28 December 2010

The Covenant of Allah / Times of Confusion

Two days ago I inadvertently chanced upon a discussion concerning one of the most popular Muslim bloggers who had apostatised. Of course, I was not a reader of the site (was directed to it once by someone).

The discussion on how this byword of Muslim blogging turned atheist, as some claim, is very interesting though not in the positive sense. Eventually I did locate the person's new blog, for I thought it was important to have a sense of her arguments and not what people were claiming about her. There were good points and bad points. It made me realise the great problems facing many Muslim converts, especially women, who are rushed off into marrying strangers as soon as they make the declaration of faith.

One of the experiences shared by the person rings true from my own observation. For example, I have never agreed to distribute dawah pamphlets on Islam Open Day at university. This Marxist-inspired tactic, with use of apologetics in its contents is appalling, in my view. We cannot state that women have rights in Islam while being silent on domestic violence and other tragedies in the community. We cannot call for justice for Aafia Siddiqui incarcerated in the United States while saying nothing about the thousands of nameless Indonesian maids abused by their employers in Saudi Arabia. Muslims must critique these facts. In fact, this story appeared in Crescent Times, an Australian Muslim paper, so there are definitely right-minded Muslims, and those anti-Muslim commentators who speak of a nefarious "Muslim mind" are clearly wrong.

It was so disturbing to read that the Indonesian women who go to work in Saudi Arabia feel the trust and are happy that they are working for fellow Muslims. But covenant is never shared between humans. And this is where I politely disagree with the lady who left Islam from what it appears are experiential realities, gauging from a handful of entries on her blog.

Islam teaches us that covenant is made solely between Allah and man. Not between human beings.

I do not think we own the right to judge a person who writes that she married a virtual stranger and was then swallowed up by a conservative establishment that looked straight through her when it came to her needs as a human being, whether it was getting served after all the men had eaten at a food stall or the inability to get a contract that stipulated that the marriage be monogamous. But here I am not speaking so much of this lady who at least has a voice, but for perhaps other women who are not fortunate either. Allah is the Best Judge, and He will take each atom into account, whether good or bad.

But that Muslims may treat each very badly is not news. Aren't we Muslims because our covenant is with Allah? Life drags many people through hot degrees, and some, even innocent ones can end up scared of "Islam" (Divine Revelation) because of what they "experience" (man-made discursive practice of ethics). And Allah is the Best Judge.

I have often asked myself if our personal experiences define our realities. In Tao Te Ching the first verse goes that the Way lies beyond what we experience. In The Road to Mecca, Muhammad Asad presses a shell to his ear, curious to behold a new sound. From my own life I can safely say that Islam was a choice, not a need. It became the Way the moment I understood the Qur'an, and though it made me pledge my allegiance during the first reading of the chapter 'The Prophets', it is only since early last year that I have gotten a fuller, richer understanding after some extensive research on how to internalise and converse with its ethics. I mention this because experience itself is never enough. To learn about Islam, to accept it, you must first read the Qur'an, its purpose, to make a covenant with Allah after you recognise His Voice. Even if you become a Muslim, you are not a believer until you consciously submit yourself after reading and learning, unto Allah alone. When you enter Allah's covenant, you must also be kind, gracious, for these are not merely qualities that are "good" but signify "surrender" and appreciation of His sermons. You will make mistakes, may be get a little political (though I have never understood those who support the Taliban, and there's something wrong to begin with) or make everything into right and wrong, but eventually you will come around to the realisation that it is all inconsequential before the simple and deep teachings of the Ultimate Reality, the Teacher, the One God.

Once I imagined I was on the Isle of Man, this fantastic place, and there were no believers, and I was sinking on my knees in hopelessness. Only Allah knows what I would have become or done. But if I truly believe, I would never disbelieve. And Allah knows what is true and untrue in our head, heart and hands.

It is recognising that Ultimate Reality, "His signs" as the Qur'an puts it that explain faith, not a symbolic identity of it.

