Bismillah


If you were to purchase a copy of the Qur’an from a bookshop and browse through its pages, you will discover that out if its one hundred and fourteen chapters, all, except one, begin with the words “Bismi Allahi arrahmani arraheem”. Is this Arabic statement which means ‘In the Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful’, and is often transliterated in abbreviated form as Bismillah, a part of the Qur’an? Were “Bismillahs” originally revealed by God before every sura (chapter)?

You can note that in the printed Qur’ans, individual chapters begin with the Bismillah, however you will also notice that when it comes to numbering the verses, in the printed Quran, the Bismillahs before every Sura are not numbered as verses as such.

Almost all printed Qur’ans in the Muslim world (barring a few by heretical sects such as the International Community of Submitters) do not number Bismillahs before all chapters as a verse and a revealed part of that Sura.

Why is this so? Are the Bismillahs before every chapter a part of the Qur’an? If they are, then why are they not numbered as a verse? Suppose that every Bismillah was revealed before a sura and was a part of that chapter, then in that case Surat Al Baqara, the second chapter of the Qur’an should have two hundred and eighty-seven verses and not two hundred and eighty-six, as we usually observe in the printed text.

The answer is in understanding what exactly is the phenomenon that is the Qur’an. Is it the printed word or is it the spoken word?

We need to understand that when we refer to the phenomenon known as the Qur’an, then in fact we are not referring to the Qur’an as a printed Book. What you hold in your hand that you have obtained from the book shop or library or even downloaded from the internet is the printed text of the Qur’an, and not the Qur’an itself. There is a difference between the two and this is what I would like to highlight in this reflection.

What is the Qur’an?

The word Qur’an is a proper noun in Arabic and is derived from the triliteral root qāf rā hamza (ق ر أ). The third person masculine singular past perfect form of this root, which is the form used to determine meanings of a root and its derivatives is  qara-a (قَرَأَ) which means  he read or recited. From the same root, the imperative اقْرَأْ Iqr’aa  is formed. The noun Qur’an is from the same root and means Reading (Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon pp 2502).

These inflections of the root and the meaning of the word itself clarifies what is the phenomenon called the Qur’an. It is the reading or the orally proclaimed word, and not the printed book on paper. Apart from the linguistic meaning, we also see internal evidence within the Qur’an that identify it to be ‘a reading’ or ‘spoken recital’ and not a book printed on paper.

وَلَوْ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ كِتَابًا فِي قِرْطَاسٍ فَلَمَسُوهُ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ لَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا سِحْرٌ مُّبِينٌ

And if We had been sending down upon you a Book on paper, so they touched it with their hands, the ones who have disbelieved would indeed have said, “Decidedly this is nothing except evident sorcery.” (6:3, Dr Ghali)

So according to above, it is clear that God did not reveal the book on paper. Rather it was revealed on the heart of a man:

وَإِنَّهُ لَتَنزِيلُ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

And lo! it is a revelation of the Lord of the Worlds,

عَلَىٰ قَلْبِكَ لِتَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُنذِرِينَ

Upon thy heart, that thou mayst be (one) of the warners, (26:192, 194 Pickthall)

It was revealed on the heart of a man, who recited it to other men around him, all of whom memorised what they heard.

بَلْ هُوَ آيَاتٌ بَيِّنَاتٌ فِي صُدُورِ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ ۚ وَمَا يَجْحَدُ بِآيَاتِنَا إِلَّا الظَّالِمُونَ

But it is clear revelations in the hearts of those who have been given knowledge, and none deny Our revelations save wrong-doers. (29:49 Pickthall)

Thus it is the spoken word that came first, which was then recorded on paper, and it is the spoken word, or the reading which is what the Qur’an is. It is the memorized and recited Qur’an which is the authority on the printed Qur’an and not vice versa. If there are any printing errors, then the Huffaz (memorisers) point them out for rectification to the publisher. Qur’an publishing houses the world over, generally do not circulate a printed Qur’an, unless it is proof read and certified by a Hafiz i.e. a memoriser of the Qur’an. Any copies with transcription errors are withdrawn from circulation upon intimation by a Hafiz.

