A New Life


They come from far and wide. On every means of transport available. By land, air or sea. Some do not even mind going all the way on foot. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, black or white, from all categorisations of humanity possible, we find them there. It is a journey for which life’s savings are devoted, for which aspirations are dedicated, and for which supplications are made from one’s heart and soul. But what kind of an event is this for which no advertising budgets are apportioned, yet millions are drawn to it every year? No one is goaded yet the airplanes and the hotels are all full? No material gain is obtained by it, yet people save all their life to spend on the journey? There is no scenery, no entertainment, and no amusement, yet the crowds keep coming. It is a journey involving physical, material and emotional hardship, yet the numbers keep on increasing year by year. What charm is there in dressing up in two sheets of white, in exposing oneself to the hardships of travel, and in facing the dangers of illness, disease, stampedes and even death? The talbiyyah says it all. “Labaik Allahuma Labaik” (I am here O Allah, I am here.) “Labaik Laa Shareeka laka Labaik.” (I am here, no partner do thou have.) “Inna al hamda Wal Naimata laka wal mulk” (Indeed all praise and all bounty and sovereignty belong to thee.) “Laa shareeka lak” (No partner dost thou have.)

This mantra which is on the lips of every pilgrim gives us the essence of the Hajj. That servitude is due to Allah and Him alone and that we hearken His call. That in His worship, we associate no one else. That for Him, we need to make serious efforts in life. That entire praise and sovereignty belong to Him and no one else. The Hajj is a living commentary of the Quranic verse: Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds.” (Al Anaam 6:162)

Thus it is this strong belief, which is the powerful driving force for the Hajj. Belief in Allah and His Messenger, an aspiration to have a connection with the Creator and to realise the true purpose of life. It is a journey for which even the preparation is itself an act of Ibadah, yet this is an aspect taken lightly and neglected by many. The intending pilgrims also depend on the assurances of tour operators many of whom have a reputation to disappear in the heat of the action leaving pilgrims stranded with no choice but to tend to themselves. Millions congregating at a unique point and their successive movement is no ordinary feat but one that poses great environmental challenges. The Hajj is a true Jihad, for it takes us out of our comfort zones for the sake of Allah, and teaches us to take on hardships and sufferings entirely for Him. Many can pay lip service, but few take practical action, and it is actions that speak louder than words. The Hajj is an action, it is not a comfortable sermon, but a practical hardship that resonates with the seriousness we have for our faith. The Hajj is a test, for at each and every juncture, we are tested for the development of our patience, our tolerance, our religious knowledge and its application. The Hajj is an antidote to the inflated ego. You leave behind your best dress, your hairstyle will need to go after shaving the head, the riches and comforts that you are used to will not be there for you. You will need to sleep with nothing but the earth below you and above you only skies. You will need to mingle and cooperate with people all all hues and not your preferred one’s only – all this will humble you and annihilate your ego tremendously. Thus the Hajj is about submissiveness to Allah and abandoning haughtiness. The Hajj is an admonishment. The pains and sufferings are also at times a wake up call to the erring that something is not right and reformative action needs to be taken.

There are strong parallels between Hajj and death. The Qur’an repeatedly calls death as a meeting with God, while the Kabah is the House of God. The Hajj therefore is a death and meeting with God and the return from the journey as a Hajji, a spiritual rebirth.

Just like life is a constant struggle and its end has paradise for the righteous, the hardships of Hajj are a trial for us, and its culmination takes us to a new pleasant phase in our life. After the Hajj the believer is no longer anxious and worried about the pettiness of life, but becomes calm and serene having surrendered himself fully to Allah.

First Published in DAWN on 9-9-2016

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Blasphemy laws in the Qur’an


The Qur’an has issued clear guidelines as to how believers are to respond in the face of insults and ridicule

Blasphemy (Greek blaptein, “to injure”, and pheme, “reputation”) signifies etymologically gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem.¹ Blasphemy is the use of offensive, and derogatory language and visual representations against personalities revered and held in high esteem in a religion. In the Judeo Christian tradition, blasphemy is a serious sin, which is according to the Hebrew Scriptures a cognizable offense incurring capital punishment. In the book of Leviticus, which is considered an inspired text by both, Jews and Christians it is stated: “Take the blasphemer beyond the confines of the camp; let all those who were listening lay their hands on his head, and let the whole people put him to death by stoning. 15 Tell the Israelites this: The man who curses his God will be held to account for it; 16 he blasphemed the Lord’s name, and he must die. Be he citizen or stranger, he must be stoned by the whole people; death for the blasphemer.” Leviticus 24:14-16 Though very clearly a law enshrined in the Judeo-Christian Scripture, we also see in recent times, that it is the Muslim community which is in the spotlight regarding this subject. Some violent and extreme responses to blasphemy meted out in the name of Islam, make those outside of the faith (as well as many within the faith itself) raise the question, that like the Judeo-Christian Scripture, does the Islamic Scripture too, exhort believers to deliver death to blasphemers?

Blasphemy is not a capital crime in the Qur’an

Without investigating the fact of the matter many make an underlying assumption that whilst responding violently, those who label themselves as Muslims are acting on the tenets of their faith. That what you see on the TV screens and read about in the newspapers concerning so called Islamic acts is the practice of the Qur’an to the last letter. Many are deliberately led to believe as if whatever any individual identifying himself as a Muslim does or believes in, is a result of the religious guidance found in their Book and the authentic teaching of their faith. This actually, is not the case. Behaviour that we witness as “Islamic” behaviour is not necessarily Quranic behaviour. Upon studying the Qur’an we realise that the fringe in the Muslim world that partakes in violent behaviours is neither representative of Qur’anic teachings nor of the vast number of peaceful believers. The Qur’an is not silent about situations when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was insulted and abused by rejecters of his message. It very well does show his behaviour, as to what his response was in such instances. It also gives clear and unambiguous instructions to Muslims as to what their conduct should be when people mock, ridicule or scoff their faith.

God is sufficient against those who mock the Prophet

إِنَّا كَفَيْنَاكَ الْمُسْتَهْزِئِينَ

“For sufficient are We unto thee against those who scoff.” 15:95

It follows from this verse that if God is indeed sufficient against the scoffers, then there is no room left for believers to respond.

The Prophet [pbuh] never commanded anyone to respond violently in face of insults

The Prophet [pbuh] was commanded by Allah:

وَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَدَعْ أَذَاهُمْ وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا

“And obey not [the behests] of the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and heed not their annoyances, but put thy Trust in Allah. For enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. ” 33:48

As Allah commanded the Prophet “and heed not their annoyances..” therefore the Prophet and his true followers did not pay any heed to insults and abuses they received from the rejecters.

