National Qur’an Literacy Camp in the Caribbean:
Taking the Qur’an to Every Home and Heart that Needs It!
Wonder of Wonders: A Qur’an Literacy Camp
The 2nd National Qur’an Literacy Camp is under way in the West Indies even as I write this piece in the middle of the month of July, 2008.
The wonder of wonders is that the Qur’an that threw open the doors of literacy and education to the whole world for the first time in human history has itself now got to be taught to its believers and self-professed adherents using special literacy camps at the local, regional, national and international levels.
What the world in general does not know or appreciate, and what most Muslims also do not know or understand, is the fact that the Qur’an came to make the world a literate and educated place – the whole world that is. It came to inaugurate a new era of literacy, education and enlightenment for the entire human race – with no exceptions or exclusions whatsoever.
That is right.
The Qur’an came into our world to wipe the last traces of superstition, ignorance, backwardness and bondage from the face of a benighted planet earth and usher in a new birth of liberty and empowerment for all human beings regardless their birth or status or gender.
And yet today Muslims have strayed so far from their patented and copyrighted path of education, enlightenment and mass empowerment the Qur’an had emblazoned that we now have to hold Qur’an literacy camps for Muslims themselves.
But it is a good sign nevertheless.
It is a blessing from Allah that we can turn to the learning and teaching of the Qur’an once again. That we are on the path, once again, to rekindle the love and learning of the Qur’an in the hearts and minds of broad swaths of Muslim masses – and everyone else that would open their bosom to the light, power, radiance and guidance of the Qur’an.
Qur’an Brings a New Era of Literacy into the World
When humanity was steeped in the depth of darkness of every kind, from near-universal illiteracy and lack of education to near-total tyranny over the minds and bodies of men as well as women – to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson – the Qur’an threw open the gates of universal literacy and education for all – male as well as female; child as well as adult; rich as well as poor; slave as well as free.
It inaugurated in the history of humanity a new and unprecedented era of literacy and education not just for kings and their families, not just for the priestly classes and professionals, not just for the rich landlords and barons – the Royalty, the Clergy and the Nobility, as they used to be called – but for every one.
That means all the slaves; all the peasants; all the serfs; all the poor and landless people; and all those in any from or fashion that qualified as members of the human race.
And it also included, for the first time in human history, all the women. That is right, women, who until that time – and until very recently in fact – continued to be treated as chattel or property by much of the world, including the Western-Christian world.
That is because till that time – till the advent of the Qur’an in this world at the top of the Seventh Century – reading and writing were forbidden arts. They were open, available and required of the Royalty, the Clergy and the Nobility but they were forbidden territory to everyone else.
At times on pain of death.
That means those ordinary human beings who were caught reading or writing, often the Scripture, were subject to corporal or physical punishment, including decapitation and death.
And that also generally included women, who in the Western world could also be burned alive – at the stake as they say – as witches for the crimes of being experts in reading and writing, for knowing too much, and for just being too smart, too capable and too skilled, especially as compared to the men folk.
The Qur’an came into this world and put an end to this sorry state of the human race. It declared an end to the era of illiteracy and ushered in a new dawn of freedom and discovery for the human race.
Heaven on Earth
The Qur’an thereafter went on to build on earth an unprecedented and unsurpassed era of several hundred years of near-universal human education, enlightenment and empowerment. It established on earth a period of near-complete equality, justice and dignity for all human beings.
And it changed forever the way human beings thought, worked, raised their families, treated each other, organized their lives and constructed their cultures and civilizations.
With all its limitations of quantity and quality it began to develop over the years, it was nonetheless a period of heaven on earth. For, it was for most people for the longest period of time – for well over a thousand years even in its most attenuated, weakened, diluted, corrupted or fragmented form, it was what truly devout Christians would call the Kingdom of God on earth; what truly pious Hindus would consider a reflection of Ram Rajya on earth; or what others would mean when they use expressions like Shangri-La or Utopia.
The Qur’an thus began a new era of rights and freedoms on earth that clothed the naked; that fed the hungry; that empowered the weak; that uplifted the meek and the humble; and that gave voice and dignity to those who had none.
It made peace on earth not just a happy slogan but a hard reality. It offered everyone within their jurisdiction an opportunity at a stable, dignified and prosperous life.
It made universal literacy and education not only a basic human right for human beings of all ages, genders and social standing, but a fundamental duty and requirement of membership in the free, equal and enlightened social order it created in different parts of the world.
Qur’an Absolves Jews of the False Charge of Christ-Killing
It was 1400 years ago that the Qur’an fully, totally, unequivocally and categorically absolved Jews of the false charge of being killers of Jesus Christ (may God bless him) that European and other Christians had leveled against them for over half a millennium (600 years) before the advent of the Qur’an.
For centuries before Islam and the Qur’an, the Christendom, which later on came to be a collective name for the lands and peoples of Christian Europe, used the baseless and false charge of Christ-killing to murder and rape the Jews at will; to pillage and plunder their wealth; to destroy and burn down their homes and businesses; to confiscate their properties; and to repeatedly expel them from lands where they had settled.
The societies that the Qur’an built provided safe haven to victims of injustice and persecution from everywhere. They provided peace and prosperity to refugees and asylum-seekers from around the world, even when they themselves fell victim to the vagaries of time and began to develop signs of social disorganization, political degeneration and moral decay and degradation.
