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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Qur'an: a Scripture that is to be Examined in aFull Manner




“So [know that] Allah is the exalted, King, the Ultimate reality. And be not in haste with the Qur’an while it is coming to you. And say “O My Lord, increase my knowledge.” [Qur’an 20:114]

The Qur’an [the word itself being a verbal noun, denoting something that is put together piece by piece, and part by part] is a Divine revelation, given to the Prophet Muhammad over a twenty-three year period. It is arguably the most widely read, memorized, and studied religious text in the world. Often, we assert that the Qur’an is ever relevant, examining its contents in light of current realities, one could make a mistake in saying it came in our own period, rather than fourteen centuries ago!

The verse above, which also adorns one of the walls outside at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam, is a striking example of that situation. God is the one who is above and beyond any of our limiting conceptualizations. He is that ‘ultimate reality’ [or Al-Haqq, as the original Arabic wording states] which has ‘always’ existed, that has no beginning nor ending. This Divine source of truth and light sends down to mankind guidance in the form of scripture, prophets and messengers. The verse is telling us, via the lips and mouth of God’s messenger and Last Prophet [Muhammad, peace and blessings be on him] that the process of revelation should not be sought after in a hurried fashion. It is also telling us that random quotes and sentences, citing them in order to win arguments or to make points, is inappropriate when dealing with most things, but especially so with the words of God! Thus, we read “And be not in haste…and say: “O My Lord, increase my knowledge.”

The latter supplication is a prayer that has become a part of the Muslim liturgy and tradition. It decorates the entrances to universities, classrooms and even Mosques. Surely, it is understandable that this has occurred. Yet, as we can see, its focus is not limited to secular knowledge. Indeed, we could easily apply the message of the entire verse to our interactions with others, other religions, politicians and their statements, our friends and foes alike. Anyone can take a random quote or statement and apply some meaning not intended by the speaker, and this has happened in many quarters with the Qur’an itself! Yet, God wants us to see the entire picture, to make decisions and judgments based on complete information, rather than one piece of something. This style of presentation is found throughout the Qur’an. Another verse that is relevant is “O believers! When a ‘Faasiq’ {an immoral person who breaks the rules of normal behavior] comes to you with information, investigate it before acting upon it, lest you harm a people unknowingly and afterwards have regrets. [Q 49:6]

Let us take this Qur’an in a full way, even for those not believing in it. At least know the whole story.

[ Shamsuddin Waheed is Imam at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam, 722 East Bancroft street, Toledo Ohio 43604.]

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Muhammad the Prophet of Islam: Dispelling Some Misconceptions

As we compose this brief article, Muslims worldwide are celebrating the birthday of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah. Although specific details of the celebration vary from one nation to another, the Mawlud ur Rasool holiday includes poetic compositions, processions, dinners, exchange of gifts, Mosque attendance and special food for the poor.

It is important to note that Islamic religious texts [i.e. Qur’an and Prophetic narrations] do not lend any direct support for holding celebrations commemorating the Prophet’s birth, but at the same time we have to admit that we find little problem with it, in the sense that it gives an opportunity to share, especially with the youth and with those unacquainted with Islam, the Prophet’s legacy and teachings. [Ft-1 and 2]

As such, we have taken advantage of Mawlud to correct some misconceptions about the Noble Messenger of Allah, upon whom we ask God’s peace and blessings. It is also worth noting that some misconceptions and outright lies are generally propagated either by Christian missionaries of various sects or by Orientalist writers, whose agendas are obvious. Below, we present thoughts on some of those wrong ideas.

