Believers: Genuine vs Fake


Inept border control procedures and a lenient attitude of rulers towards rogue traders means that our marketplaces are flooded with counterfeit goods. It has become very common to find bags, watches, eyewear, clothing, and all sorts of products having marks and labels of famous brands but which are in fact complete fakes. The popularity of a brand implies that a fake using its name can also be slipped in undetected. Just like rogue traders are having a heyday cashing in on corporate fame and the simplicity of consumers, the situation is not much different when it comes to matters of faith. Alongside genuine teachers there are also pretenders who exploit the faithful. But a failure to distinguish the genuineness and authenticity of the religious teaching one is led towards can have far more drastic consequences than perhaps the discomfort of using counterfeit fashion accessories.

For the total devotion demanded by faith implies that loss of family, friends, health, and wealth can result. Even one’s very life is at stake if one has not got the criterion to ascertain religious authenticity. The possession of such a criterion, one that filters truth from falsehood, right from wrong, the canonical from the apocryphal, is therefore the key to one’s well being.

This beacon which safeguards us from hazards posed by charlatans is none other but the Quran. An attribute of the Quran is “al-Furqan” or “The Criterion between right and wrong”. Where it narrates goodness, it also cautions about badness in all its forms. The archetypes it presents are ahistorical and can be related to any time or era. For that is why it is a guidance.

Numerous type of personalities are mentioned in the Quran that incur God’s displeasure. Some are outright rejecters, some believe in God while associating partners with him. There is one particular category of the disapproved kind which is not easily detectable to the untrained eye because it styles itself as staunch believers in God and claim that its deeds are in the very name of God. The Quran cautions:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَبِٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْءَاخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

“And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah and the Last Day,” but they are not believers.” 2:7

Notice that they proclaim to be believers but Allah says they are not believers! This is so because:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ قَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

“And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption (Arabic: Fasaad) on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.” 2:11

One’s claim to “Imaan” (belief in Allah) is immediately dismissed if he resorts to “fasaad” (disorder in the land, damage to life and property) as a pretext of “Islah” (Reform, correction). These verses bring to light that the identity of a believer is not the label he carries but his character. Also clear is the fact that violence was never ordained by God as a method of societal reform.

The Quran also cautions about that kind of a preacher who frequently uses the name of Allah in his speeches:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يُعْجِبُكَ قَوْلُهُۥ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَيُشْهِدُ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا فِى قَلْبِهِۦ وَهُوَ أَلَدُّ ٱلْخِصَامِ

“And of the people is he whose speech pleases you in worldly life, and he calls Allah to witness as to what is in his heart, yet he is the fiercest of opponents.” 2:204

One may ask what is wrong in citing Allah’s name in speech? The next verse gives the answer:

وَإِذَا تَوَلَّىٰ سَعَىٰ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فِيهَا وَيُهْلِكَ ٱلْحَرْثَ وَٱلنَّسْلَ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْفَسَادَ

“And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption (Arabic: Fasaad) therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption.” 2:205

So merely using the name of Allah to endorse a speech or merely labelling one’s self as Islamic or merely doing things in the name of Islam does not establish one’s bonafide. It is by virtue of behaviour and not labels that one is to be distinguished. When those who call for reforming society resort to violent means then they are not genuine believers in God but fakes.

If one possesses the peaceful behaviour of a believer as narrated by God in His Book, then and only then does he fit the label. But sadly we see that today the words Islam and Muslim are used carelessly as an appendage to individuals committing even the vilest of deeds. The Quran makes it amply clear that every claim in the name of God is not from God. Every deed meted out in the name of righteousness is not righteous.

We owe it to our well being that we do not take each and everything that is hurled towards us in the name of God to be actually coming from God but to take guidance from the Quran by ourselves and see the type of behaviour it has endorsed and the type that it has resented.

First published in Daily DAWN, dated 12 February, 2016

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Antisemitism


Evidence From The Qur’an to demonstrate that It Does Not Support Racial Discrimination

By Kashif Shahzada

ISLAM is the religion of peace, tolerance and social justice. It promotes humankind as one community and shuns racism and bigotry. But sadly some misguided elements portray it negatively and their wrong portrayal if not challenged results in creating stereotypes and prejudices.

It is vital that Muslims speak up and encounter criticisms and negative portrayals, whether they are from non-Muslim critics of Islam, or distorted and selective readings from extremists and fanatical elements within their own communities who abuse religious texts for their own vile ends .