At the head of this group of refugees and asylum-seekers were Jews who had suffered centuries of unspeakable persecutions, pogroms and horrors at the hands of European Christians, who generally accused them of the historic crime of Christ-killing and used that as an excuse to perpetrate the most barbaric atrocities against them.
But as early as the beginning of the Seventh Century, and in one clear and categorical swoop, the Qur’an had absolved the Jews of the false charge of being the killers of Christ.
The Qur’an declared – my paraphrase: “Absolutely, positively, they did not kill him!”
Wa maa qataloohu yaqeenaa, said the Qur’an.
And Muslim societies, in later years, following whatever fragments of Qur’anic teachings they found convenient, able or inclined to embrace, still opened their doors and hearts to the hunted and hounded Jews of Europe, who flocked to them in droves and settled down to become prominent scholars, doctors, scientists, business leaders and others as an integral part of these Muslim societies.
Muslim Spain, Morocco, Syria and Turkey were all examples of this influx of Jewish refugees, mostly fleeing from their Christian tormentors and persecutors to take refuge in Muslim lands operating under the influence of the Qur’an’s teaching of justice, peace, freedom, dignity, opportunity and equality for all.
Qur’an: Mother of All Freedoms and Rights Including Animal Rights
If the world knew it, and if the Muslims understood it and conveyed it to the world, which is their duty, everyone would know that the Qur’an is the mother of all freedoms and rights – both animal and human.
Muslims don’t know it. The world doesn’t know it. No one told anyone anything. So everyone thinks human rights started with any or all of the following landmarks in human history:
- The Magna Carta – the Great Charter or Paper – at the beginning of the 13th Century.
- The English Bill of Rights in the late 17th Century.
- The Age of Reason or Rationalism in Europe in the 17th Century.
- The Age of Enlightenment in Europe in the 18th Century.
- The British Glorious Revolution in the 17th Century.
- The American Revolution in the late 18th Century.
- The French Revolution in the late 18th Century.
- The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen by France in the 18th Century.
- The American Declaration of Independence in the late 18th Century.
- The Bill of Rights in the American Constitution in the late 18th Century.
- The American Constitution as a whole in the late 18th Century.
- The First Geneva Convention in the middle of the 19th Century.
- The other three Geneva Conventions in the middle of the 20th Century after World War II.
The fact of the matter – as they say – is that many of these events had little to do with ordinary human beings or their rights and privileges. In many cases they were simply agreements between the rich, the powerful, the Royalty, the Nobility and the Clergy as in the case of the Magna Carta or among warring governments on how best to protect and promote their own interests, armed forces and prisoners of war, as in the case of the Geneva Conventions.
Here is a bit more detailed light on the Geneva Conventions that the world swears by and yet does not hesitate to abrogate or turn its back on whenever it finds it necessary or convenient to do so:
- First Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864 for the “Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field.”
- Second Geneva Convention was adopted in 1949 – 85 years after the First Geneva Convention – for the “Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of the Armed Forces at Sea.”
- Third Geneva Convention (1949) was all about the “Treatment of Prisoners of War.”
- Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) was concerning the “Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.”
Did any one you reading this column find in these four Geneva Conventions anything about ordinary human beings and their supposed rights and privileges. You probably did not. That is because they are not there. That is because no one ever cared much about ordinary human beings – except their God, the Almighty; his noble prophet, Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam; Islam; and the Qur’an.
Yet, these were important markers in humanity’s dazed and befuddled lurch toward the realization of whatever crumbs of rights and privileges the rich and the powerful were willing to throw in its direction over the long, dark and painful period of a whole millennium – a full 1000 years. And they show how desperate and starved the world was for any semblance of rights and dignity for the human race.
It was in this sense that the Dark Ages were truly the dark period of human history. And this darkness engulfed Europe as a result of its turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the light of Islam and the Qur’an that shone so brilliantly right in its midst.
For, beginning with the inception of the 7th Century, the Qur’an had laid out in front of the world a most comprehensive blueprint and a most forward-looking master plan for the codification and realization of human rights and freedoms – as well as all kinds of animal rights – at all levels on the firmest and most sweeping scale to every man and woman on earth, no matter how humble their origin and how “low” or degraded their station in life-and to all the animals in the world.
And the Qur’an then went on to create a complete sociopolitical order as well as a vibrant cultural environment at the hands of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, and his noble companions for the enforcement and guaranteeing of these rights in practice to all human beings. And to all animals.
It was this egalitarian social order and political arrangement the Qur’an built starting with the middle of the Seventh Century that became the lodestar, the inspiration and the mother of all so-called “Human Rights” and freedoms on earth in all societies of the world, including Europe and America.
United Nations and Human Rights
This master plan for human rights that the Qur’an laid out, and which the Muslims practiced throughout their history to one degree or another, did not find a full acceptance from the rest of the world until the middle of the 20th Century when the United Nations finally adopted its Universal Declaration if Human Rights in 1948.
Below are some salient aspects of that UN charter. Anyone can compare those things item by item to the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all human beings by the Qur’an and by Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, nearly 1400 years before the rest of the world got around to it.
