generation, then they that come after them, then they that come after those.” And we must conclude from the Qur’an that with the passage of the centuries a general hardening of hearts is inevitable. The hope of communities must lie, not in “progress” or “development,” but in “renewal,” that is restoration. In its traditional, apostolic sense, renewal is the opposite of development, for it means a restoration of something of the primordial vigour of Islam. Renewal is thus for Muslims, a movement of return, that is, a movement in a backward rather than a forward direction Renewal and reform are the essential components of the new learning methodology of the Qur’an. The most powerful movement in this direction is led by the Salafis. They signify a stripping away of accumulated misreadings and wrong or lapsed practices, as in the Protestant Reformation, and a return to the founding texts of the Koran and the Sunna—guidelines based on the recorded words and deeds of the Prophet. The Qur’an continuously invites its readers to ponder and reflect. Hence the recurring Qur’anic invitations and exhortations, “Do you reflect”, “Do you think?”, “Do you not take heed?” Although we can always hear the Qur’an speaking anew to a particular situation. The Qur’an has historically exhibited a unique potency for invigorating the spirits with optimism, rattling the conscience to wakefulness, and uprooting from people’s minds their most deeply entrenched false convictions. Is there nothing remarkable, the votaries would ponder about multiple notorious Arabs who were goaded by the motivation of assassinating him were disarmed by the recitation of the Qur’an and transformed from enemies to allies and from staunch disbelievers to the sincerest devotees? Ibn Taymīyah (d. 1328 AH) says, “Whoever listens carefully to the words of Allah, and the words of His Messenger with his mind and ponders over them with his heart, he will arrive through them at certain meanings, sweetness, guidance, remedy for the hearts, blessings, and benefits that he would never find in any other words, whether poetry or prose.” The biggest casualty of the suppression of Islam’s speculative tradition was the “Muslim mind”, which shut itself off to “ijtihad” (independent reasoning), allowing ‘over-inclusive scripturalism’ to dominate the Islamic world, turning even trivial questions into scholastic religious debates. To refresh our minds with Iqbal’s words we must forget that we can no longer afford to keep wallowing in our past glory and composing paeans and ballads in its praise. We have been doing it for centuries and the time has come when we must give proof of the deeds of these exemplary women by actually emulating them instead of turning them into revered respected icons of our great civilization. If the early Muslim women icons are to serve as prime examples of Islam’s Golden Age, Muslim women have to strive to live up to their ideals. The pride which permeates our current generation has had to be harnessed into equally spectacular achievements. If Muslim women could attain such great merit at a time when they what is it that impedes us from emulating those lives? How can people believe that a society which produced such great figures cannot offer models who are even a faint shadow of their predecessors? The tragedy is that we are only relying on achievements that may be historically authentic but creates doubts when they examine the lives and achievements of today’s women. If the past glory has any significant relevance for us it should spur us towards efforts to redeem the entire community before they fade from the documented history, which is already being biased at the hands of prejudiced historians. All scriptures are above all, a spiritual and moral resource that, if they are properly understood and internalized both in letter and spirit, the reader can negotiate the complexities of modern life. It is the nature of the human dialogue that finally culminates in the direction one is seeking for his salvation. The real wisdom that we can glean from our genuine moral books is the one that enhances our spirituality and helps us constantly think outside the box of our earthly concerns by keeping in mind the intersection of time and timelessness. ----- Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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