Ad-Dhikr – The Remembrance

God’s claim for preservation is also of Dhikr or the remembrance (of the Quran), and it is illogical to conceive that what is printed on paper is preserved by God, because with time, paper withers away and can also have transcription errors on it.

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

Surely We, Ever We, have been sending down the Remembrance, and surely We are indeed Preservers of it. (15:9, Dr. Ghali)

Therefore it is through the Huffaz that the Qur’an has come down to us and it is in their hearts that it is preserved. It follows that what is memorised and recited i.e. the remembered and the spoken Qur’an in its original Arabic is what is actually the word of God.

Bismillah is never recited loudly to mark begining of a chapter at Masjid Al Haraam

As it is the spoken Qur’an which is the authority on the printed Qur’an, we should see whether the Bismillahs are recited in spoken form before Qur’anic recitation. Doing so, you will observe that during an oral recitation, the Bismillah’s are never recited as part of the Qur’anic recital by a Qari (reciter) during the Salat (five daily prayer). The best way to verify this is to observe the Qur’anic recitation during prayers held at Masjid Al Haraam (the sacred mosque), in Makkah during Taraveeh prayers – the daily night prayers in the month of Ramadan in which the entire Qur’an is recited from memory.

One can observe that during these prayers, when the Qari finishes a sura, he does not recite the Bismillah loudly prior to starting a new Sura. This shows that the Bismillah before every Sura that one finds in the printed Qur’an, are not part of the recited Qur’an, and to be kept in mind that the Qur’an is the reading, and its remembrance is what is vouchsafed by God.

Thus Bismillahs before every Sura were not revealed by God, but were placed in printed versions when the spoken word was recorded on paper or other material to indicate beginning of a new chapter. There are other such bifurcations of the printed text also done to facilitate the recitation and memorization. Such as dividing the entire Qur’an into thirty equal Juz or portions. We can see through internal Qur’anic evidence that its revelation was as Suras or Ayaat (Signs, verses), but never as Juz. The practice of dividing the Book into thirty portions being done to facilitate reading the entire text in thirty days of the month.

The Bismillah occurs only once in the Qur’an

However, while understanding that the Bismillah before every sura was not revealed by God, it is also worthy to note that it does occur internally within the Qur’anic text on a single occasion, and indicates that the wordings  “Bismi Allahi arrahmani arraheem” are indeed revealed words.

The statement of Queen Saba to her counsel upon receiving a letter from Prophet Suleman is narrated in sura twenty seven:

قَالَتْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ إِنِّي أُلْقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتَابٌ كَرِيمٌ

She said, “O you chiefs, surely an honorable book has been cast to me.

إِنَّهُ مِن سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Surely it is from Sulayman, (Solomon) and surely it is in The Name of Allah, The All-Merciful, The Ever-Merciful. (27:29, 30 Dr. Ghali)

Thus we can observe in above that Bismillahs were not revealed each and every time before the revelation of a new sura as this is not prevailing in the spoken Qur’an. We can also see that within the spoken text is sura twenty-seven within which the wordings of the Bismillah occur. Thus its wordings are a part of the Qur’an only by virtue of a single occurrence.

Kitab of Suleman

The Kitab or writing that Suleman sent to Queen Saba in Sura twenty seven is self explanatory in the same chapter as a Kitab i.e. writing or letter. It was not the Qur’an that Suleman had sent but a written message to the Queen. Kitab in the said verse is in its generic sense, and not as the specific Al Kitab. The following are reasonst:

(i) Suleman himself says that the writing was his, and not from Allah.
اذْهَب بِّكِتَابِي هَٰذَا فَأَلْقِهْ إِلَيْهِمْ ثُمَّ تَوَلَّ عَنْهُمْ فَانظُرْ مَاذَا يَرْجِعُونَ

“Go with this my letter and throw it down unto them; then turn away and see what (answer) they return.” 27:28 Pickthal

The words “Ithhab bikitabee hatha.”, meaning “Go with this my letter..” are clearly showing that it is Suleman’s Kitab that was sent to Saba and not Allah’s Kitab.