And in the case of Islam, Muslims and the Qur’an, these human rights and freedoms were not just a piece of paper of historic interest, but, however imperfectly, a living reality in various Muslim lands, cultures and societies.
So, here are some of the more significant clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly:
- Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
- Member nations pledged to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
- Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
- No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
- All are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.
- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation.
- Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
- No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
- Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
- Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
- Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
- Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
- The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
- Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work.
For the rest of the world, all this is part of a United Nations General Assembly Resolution. For anyone who is willing to examine the Qur’an and Muslim history without bias or prejudice, it is Islam in a nutshell.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
It is a shame and travesty that all too many Western, Christian, European and American scholars, thinkers and writers fail all too frequently to acknowledge the debt Europe and the Christian world in general owe to Islam, Muslims and the Qur’an.
What the world seems to forget conveniently is that it was the Qur’an that provided the light and luminosity to the Enlightenment movement in Europe.
That it was the Qur’an that laid the groundwork for and made possible the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
That it was the Qur’an that made possible the writing of a book like The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine.
That it was the Qur’an that provided the guiding spirit and broad theoretical framework for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson and led to the enshrining of the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments) in the American Constitution.
The First Amendment that guarantees everyone the freedom of religion as well as the freedom of speech and the Press is almost a direct echo of the various relevant Aayats of the Qur’an on these topics.
So, no matter how you look at it, Qur’an is the mother of all freedoms and human rights in this world.
Yet, sadly and reprehensibly, there was no acknowledgment of the role of and debt to the Qur’an in any of this.
If any of our High School or University students behaved in this manner, and we determine it to be deliberate, we would call it intellectual dishonesty or Plagiarism. But the idea of Intellectual Property Rights itself did not catch on in much of the world until recently.
But if it turns out that our students did it out of ignorance, we would send them back to the library to do more research. In either case we would hold our students accountable for their faulty scholarship or flawed character.
Yet, not a peep or squeak is heard from anyone with regard to these most egregious examples of Plagiarism on the part of entire cultures and civilizations.
Foundations of the First Amendment in the Qur’an
Here is the First Amendment for you to read and judge for yourself:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Now very quickly consider the following Aayats of the Qur’an with my very quick and partial paraphrases:
1. Freedom of “Religion” in the Qur’an is absolute and unconditional.
Laa ikraaha fiddeen: There shall be absolutely no force or coercion of any kind in all matters pertaining to faith or “religion.”
2. Speech and expression are inherent to human nature and essence and, therefore, come under the category of inalienable human rights.
Arrahmaan. ‘Allamal Qur’an. Khalaqal insaan. ‘Allamahul bayaan: The most loving, merciful one. He taught the Reading – the Qur’an. He created the human being. He then taught him speech and expression.
3. Guarantee of untrammeled right of protest and petition for redress of grievance.
Laa yuhibbullahul jahra bis-soo-i minal qawli illaa man zulim: Allah does not like loud utterances and protestations of bad things except for the voicing and redress of grievances in the case of those who have been victims of wrongdoing, atrocity and oppression.
Now you tell me which is which and what exactly is going on here.
Yet, absent a direct acknowledgment of the debt owed to the Qur’an, and not having full faith in and allegiance to the Qur’an, those who engaged in the lofty rhetoric of human equality and dignity in Europe and America could not bring themselves to embrace the basic human dignity and equality of all of humanity, including the original inhabitants of the American continents; the mostly Black and other slaves; European Gypsies; Jews; and women in general.
So, if you are looking to the mother of all rights and freedoms with regard to all human beings, then look no farther than the Qur’an. For that is where it all began.
And that is where it all seems to come back to in a world which simply does not have the faith or largeness of heart or generosity of spirit to guarantee and grant these rights to all human beings regardless of their color or creed and regardless of whether or not they are part of your own cultural or national group.
In all too many painful cases, the modern world seems to be only too willing to stop the recognition, granting and enforcement of these rights at its own national borders and frontiers.
A Stranger Qur’an in Our Midst
Yet, it is this same Qur’an that gave freedom and education to the world that has become a stranger in lands that by right should be considered its own natural habitat. Many Muslims can barely read the Qur’an today.
Many resort to English transliterations to be able to read the original text of the Qur’an which is in Arabic, a task which I consider to be impossible and therefore not generally permissible.
I have even seen a Tamil transliteration of Surah Yaaseen, which Tamil-speaking Muslims seem to use for doing their readings during various death ceremonies. Take it from me: starting from Aayat Number Five, it is a complete non-starter.
I shudder to think what will be the fate of a people, both in this world and in the next world, who do not hesitate to cheat and cut corners in this manner. They seem to have made a mockery of the Qur’an even in death. What kind of Thawaab or Ajr do you expect to send to your dead when all you can manage is to read the Qur’an, and read Surah Yaaseen in particular which is the heart of the Qur’an, in English or Tamil or some other foreign transliteration?
Allah says about certain kind of people in the Qur’an that their hearts have become hard as rock if not harder. Then he goes on to say that there are certain kinds of people who flout the commands of Allah, and make a mockery of them, so brazenly and openly that Allah hits them with a punishment of utter helplessness and humiliation right here in this world.
Does anyone reading this column think Muslims today by and large live a life of humiliation and abject helplessness? Does that surprise you given how we Muslims have turned the Qur’an into a stranger in our midst?