True believers in Allah bear the hurts of rejecters with patience, not violence

A statement that believers in Allah gave to rejecters is recorded in the Qur’an as:

وَمَا لَنَا أَلَّا نَتَوَكَّلَ عَلَى اللَّهِ وَقَدْ هَدَانَا سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَلَنَصْبِرَنَّ عَلَىٰ مَا آذَيْتُمُونَا ۚ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ

“No reason have we why we should not put our trust on Allah. Indeed He Has guided us to the Ways we [follow]. We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us. For those who put their trust should put their trust on Allah.” 14:12

The words “..We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us…” make it absolutely clear that true believers do not respond violently to the hurtful things they hear from rejecters but tolerate them with patience.

Believers commanded to be patient in the face of insults

لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا ۚ وَإِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ

“Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will hurt you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil,-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs. ” 3:186

The divine command given to believers as to what to do in the face of abuse as “..if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil…” leaves no room for doubt that true believers do not respond violently when faced with insults and abuse but remain calm and patient.

Believers are forbidden to insult other religions, hence responding violently is ruled out

وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

“Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return, and He will tell them what they used to do.” 6:108

If believers are commanded by Allah not to even verbally insult deities, then how can they turn physically violent?

We also see in the Qur’an that blasphemy does not carry a capital punishment. Those who commit blasphemy and even plot sedition are given an opportunity by Allah to repent. If capital punishment were invoked and they were to face the death penalty then they would not be able to avail the opportunity for repentance that Allah mentions in 9:74.

يَحْلِفُونَ بِاللَّهِ مَا قَالُوا وَلَقَدْ قَالُوا كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَكَفَرُوا بَعْدَ إِسْلَامِهِمْ وَهَمُّوا بِمَا لَمْ يَنَالُوا ۚ وَمَا نَقَمُوا إِلَّا أَنْ أَغْنَاهُمُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ ۚ فَإِن يَتُوبُوا يَكُ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ ۖ وَإِن يَتَوَلَّوْا يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللَّهُ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ۚ وَمَا لَهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلَا نَصِيرٍ

“They swear by God that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which God and His Apostle had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), God will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: They shall have none on earth to protect or help them.” (9:74)

The expression in above verse: “..If they repent, it will be best for them…” is clear evidence in demonstrating that those guilty of blasphemy, apostasy and sedition are not to face the death penalty as Allah has given them a chance for repentance and amendment of their conduct.

If Muslims are to remain peaceful, then who are the people who respond violently?

A question that immediately comes to the mind is that if indeed the Qur’an calls for calm and restraint in the face of insults and abuse, then why do so many people who identify themselves as staunch believers in Islam behave otherwise? Why do people resort to violence, damage property and attempt to riot? The answer to this is also given in the Qur’an. The reality is that the Qur’an categorises two types of believers. Those who are believers in deed, and those who are believers only by name. It is the latter who resort to violence and destruction in the name of religious reform:

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

“Of the people there are some who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day;” but they do not [really] believe. ” 2:8

Whilst refuting the claim of such, the Qur’an also exposes them by virtue of their conduct and behaviour in the world:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

“When it is said to them: “Make not Fasaad (disorder) on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only Want to reform!” 2:11

Pinpointing the people who go about flaunting their Imaan (belief) to be in fact fake, the above verses also identify their modus operandi to do Fasad (disorder),  assuming it to be a means to Islah (reform from sin). When we come across individuals who make it their mission to “destroy evil and vice”, we see the truthfulness of the above description. These are the type of people who bomb establishments that appear sinful to them and display violent rage in the name of religion. They style themselves as believers, do Fasaad fil Ard (disorder and mischief in the land), without realising that far from acting on Allah’s laws, they are in fact grossly violating them. Hence there are two types of people in the world who would claim to be within the fold of Imaan. Those whose characters are trained on Quranic guidance, who in the face of insults, invective and abuse act patiently and do not resort to a tit-for-tat or violent response. While others are those who, while claiming to be believers, actually defy the divine injunctions. These are the people who resort to violence and destruction and justify their conduct in the name of religion. The fundamental mistake we would make is to accept people by the labels they carry or the claims they make, instead of identifying them by the behaviours they display. Behaviours that go against the teachings of the Qur’an are never a part of Islam and their actors are never its true representatives. Muslims must not forget that the best defence to any insults is the one contained in the Qur’an. Instead of losing control, Muslims must hold fast to Qur’anic guidance in such matters. The Qur’an is Allah’s word and is not silent. Allah is fully aware of what situations come in the life of a believer and He has given remedies in His word. The only response that a true Muslim is to give is the one which the Prophet gave and which is to abide by the teaching contained in the Qur’an.

REFERENCES

¹ Catholic Encyclopedia

 

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A brief guide to the Hajj


Mina

A Brief Guide to the Hajj

The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Makkah which is obligatory on every adult Muslim man or woman who has the health and the wealth to undertake the journey. The Qur’an and Islamic tradition mention the origin of Hajj with Prophet Abraham (PBUH) who was commanded by God to establish his progeny in Makkah and to announce the pilgrimage to mankind. In His footsteps, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also performed the Hajj, thus making it obligatory on every Muslim who has its capacity.

The Hajj is an obligatory act in Islam like other obligatory acts of prayer, fasting, and giving zakat – charity. The purpose of the pilgrimage is remembrance of Allah and to offer complete submission and devotion to Him. The pilgrim commemorates Tauheed – the oneness of God and denounces Shirk – polytheism and idolatry, and offers sacrifice by material, physical as well as spiritual means resulting in a stronger Imaan (belief) and a strong desire to live a virtuous life after the event. The Hajj is a life changing experience. Traditionally, Muslims are known to divide their lives in two parts – one lived prior to the Hajj and the one lived after performing it. The latter is one in which one feels more closer to God and in which he or she become more religiously observant.

Hujjaj

The one who performs the Hajj is called a Hajji (masculine) or Hajjah (feminine), plural form Hujaaj (pilgrims). As Islam is not a tribal religion but one which all humankind is invited towards, Hujaaj from all over the globe join in for the Hajj making it truly an international event incorporating the full diversity of people.

Makkah – the host city of the Hujaaj

Makkah is a sacred city for Muslims and the host to millions of pilgrims each year. It is here that all pilgrims congregate and from this city that they move to various venues to perform the rites of the pilgrimage.