There's no doubt that Muslims are in a terrible state. But along with the darkness, there's light. There are pious Muslims, wholly dedicated to the Message, who work diligently for goodness, who wish to bring Muslim life up-to-date with socio-economic conditions of the nation state. This Muslim ethical project (note: I didn't use the word "Islam"; this distinction is often not understood by Muslims who would rather deal with symbols and banners than actual meanings) is a necessity, because three or four centuries after the Prophet's death, peace be upon him, reliable theological discourse had been abandoned. It was only in the nineteenth century that a great scholar by the name of Muhammad Abduh diagnosed this amnesia. Wikipedia incorrectly calls Abduh a "liberal", a "Mutazili" and a "modernist". [A separate post is required for an exposition of these terms, and I will only say that an analysis of Abduh by a particular writer was flawed to the very centre in its assumption that "Islam" is a time-bound commodity which Abduh tried to mask with a "synthetic" reform - this perhaps has been the general loop-holing of religion by post-Darwinian, secular writers. Many modern anthropologists dispute this formulation which has its roots in the Enlightenment schematisation of progressive time and is frankly an 18th century Victorian evolutionary idea]. True to the spirit of Islam, Abduh was a, to use the diction of the secular tradition, a "liberal" on some matters and a "conservative" on others. Mark Sedgewick, his biographer explains:
None of these! I think he must have had some sympathy for the Mutazili, but he knew that they were different people from a very different age. The problems of his age were not theirs. Intellectually, he was certainly interested in some ideas of the Shia and the Sufis, but I don't think he ever identified with them, at least not after his youth, when he certainly considered himself a Sufi for a while. After that, I can't imagine him wanting to go to Tanta for the mawlid, or to Karbala! That thing was not his style at all. In the end, he was more of a regular Egyptian Sunni than anything else. Though he was never just a regular anything.
Muhammad Asad and his magnificent translation of the Qur'an were directly influenced by Abduh's scholarship. Abduh honoured all people, he did not consider the West as alien as Maududi did (whose ideas permeate contemporary Muslim polemics). Abduh respected women (for their social wellbeing and he also drew upon the Qur'an and scholarship to argue that polygamy was only permissible in certain circumstances), he outlawed slavery with the ideas of the Qur'an (a great achievement for contemporary Muslim life), he was a staunch opponent of colonialism (but did so through legitimate means, and parted ways with Al-Afghani on his "pan-Islamism" which has proved disastrous) among many other little and great things. Until his dying days he was working on the commentary of the Qur'an, with his prodigal expertise in theology and the Arabic language. He is quoted as stating that the Qur'an is "its own best commentary".

No scholar since Ghazali has been as influential as Abduh (for the right reasons). (For the wrong reasons) the demeaning of Islam by political ideologues like Maududi and medieval ravages by Muslim empires to consolidate worldly power in place of humility and faith have also defined thoughts and attitudes. A number of logical criticisms of Abduh can be made, if one chooses to, but casting aspersions on his belief are entirely without evidence.

As a number of intellectuals have argued, God-elected men like Muhammad and Abraham and Moses, peace be upon them, cannot make us feel as they felt. It could be elaborated that what can bind us to their ageless faith and humanity is the visibility of good ethics as taught by Allah in His Book, in allegorical and literal forms. And the example of the Prophet Muhammad, the Last Prophet, peace be upon him. But for us ethics would also mean the modernisation of social institutions in Muslim nation states, research, and dialogue. After all knowledge is the bedrock of spirituality. The pastoral, good, ethical mode of living of the prophets is absent in our age's organisation. The Qur'an (Chapter 56, Verses 10-14):
But the foremost shall be [they who in life were] the foremost [in faith and good works]: they who were [always] drawn close unto God! In gardens of bliss [will they dwell] - a good many of those of olden times, but [only] a few of later times.
Contrary to the theory of moral relativism, the Qur'an is clear that there is regression in man's faith and actions through history. Yet a little later in the same chapter, the Qur'an (Verses 27-40) provides further hope for us.
Now as for those who have attained to righteousness - what of those who have attained to righteousness? [They, too, will find themselves] amidst fruit-laden lote-trees, and acacias flower-clad, and shade extended, and waters gushing, and fruit abounding, never-failing and never out of reach.