Not just in matters of life but also in death?
I don’t think even Mahirul Qadri would have anticipated anything like this in his famous poem Complaint of the Qur’an.
Mahirul Qadri Laments the Loneliness of the Qur’an
He was a good man, Mahirul Qadri. He feared and loved God in Heaven and dedicated his life to serving and helping God’s creation right here on earth. May Allah give him a place of honor in Paradise!
He was a scholar of Islam and a poet who used his knowledge and his power of expression to sing the glory of Allah and to highlight the beautiful message of Islam and the Qur’an.
One of his most powerful poems was what he called Qur’an ki Faryaad – or Complaint of the Qur’an – which is my quick translation of course.
I read and heard it as a child and its words and ideas so seared my mind that I never lost its memory. Then more recently I asked a friend of mine – a good and God-fearing man – to find a copy of it for me, which he most kindly and graciously did.
Here is a rough rendering in my own very flawed and limited English of some the key ideas of this most beautiful poem in the most beautiful Urdu language:
Now they put me on the shelf,
And now they place me on their eyes.
Now they turn me into a talisman,
And now they wash my script
And drink the water as a potion.
The way some people teach their parrots
To utter some empty words,
That is the way they teach me these days,
That is the way I am learned.
When disputes break out,
And when arguments heat up,
And when it is time for taking oaths,
That is when they need me most,
And that is when they reach for me.
Hearts have lost their fire,
And tears turned to vapor,
And yet my chanting never stops
Whenever people have a chance to gather.
What festivity can there ever be without me?
Or what celebration where I am not an honored guest?
And yet how sad and lonely is my life,
And how little known or understood is my pain!
That is my rough – very rough – translation of some parts of Mahir Saheb’s poem on the plight of the Qur’an, as they would say in India. But I don’t think the late poet would have understood the idea of entire generations of Muslims transliterating the Qur’an in a foreign language such as English or Tamil and then pretending to read it in its original Arabic text.
That would have been too much of an outrage for him.
That is why we have to hold these national, regional and local Qur’an literacy camps to teach Muslims how to read the Qur’an using the original Arabic language and script. It seems to me that is where we have to start.
For Muslims of All Stripes, a Personal Checklist
We don’t have any hard data, but it is my guess that in today’s world not too many Muslims read the Qur’an with any regularity or sustained commitment. I am not even sure that reading the Qur’an regularly on a daily basis is a priority among Muslims any more.
If this is true, it would mean that Muslims are by and large physically cut off from the Qur’an. That alone is enough for Muslims to incur all kinds of divine wrath and punishment on themselves and their communities and societies.
I also suspect that still fewer people among us know how to read the Qur’an correctly and with proper and accurate pronunciation of the sounds and the letters. It is anybody’s guess what the divine punishment would be for distorting the words, sound and meaning of Allah’s word.
But maybe we can all do something practical to remedy this situation. Let every one of us take personal stock of what we are doing with regard to the Qur’an and then start to set the situation right.
Here is a personal checklist for Muslims of all stripes, regardless of where they may be living and what Muslim or Islamic organizations they may be a part of or affiliated to, and irrespective of their ‘Aqeedha or Madh-hab or something else.
Let each one of us ask and answer the following questions for himself or herself and then depending on the answer start turning to the Qur’an a bit more than we may have been doing till now:
a) Do I, or do I not, know how to read the Qur’an in the original Arabic text?
b) How correctly do I read the Qur’an when I read it?
c) How proper and accurate is my pronunciation and enunciation of the sounds and syllables of the Qur’an?
d) What is the degree and level of my ease and fluency in reading the Qur’an?
e) How frequently do I read the Qur’an – is it every day, week, month or what?
f) What is the amount of time I spend in reading the Qur’an – five minutes, 10 minutes, or more, or less?
g) How much text do I read every time I read the Qur’an – 10 Aayats, more, less, or what?
h) How much of what I read of the Qur’an am I able to understand?
i) How much time and effort do I spend in looking up the meaning of what I read?
j) How much do I reflect upon the significance and implications of what I read?
k) How seriously do I ever think about the practical application of what I read?
l) How seriously do I reflect on ways to implement the teachings of the Qur’an in my own personal life and in my community and society?
m) What daily or weekly or monthly efforts do I make to invite others to read the Qur’an?
n) In general, what steps have I taken to take the Qur’an to every home and heart that needs it?
If every one of us takes stock of our own personal situation in the light of the above questions and takes immediate steps to read, understand and practice the Qur’an more, we will be able turn the clock back on the decline and decay of Muslim life, communities and societies everywhere.
To be able to do that successfully, Muslims will have to move away from their tendency to listen to speeches for long hours and, instead, pick up a copy of the Qur’an or the Reader and start reading.
That means Muslims will have to re-discover, re-learn, re-absorb and re-integrate in their own personal, family and social lives the culture of reading that the Qur’an came to teach the entire world.
And that also means that Muslim families, communities and societies everywhere will have to be transformed, redirected, reshaped and re-energized in a way that will make learning, reading and education their dominant values, guiding principles and distinguishing features and characteristics.
Muslims: Masses and Leaders
It is a millennium and a half – 1400 years plus – since the Qur’an arrived in our midst bearing the clarion and unmistakable message of universal human and animal rights. Fourteen long centuries have rolled by since then.