(ii) Supposing it was the Qur’an that Suleman had sent to Queen Saba, and supposing the Qur’an were to begin with Bismillah as a revealed verse before the Suras, then Queen Saba should identify that the Book sent from Suleman is the Qur’an by first reading the Bismillah to her counsel, followed by the opening verse of a Sura, if indeed Bismillahs before Suras are also revealed verses.

But notice that she does not read Alhamdu lillahi rabbi alAAalameen after Bismi Allahi arrahmani arraheem to her counsel. In fact her next statements make it crystal clear as to what it was that she received from Suleman:

قَالَتْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ إِنِّي أُلْقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتَابٌ كَرِيمٌ

(The Queen of Sheba) said (when she received the letter): O chieftains! Lo! there hath been thrown unto me a noble letter. 27:29, Pickthall

إِنَّهُ مِن سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“Lo! it is from Solomon, and lo! it is: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful;” 27:30 Pickthall

أَلَّا تَعْلُوا عَلَيَّ وَأْتُونِي مُسْلِمِينَ

Exalt not yourselves against me, but come unto me as those who surrender. 27:31 Pickthall

We see from above that the Kitab or writing of Suleman in its entirety is:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; Exalt not yourselves against me, but come unto me as those who surrender.

It is this written message that King Suleman sent through the Hoopoe bird and not the entire Book of God. As Suleman himself identifies by the Arabic word “Kitabee” that it is his Kitab that is to be sent to Queen Saba, therefore it is not the Qur’an referred in 27:30. As after reading the Bismillah the Queen identifies the next line of Suleman’s writing to be the invitation to embrace Islam and not a beginning verse of a Sura, therefore this also proves that it is not the entire Qur’an which is mentioned in 27:30 but just the letter of Suleman. The word Kitab is used in the said verse in its generic sense of a written message, i.e. a letter or communique.

Reading Bismillah is an etiquette of Qur’anic recitation and inscription, distinct from the revealed text.

Bismillahs before every chapter of the Qur’an are not revealed verses or a revealed part of those chapters. When Muslims recite the Qur’an then they begin the recitation with Bismillah because of the order given in Sura 96:1

اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ

Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth. 96:1, Pickthall

Thus when a believer is to begin the reading of the Qur’an or any of its passages then one is to do it “bi-ismi rabbik” literally “With the Name of your Lord”. This is the Qur’anic etiquette to begin Qur’anic recitation and is in obedience to the order in Surat Al Alaq 96:1. However this does not mean that a Bismillah that one reads prior to a Sura or passage is the first verse revealed in a Sura. The first verse of a Sura is the text that occurs after the Bismillah, e.g. 1:1 is “Alhamdu lillahi rabbi alAAalameen”, 2:1 is “Alif-lam-meem”, 3:1 is “Alif-lam-meem” and so on and so forth. Reciting a Bismillah before Quran reading or to print it to demarcate sura-chapters is simply an etiquette or rule given in the Qur’an that a believer is to observe.  Similarly another such rule is given in Surat An-Nahl 16:98:
فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ

And when thou recitest the Qur’an, seek refuge in Allah from Satan the outcast. 16:98 Pickthall

Thus in obedience to the order in 16:98, one can recite the words “audhu billah mina ‘sh-shaytani ‘r-rajeem” lit. “I seek refuge in God from Satan, the stoned”, followed by b-ismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm.  However once again it must be emphasized that these words are simply etiquette for reciting Quranic text and their utterance prior to reciting the Qur’an does not make them the first revealed verse of any Sura. These are simply  words a human being utters in response to the divine command prior to reciting divine words. The human proclamation is distinct from God’s words. This is the reason that one never hears Bismillah before a Sura and Audobillah in the audible recitation of the Imam when he leads the Salat (Prayers) in congregation during prayers held at night such as the Maghrib (Sunset), Isha (Night), or Fajr (Dawn) prayers. The entre text of the Qur’an is what one can hear and observe during the Qiyam ul Layl (Ramadan Night) Prayers in Masjid Al Haram in Makkah. In that recitation the first verses of Suras are never “Bismillahs”.

