What the fringe taught me about Quran & Islam
It was the fringe’s attempt to associate radicalism, intolerance and subjugation of women with the Quran that brought me to the great book
I confess that I did not know much about the Quran, the holy book the Muslims believe was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by Allah himself, and which contains within it, along with the hadiths, all that is there in Islam.
The knowledge about the Bible had come to me through the study of English literature. No such opportunity came my way in respect of the Quran. Browsing through a volume, entitled, The Hundred Great Books of all Times, I did come across an article on the Quran.
It was, however too brief to give me any meaningful insight into the great book. It was the fringe’s attempt to associate radicalism, intolerance and not the least, subjugation of women with the Quran that one day brought me to the great book. I wanted to know for myself what was contained therein. My friend Tariq’s wonderful little booklet, Islam-An Introduction provided me with information about the basic concepts contained in the Quran and helped me locate the specific references.
Common wisdom told me that a book that had acquired 1.9 billion adherents for the creed which was fast catching up with the world’s largest religion, Christianity, could not teach anything but righteousness. The first few verses of the Quran confirmed my belief.
The Quran opens with invocation to “Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.” The expression is repeated and path to righteousness and a straight life is sought through his blessings. The expression, “Allah, the Most Compassionate” forms the opening of all the Chapters of the Quran, except one, lending immense significance to the compassionate and merciful attribute of God. Such a God can guide Mankind only to lead a life of righteousness.
The most fundamental tenet of Islam, the faith the Quran propagates is itsbelief in one God, or monotheism and the word that bears witness to this sole reality of God and the prophethood of Muhammad is Shahadah, that translates as, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah”. This negates the existence of all other deities. A believer has to preface this with, “I bear witness that …”.
The reason for believing in one God is not to be found in the skies but on Earth. ‘The great struggle of the Prophet’, writes Kenneth Cragg, ‘was against idolatry and tribal superstition, against belief in a variety of pagan powers thought to dwell in wells and winds and hills. His mission was to give the lie to these fictions and fears proclaiming against them the unquestionable lordship of God. It was not that the divine sovereignty needed this defence. It was people’s misguided and perverse distortions that required its reiteration. It is only as notions that idols need to be denied, for they exist only in the human mind’. (Kenneth Cragg, The House of Islam, Page, 8)
The concept of a single God seems logical too; for if anyone can make anything of what He is, then He can mean nothing. Thus, Surah Al-Ikhlas 112, confirms the monotheism set out in Shahadah, that there is only one God, he is the Absolute and there is nothing comparable to him.
A friend who acquired knowledge of Arabic to understand the Quran better told me that Islam is a matter of fact and simple religion. It was meant to guide men and women to conduct their day-to-day affairs as per the dictates of Allah.
The truth of this observation became apparent to me when I visited a mosque. I was surprised by the complete simplicity of the place. There was no altar, no sprawling of flowers, no candles, no holy utensils, be of brass or copper, no bells to awaken the Almighty. Just, some rolled out mats for the faithful to pray.
Even the first revelation of Quran to Prophet Muhammad on Mount Hira was a down to earth experience. As the renowned Islamic scholar, Lesley Hazleton explains,‘ He did not come floating off the mountain as though walking on air. He did not run down shouting “Hallelujah” and “Bless the Lord”. He did not radiate light and joy. There were no choir of angels, no music of the heavens. No elation, no ecstasy, no golden aura surroundinghim. No sense of his absolute, foreordained, unquestionable role as the messenger of God.Not even the whole of the Quran fully revealed, but only a few verses’. (Lesley Hazleton, The First Muslim, Page, 5).
The Prophet, who would decree against all kinds of supernatural phenomenon or black magic was convinced, says Hazleton, that what he had encountered could not be real. At the most a hallucination.
Such a religion must not, rightly, lay too much emphasis on rituals and festivities. Accordingly, there are only two festivals in Islam, namely Eid Al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha. The first one is celebrated to mark the end of the fasting during Ramadan, the holy month, when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to Allah’s command.
The word Islam in Arabic, is actually a verb phrase, meaning, ‘I submit’, that is, ‘I submit myself to Allah who is the Creator, Cherisher and Eternal to lead a life asper the teachings of Allah’ and his Last Prophet, Muhammad. Therefore, Islam lays emphasis on right conduct, opines Kenneth Cragg, rather than mere speculation.
‘Muslims have always to reckon with God’, Cragg says further, ‘but that reckoning must take place in therespective arenas of morals, commerce, government, social relations, art, jurisprudence,science and worship’. In short, in human activity.
One human activity relates to human welfare. Islam is perhaps the onlyreligion which has elevated the act of Charity to the level of a legal obligation on the part of its adherents. The obligation of Charity (Zakat) occurs as one of the five tenets of Islamwhich enjoins all Muslims to annually set aside a part of their income for the welfare of thepoor. The practice was later adopted by the Sikh Gurus in a different form and is known as Dasvandh.
While many Societies are still struggling in law courts to pronounce on the rights of womenin matters of property and conjugal relationship, the Quran laid down in no uncertain terms,fourteen hundred years ago, that women would also receive a share of parental property.
The Quran says, ‘Men receive a share of what their parents and relatives leave, and womenreceive a share of what their parents and relatives leave; be it little or much- a legal share’.(Quran 4: 7)
It is pertinent to note that women remain entitled to their parental property aswell, even after their marriage as per Quranic injunction.There are many verses in the Quran that testify, not only to the equal statusaccorded to women in Islam, but also to the special concern shown for their welfare. Forexample, the wearing of Hijab was to ensure the safety and protection of women.
A great book like the Quran has to be read with empathy and understanding.
(The writer is an independent commentator. Views are personal)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)