The Muslim nation or people – or Ummah, as the Qur’an refers to the timeless and space-independent agglomerate of believers in one God, in the Day of Judgment and in Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam – has become somewhat decrepit by old age.
Its back is bent a bit. Its bones creak; its joints ache; and its feet shuffle and drag awkwardly. Its vision has become a bit blurred and its memory is not what it used to be. What old age could not break has been beaten out of it by all kinds of tyrants and despots – Muslim as well as non-Muslim – over its long, checkered and challenging history.
Over time, Muslim masses have acquired a sense of helplessness, laziness and inadequacy that the Qur’an came to set humanity free from. And Muslim leaders have become increasingly self-centered, narrow-minded and alienated from the lofty sense of purpose, mission and service that the Qur’an instilled so successfully in the earlier generations of its believers and adherents.
The result is that neither the leaders nor the masses in Muslim communities and societies want to connect with the Qur’an and build the kind of close and personal relationship with it that is the key to success and happiness for humanity both in this world and in the next world.
Often, what Muslim leaders want to do is to give long but empty speeches.
No one asks what the speech was about or what its true focus was. Or what the true motivation was behind the speech. Why did the speaker give the speech he did and in the manner in which he did it? What did he want to accomplish?
What precise outcomes did he have in mind – for himself as well as for the people he was addressing? For the society as a whole and for the world at large?
Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs
I ask these questions of and about those who give the Jum’ah Khutbahs – in America, in Europe and in all other parts of the world. And I cry blood. And my heart shatters into a thousand bits and pieces.
And I ask: How could a people, a nation – an Ummah – to whom God himself gave the amazing gift of Jum’ah Khutbah as a means of eternal blessings and as a matchless instrument of perpetual renewal and regeneration, how could a people like that so effectively and thoroughly ruin and kill it?
I wonder: How could a people be so foolish and so naïve that they would give no thought to the consequences of killing the goose that laid the golden egg – the Jum’ah Khutbah that guaranteed them success and joy in this world as well as in the next world?
Shaitan did not need to do anything else, if his goal was to take all blessings away from the life of the Muslim Ummah and keep humanity consigned to the darkest pit of ignorance and bondage. All he needed to do was take the torchlight of the Jum’ah Khutbah out of the hands of the Muslims and turn it into an empty and meaningless ritual.
And he did. Shaitan could easily see how humanity’s night will then be long and dark.
As for the Muslim masses, who ever asked them to read – except the Qur’an that is? Who ever told them that their salvation lay in education and in knowledge – except Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, of course?
Who ever suggested to the Muslim masses that Allah wants them to write their destiny with their own hands – except Allah himself?
So, the lazy, tired, cynical and yet Islam-loving and in their own way God-fearing Muslim masses like nothing better than to sit around and listen to long and meandering speeches by their leaders – both secular and so-called religious – often without meaning or purpose.
They think so far as they are concerned that is the be-all and end-all of Islam. For generations they had been taught that if they loved Islam, that is what they should do: listen to their leaders hold forth.
Wa hum yahsaboona annahum yuhsinoona sun’aa.
Paraphrase: And they think they are doing something great and wonderful.
Is There a Way Out of this Sorry Mess?
Yes, there is and here it is.
The way out of this sorry state of affairs is for both Muslim leaders and their often clueless followers is to return to the Qur’an as if they just discovered its existence. In particular, they should all try:
- To learn to read the Qur’an correctly, well and with as much fluency as they can.
- To read the Qur’an as much and as frequently as they possibly can.
- To try to understand the meaning and implications of the words and Aayats of the Qur’an.
- To try to figure out ways of putting what they read into practice however best they can.
- To actually work diligently and tirelessly to turn the teachings and ideas of the Qur’an into practical models of everyday life at both individual and collective levels.
If Muslim leaders and masses both turn to doing this, I have no doubt Allah’s mercy will smile upon them once again, and they will be able to change their own condition as well as the condition of the world for the better – using the light and guidance of the Qur’an.
And now here is what I have to say to Muslims all over the world:
My dear and beloved Muslim brothers and sisters! Start the process of change within yourself; in your families; as well as in your communities and societies. For, if you won’t do it, no one else will.
Turn to the Qur’an, every single one of you – as individuals; as families; as communities; and as societies, cultures, organizations, institutions and governments.
Start out by holding national, regional and local Qur’an Literacy camps in your community, Mohalla, mosque, region, area of the world and wherever else you can. Do it for a few years and then watch the mercy of Allah go to work: in your own life as well as in the life Allah’s world.
As for the non-Muslims, here is what I have to say to them:
“My beloved brothers and sisters, you are a part of my family. Together, we are all children of our beloved father and prophet, Hazrat Adam, may God bless him.
Allah sent his messengers and books in all parts of the world to help and guide you. He did that because he loves you and cares about you and wants you to come back to him.
So, do yourself a favor. And do all of us a favor. And do the whole world a favor. Pick up a copy of the Qur’an today and read it. In whatever language you can.
For a day, week or moment, put aside whatever bad or negative things you may have learned or thought about Muslims. Get rid of whatever prejudices may have entered your minds and hearts from whatever source for whatever reason and go to the Qur’an.