In present times, it is the duty of Muslims who uphold the Qur’an and understand its message to reach out to communities for building bridges, creating an atmosphere of tolerance and peaceful understanding, for this has been their original tradition. They need to present their positions properly and in an authentic manner backed by evidence and proof.

Among numerous accusations that have been labeled against Islam and Muslims nowadays, and which can create negative sentiments within communities are the wrong notions that it promotes antisemitism and bigotry against people of Jewish background.

While there are differences in the theology of Judaism and Islam, there is nothing in the belief system of the Qur’an that is antagonistic to those of Jewish ethnicity.

This false claim is not only without any basis from the text of the Qur’an, but also defies logic and common sense.

It is a fact that beliefs and ideas can change, but we are not able to change our ethnic and racial features. Features, which we did not choose of our own accord but were bestowed to us from the Creator.

If the ethnicity of human beings is not of their own making but the Creator is responsible for it, it is illogical to believe that the Creator would despise or be prejudiced against something of His own doing. But sadly, this is what some people would want us to believe.

That firstly God made people of different races, and then some he chose while others of His own handiwork he despises. Such contradictory views about the Divine certainly do not have their origin in the Qur’an, which furthers the equality of opportunity of all humankind.

Every member of the human race has equal opportunity to receive divine blessings, and no racial group or tribal lineage has a preferential treatment.

Racist trends wherever they may originate from, whether aimed at blacks or whites, at Arabs or Jews, face a firm challenge from the revelation of Islam.

Although all types of racism deserve confrontation and encounter, the type under discussion here will be one which is aimed at people who are of Jewish ethnicity. Like Arabs, Jews also are an ethnic group, and not a religious one only.

Prejudice and discrimination against people who are racially of Jewish descent, does not have its origin with Islam and Muslims, who in their halcyon days have provided complete religious freedom and tolerance to Jewish communities, but its roots are more historical, centered around the Christian Gospel narratives and in the last century, Europe has been its main epicenter.

However, due to the conflict in the Middle East, Islam and Muslims have also been dragged into antisemitic discourses, and at times references are made to the Qur’an which is claimed by critics and some misguided proponents to contain antisemitic citations.

In this article, we will be discussing the subject from a purely scriptural viewpoint and analyse the Qur’anic position on race and racism and explore whether the text supports claims of antisemitism.

It is hoped that this humble attempt will remove misconceptions and bring focus and attention to the textual evidence of the Qur’an to foster peaceful dialogue and understanding between communities.

The Equality of All Races and Tribes Before God

The Qur’an does not advocate the superiority of one particular race or tribe over another; neither does it maintain the inferiority of any of them.

Considered by many to be an Arabic book, whose principle addressees are Arabs, it may come as a surprise that there is not a single direct address to Arabs in the Book, and almost all direct addresses are generic to humanity.

Within the Qur’anic text one can come across God addressing the reader in the second person as ‘O Mankind!’, ‘O Believers!’, ‘O People of the Book!’ etc, but never will we come across the address ‘O Arabs!’.

Why is that? If the Qur’an is an Arabic Book, and the Arabs are supposed to be its recipients, why are they missing from it?

Why does the Qur’an not contain anything in praise of the Arabs? The answer is in the fact that the Arabs did not write the Qur’an, but its source and origin is God who does not favour any one racial group or tribe, but promotes the welfare of all. We read:

“O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” 49:13

All nations and tribes have been made by God to recognize each other. If God has made, them, then it is illogical to conclude that any one of them would be despised by him. Why would He despise someone whom He has made? The above verse refutes the view that any tribe or nation is inferior. We also read about people’s varying languages and colours:

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know.” 30:22

To be noted that according to above, every language and ethnicity is among Ayaat ullah i.e. Signs of God. Thus, no language and no ethnicity is superior over the other and each has its own unique purpose and function.

Arabic speakers are not holier than non Arabs, and whites have no claim of superiority over blacks and vice versa. Each and every race and ethno linguistic group is equal before God, as all have been termed in the Qur’an as God’s Signs.

If all languages and ethnicities are among the signs of God, then why would He term anyone to be less holy? This verse, too, refutes the view that Qur’an favours or disfavours any particular ethno-linguistic group. Thus we can clearly observe the Quranic stance on racism. Just by these two verses it has been ruled out.