And [with them will be their] spouses, raised high: for, behold, We shall have brought them into being in a life renewed, having resurrected them as virgins, full of love, well-matched with those who have attained to righteousness: a good many of olden times, and a good many of later times.
In the context of those who initially stumble and sin but eventually attain righteousness, there will be "many". This is a definite reality of our times. It is in contrast to the "foremost" of the first quotation, those "always drawn to God", of whom there are a "few" in times that follow the Last Revelation (Commentary by Asad, The Message of the Qur'an).

In today's environment, communication is either impersonal or absent. How do we get there? How do we bring knowledge to people that is articulate, intelligent and authentic? The well-travelled journalist Chris Hedges argues:
The debasement of language, which Shakespeare understood was a prelude to violence, is the curse of modernity. We have stopped communicating, even with ourselves. And the consequences will be as extreme as in the Shakespearean tragedy....The Arabic of the Qur'an is as poetic as the intricate theology of Islam. It is nuanced and difficult to master. But the language of the Qur'an has been debased in the slums and poor villages across the Middle East by the words and phrases of "political Islam". This process is no different from what has taken place with Christianity in the United States. Our mainstream churches have been as complacent in fighting heretics as have the mainstream mosques and religious scholars in the Middle East.
Hurdles line our path. For example, during his reign the Pakistani dictator General Zia instituted a law, in the name of Islam, according to which a woman who was raped could be charged with adultery. Imagine! On the subject of improvements, can't we introduce discursive practices that condemn racism, discriminatory attitudes, sexism, and intellectual laziness in religious scholarship? We do that in the spirit of Islam. For through history and by many Muslim power-brokers, it was never about Islam.

Our covenant is with Allah only, that's why we are Muslims. We must criticise such blatant disregard for human welfare, which is one of the very founding stones of Divine and prophetic discourse. We know that many bad things have been committed in the name of Islam and will continue to be done. Sometimes we may feel like the Companions of the Cave, afraid that we will be stoned by our own brothers. But this world was never ours forever.

May we stand against injustice, against evil words spoken by those in our midst, and strive to be good. For to Allah we belong and unto Him we will return. Believers will be tested, and each time they fall they will pick themselves up again. This is faith. It's all around us, and even its fragments in other prophetic lines in lands lost as far as the tribes we have never encountered or empathised with, albeit not as clear as the Qur'an, can be found in the good ethics practised by their members. Because there is something bigger than all of us, though we all will know it - the obvious conclusion of a rational, conscious specie (man) appointed as a deputy on earth and obligated to express the virtue of righteousness toward all that lives on earth - the Ultimate Reality we call Allah, though man has sought to haplessly define the Undefinable (Chapter 21, Verses 18-22).

Photo of Muhammad Abduh

12 December 2010

The Hypocrisy of War and Puritanism

Many journalists have acknowledged that Wikileaks has made an important contribution to journalism. It has embarrassed government officials like the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who was caught spying on the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. But what of Arab leaders? Their war-mongering cannot sufficiently be put into words.
Saudi and Bahraini leaders called for a US military strike on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah asking Washington to "cut off the serpent's head."
Wikileaks also has some other interesting information about Saudi royals.
The underground party scene is "thriving and throbbing" in Saudi Arabia thanks to the protection of Saudi royalty, the dispatch said. But it is only available behind closed doors and for the very rich.

More than 150 Saudi men and women, most in their 20s and 30s, were at the party. The patronage of royalty meant the feared religious police kept a distance. Admission was controlled through a strict guest list. "The scene resembled a nightclub anywhere outside the kingdom: plentiful alcohol, young couples dancing, a DJ at the turntables and everyone in costume."
It is amazing that it is the Saudi monarchy that articulates a puritanical system for the common man while despoiling itself in pleasures of the flesh (and then some). No doubt this hypocrisy exists in every single Arab country: one rule for the prince, one rule for the pauper. This hypocrisy is not new. It can be observed in medieval empires of the Ottomans, the Mughals, and even the Spanish Moors. And modern day tyrants like the warlords and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But Saudi Arabia has taken this to a new level. Let's not forget that the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice that was exported to the Taliban was engineered by Saudi bureaucrats.