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

Have You Been Dialling The Wrong Number?


Instead of Asking People, Why Not Try Asking God Directly If He is There?

We often come across people who curiously ask us: “Where is God?” The problem with such an approach is that though they are asking the right question, it is misdirected. Why ask the creation to tell you about the Supreme Creator? Can’t God speak for Himself? If He is really there, then He is quite capable of communicating with His creation. So instead of asking self proclaimed middle-men about God, you owe it to yourself to get a direct appointment. God can answer you Himself in a manner that is specific to you.

People think that God is somewhere very distant, but the Qur’an teaches that He is very near:

“And when My servants ask you concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” (2:186)

In fact He is nearer to us than our jugular vein:

“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein. ” (50:16)

If the words of God spoken in the first person in the Qur’an: “I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me…” are true, and if God is really that close to us that He knows our inner most thoughts, then then it follows that you should address God directly for a sign or guidance. If He is really there, then He will show you the proofs about His existence.

So instead of asking intermediaries about God, for a change why not ask God directly, one on one?  If you are serious, then all you have to do is ask.

Just Try And See!

Why not try it now, and see for yourself, at this very moment in time. Ask God for His guidance and see if you receive a sign in your life. Just repeat the words of the prayer below and see what happens:

“It is You we serve and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path!” (1:5-6)

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

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

Newcomers To The Qur’an


This series of Blogs that I intend to write during the ongoing month of Ramadhan are meant for newcomers to the Qur’an. This   does not necessarily mean non Muslims, but also includes those who may be born into Islamic households.

Widespread ignorance

Non Muslims aside, many of those who style themselves as Muslims are unaware of the nature, purpose and application of the Qur’an – sadly due to the prevailing tendency in a vast majority of Muslim societies to recite the Qur’an in Arabic without understanding, and considering the mere chanting of words to be a blissful act – without any engagement with the meaning behind the words. There is also widespread ignorance about the message of the Qur’an because of a general lack of literacy and education within the Muslim community.

If you happen to take a walk in the crowded street in a Muslim country and stop someone in his tracks and ask; “…excuse me sir, do you know what does the Qur’an say about..?” or “Could you please quote me chapter or verse?”, and chances are that you will receive a blank stare, a nodding of the head, or you could very well be signposted to ‘an expert’ for such matters.

Therefore, I am not differentiating between Muslim and non Muslim readers, but simply categorizing my audience as newcomers to the Qur’an – those who have never come across the Qur’an before or might have in a rudimentary manner, be they of any background, any faith and I assume no prior experience or expertise.

As long as they can communicate in English, these blogs are for their benefit.

To the newbie

So to the newbie, I’d like to address you directly, for it is for you that I endeavor and labour during this blessed month. But my intention is not to preach or proselytize. And also please don’t feel patronized by being labeled as a newcomer; because I think in the process, I too will be learning something new, so this exercise is for my own benefit as well as yours. We are all learners, and learners we shall remain, for it is God who is the ultimate teacher:

 “(God) Most Gracious!” 

 “It is He Who has taught the Qur’an.” 55:1-2

I take a strong exception to those who proudly label themselves as experts of the Qur’an. No body can be an expert of God’s Book. They could master the books that they have written, but if God’s Book is the fountainhead of divine and perfect knowledge, then it follows from this basic premise that the imperfect human mind cannot logically be a master of infinite divine knowledge. The finite cannot master the infinite. That’s illogical. We all receive according to our situation and capacity.

Obtain a copy of the Qur’an for personal study

If you don’t posses one already, then I would request you to obtain a translation of the Qur’an when you read these blogs, because I will be quoting extensively from the Book, and as this exercise is meant to stimulate discussion for Qur’anic understanding, it would be practical and convenient to have your own copy nearby. There are many translations available. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, that I carry on my person, Pickthall which is old English, but literally close to the Arabic, Arberry which is also close to the original Arabic, Asad’s voluminous version with commentary, and many more. Go to any good bookstore, and under the Religion section, choose the one which is an easy read. Alternatively you can browse the web for translated versions, but I prefer the real book in hand.