Moreover, the Qur’an repeatedly addresses all mankind as one Ummah i.e. one nation or community and in one instance, the very purpose of creation is described as humanity becoming one nation:

“If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people: but they will not cease to dispute. Except those on whom thy Lord hath bestowed His Mercy: and for this did He create them..” 11:118-119

If this is the position of the Qur’an, namely that all humanity is to be one, that all languages and races are signs of God, and that every nation and tribe has been made just to recognize each other then how can it be said that the Qur’an discriminates against one group of people i.e. people of the Jewish race?

Distorted Readings Are Creating Divisions

Actually, the problem lies in not approaching the text of the Qur’an holistically. Any reading of the text which ignores the context and inflection of verses and is cherry picked to prove a point, or is presented in an emotionally vouched and distorted language is not valid. We need to study the Qur’an carefully, paying special attention to the theme under study in all locations and passages of the book, and once we have this holistic view, only then can we come to the conclusion about the Qur’anic position pertaining to a subject.

Sadly, in popular discourse this is not the case. People quote the Qur’an out of context, using distorted translations and cherry pick words adding popular connotations to them, resulting in misguiding the masses. When the Qur’an has itself ruled against racism, then would it become racist itself and discriminate against people of Jewish ethnicity? That is certainly not the case.

Condemnation of Beliefs and Behaviours, And Not of Ethnic Origins

It should be understood that the personalities of the Qur’an are not tribal or geographical but atemporal and archetypal. When it addresses people, then it is not people of a particular ethnicity or nationality that are being addressed, but the behavior and traits inherent in them.

The principle addressee of the Qur’an is Al-Insan (the human being), and he in turn has been described to posses certain distinctive behavior patterns and personality traits. The human being can choose to become a Momin (believer), a Muslim (Submitter), a Salih (Reformer), and so on but he could also willingly be a Munafiq (hypocrite), a Kafir (Rejecter), a Zalim (oppressor) and so on.

When the Qur’an addresses or describes Munafiqeen (Hypocrites), then this does not mean that we are reading about certain individuals that dwelled in seventh century Arabia only, but what we are studying is the atemporal and ahistorical behavior and personality of those among human beings who have chosen to have a hypocritical stance towards God, and it is their behavior that is under discussion, and not their national or ethnic affiliation.

That is why the Qur’an is said to contain Zikrukum i.e. your own mention:

“Verily We have revealed to you a Book – in it is your own mention (Zikr-ukum). Will you not then use your reason?” 21:10

We are mentioned in the Book by virtue of our beliefs, behaviours and traits and not by our ethnicities, nationalities or tribal affiliations.

In the same manner the Qur’anic terms Yahood, Hood and HadooJew in commonly available translations, though the lexical meaning is much deeper, also depict a particular manner in which certain human beings have chosen to behave in relation to God, His messages and mankind. which are usually translated loosely as

Just like when we read about a Momin or a Muslim in the Qur’an, we are not necessarily reading about a Pakistani or a Tunisian, but about behavior and psychology of certain individuals who may be living in any time and location, when we read Qur’anic reprimands concerning Yahood, then this does not mean that it is speaking against our contemporaries of Semitic origin or people of Israeli nationality, but against particular beliefs, behaviors and mentality that can be found in human beings residing in any time, era and locality.

Therefore it is extremely important that a distinction be made between the ethnic or racial affiliation of an individual, and the beliefs and character traits under discussion.

Criticism of Yahoodi Beliefs and Behavior

There are reprimands issued about Yahood in the Qur’an. But these are not aimed at people who do not contain the said characteristics – no matter what labels they are known by in the world. God of the Qur’an is not an unjust God, punishing people for sins they never committed.

It is only if the conscious behavior is inherent in them, that they are the target of this condemnation. But what exactly is this behavior that the Qur’an condemns?

The sins include: presenting falsehood as the truth, corrupting God’s message, willingly and knowingly disobeying God, and taunting people in religion (see 4:62, 6:146), falsely claiming to be God’s representatives, falsely presenting themselves as custodians of God’s religion, but in reality opposing people from God’s path, while cheating them of their wealth (5:41, 62:6), engaging in such wrongdoing, yet considering salvation and divine pleasure to be their exclusive right (2:111, 2:120, 2:113, 5:18), introducing blasphemous teachings, serving scholars instead of God (9:31).

More serious are their crimes against humanity in spreading hate and showing animosity towards those who hold a view different from their own (5:82) and kindling fires of conflict, instead of working towards peace among mankind:

“…whenever they kindle the fire of war, God extinguishes it. And they strive to do corruption on the earth, and God loves not the corrupters.” 5:64

It is such war mongering bigots and religious extremists who posses the above traits that the Qur’an condemns. Individuals, who display the said extremist tendencies can exist in any time, era or locality.