Time Period for Hajj

The Hajj is performed every year in the month of Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The actual rituals of the Hajj are performed from the 8th day till the 12th day of the month.

Ihram – The dress code for Hajj

When one intends to perform the Hajj, they have to enter the city of Makkah in a state of Ihram and observe its rules. For men, the Ihram consists of two un sewn sheets of white, while a woman’s Ihram can be any dress that meets the requirements of Islamic modesty.

Whilst in a state of Ihram there are certain duties and obligations laid down on the pilgrim. They are not to fight, engage in sexual intercourse, apply perfume, cut their hair or nails. Hunting and fighting is also forbidden when one has adorned the Ihram.

Meeqat – Entry points into Makkah

The Ihram is worn in any of the Meeqats – which are designated points of entry into Makkah, or if travelling by Air, the pilgrims change in to Ihram prior to entering the Airspace of Makkah.

Masjid al-Haram

Upon arrival, the pilgrims first destination is Masjid Al Haram, the grand Mosque in Makkah which houses the Kabah, the House appointed as a focus point for believers in monotheism of God. At masjid al Haraam, pilgrims perform the tawaf of the Kabah – the cube shaped building which is the direction of prayers for Muslims. Tawaf is performed by circumbulating the Kabah seven times followed by Sayee or running seven times between the adjoining hills of Safa and Marwa.

Mina

On the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, the pilgrims move to Mina, a city of camps outside Makkah. Here they are camped all night and perform the five daily prayers and make supplications to God while commemorating his messages.

Arafat

On the 9th of Dhul-Hijjah the crowds move to the plains of Arafat, 20 kilometres east of Makkah, where they stay till sunset, and engage in prayers, supplications and reflections, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness. They perform the shortened and combined noon and afternoon prayers at Masjid Namirah.

Muzdalifa

After sunset at Arafat, the pilgrims next destination is the sand of Muzdalifa, an area between Arafat and Mina. At Muzdalifa, they spend the night under open skies, offer prayers near Mashar al Haram or the sacred monument and collect pebbles for the ritual stoning of Jamarat to be done the next day.

Jamarat

At dawn, the pilgrims leave Muzdalifa and move back towards Mina, from where they visit the jamaraat, which are stone altars symbolizing evil and polytheism. The pilgrims throw seven pebbles at these pillars as a symbolic act of denouncing evil and wrong doing from their lives.

Sacrifice and shaving the hair

On the same day the pilgrims sacrifice an animal and distribute the meat to the poor. After the sacrifice they shave their heads as a sign of a spiritual rebirth. After shaving the pilgrims will then revisit Masjid al Haram to perform the Tawaf of Kabah and Sayee at Safa and Marwa, after which they return to Mina. On the 11th and 12th they repeat the stoning ritual and after which they perform a final farewell Tawaf of the Kabah, marking their departure from Makkah. The Hajj rites are now complete.

After the Hajj – onwards to Madina and Ziyarat

Following the completion of the rites of Hajj, most pilgrims visit the city of Madina, where they perform prayers at Masjid an Nabawi and also visit various historical sites.

Return to their homelands

The pilgrims return to their homelands with a spiritual revival and a new life. Their lives will now be dedicated to God and are to be spent in accordance with His laws.

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Muslims & FE


Speech delivered at “Change & Growth”, Chaplaincy in Further Education Annual Conference held in York, UK, July 2006.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I begin my speech, I would like to extend the universal greeting of peace to all of you.

Assalamu-alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatahu”

No! Don’t be upset, I didn’t cast a spell on any one of you, nor did I attempt to mesmerise or hypnotise anybody. The words I just uttered were in Arabic, and they simply mean May the peace and the mercy and blessing of God be on you. As most of the people present here are from a Christian background, they may know, that we read in the Gospels, when Jesus used to meet his disciples, he used to address them: “Shalom Alaikum”, which is the same as “Salaam Alaikum” in Arabic. Salaam and Shalom mean the same thing, “peace”. So you can relax now!

Coming to the topic, my presentation will cover two aspects. First I would like to demonstrate the meaning of certain terms from a Muslim perspective. Second, I would like to highlight some practical faith and related needs of Muslim learners in Colleges of Further Education.

The Language Barrier

As the title of the presentation is not of my own choice, but was suggested to me by the conference organisers, and looking at the vocabulary concerned, I deemed it important that the subject be addressed in precise and specific terms. This is so, because words mean different things to different people. Language, if kept vague, undefined and unqualified, can result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. One of the reasons of the prevailing misunderstandings between Muslims and other communities is language.

Terms that have a specific meaning and understanding are seldom defined in discourse, and instead inaccurate connotations are attached to them with an implied meaning, which is then popularized, resulting in creating misconceptions.

Take for example, the Arabic word Jihad, which will commonly evoke the meaning of “Holy War”, because it is this meaning which is (very wrongly) attached to this term in contemporary discourse, ignoring the fact that the word simply carries the basic linguistic  meaning of striving or making an effort for anything. e.g. striving or making an effort to pass your exams at college is your Jihad to pass exams.

On the other hand for War, the original word in Arabic is Harab, and Holy in Arabic is Muqaddas.  The accurate rendering of “The Holy War”, (a concept non existent in the Qur’an) is Al Harab al Muqadas, and not Jihad, as is erroneously mentioned in certain circles.

When we look at the terms Spirit and Spiritual, their notions may mean differently to different people, depending on their respective cultures, beliefs, faith, or linguistic patterns. To some it may mean simply being a good and moral person, to others Spirituality implies following a mystical tradition instead of organised religion. Maybe some may think that spiritual development has a connection with Spiritualists and has something to do with attending séances and recalling the spirit of the dead!

So in order to avoid confusion, it is vital, that first of all, we define what we mean by a term before building a structure upon it.

The difference between Nafs (Soul) and Rooh (Spirit)

In contemporary usage, Spirit is understood as the ethereal part of the human being, i.e. the ghost dwelling within the body, the human soul. However in the Qur’an, Spirit or its Arabic equivalent Rooh is not used in this meaning. Rooh is distinct from Nafs (the human soul), and it is not something that we already possess like the soul and the body, but is given to human beings as inspiration from God:

“And thus have We inspired in thee a Spirit (Rooh) of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path.” 42:51

We can see in the above verse that Rooh is concerned with imparting divine guidance to the human being and is the vehicle of revelation. Prior to its reception Scripture and faith remained unknown, and it is the light by which these are understood. By exploring all those verses where the term Rooh has occurred, one discovers that according to Qur’anic usage Spirit is not the human soul, but is distinct from it as the Spirit of revelation, and is the essence of God’s guidance to mankind.