The problem with puritanism is not merely that it sexualises all human impulses but it is impossible to live with. A Saudi friend explained that it is not unusual for the youth to tune into TV channels featuring Turkish dancers. If a man is spotted speaking to a woman, it is automatically assumed that they are planning a rendezvous.

It is wrong to criticise an entire culture and there is evidence that it is another form of racism. Cultures are inherently good, but also contain structures that are the product of their coercive and cooperative capacity and are in constant influx. The majority of Muslims are victims to the system, they do not theorise ethics. We must employ correct Muslim ethics to make a change. The changes that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, made were directed at unethical structures within the culture, not the culture itself. The ethics used to make changes were dictated and inspired by the Word of God and the emotional and intelligent quotient imbibed by man.

Almighty Allah guides man to civilisation. Islamic architecture is not civilisation, good behaviour is civilisation.

Pakistan, Egypt, and Iran, followed closely by Saudi Arabia, have the highest rates of pornography access. This is mainly caused by the socio-economic conditions but we must also rethink puritanism and theological laziness in dealing with these issues.

What would the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, have said of this hypocrisy?
By Him in Whose Hand is my life, even if Fatima daughter of Muhammad were to commit theft, I would have cut off her hand.
Unfortunately, the Saudi example is worse, because how can one make rules for another and not carry on oneself? To say nothing of the impracticality and repressiveness. Why are Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries baying for war against Iran? To say nothing of the amorality and suffering.

07 December 2010

Because Heaven is Ahead

When conversations become shorter
And roads become longer,
You must keep on walking
Because Heaven is ahead!

Worries will leave you,
Earth will swallow you,
You must forgive yourself
Because Heaven is ahead!

Until the stars shine
Misunderstandings will thrive.
Prepare for the Day they are put out
Because Heaven is ahead!

Silence will never leave you,
Let it be your friend thereon.
You will reach Home one day
Because Heaven is ahead!

Live to be free, die not aggrieved.
Live to be happy, die not unkind.
Thank the Lord for each breath
Because Heaven is ahead!

Live to smile, live to give.
Live to worship the Maker of sunrise.
Share the Grace and Love dispensed
For without, there's no Heaven ahead.

Photo by Forty Two.

25 October 2010

The Bismillah Rhyme (2005, Excerpt)

Bismillah! The buds now burst into hues unimaginable;
Flowery nerves fattening up by the blessing of our Lord.
Wondrous things to perform; not on stage, not on stand
But in nooks of cooler sand; the plant now whorls
Into our worlds, waltzing to the poet's carts - Shakespeare carts -
We're all poets at the heart - lug them up the dusty path.
The clouds must hold our pain till we've reached home!
To the sun's veil we cling, slipping to the evening again.

Bismillah! What better rhyme can I offer than this?
In all things of nature, God's signs are seen.
In dark, in murk, in light, in grace, in every space
That you hold to yourself from me and the rest.
But we dwell together in this Earth as brothers and sisters...
Here's a rose for the sweetest, the pious and mildest
That sprang from the soil of a poet's heart.
I might as well repeat the round: we're all poets at the heart.

Bismillah! Come child, sit with me and pray
For your mother, father, brother, sister and friend
Who love you more than you hope they do!
They kneel in humility and pray for you
Every day, when you step into the impulsive world
Raise that head that springs from you and look,
Look at all those things around, and roll your eyes round and round
At sky, at sea, at grass, at bee (don't go very near the bee)!

Photo by Taylor Miles

18 October 2010


But he would not try to ascend the steep uphill road... And what could make thee conceive what it is, that steep uphill road? [It is] the freeing of one's neck [from the burden of sin], or the feeding, upon a day of [one's own] hunger, of an orphan near of kin, or of a needy [stranger] lying in the dust and being, withal, of those who have attained to faith, and who enjoin upon one another patience in adversity, and enjoin upon one another compassion.

~ The Qur'an, Al-Balad (The Land), Verses 11-17

13 September 2010

Eid Mubarak!