How is the Qur’an structured?

Once you have your own copy handy, have a look at the contents. After the translator’s forward or any other opening remarks, you will come across the contents. Chapters will be labeled as Suras. There are a total of 114 Suras in the Qur’an. The first one is Sura Al Fatiha (The Opener), and the last (No. 114) is Surah-An-Naas (The People).

The longest Sura is Sura No. 2, Al Baqara (The Cow), containing 286 verses, while the shortest is Sura No. 108, Al Kawthar (The Abundance) with only three verses.

Division of the Qur’an is initially in Suras or Chapters, and the Suras are then further divided into Ayaat or Signs, (verses to some). This division is not man-made, but claimed by the divine author in the Book internally. We find internal references to Suras and Ayaat within the text itself. E.g.

A Surah which We have revealed…” 24:1

 “These are the Ayaat of the Qur’an..” 27:1

So Suras are chapters and statements or verses within them are the Ayaat, and this arrangement is claimed by the Author of the text itself, and not done by the publishers.

Checking References

If you open up the first Sura or Al Fatiha, you will note that it has seven Ayaat or seven verses. Each ayah is usually numbered in a translation. For brevity, I won’t be quoting the full name of the chapter, but simply cite the chapter number, followed by a colon and then the verse number. Therefore If I quote to you 2:185, then this means chapter number 2, which is Al Baqara, and verse number 185. Usually, most translations have chapter number on the top of every page, so just open up the page and look up where it says what number it is. Just look up Al Baqara, or Sura 2, and then look for verse number 185. Also have a pencil at hand to scribble notes and references on the pages of your personal copy itself. They act as useful signposts when revisiting a topic.

Getting used to it

Why don’t you do an exercise right now? Check up these references in your own Qur’an and see what they say: 54:17, 22, 32, and 40. You’ll be amazed with the discovery.

This exercise will help you browse the Qur’an and enable you to look up easily what is written where. So please have your Qur’an ready, for I’m sure, that a profound revelation awaits you in the coming days.

 

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

Ramadan: The Month of The Qur’an


The month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In this month Muslims all over the world observe a fast from dawn till dusk.  They refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations at God’s instructions. It is a month in which religious zeal is at an increase, mosques are filled with the faithful, supplications are abound, charity is also distributed; – it is a  sacred month in all its glory.

It is a month of reform, a month of reflection, a month of discipline, a month of alms giving, and a month of thankfulness. But most importantly, it is a month of revelation. Yes, that is right; Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an – God’s communication to humankind. We read in chapter 2, verse 185 of the Qur’an:

شَہۡرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانُ هُدً۬ى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡهُدَىٰ وَٱلۡفُرۡقَانِ‌ۚ فَمَن شَہِدَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّہۡرَ فَلۡيَصُمۡهُ‌ۖ

“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong)…” (2:185)

From East to West, North to South, people of all hues, of all backgrounds, engage with the Qur’an in this month. Some do so ceremoniously, while others approach it intelligently. It is the practice of the Muslim community to recite the entire Qur’an at night in congregations during this month. This practice is prevailing at Al Masjid Al Haraam, the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and in other mosques all over the world. The faithful, fast during the day, and stand for prayer by night, reciting and listening to the entire Qur’an, from the first to the last chapter and strive to go through the entire Book till the end of the month.

From the first day of fasting, the faithful join in for daily nightly endeavors known as Qiyaam Al Layl or Salat Al Taraweeh which is the special nightly prayer in which the Qur’an is recited from start to end. They also reflect on the meaning of Qur’anic revelation and explore selected Qur’anic themes, as they occur during the course of  daily readings.  These reflections reveal new insights to us and inspire us to study the book of our own accord. As Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an, newcomers to the Quran will find the month a useful starting point to browse through the Book just for these four weeks, for starters.

If not out of reverence, then perhaps out of curiosity.

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