The Qur’an teaches that the human being is not just a material entity consisting of the physical body, but is a combination of body and soul. It is the Nafs i.e. the soul which is the real driver of the body. On top of that we also possess Aql (Intelligence) and Hawa (emotions).

If the soul does not drive the body in the light of the guidance of the Spirit, then it can be overpowered by emotions and then utilises intelligence in their service.

Nourishment Of The Body, But Destruction Of The Soul

The physical body develops and attains nourishment by observing physical laws, while the Nafs develops by observing moral laws. For example consider the case that when someone consumes food that is legally purchased from a shop, and the same amount is stolen and then consumed, the material energy and taste to the body will be the same in both situations. Food, whether it is legally obtained or stolen gives the same amount of material benefit to the body. However the soul will be harmed if the consumed food is stolen, as it is acquired by virtue of breaking a moral law.

It is the Nafs whose development is the focus of Rooh. A Nafs which works without the aid of the guidance imparted by the Spirit will operate under the influence of emotions and focus itself on the body, but with the guidance of the Spirit it realises its true potential and maintains a balance between the needs of the body and demands of the soul.

The references to Rooh in the Qur’an are for God’s Spirit, and not the human spirit. I’d like to clarify again that human beings already posses a Nafs, or the Self, in latent form while the spirit is sent by God to guide the develop it.

No division between the worldly and the religious

It is also worth mentioning that the Qur’an enjoins upon a Muslim to learn and apply both  physical laws, as well as moral laws, as the body is not distinct from the self, but is related to it:

“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for people of understanding.”

“Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and reflect on the creation in the heavens and the earth…”3:190-191

In the above we see that those who remember God, are also engaged in the study of the material universe, hence “Spiritual” is not separate from the “Worldy”, for it is how one functions in the material world that the Spirit gives guidance for.

If the term spiritual development in FE Colleges were to be retained then by it the Muslim would mean the development of the Nafs (soul) through guidance provided by the Rooh (Spirit) found in revelation.

Colleges of Further education may very well equip learners to know ways and means of meeting the needs of the human body, but what provision is there for the development of the souls that are housed within those bodies? Are educational institutions merely ‘factories’ that have an ‘assembly’ line of students to impart them with skills on how to make money and send them out the door? What about the values that those learners are to acquire to implement in their practical life? Such questions definitely deserve our attention.

The Muslim Community & FE Colleges

The British Muslim community is the second largest faith group in the UK with approximately six million adherents. However it would be wrong to suggest that the community has one set of beliefs or dispositions as there is a wide variety of diverse beliefs and practices that are being observed within the community. Apart from religious diversity, the community is also diverse in terms of ethnicity.

From a demographic angle, about a third of the population is under the age of sixteen and a half a million learners in the British education system are Muslims. This poses a challenge to educational institutions that are ill equipped to meet the needs of learners from this group. In an FE context, where learners often come from disadvantaged communities, the Muslim community is a prime target group, as it is often highlighted with poor socio economic conditions, inner city residences, highest rate of ill health, and a high unemployment rate.

Although (as mentioned earlier) there exist a wide variety of diverse views, opinions and practices within the Muslim community, a college is likely to get the following generic requests in order to meet the needs of learners. By addressing these needs the college will facilitate the take up of education from this group.

Diet

Muslim learners will almost certainly require catering facilities in accordance with their beliefs which demand. A diet in which alcohol and pork is restricted, and meat which is from poultry or cattle slaughtered by severing the jugular. Colleges need to make adjustment to their canteen menus to accommodate Muslim Halaal food requirements.

Washing Facilities

Toilets in FE colleges need to be equipped with adequate washing facilities, such as water containers in the WC, as Muslim learners are required to wash after attending the toilet, and do ablution before prayers.

Dress Code & Modesty

Provision for private cubicles for showers in changing rooms need to be made, as Muslim learners may feel uncomfortable from using such changing rooms where there are communal showers, due to total nudity in such settings not being approved in their faith.

Socialization – Alcohol  & Clubs

It should be borne in mind that the Islamic faith does not allow consumption of alcohol for recreational use, and carefree intermixing of opposite sexes (outside the bond of marriage), hence any social or enrichment activities planned by the college where students are required to visit Dance Clubs, or Public houses will be inappropriate for practicing Muslims.

Time table adjustment for the festival of Eid

Muslims celebrate two major festivals in a year. Eid ul Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, and after two months of Eid al FitrEid al Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah. Muslims celebrate these two festivals with traditional fervour. Both these Eids are occasions as important to them, as Easter and Christmas are to Christians and in Muslim countries, days on which these events fall are official public holidays. Colleges which are having significant populations of Muslim learners may get the request for time off for students to celebrate these festivals, and timetable adjustments may need to be made. occurs

Space for Prayer

There are five daily prayers and one congregational prayer on a Friday that practicing Muslims observe regularly. For the purpose, a prayer room in the college is certainly a necessity. A multi-faith prayer room with neutral décor on the pattern of Airport chaplaincies would be sufficient to meet this need rather than a dedicated room for the faith.

Counselling & Support

For dealing with issues related to counselling and bereavement, it is important that staff members with the proper professional as well as theological training be inducted to give support to students undergoing a crises point in their life. There is also the need for well spoken and culturally aware faith leaders to maintain a link with the college to give advice and support to students when required.

Dialogue & Encounter

For many, an FE experience provides an opportunity for interaction with people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs which may perhaps not exist in their own locality. It is vital that FE colleges encourage a structured approach to interfaith dialogue, so that students can appreciate the diversity within campus, which reflects the diverse communities in wider society.

In Conclusion

It is vital that colleges realize the changing demographic patterns of Britain and appreciate that for many among the Muslim community Faith is part of public identity. Given recent trends of immigration and influx of ESOL students who may be more religiously observant than local learners, and the non availability of faith provision in FE colleges as against schools, colleges need to be better equipped to provide multi faith student support.

It is equally important to realize that faith communities act as hubs of information and exchange, and colleges by maintaining a link with such, have an opportunity to promote their services to an unrealized potential. Faith leaders acting as influencers and gatekeeper in the community can endorse the ‘offerings’ of colleges.