Eid Mubarak to all the dear Muslim brothers and sisters on God's earth, who are the Ummah. May the One bless and guide us through our adversities, journeys, bliss, awakening, and sleep. May we all remember the favours of our Maker. May the people of Pakistan affected by the terrible calamity know ease after suffering, may we open our hands and hearts to aid them. May the Muslims in the United States be given the rights of citizens and not aliens.

May the non-Muslim brethren suffering around the world know ease after suffering. May we heed the Prophet's, peace be upon him, command: "Feed the hungry and visit the sick, and free the captive if he be unjustly confined. Assist any person oppressed, whether Muslim or non-Muslim." As the esteemed scholar Muhammad Asad reminded, Muslims are ethically bound to cooperate with people of other faiths and even those without faith because we must convey the teachings of God to those around us before it's too late. And that can be done by being true. But as the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: "No man is true in the truest sense of the word but he who is true in work, in deed, and in thought."

May Almighty Allah bless us all. May He guide those astray, and may He strengthen those who follow the truth or something close to it. God knows best, and He gave us, the Ummah, this most special day. Eid Mubarak!

His is the Universe and Everything in It

His is the bluebottle flower and His is the sea-down turtle. And I’m just a quiet letter in the whirling wheel of Creation.

O how the world is filled with the sermons of the Lord, taught through the human tongue of the prophets, His limitless transcending mortal bounds. None can know but what He permits, and He has permitted all that man can imagine. How the unbeliever’s heart pounds in the worship of the Lord, thus how unbelievable the denial. From the moment of the first arrow of reason airborne, man is in awe of the rolling wave of existence!

O Lord, I know that every worm that shall mine out of me crumbs and every mossy shower that shall entomb will answer Thy Way. Never leave me to the crowds for now.

By Thy leave I’m a servant humbled by knowledge, each bolt of Revelation lowering me until I dwell in Nothingness and nothing still.

By Thy leave I’m a servant with a book; may I earn it in my right hand. Will not the arrogant grieve, those who scoff at the barefooted water-carriers?

O Lord, man’s love for Thou is edifying, and all the rest is of the self. By Thy leave, may my path be built upon the former.

Yet Thou grant portions of near solace between us. O but if we looked beside: that's all to be found. Thou art the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace. In the Daybreak and in the Mantled Hours, in Thy remembrance, my being (the littlest letter Thou willed to be) doth abide.

Photo by Christopher Thomas

29 August 2010

Give charity without delay, for it stands in the way of calamity.

The Prophet also said: "Give charity without delay, for it stands in the way of calamity." - Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 589

"They ask thee what they should spend (In charity). Say: Whatever wealth ye spend that is good, is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is good, - Allah knoweth it well." 2.215

After a long time in exile, I went back to Somalia in 2005 to see my father for the first time in fourteen years. It was a heartfelt reunion: I had grown up; he had grown older. But there was nothing much I could find to say to him. I had mixed emotions: I was frightened yet excited to meet and get to know relatives who I did not know before.
My father often had visitors in the afternoon, most of them long term friends. Some of them were internally displaced and had no income. Although not in a great position to help others financially, my father always shared the money sent to him by his children (us). I noted my father's particular care to his old friends as much as his relatives.

There was one man who would never ask for help but came to my father's house each week. He was pleasant. He had lost his family in the war and later remarried. He had two young sons. I got to know him better. As there were other people asking for financial help, I hardly had any money left, so was incapable of providing him with any financial support. I got back to London. But his face stuck out in my memory. Subsequently, I sent him $50 through my father. My father took it as a gesture of genorosity. No, I did it for myself ---to lift my sadness about the man‘s plight. Yes, selfish (we help others to help ourselves in whatever way you look at it).
A year later I went back to Somalia again. I saw the man, charming as ever. He visited just as we (my father and I) were about to depart to the airport. I had $20, which I divided between him and a cousin of mine, Abdullahi. The man informed me that he was recently diagnosed with Hipatius, and that he would insha'Allah be cured if he purchased the medication. He said the $10 would do it. I wished him all the best.
I made a promise to myself that I would send some money to the man and to my cousin Abdullahi as soon as I got back to London and started working. In February 2007 news reached me that my cousin had been killed in the outskirt of Kismayo. Sadness overtook me for a while, but life had to go on. I never stopped wanting to send money to the man. I had to save it. Meanwhile, my father fled the country to Nairobi, Kenya. Although I kept telling my mother that I saw so and so man ( she knew him) and that I would like to send him $100 for medication, I barely made a concious effort to find him...until one day. I telephoned my father and asked the whereabouts of the man. He replied: ’I will enquire about him’. It took him about a month to find out any information. Sadlly, the man had passed away a few months earlier.