Read the Qur’an.
Read it as much as you can, with a clean and pure heart and with an open mind. Read the Qur’an and find out for yourself what it has to say: about you; about your God; and about your world.
Read about the wonderful life your God has in store for you if you will respond to his call and decide to come back to him.
And then sit back and watch the love, light and mercy of Allah flood your heart, mind and body and radiate and transform your life and your world.
You absolutely, positively owe this much to yourself and to your coming generations.”
That is what I would tell the non-Muslim members of my beloved human family.
The Qur’an Reader
May Allah bless the person who first put the Qur’an Reader together – I don’t know how many decades ago. He used the Urdu language to provide some brief explanations of the various lessons in the Reader. His exercises are such as I have never seen on any subject in any language at any level.
He simply created a fool-proof reader for the least able among us to master the Qur’an in the shortest possible time and with the least amount of effort.
His name escapes me but I have a vague recollection that he was somehow from the Punjab region of pre-partition India – maybe Amritsar. In any case that was the Reader on which I cut my teeth as a child. This fact I never forgot.
Later in life – much later – when I found myself in the West and in particular the West Indies and I looked about for a reader of some kind to teach my daughter the Qur’an, as well as to teach the Qur’an to those around me, mostly adults, who were non-native speakers of Arabic, Allah out of his infinite mercy placed a copy of the old Urdu Reader in my hands.
I set about rendering the Reader in English with some useful elaborations and additions. I could now use this new English Reader, if you will, to teach my little daughter the Qur’an and also to teach others the Qur’an whom I had the opportunity and the privilege to reach.
Thus was born, with help and blessings from Allah, what might very well have been the very first English Reader to teach the Qur’an to those whose mother tongue was English.
The Reader Mashallah proved to be so blessed and so effective and successful that we were able to teach people how to read the Qur’an in about three months or so with a commitment of one hour a day. These were mostly people whose mother tongue was English and who in most cases had never uttered a single Arabic word or sound in their life.
Thus began the story of inviting the people of the West Indies to Allah and of trying to teach them the reading of the Qur’an in the original Arabic text – the only way the Qur’an should be read.
And now after the passage of all these years, we have a second edition of the Reader, which we are using as the basis of our effort to run the 2nd National Qur’an Literacy Camp. And we are doing it first of all with help and mercy from Allah and also with full support and cooperation from local Muslim leadership, organizations, schools, principals and teachers.
It took a few years time and a bit of hard work on the part of a lot of dedicated people working for Allah with full devotion and sincerity. But the day is now upon us. And Mashallah and Alhamdulillah – what else can I say or what else can anyone say who has any sense of how this world of Allah works? – the 2nd National Qur’an Literacy Camp is now under way.
The goal is to be able to teach people how to read the Qur’an, starting out with basic letter identification and pronunciation, in about 12 sessions of about 21/2 hours each – from 4:00 to 7:00 PM, allowing time for Maghrib Salah and all that.
If this were a commercial enterprise, we would say: “Money-Back Guarantee.” But the way things are, and this project being what it is, all we can say is Inshallah – should Allah’s mercy make it possible for us to realize our goal.
For, not a blade of grass or a grain of sand on this earth, or anything else anywhere else, moves or exists without his will, permission and command.
Campers Who Come to Learn the Qur’an
In many ways this is a most extraordinary camp.
For one thing, the people, (men and women), who come to learn are mostly adults of ages ranging from 20 to 70 or in some cases older than that. Almost all of them cannot read the Qur’an Nazirah – by looking at the Arabic script. Many of them cannot identify or utter the letters of the Arabic alphabet.
The mother tongue of all of them is English and has been for generations. They are mostly the descendants of contract workers – indentured laborers – the British brought from India toward the middle of the 19th Century to replace the Black African slaves who had now been set free with the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean.
Muslims of the Caribbean are perhaps the oldest and the most authentic and original Muslim community in the West and one of the most devout and Islam-loving in the world. So, whenever someone refers to Islam and Muslims in the West, at the top of their list must appear the name of the Muslim community of the West Indies and the Caribbean.
The camps over the years – for, these camps have been run for decades under different names and with differing focuses and emphases – have also been attended by the descendants of the former slaves as many of them have embraced Islam and become converts.
I am deliberately avoiding here a newer expression “reverts” that has more recently found its way in Muslim vocabulary in some parts of the world for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, even though I have my own suspicion – theory if you want to call it that – where and how it came to be.
Number of students in these sessions are usually 15-25.
All participants are asked to bathe and make Wudu before they come and bring with them the following:
a) Purity of Intentions.
For, without them nothing in Islam works or counts. Part of the reason Muslims are in the sorry mess they are in today is due to problems with their motives and intentions at a lot of different levels – mostly on the part of those working in various positions of influence and leadership among Muslims.
It is a terrible thing to say, but it is something that bears looking into.
The very first Hadith recorded by Imam Bukhari – not one of the new American-type pseudo-Imams that Muslim national and other organizations have foisted on the Muslim masses, but a real spiritual and intellectual leader and by acclamation the greatest and most trusted and respected scholar of Hadith in history and therefore a real Imam of Muslims – is on the subject of motives and intentions.
The exact words of the Hadith are: Innamal a’amaalu binniyyaat.