The youth from the Muslim community, and particularly inner city dwellers have a tendency to pursue education at an FE college and it should be born in mind that although no fixed set of beliefs and practices exist, the community may appear to be more visibly observant in practical and day to day matters of faith, hence having an impact on the educational institutions that they go to. FE colleges are ideally placed for the social, economic as well as the moral uplift of the community, and for the purpose adjustments should be made to accommodate the faith needs of this community, which does not see any separation of the religious from the secular. In the end I would like to thank the organisers here for inviting me as a panelist at the conference. I will welcome questions and comments from the audience.

Kashif Shahzada

Muslim Renessiance


If Islam Is So Great, Then Why Are Muslims In Dire Straits?

ANSWERS TO SOME COMMON CRITICISMS

Critics often pose an innocent question to the faithful. “You people of faith blow your own trumpet. You claim that your religion is the best that there is, and that it has the solution to the problems of humanity. Then why is it that we see those who claim to be believers in dire straits, struggling for basics of life?”

They raise the question that: “after all, there are many Muslim countries in the world, where people may say that their religion is Islam and where they identify with the belief, and may even claim to have experienced Islam for a millennium, how come the faith has failed to eradicate their social ills and make societal advancements?” I believe the questioners have raised a valid point which needs addressing.

Justify Yourself

If we claim that ours is the best, then how do we justify our own backwardness? After all, the Muslims are not leading the world in science and technology, their countries are not having a good record of human rights and democratic freedoms, in fact tales of cultural oppression and backwardness are abound in the press concerning them. Then what right do we as Muslims have to say we have the panacea to all ills?

The Logical Fallacy of Backwardness of ‘Muslims’

However, there is a fundamental flaw in the argument. And that flaw is based on an assumption. The outsider thinks that those who label themselves as ‘Muslims’ are perfectly ‘Islamic’ in their conduct.

That whatever happens in their societies and environments is a result of Islam being put into practice. This is the grave error that they commit. That these societies have experienced Islam (the true religion based on the Qur’an) is an assumption. One experiences Islam, not through cultural osmosis or by inheriting the faith from ancestors, but through personal effort (see Qur’an 29:69), thought and reflection (47:24), a personal study of the Qur’an (54:17) and a life of action based on its inspiration (6:19).

The Authority For All Things Islamic

The authority for what is Islamic to what is not lies with the Qur’an, which is the word of God and the actual divine injunctions given to believers. Until or unless Qur’anic injunctions are put into practice in society, any claims of it being an Islamic one do not warrant any serious response. This is stated in not one, but numerous Qur’anic verses, and it is by passing through this very process that one truly experiences Islam. One is not a Muslim merely by being born into a Muslim community or being raised up in a community that labels itself as Islamic, but one attains the status of a Submitter (which is what the word Muslim means) through conscious and willing submission to the Qur’an and a life of action based on its teachings (see 2:128).

Critics are quick to say that many of these societies have experienced Islam, but they fail to pin point which “Islam” have they experienced, or whether what these countries have experienced throughout these centuries really is Islam, or is something very different but using the label of Islam to justify itself. When critics are able to prove that the societies they bring as evidence of Muslim backwardness have experienced Islam based on the Qur’an for a millennium and not an adulterated form of the faith, and yet remain unchanged, then their assertion would be valid. However, as they fall short of proving that these societies are truly Islamic i.e. based on Qur’an as supreme law and social order, their question about the faith being failed to eradicate social ills is out of mark.

Superficial Criticism

But the critic won’t stop just there. He expresses his dissatisfaction on Islam’s holy text. Some even go to the extent of declaring that they had been horrified upon reading it, but what exactly was it that they found horrifying, they don’t say. Are they uncomfortable with the exhortation to extend justice to all, even one’s own enemies (4:135, 5:8) that didn’t go down well with their own agenda? Or was it the injunction to ensure a just and equitable distribution of wealth, so that resources of the land “do not remain in the hands of only the wealthy among you…” (59:7), that horrified them, as it went against granting privileges to the rich at the expense of the poor? So what exactly was it?

But we need to agree on one point with the critics, where they suggest that  many in the West (or even the East for that matter) are at loggerheads with Qur’anic values. After all the Qur’an is calling them to change, to mend their ways, to give up racism and policies based around regional and national interests, to extend justice and equity to all, to keep a check on their personal and carnal pleasures and share their wealth with the unfortunate for the sake of God, all this is definitely what they don’t want to do.

So why wouldn’t they express their horror at such a text, which asks them to move out of their comfort zone. Why wouldn’t they treat it as a ‘foreign’ ideology’, instead of a serious manual for reform of life mandatory for a sincere quest for truth? Indeed righteousness is a foreign element in the mind of the malicious!

Islam is not a foreign import, but a part and parcel of Western Society

And they are definitely not correct in generalizing that there is a long tradition about Western incomprehension of the Qur’an. I am sure that people are aware that there are many in the West who find the Qur’an perfectly comprehensible! I am not talking of immigrants or second  generation believers, but native, Westerners, who have studied the book of their own accord and appreciate it on its own merit. E.g.

“Quran takes the responsibility of man prosperity alone. I hope it will not be too late that time which I can unite all the scholars of all the countries together and establish a monotone society based on principles of Quran only which will guide people to prosperity.” Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1721)


“Everything made so much sense. This is the beauty of the Qur’an; it asks you to reflect and reason… When I read the Qur’an further, it talked about prayer, kindness and charity. I was not a Muslim yet, but I felt the only answer for me was the Qur’an and Allah had sent it to me.” (Yusuf Islam [Cat Stevens], British pop star)

Do people accept such individuals as Westerners? Some claim that they find Islam to be foreign an incomprehensible, and one whose study requires qualifications in foreign culture and language for a better grasp of the text, but what will they say to the fact that many outsiders to the faith have very well grasped the essence of its message, and that too without the qualifications suggested? Is not the actual existence of such individuals and their growing number in the west a living rebuttal to the claim of Qur’an’s incomprehension?

They expresses their concern about the Qur’an being in a frame of patriarchy but the culture and society in which they live themselves, would they say that it is matriarchal? They consider the Qur’an to be an old and outdated text, a product of its  its time. Indeed the Qur’an is a text of its time, but its time frame is not 7th century Arabia, but day one of human existence. Since ever humankind has existed or will exist, Qur’anic era is in place with its values providing the divine guiding light. The problem with most critics of the Qur’an is the very motivation with which they approach the book. What is the purpose? Why do they wish to study the text? Is it to explore its truthfulness? Or is it to find a reflection of their own likes and dislikes?

I think, the type of motivation one has, that type of results he or she will get in the end.

