Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Qur'an: foundation for education and diversity

Qur’an: a Foundation for Education and Diversity

The first words of revelation bestowed to the Prophet [PBUH] were “Iqraa” [“Read”]. Commentators, activists and educators spend a great deal of time expounding this phrase, as well as the statements following it in Soorah Al-‘Alaq. Our focus here is a bit different from our predecessors, in that we want to get a feeling of how the Qur’an impacted the Prophet.

Muhammad the man was an ummi Prophet. This phrase is generally understood as meaning “illiterate”. While we do accept this traditional understanding (because of the fact that in those days, especially in an Arabian context, very few people could read or write), another way of looking at this designation ummi is that he, Muhammad, was uneducated in religion and philosophy as well as untrained in the sciences and fields of knowledge that would raise a society. Yet, here he is in a cave, commanded to “Read, in the name of Your Lord who has created” [Q 96:1]. This normal man is now in the process of personal elevation, growth beyond his immediate experiences and surroundings. A native of a desert environment that had all but isolated from the rest of the world is now commanded to examine, comprehend and interpret that same world.

Certainly, Muhammad, peace be upon him, was unique. He was Allah’s messenger, and the seal (last) of the Prophets. He was given a scripture over a twenty-three year period. The process of that revelation can provide Muslims with great lessons. Allah wants the believers to become a people who can appreciate diversity, who can be comfortable in all goodly settings, whose knowledge and understanding goes beyond one’s immediate social, economic and class experiences. Basically, to be a people who, as a whole, reach their intellectual and spiritual zenith.

Accepting Islam in its totality includes accepting knowledge/wisdom/guidance from any reliable source. Xenophobia is like a huge boulder which is blocking a cave exit, trapping its inhabitants to a dark, cold and lonely fate. Islam has been given to mankind to broaden perspectives, to create a worldview that can see and even appreciate the diversity in all things, benefitting from that. The Prophet’s audience, the collective Ummiyyeen, had that boulder removed, and went on to become the founders of many civilizations, creating countless blessings for all mankind. Let us do the same.

[Shamsuddin Waheed is Imam at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam, Toledo, Ohio. A writer and lecturer, he can be contacted via email at More of his writings can be found at]