Even within certain communities that may label themselves as Muslim, we find individuals with the said traits and this is not particular to religious group or nation.

However if such individuals desist from the above cited extremist behavior, amend conduct and return to the moderate and balanced lifestyle of the Qur’an, then they have an opportunity to win back God’s good pleasure:

“But those among them (The Yahood) who are well-grounded in knowledge, and the believers, believe in what hath been revealed to thee and what was revealed before thee: And (especially) those who establish regular prayer and practise regular charity and believe in God and in the Last Day: To them shall We soon give a great reward.” 4:162

What type of behavior do human beings choose to do, why they do what they are doing and what will be the consequences of those actions – this is in essence to be seen whilst undertaking a study of the Qur’an.

We will find utility in the Qur’an upon relating its narratives within our own self and in our own lives, to weigh truthfulness in its descriptions, for this is the very purpose for its revelation.

The Qur’an is Also Critical of Some Muslims, Does it Make it An Islamophobic Text?

Those who claim that Islam’s holy book is prejudiced against people of Jewish origin overlook the fact that the book also contains negative references about certain type of Muslims.

It is critical of those who visit Mosques yet are devoid of guidance (see 9:19), it is also speaking against those Muslims who although have the Qur’an in their homes, yet remain heedless to its application (25:30) and also those Muslims who although perform the daily prayers five times a day, yet are heedless of its true spirit (107:4-7).

Does this mean that each and every person who goes for Salat (the Muslim prayer in the Mosque) or has a Qur’an in his home is in the line of fire? Or that God is condemning people of Arab, or Turkish origin? Certainly not, to say that because the Qur’an is against the behavior and practice of those who apply the label of Muslim on themselves, therefore it is anti-Muslim is to demonstrate one’s own narrow mindedness about the subject.

Such critics repeatedly retort about negative references for Jews in the Qur’an, but are silent about the exact behaviour that makes individuals deplorable within the text.

Pointing to behavior or being critical of religious beliefs of anyone does not mean being racist or anti Semitic. Racism is specific to the ethnicity of an individual, and ethnicity is unchangeable, while beliefs and behaviours on the other hand can be modified.

Qur’anic teachings are aimed at the beliefs and actions of people and are never concerned with their ethnicity. The problem is that due to cultural programming when people come across citations from the Qur’an they think that probably it is speaking about the behavior of Saudis when it speaks of believers or Americans when it talks of unbelievers.

That is not at all the case. What the Qur’an discusses is behavior and actions – conduct – good and bad, and not tribes or nations.

If a person born in a particular country has that behavior within himself, which the Qur’an condemns then he is in the line of fire – as is a sinner dwelling in any other part of the world for that matter, and is not saved just because he carries a certain label or adheres to a particular dogma or creed or belongs to a nationality.

He is condemned because of his actions, and nothing else. That a person, on account of actions will be recompensed, is the central theme of the Qur’an:

“On that day men shall come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown their works.” “So. he who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it.” “And he who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.” (99:6-8)

In worldly terms, a man may style himself as a very pious Muslim, but if he has the behavior and personality in his character that is representative of the people that the Qur’an terms as Yahood, and displays such character traits in life, then he is merely deceiving himself that he is a Muslim – his actions show who he really is.

Our actions denote the personality types we are, and not how we may wish to style ourselves. Mr Smith, the habitual thief is not really Mr Smith, but in reality he is Mr Thief, because his actions show his real identity.

Similarly, when the Qur’an speaks of Yahood, then it is talking about people who possess the character traits of Yahood and not necessarily somebody of Jewish lineage, who may or may not have those characteristics. The law of God is equally applicable on all. Goodness, whether done by any person – of any belief or identity whatsoever will be rewarded – while wrongdoing, done by any individuals of any colour, creed or caste will be chastised. Our actions are our true identities.

In Conclusion

We have clearly seen that the Qur’an does not support the view that any one race or ethnic group is superior or inferior to another. This being the case, people of Jewish ethnicity are not the target for Qur’anic reprimands, but only people who have the Yahoodi behavior and traits that it is critical of, and such behavior can be manifested in a person belonging to any racial group, tribe or nationality and is not solely present in people of Semitic origin.

The only criterion of acceptance before God is righteous deeds and moral conduct, which can be adopted and displayed by any person of any ethno-linguistic group in any time, era or geographical location.

The exhortations of the Qur’an are towards the behavior within individuals and not towards racial groups.