“..He causes many to err by it and many He leads aright by it! but He does not cause to err by it (any) except the transgressors…” 2:26

WOULD YOU LIKE TO DISCUSS THE ABOVE OR ANY OTHER TOPIC WITH THE AUTHOR THROUGH LIVE CHAT? SCHEDULE A MEETING USING THIS FORM.

The Dilemma Of Faith


When Faith Becomes A Hurdle in Our Search For Truth

The journey to search the truth is not a smooth ride. There are hurdles on the way, strong winds, narrow paths and sharp turns. A rather perilous journey.

The problem you are most likely to face when you go about this journey is the sheer number of spokespersons you meet who attempt to define God for you. You are likely to be overwhelmed by these self proclaimed ‘divine’ emissaries, all of whom are ever ready with a new trick up their sleeve to lure you into conversion. The world is full of them. In every street and town, every nook and corner, seers, ‘holy’ men, preachers, sages, priests, and mystics, some claiming to be born again, some reincarnated, others even ‘eternally existing’ ready with their salesmanship, their eyes preying on you with delight.

These claimants to divine knowledge will, if you lend them an ear, send you in directions very different from each other. To one, the Lord came down to earth as a man, while the other finds such a notion sacrilegious. It is a part and parcel of true religion to devote oneself to an idol and image says one of them, while such would be a blasphemy of the highest order according to the other.

As many people you speak to, as many confusing views you are likely to come across consolidating the idea that all religions do not preach one and the same thing and that if you were to choose one path, you are very unlikely to end up on the same road as the others. Therefore, you as the traveler in search of truth will definitely encounter contradictory views about God and His religion from such self styled specialists, each unique and different in his or her own way.

Despite their uniqueness, there will be one common strand among them all. One commonality that pervades their differing and often opposing views – all of them will ultimately resort to faith, should they face rational questioning.

Faith i.e. belief without proof or evidence is what sustains their religiosity, when cornered by your logical inquiry. No evidence, no logic, no proof to convey any credibility, but just faith – blind faith on their sales pitch.

And faith is what you must ultimately have if you wish to join their cult and taste the spiritual fruits that they find so sweet. Reason and rational thinking, proof and evidence, have no room in their house of faith, for these are for worldly matters. For higher and spiritual ends, one needs an ‘inner sight’, and a very different way of looking, so they proclaim.

Adherents hold on to their beliefs, not because they are convinced to the satisfaction of their intelligence about their efficacy, or have some sort of proof or evidence to substantiate their beliefs but because they ultimately have ‘faith’ in them, and so should you. Their invitation to you is an invitation to faith, i.e. to blind acceptance without any evidence to substantiate their claims.

ENMITY TOWARDS REASON

Since time immemorial advocates of faith have spoken against arriving at truths by way of reason and intellect:

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”—Martin Luther, Table Talks in 1569.

Champions of faith can be seen holding reason in contempt. To them spiritual matters are related to the ‘inner’ soul of the human being, and have nothing to do with our rational capabilities. There is no room for reason and intellect in religious matters.

They can be very adamant in their own world of inconsistencies and contradictions in creed and dogma, for which they have one answer that solves all the problems – that one word answer is faith.

It is faith that makes you believe that God is All Powerful and at the same time also believe that He:

“ … made heaven and  earth, and on the seventh day HE RESTED, AND WAS REFRESHED.” (Exodus 31:17).

It is faith in action when you acknowledge Divine Omnipotence and at the same time also accept that the Lord:

“..could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had CHARIOTS OF IRON.” (Judges 1:19).

It is on account of faith that you proclaim that God is the source of all goodness and compassion, but also bewilder yourself (and others) by quoting the Lord:

“..I make peace and CREATE EVIL..” Isaiah 45:7.

It is none other but faith that makes you champion the cause of modesty and look down upon impropriety but at the same time make you accept that God’s prophet:

“…hath walked NAKED and barefoot three years..” (Isaiah 20:3-4).

It is due to difficulties such as the above that make the faithful declare:

“Whoever wants to be a Christian must be intent on silencing the voice of reason” —Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” in Works, Vol. 23, p. 99.

To many, when they come across such difficulties, religion becomes a very bitter pill to swallow, and it is only when the architects of religion sweeten the pill with faith that it becomes palatable.

It is inconsistencies like these that contribute to a wholesale rejection of religion. Incomplete and faulty ideas about God and religion breed atheism. Religiosity is kept outwardly merely to please near and dear ones and to stick to social norms and accepted behaviors, but inwardly religious beliefs are held in contempt. The moment, those social pressures are no more and you are allowed to think for yourself, you find no reason to openly reject the belief system based on contradictory attributes.

FAITH AS A TOOL FOR OPPRESSION

While faith is a part and parcel of religious traditions, it is not the domain of the strictly religious only. Those who inwardly realize the weakness of faith, may outwardly use it as a secular ploy to maintain status quos and keep subjects under control and in subjugation. In such cases, vested interests declare that it is a grave sin to debate, to reason and inquire on official doctrines. Authorities imposed on you have a ‘divine’ warrant, so they say, and questioning them implies questioning God Himself.

Faith can very well be a tool for oppression when concocted in God’s name by vested interests merely to engineer their power over the masses. It is extremely useful to stifle dissent and lend credence to an otherwise illegitimate occupation.

AN ALTERNATE VIEW

Blind faith – whether you hold fast to it voluntarily, or one which is imposed on you, can it satisfy your intellectual quest for the ultimate truth? After all, if God is the one who made you, gave you your body and your mind, then will He prevent you from using your reasoning abilities? Why must we not use the mind to know about His matters?

When the intellect is paralysed and there is no room left for logical discussion, it is then that faith comes into play and matures itself. It is also when we close our minds and leave all matters to a blind adherence and trust without evidence or proof that the quest for the truth comes to a halt.

While certain faith leaders speak against reason to know spiritual matters, in contrast we also come across an alternate view. A view which presents religion in rational terms and which advocates the full use of your senses to decipher the truth. In this viewpoint you are not discouraged from using your intellect, but are in fact encouraged to ask questions and probe matters deeply.

This view is to be found nowhere but in the Qur’an. According to it, in attempting to know the truth, ‘Aql’ (reasoning) is to be employed:

“Certainly We have revealed to you a Book in which is your own reminder; what! Will you not then use your reason?” (21:10)

“We have made the revelations clear to you, if you will use your reason.” (3:118)

Truth will be known to you if you employ your Aql (Reason), while those who find thinking tedious are described as the denizens of hell:

“They will (further) say: Had we but listened or used our ‘Aql’ (reason), we should not (now) be among the companions of the blazing fire!” (67:10)

Such is the importance of being rational for religious matters, says the Qur’an. So much so that you can end up in hell fire if you paralyse your reasoning faculties. It is clear, therefore, that the Qur’an is no enemy of reason and does not regard it as a hindrance to your spiritual advancement.