Paraphrase: Actions count and they matter and work only when they proceed from right motives and intentions.
b) Willingness to Learn.
This goes back to the old saying: You can take a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. Meaning it is the horse that eventually will have to do the drinking and not you. That means unless people are personally motivated to learn, they are not likely to make the effort that is needed for success.
Poor motivation is often the problem with those who have difficulty dealing with learning situations and challenges. In general, it is one of the underlying causes of the backwardness of Muslims across the board, which is a mark of failure or serious limitation on the part of Muslim leadership, also, across the board, which has failed to do what it takes to motivate and inspire their flocks.
The Qur’an is as clear on this subject as it can be. It says: Laisa lil insaani illaa maa sa’aa. The implication is that, in Allah’s scheme of running this world, outcomes and results are going to be firmly rooted in people’s motivations and efforts.
c) A Respectful Attitude.
Good attitude is key to success with regard to every thing in life. Without it, life becomes dull, work becomes drudgery and success becomes moot. Learning-teaching situations are no exceptions to this general rule.
That is why the camp insists that those who come to attend do so accompanied by an attitude of profound respect: for themselves; for the environment of the class or the camp; for their fellow campers; and for the teachers, guides and camp counselors.
In addition, they should also display the greatest respect for Allah; for the Qur’an; for Islam; for Muslims; and for the entire teaching-learning enterprise. Absent that kind of pervasive respect, effective learning cannot take place: Teachers will find it hard to teach and students and campers will find it equally hard to benefit from the strivings and talents of their teachers.
Teachers at the Camp: Those Specially Blessed by Allah
These are brave and dedicated men, women and children who first taught themselves the Qur’an and have now devoted their lives to teach the Qur’an to those who know less than them.
Teachers in this camp are people who have all individually and collectively turned their homes and families into classrooms and instant experts to learn and teach Qur’an all at the same time.
Some of them have struggled for decades to be on the right side of the Qur’an as it were. Some other individuals Allah has placed in a class all by themselves. It is through their dedication and single-mindedness that Qur’an has made the kind of progress that it has made in the Caribbean.
There are at least three families I want to single out in which both parents as well as all children are involved as teachers and counselors in this camp. The term that they all use for themselves, out of their great sense of modesty and humility, is facilitators.
In one family of teachers – or facilitators – at the camp, the father is a charted accountant, one of the first to be trained in England from the West Indies and associated with Islamic work in this part of the world for the better part of the last four decades, ever since his early youth.
The wife dedicated herself to teach children at every opportunity she would get. She is the veteran of a monumental personal struggle to teach herself to read Surah Yaseen when it was one of the hardest things for her to do. And their brilliant teenage son who is on his way to university is a computer expert among other things.
The father is also a man with perhaps the largest number of Hajj to his credit from this part of the world: no less than 23 and counting. May Allah accept his multiple Hajj trips and grant him and his family and all of us and our families their blessings. His efforts and sacrifices in working for Allah are legendary.
In another family, the father is an engineer with a Ph.D. and a leading developer of housing and other national- and regional-level construction projects. Allah has blessed him, along with others mentioned here, with a level of dedication and unreserved readiness to work for Islam that can only be described as a degree of Siddeeqiyyat in our times.
Whenever an avenue or opportunity to work for Allah comes up, he always says yes and jumps at it.
The wife who is a professional teacher and math expert is a high government official in the Ministry of Education. Her struggle to learn to read the Qur’an is an example for all men and women who are in a similar situation. Their two boys and a girl are brilliant students, the oldest approaching high school graduation and the youngest barely past 10. At every step, the children were learning and teaching the Qur’an all at the same time, leaving their own teacher in awe at how well they did it.
A third family turned teachers has a father who is a university professor and a math and computer expert. When it was explained during a Qur’an program that what people take out of the Qur’an depends on the container they bring to the Qur’an, he announced: In that case I will drive my own tanker to the Qur’an.
The mother runs and manages her own training school for university-bound teenagers. Her pioneering role in persuading and pressuring her own teacher to help her to finish reading and learning Surah Yaseen is a great example for everyone with any love for the Qur’an and with any desire to learn to read it. The older daughter is a university student who literally grew up with the Qur’an; the other daughter is about to graduate from high school. And the son is barely touching early teens.
These are entire families whom Allah has blessed and turned into cadres of trained Qur’an readers and teachers – some of them no older than 10 or 12 years of age. For generations with their mother tongue as English, and without knowing a single word of Arabic, they learned to read the Qur’an correctly and well and now, with the help and blessing of Allah, they have devoted themselves, among many others like them, to share Allah’s blessings with others by helping them to learn to read the Qur’an.
May Allah bless, guide, help and protect them all and open their hearts and minds even more to his glorious book.
The camp operates on the basis of the simple principle of Each One, Teach One. That means whoever learns whatever part of the Reader or the Qur’an then turns around and helps out and teaches those who are below them or who know less than them.
This dynamic model of a self-sustaining and perpetual upward learning-teaching spiral is drawn from a most beautiful Hadith in Bukhari Sharif which says: Khairukum man ta’allamal Qur’ana wa ‘allamahu.
Here is a quick paraphrase of the noble Hadith: “The best people among you are those who learn the Qur’an and then turn around and teach it to others.”