Furthermore, it is only if unacceptable traits are inherent within people that they are reprimanded. When the traits and immoral behavior is not inherent within a person then he is not the addressee of those reprimands, and to conclude as such would be logically flawed.

Antisemitism or any other form of racial and ethnic discrimination is un-Islamic given the clear cut injunctions of the Qur’an. To insist that the Qur’an supports racial discrimination against people of Semitic origin is not to present the true picture in its entirety.

The Qur’an contains negative references against the immorality inherent in people and is critical of religious beliefs and does not condemn people on account of their ethnicity. It also mentions Yahood who are moral and good according to its criterion.

Therefore to conclude that it is an antisemitic text is unwarranted and unfounded.

Cordial Relations Between Faith Communities


During the course of interfaith dialogue some participants assert that Islam advocates intolerance of other faiths, and that Muslims are not permitted to be friendly with non believers. Some even point out references from religious texts to support their view. Sadly, a few of those who label themselves as Muslim also agree to this and maintain a view that non believers should be shunned and despised, and Muslims should not forge cordial ties with them but should be in a constant state of animosity.

Particularly, references are made towards those of Jewish and Christian tradition and the objection is raised that Muslims are advised in their holy scripture not to: “…take the Jews and Christians as allies … Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them.”? (5:51)”.

If believers are not to form alliances with Jews and Christians, then how can communal harmony be built in environments where diverse faiths reside and share the same spaces? Imagine a school where children of Jewish, Islamic and Christian backgrounds come together to study, are Muslims supposed to shun their Jewish and Christan classmates, and not seek their friendship?

What about the sports team where Muslims, Jews and Christians play together? If such a view were put into practice in letter and spirit, then what would be the outcome for the Muslim community but becoming ostracized from the rest of the members of society. Sadly, this is what some misguided individuals would want us to believe. This serious misconception and errant view is the result of complete ignorance of the Qur’an and lack of understanding of Arabic language. The verse in question which is often cherry picked to ‘prove’ the intolerant behavior of Muslims is not interpreted and understood properly and distorted readings are what cause such misconceptions.

In reality the verse in question (5:51) states that believers should not take Jews and Christians as Aulia. The Arabic word Aulia is the plural form of Wali and its precise meaning is more than just ‘friend’ or ‘ally’, but the term carries the meaning of “guardian”, “manager of affairs”, “protector”, and “caretaker”. (C.F. Lane’s Arabic English Lexicon, pp. 3080).

E.g. A parent is a Wali i.e. a guardian, or manager of affairs and maintenance of his child. For ‘friend’ or ‘ally’, the words Khaleel (see 25:28 & 17:73) and Sadeeq (see 24:61) have occurred in the Qur’an. There is a difference between being friends with someone and in living as a dependent under someone’s guardianship or protection, whereby the guardian controls the material as well as spiritual needs of the dependent. But why is it that the Qur’an exhorts believers not to be under the guardianship of Jews and Christians?

Because some Jews and Christians have been identified in the Qur’an to display certain characteristics that are detrimental to the spiritual well being of believers, e.g. they will not show tolerance towards the religion of believers, but will strive to convert them to their own religion. They consider salvation to be their exclusive right, destine only themselves to paradise and condemn the rest of mankind to hellfire (see 2:111), consider only themselves as the son’s and beloved one’s of God (see 5:18), and do not have any accommodation for anyone else, even for each other (see 2:113). The believers are therefore warned that with such a mentality such individuals will not rest until they convert others to their own belief:

“And never will the Jews and the Christians be satisfied with you until you follow their religion..” (2:120)

“And they say: ‘Become Jew or Christian, and it is then that you will be guided aright!…” (2:135)

Therefore, in such a situation where believers do not have the freedom to maintain their own beliefs, and were they are under the constant barrage to convert, they should not remain under the guardianship of such individuals who do not allow them personal freedom and from whom they are under the strain of proselytism and demands for conversion. I am sure that people  will feel uncomfortable in such an environment, where “Hot Gospellers” and “Bible Thumpers” rest not until they convert people to their own point of view and will see the wisdom behind the Qur’anic advice of not remaining dependent and subservient in such a passionate evangelical or rabbinical atmosphere.

The Qur’an forbids believers to seek guardianship and protection of those who are aggressive and intolerant towards their faith. As for those who do not show aggression and intolerance towards believers, the Qur’anic advice is for good and just relations as stated:

“God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loveth those who are just.” (60:8)

Deal kindly and justly with Jews and Christians who are non hostile to you. This is God’s instruction to the Muslim community. There is ample textual evidence for this case.

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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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