PRODUCE YOUR PROOF!

According to the Qur’an, claims need verification prior to acceptance. Its general principle is that whenever people make a claim, demand proof from them. There is absolutely no room for blind faith in the Qur’an. It offers not only proofs, arguments and falsification tests for its own validity:

“O mankind! verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: For We have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest.” 4:174

But demands evidence and proof from its opponents as well:

Or, Who originates creation, then repeats it, and who gives you sustenance from heaven and earth? (Can there be another) god besides God? Say, “Bring forth your proof, if ye are telling the truth!” 27:64

It also declares that those who have deviated from serving the one true God and fallen into false worship do not have any proof for their claims, and this indicates the Qur’anic attitude towards blind faith, namely that it is unacceptable:

“Or have they taken for worship (other) gods besides him? Say, “Bring your convincing proof: this is the Message of those with me and the Message of those before me.” But most of them know not the Truth, and so turn away.” 21:24

There is one religion, which in contrast to others does not resort to emotional or blind faith for itself, but calls for an intellectual inquiry to ascertain its truthfulness, presents proofs for its claims and demands proof from those who doubt its message.

A CALL TO ACTION

Have you ever come across a situation when you were prevented from asking questions? When you were told about the ‘blessings’ and ‘merits’ of such blind faith, and were advised against rational inquiry about conventional dogma?

Did you ever wonder why must you be forewarned not to employ reasoning and rationality for spiritual matters? Will you be uncovering some secret that people do not want you to know? Are they afraid that your questioning and reasoning ability will expose some flaw or weakness in their claims?

Did you realize that blind and emotional acceptance of doctrines can very well make you obstinate and narrow minded and that it is against your very nature not to think and reflect.

You are free to think, to reflect, to ponder and contemplate. You need to labour for the truth and use your entire being for the purpose, the body, the heart as well as the mind, for all are gifts from God.

“Say: ‘This is my way: I invite unto Allah upon conscious insight accessible to reason, I as well as those who follow me, and glory be to Allah, for I am not one of those who associate (others with His laws).” (12:108)

What will it be then, a blind faith that is narrow and restrictive, or a rational belief that is liberating and creative?

The choice is yours.

European Muslims At Crossroads


How Muslims in Europe can tackle Islamophobia and also counter extremism within their ranks? There is a silent storm that is emerging in Europe. It is somewhat audible now and if counter measures are not taken, it is likely to cause significant damage. The storm is the rising xenophobia and its epicenter is the Muslim community of Europe.

The Swiss have recently passed a vote to ban minarets in their country. Denmark and the Netherlands have also had their fair share of anti-Muslim controversies. In the United Kingdom, the British National Party, which is openly against the presence of Muslims in Britain is making inroads and has even gained a seat in the European parliament. The French ban on religious dress in public educational institutions has made headlines. It seems like there is a sudden resurgence of religious intolerance in Europe.

Mind you that this sort of thinking is not new. It has been around since medieval times. Muslims and their religion have been portrayed negatively in Europe in the past.


Historical roots

Evidence to the effect is available when we study the translations of the Qur’an, the sacred scripture of Muslims that were done by medieval scholars in Europe, who do not make it a secret, as to the intention behind their work.

“…one of the first English translations commonplace in the English speaking world was that of George Sale, which is said to have been based on a latin translation by Maraci in 1689 with the Arabic Text and quotations from various Arabic Commentaries, carefully selected and garbled, so as to give the worst possible impression of Islam to Europe. Maracci was a learned man, and there is no pretence about the object he had in view viz.. to discredit Islam by an elaborate show of quotations from Muslim authorities themselves. Maracci was himself a Confessor to Pope Innocent XI; his work is dedicated to the holy Roman Emperor Leopold I; and he introduces it by an introductory volume containing what he calls a Refutation of the Quran.  Considering that Maracci’s object was to discredit Islam in the eyes of Europe, it is remarkable that Sale’s translation should be looked upon as a standard translation in the English speaking world.” (Preface to an English Interpretation of the Holy Qur’an by A Yusuf Ali).

While translations of the Qur’an were deliberately distorted to malign Islam in Europe, it is also known that prominent institutions, such as Oxford University had Islamic studies as part of their teaching curriculum for hundreds of years but without the involvement of any Muslims at all!

In other words for hundreds of years, Islam was taught in Europe, not by those who believed in it, but by those who rejected the faith!

What type of an image the European masses would receive in such a situation shouldn’t be surprising. We should ask: If it would be strange to have a faculty on Women’s studies without women, it is equally strange to have a faculty of Islamic studies without Muslims!

Sadly, this is how some Europeans have known the Qur’an and Islam – not through an objective analysis, but through the works of those whose aim and intention was clearly to malign the faith, and it is no surprise that prejudices are deep rooted.

It is equally tragic, that the trend continues nowadays, the European public impression about Islam is being shaped by the right wing politicians, press, media, and even by extremists within the Muslim community, who in no way are representative of the moderate but silent majority.

If such are the motives, then we shouldn’t be surprised by the impressions that their work creates in the minds of common people.


The ball is in your court

The duty lies on the shoulder of the Muslim community residing in European lands, to have a dialogue with their European friends and colleagues, to remove misconceptions and increase understanding. If it does not then there will remain a vacuum, which will be filled by vile elements. So dialogue is the need of the hour in these turbulent times.

What should be done to remedy this situation? A lot can be done. But my emphasis is foremost on one aspect.

I believe that the presence and longevity of Muslims in Europe is dependent strongly on their link with the Qur’an. For as long as European Muslims take the Qur’an as their guide, instead of religious opinions that are contrary to it and apply its principles to their situation, their peace and sustenance will not be disturbed, for this is a divine promise.

Well, it may sound strange, but are not the Muslims already living their lives on the precepts of their holy book? To an outsider this may appear so, but a closer look at the community will reveal that this is far from the truth. Beliefs and practices that are prevailing within the community are in fact in no way endorsed or advocated by the Qur’an.

All those practices and habits which gain media attention and about which hue and cry is made are in fact anti-Qur’anic. Subjects like forced marriages, compulsory veiling, intolerance towards other faiths, partaking in violence on religious grounds, suicide bombers and all the other bad stuff that you hear about are not Qur’anic edicts but their source and origin lie elsewhere.