Had I tried harder to send him the money, I would not have felt so guilty about not acting quickly enough. Had I not bought that expensive perfume, perhaps I would have been able to save the $100 earlier.

While I cannot turn the clock back, I learnt to act quickly and timely. I may not be able to help everyone but I try to be charitable in my voice.

‘’Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury. Allah is free of all wants, and He is Most Forbearing.’’

Al-Baqara ( The Cow) 2:263.

17 August 2010

Sometimes I miss my prayer...

Sometimes I miss my prayer, Fajr or Isha, but though I pray it afterward or even at days lone feel troubled to let the last go, I know that it is through prayer that I take comfort in Almighty Allah. Its absence, the Prophet, peace upon him, reminded has a clear symptom:
He whom prayer preventeth not from wrongdoing and evil, increaseth in naught save in remoteness from the Lord.
Much of the time I contemplate. And how sweet and sad is contemplation! The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "An hour's contemplation is better than a year's adoration", and "One hour's meditation on the work of the Creator is better than seventy years of prayer". But I know the reflection would be stronger if I missed no prayer at all!

14 August 2010

Knowledge & Apostasy

This is the most excellent essay I have yet read on the subject of apostasy. Those of us who have sought to cultivate our conscience through the Book of God may have experienced cognitive dissonance when God's Word is disregarded in favour of historical interpretations.
It is unfortunate that we give greater importance to certain ahadith conflicting with the Qur’anic values and thus bring bad name to Islam. Commitment to these values is far more important than to opinion of the ‘Ulama based on medieval ethos.
The only problem with this article though is that while correcting Mawdudi's weird thesis on apostasy the author expresses his surprise at "how an Islamic scholar of Mawdudi’s status can confuse things to such an extent...." Any right-minded Muslim who has researched Mawdudi's worldview, notably critiqued in a study by Sheila McDonough, will only have loathing for him. Mawdudi was merely a Muslim version of V.R.Savarkar, and viewed Islam as a political state programmed to express its frustration at colonialism by oppressing others. Another similarity they share is a zest for revolutionary beliefs after the withdrawal of the British Empire.

It is my view that Muhammad Asad's critique of the concept of revolution from the Islamic standpoint in his 1948 work The Principles of State and Government in Islam, which would be revisited in his future projects, is the earliest of its kind and is an indirect reference to Mawdudi's thesis. Asad would also live through the so-called Islamic revolution in Iran, witnessing the growth of the movement. "Islamisation" here was nothing short of intellectual dishonesty, a form of cultural realisation and of authoritarian control over Muslims. In these states women were invisible and difference of opinion was not tolerated. In short, Islam itself was curtailed in the name of Islam. The irony was impossibly crude.