[1] Muhammad was obsessed with women

Arguably the leading accusation, this idea is presented as an alleged contrast with Christian ‘moralists’ who uphold the celibacy of Jesus Christ versus the polygamy practiced by the Messenger. What seems to get ignored when this charge is brought up is that the institute of polygamy was [and arguably still is in parts of today’s world] a means to seal political and family alliances, as a way to unite peoples and heal hostilities. In addition to this, in times of war when men would fall on the battlefield, polygamy was a means of social welfare for widows and children. The Prophet’s marriages, taking place after the death of his beloved Khadijah, must be viewed in this light. [ft.3]

[2] Blood thirsty killer

This is very far from the truth. His congenial nature was well known even before the Qur’anic revelation. When the revelation did come, he and his growing number of followers suffered persecution, and the enemy did not stop when the Prophet migrated to Madinah. Rather, they continued their plotting and their attacks. It was only in response to these that fighting for survival was finally ordered [Q 2:190]. In this regards, we must also understand that the Qur’an says “and if they [the enemy] sue for peace- then you [O Muslims] must also sue for peace, and place your trust in God, He is the Hearer, the Knower.” {Q 8:61]

[3] Relations between Muhammad and the Jewish tribes

In Madinah, when the Prophet moved there, he made treaties with the Jewish tribes there, as well as in other places, Yet, as the history books tell us, these groups, motivated by ethnic prejudices and jealousy, not only broke their treaties, they even were involved in plots to kill the Prophet! The details are beyond the scope of our article, but we refer the reader to “The life of Muhammad” by Muhammad Husayn Haykal, pp 271-283.

How should Muhammad be viewed?

His son in law and the eventual fourth Khalifah of the Muslim community after his [i.e. the Prophet’s] death, ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib, is reported to have observed:

“He treated the [material] world disdainfully and regarded it low. He held it contemptible and hated it. He conveyed from Allah the pleas [against committing sin], counseled his people as a warner, called towards paradise as a conveyer of good tidings.” [Nahjal Balaaghah, page 71]

His wife ‘A’ishaa bint Abi Bakr says “His character was the Qur’an.” [ Saheeh Al-Bukhari ]


His student and relative Ibn ‘Abbas says “Allah’s messenger, Sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, was the most generous of people in charity…” [Saheeh Muslim]


“And We [Allah] have sent you [O Muhammad] to be nothing more except as a mercy to all nations.” [Qur’an 21:107]


Final advice

Allah Almighty preserved the Qur’an, and has said therein that the Prophet was a model “for any who hopes in Allah, the final day, and remember Allah often.” [Q 33:21]. The Qur’an has preserved just about all of the details we, as lay people, would need about the Prophet. His struggles with faith and family, marriages and leadership, even his internal thoughts are often found therein. So, for us lay people who do not have the time, patience or ability to shift through materials determining what is authentic and what is not, we need only look at the Qur’an. Look at the ‘say verses’. Look at the earliest Soorahs, which are mostly found in the last sections of the text, and you will find a man who was quite normal, who is sufficient for believers as a practical guide.

Footnotes

[1] In Al Maulud Fil Islaam: Innovation and true belief according to Qur’an and Sunna and the scholars of Islam, the author, Shaikh Hisham Kabbani, attempts to extract religious texts to justify the traditional observances of the Prophet’s birthday, yet at the beginning of his treatise he does admit “ ..other celebrations, like Mawlid, the Prophet’s birthday-peace be upon him-are neither obligatory nor forbidden.” [pg 1, Haqqani Islamic foundation, Fenton, Michigan, 1994 edition]

[2] We have attempted to be fair with regards to the issue of celebrating the Prophet’s birthday. After all, it has become a part of Muslim culture, and as long as there is no danger of idolatry, it can be a good opportunity to pass along Islamic knowledge. There are some extremes among Muslims on issues like this. Saudi Arabia is probably the only Muslim nation that does not have the Prophet’s birthday as a national holiday, and scholars from the Salafi Manhaj regularly preach against it. The opposite side of that coin is that of many Muslims who not only celebrate his birthday, but who have rather odd supernatural beliefs about him, such as his actually not being human, but having been created out of light [the Noor –e Muhammad as expressed in Urdu], that he actually joins certain groups when they pray. This personality cult and exaggerated status of a man is just the sort of thing that Islam stands against, and it is under these circumstances that we understand full well the reluctance of some authorities to allow such celebrations. It is also worth sharing that there are some among the Muslim ranks who reject ‘traditional Islam’ including the ‘Eids, and obviously Mawlud, yet the same people, in our experience at least, have no qualms issuing greetings for Christmas, St. Valentine day, and even Halloween!

[3] For the Islamic teaching on polygamy, see our “Polygamy and societal norms” at shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com.