Muslims needs to re-educate themselves first and foremost by the Qur’an, as sadly they are not. A fresh look at the Qur’an to extrapolate guidance relevant to their circumstances is the need of the hour instead of looking at static interpretations of the past.

The outsider remains unaware that Muslims of today are in the habit of a ceremonial association with the Qur’an, and assume that all that they hear about the community in the press and media is probably the teaching of their holy book.


The hurdle between the Qur’an and the Muslim community

The actual case is that most Muslims in Europe may be able to recite the Qur’an in Arabic, but its meaning and teachings bear little relevance in their day to day lives. For decisions it is not the divine book that they turn to but to self styled religious ‘experts’.  (A large proportion of European Muslims are from non Arabic backgrounds), many of whom are foreign imports from far distant lands.

When people in the Muslim community face religious dilemmas, they are in the habit of consulting such imams and scholars of various sects and schools of thoughts which have gained a foot hold in the community and it is rare to find a common Muslim being told by them to directly consult the Qur’an for their problem.

The Qur’an is deliberately kept as a means for blessing in spiritual terms, whose mere chanting is sufficient. But apply it in contemporary or religious matters of the common Muslim – this, the imams are reluctant to do so, because they have been advocating that the book is not for the common man, but for ‘experts’ only. ‘Let the ‘experts’ do the thinking and the common man blindly follow them’, so it is said!

The common Muslim is in fact discouraged from reading and studying the Qur’an by such ‘experts’, who instead have their own voluminous books and fatwas which the laity is to consult. Hence, the Qur’an is being restrained from the minds of the commoner, and a mere ceremonial and non intellectual reverence is prevailing.


Time to revisit the basics

The study and contemplation was not the sole remit of religious ‘experts’, but was the duty of each and every Muslim. The simple and clear injunctions are addressed to each and every one of them, to put into practice in their everyday lives, irrespective of their geographical location or time-dimension.

The Qur’an calls for each successive generation to engage with it, and discourages from blind imitation of the thinking of the past.

“A Book which We have revealed unto you, which is full of blessing, that they may ponder over its verses and that people of core take heed.” 38:29

Do they not ponder over the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up by them?” 47:24

The call is for each addressee of the Qur’an to understand it in view of the circumstances that he or she dwells in and apply the guidance in their own relative situation. The Qur’anic principles are immutable, but people’s level of knowledge and circumstances keep changing and are not static. Therefore the interpretations of a past generation are not necessarily a standard for successive generations, as each generation will have to understand and apply the Qur’an for their own situation. Hence the Qur’an becomes a dynamic text applicable in all times and eras. It is also worthy to note that mimicking the wisdom of the previous generations is detested in the holy book:

“And when it is said to them follow what God has revealed, they say: ‘Nay! We will follow what we found our ancestors to follow!’ What! Even if their ancestors were devoid of guidance and lacked wisdom?” 2:170

Whether the matters be of personal nature like modesty, dietary prescriptions, gender roles, to religious practices like prayers, fasting, pilgrimage and charity, or of a wider public interaction like education, health, arts, social conduct, peacemaking, social and economic justice and community relations, Islam’s revelation has ample guidance for such and many more matters.

The intellectual affinity with the Qur’an is not there in the community. The need is for them to study the book as they would study an academic text to pass exams at school or college, making notes, marking pages, underlining texts and pondering deep on the meanings. What is the Qur’anic position on contemporary issues should be known to them.


Tackling violent extremism

Once they are educated by the Qur’an then they empower themselves with knowledge and can be in a position to counter the wrong portrayal which is promoted by right wing politicians, and also (sadly) by extremists within the Muslim community itself. The Qur’an is the anti-dote to this intolerance.

Extremism and religious fanaticism is a result of a stage by stage process. Before a person becomes fanatical, he or she undergoes gradual steps, which may involve reading certain types of literature and keeping the company of certain types of individuals, which fashion the person into his final radicalized form.

Qur’anic education is the best way to counter radicalization and prevention of violent extremism. Once the common European Muslims are educated about the contents of their divine scripture, they will then be in a position to know what is Islamic and what is not, and even if radicals attempt to instill their propaganda, Qur’anic concepts of peace and tolerance will act as a shield.

If certain elements approach the youth of the community with a particular narrative for conducting violent acts in the name of religion, then the empowered community will be able to tackle them and counter their arguments immediately, as through first hand Qur’anic knowledge they will already know what the true tenets of their belief are and that extremists are distorting the faith for their vile ends.

Hence the community will be able to tackle extremism and nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand. In this manner, Qur’anic education serves numours purposes. It is not only an antidote to Islamophobia and a means of community reform, but also the shield against extremist tendencies.

Such intellectual counter extremism measures initiated from within the Muslim community will also demonstrate to the wider European public that the conduct of mainstream European Muslims is not drawn from extremists or fanatical clerics, and they will be able to distinguish between the real Islam of the Qur’an and the false pretenses of religious exploiters.

Therefore the need of the hour is for a mass awareness campaign for the importance of Qur’anic education.

European Muslims should be able to quote chapter and verse directly from the book to demonstrate that it is a part and parcel of their value system to work towards the establishment of a society that is free from war, poverty, ignorance, superstition, fanaticism, discrimination, oppression, despondency and injustice, and one that flourishes with peace, prosperity, rationality, scientific achievement, equality, knowledge, tranquility and fairness in all segments.

This is the same Qur’an, about which a famous European once said:

“I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of Qur’an which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.” Napolean Bonaparte (Correspondance de Napoléon Ier Tome V pièce n° 4287 du 17/07/1799)

It is only the Qur’an which can save European Muslims, who have in the past faced genocides in these very European lands and had their entire populations wiped out. If Andalusia, Cordoba and Grenada were in the distant past, the events in Bosnia and Kosovo are only yesterday. The clarion call is sounding one more time and European Muslims needs to pay heed.

Their only hope is to go back to the original, reform themselves by it and counter those who deceptively portray the true Islamic identity.

European Muslims are at the cross roads. Turbulent times are coming ahead. However the challenges are also an opportunity to reshape the community which needs to wake up to the call of the Qur’an. The time has come for them to take the lead and instead of cultivating religious identities  through ancestral tradition, human conjecture, religious charlatans, extremist groups or cultural practices of their ethnic communities, they need to mould their character through Islam’s original source and Revelation, the Qur’an. For it alone can help them:

“And We reveal in the Qur’an that which is healing and a mercy to the believers…” 17:82

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