In contrast, Islam inspires God's unceasing teachings and mercy, uplifting man to a level which he attains through His belief in the One God accompanied by good works which rescinds the first and only response of the angels to Almighty Allah on His declaration to "establish upon the earth one who shall inherit it" (The Second Chapter, Verse 30):
They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood - whereas it is we who extol Thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?"
Almighty Allah answers:
"Verily, I know that which you do not know."
In the thirty-third verse of the tenth chapter of His Book, Almighty Allah says unto man:
It is God [alone] who guides unto the truth. Which, then, is more worthy to be followed - He who guides unto the truth, or he who cannot find the right way unless he is guided? What, then, is amiss with you and your judgment?
May we believe so, and may He save us from the fitnah of group-thought and cult worship and open us to critical intelligence and the Light we merit. Also, the Prophet repeated thrice that "the worst of men is a bad learned man...." May He grant us religious scholars at whose death the Ummah is poorer, those who seek to benefit the Ummah by being true to the message of Allah and are/were true in their opinions. This also means avoiding the invention of ethnocentric commentaries on Islam. On a Ramadan night four years ago, the Yemeni Muslim historian Al-Shaiba issued a lecture in which he pointed out such flaws.
He added that among the best companions of the prophet (PBUH) were Bilal (Ethiopian), Salman (Persian), Suhaib (Roman)—and the list goes on. Al-Shaiba criticized Arab historians for perpetuating stereotypes and writing boring narratives. They wrote some legends, according to their sectarian and/or political backgrounds. Jarallah added that most of Arab historians limit themselves to their geographical locations, giving only a partial sense of the whole heritage. “Many Arab historians wrote about the life-story of the prophet (PBUH) almost similarly, but they have clear differences when they write about the aftermath.
"That’s why the Islamic history did not develop,” al-Shaiba said. “All of that passed through us as a sacred heritage, to which Arab and Muslim historians remain bound even today.” Arab and Muslim historians and researchers should be able to question that heritage, making use of what is useful and ignoring the rest, said the Sana’a University professor in a bombshell statement. “We should believe in dialogue and respect others’ opinions,” he said.
In the words of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace:
Verily God doth not taketh away knowledge from the hands of His servants; but taketh it by taking away the learned; so that when no learned men remain, the ignorant will be placed at the head of affairs. Causes will be submitted to their decision, they will pass sentence without knowledge, will err themselves, and lead others into error.

18 July 2010

Love and Fear

I was just thinking of the harmony between the two ways which define humankind's relationship to God in the Qur'an while walking back to my room from the laundry: love and fear. I was not the only one. The scholar Ahmad Kutty answers: "As servants of Allah, we must entertain love and hope in Allah with fear of His wrath, for Allah is Most Merciful and Compassionate and He is also Stern in punishment. Fear alone, without hope, is not recommended, just as hope alone, without fear, is not recommended."

So well spoken.

16 June 2010


It is hardly one of the most contested debates in Muslim theology - the uses and misuses of polygamy. However, many independent minded Muslims have often found themselves at odds with traditional theology, unsurprisingly because it terminated approximately in the 10th century, and much of what we call tradition is a rehash of the opinions of dead scholars. Those familiar with the format of a fatwa are obviously aware of how scholars of the past are constantly dredged up to answer for the present. This blind piety for dead scholars, to whom we surely owe our respect, is nothing short of intellectual laziness. They would themselves have been horrified at the application of their time-bound thought in the modern world which has witnessed the carving up of monocultural forts into multicultural nation states. In This Law of Ours, the exceptional Muslim thinker Muhammad Asad documents the collapse of critical thought engendered in the first few generations after the Prophet Muhammad's, peace be upon him, death.
It does not seem to have occurred to them [religious scholars] that however great those "early generations" of Muslim scholars might have been, later times might bring forth intellects of equal brilliance which would have at their disposal not only all the material and all the scholarly apparatus which had been available to the "early generations" but would have, in addition, a greater amount of historical, psychological and scientific experience on which to draw. [Pg 58]
On the subject of polygamy itself, was it not the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, himself who confronted Ali on his decision to take another wife? This had caused Lady Fatima much distress. Any person who single-mindedly argues that all men have the divine right to take more wives has ignored a very basic premise i.e. empathy. There is nothing black and white about the injunctions in Islam, every rule must be contemplated. For example, the Qur'an's egalitarian refrain to protect the rights of widows, orphans and the poor is ironically demolished when it is precisely those that are singled out by the so-called jury in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for hudud (capital punishment). Tariq Ramadan has rightly called for a moratorium on this issue. This does not pander to the pejorative of evolutionary progress but sheds lights on the authoritarian misuse of Islamic Law, the purpose of which is to spread justice and not oppression. This is not giving up Islam but reclaiming its original creativitiy and humanity from totalitarian theorists like Maududi. Fazlur Rahman indicated that the basic imperative of the Qur'an is that the individual should cultivate his or her own conscience. That's certainly much closer to the theme than Maududi's refusal to concede that there is something more to Islam than his interpretation of it...the interpretation that is based on the non-Islamic concept of revolution rather than the measureless compassion and mercy of the Lord of the Worlds toward mankind.