Thus, every student in turn becomes a teacher. The thinking behind this model is to prepare, train and enable as many people as possible, regardless of age, gender or educational level, to take the Qur’an to every home and heart that needs it – in the Caribbean; in the West as a whole; and throughout the world.
Human Heart: Where All the Action Is
In Islam, the first thing – as well as the last thing – you worry about is the condition of your heart. The Qur’an seems to caution and admonish us repeatedly, saying: your heart, your heart, your heart. Because that is what Allah looks at: the human heart.
So the teachers at the camp, young as well as old, male as well as female, have all been trained to worry about the condition of their hearts. Even as they strive to make their actions the best that they can, they worry about what is going on inside their hearts. For, they know that Allah can change the condition of the human hearts with amazing rapidity.
The Hadith makes it clear that when the heart works right, everything else works right, and when the heart begins to go bad, everything else falls apart. Thus in Islam, the human heart is where all the action is.
The rot that sets in the human heart begins to manifest itself over time in the form of all kinds of flawed actions, problem attitudes and questionable behavior patterns and speech habits, among which are the following: laziness; meaningless and repetitive excuses; quickness to anger and frustration; chronic hopelessness and pessimism; pervasive fatalism; and vengefulness.
The list also includes tendencies toward falsehood and double-dealing in thought, speech and behavior; lack of respect for self and others; and lack of respect for time, organization, discipline and leadership.
A problem heart would also result in lack of clear Islamic and work-related focus and in every other conceivable personal, social, moral and “religious” ill you can think of. Its effects will include under-performing Ibaadaat or obsessing with over-performing them and using your Ibaadaat as an excuse for not wanting to take the Qur’an to every home and heart that needs it – and which one does not?
A problem heart will convince you to replace an exaggerated sense of involvement and preoccupation in routine Islamic and other activities as a substitute to systematically and in a concerted and organized manner inviting people to Allah and working for Allah day and night using all your energies and resources.
A diseased heart will make you want to place your own wishes, desires, opinions, views, ideas and interests – the Islamic name for all of the above is Hawaa – above Allah’s book and above the message that Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, brought with him.
Maa ji’tu bihee, as the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, himself put it.
When your heart is alive and well and when it is not suffering from major spiritual and psychological maladies and ailments, this is how it will work:
(a) First, it will love and fear Allah and love and honor Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam – no questions asked.
(b) Second, it will love and support truth, no matter where it lies; how it turns out; and whom it hurts or benefits.
(c) Third, it will love, honor and respect those who are united with you in the common struggle to take the Qur’an to every home and heart that needs it, as much as you love, honor and respect yourself, your family members and closest friends, if not even more.
Social and Psychological Preparation for Those Working for Allah
Working for Allah is the toughest and noblest job in the world. That is what all the prophets came into this world to do. And that is what our job in this world is as those who have undertaken to embrace and follow the Qur’an and the message of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, in our lives.
That means the teachers in this 2nd National Qur’an Literacy Camp, as well as those working at a broader level to take the Qur’an to every home and heart that needs it, need to worry about their thoughts; their priorities; their actual actions; their constancy of purpose as well as effort; their sincerity; and their purity of motives and intentions.
They also need to keep a sharp eye on their ability to be truthful, honest and open among themselves all the time; and to be kind, forgiving and tolerant of one another.
They need to build the closest possible personal relationship among themselves.
They have to ensure the greatest level of respect, love and loyalty to those whom they have elected and put in place to lead, help and guide them, as well as the greatest level of love, kindness and compassion for those who have honored them by asking them to be their leaders.
This is all part of the absolutely essential psychological and social preparation and make up that is required of those who come forward to work for Allah in this world and thus shoulder the enormous challenge of taking the Qur’an to every home and heart that needs it.
In fact, all this is part of Iman, which is required of all of us, which means without these things there is no Iman, and there is no Islam.
And there is no success for any of us either in this world or in the next world.
Part of this psychological training and preparation for all of us in general and for those working for Allah in particular is also something called Sabr, which is the ability to remain patient and calm when things don’t seem to go right and challenges crop up and to persevere with your effort, focus and direction in the face of adversity and difficulties.
The name for the ability to deal with hardships with perseverance and steadfastness is Istiqaamah.
Also needed for those working for Allah and trying to invite people to the Qur’an is the quality of being able to contain your anger and forgive people. Allah loves those who forgive others.
Wal-kaazimeenal ghaida (Dwaad) wal ‘aafeena ‘aninnaas, is what the Qur’an calls them.
What a beautiful book this Qur’an is. There is not one beautiful thing that it ever leaves out.
A Brief Message Summary
Here finally is a brief summary of the message that those working for Allah – those striving to take the Qur’an to every home and heart that needs it – must be able to understand and internalize. They must make this message a part of the core of their identity and being.
At the same time, they should also be able to convey this message clearly, sweetly and in the most wonderful and winsome manner to those they invite to come to Allah and to give Qur’an a chance to enter their life and work for them.
And this message is as simple and straightforward as it can be. Here I summarize it in a few simple propositions:
(a) We are all God Almighty’s representatives on earth. That is why and how he created us. That was the announcement he made to the angels as part of our birthday party.
(b) Allah created us and charged us to take his message to every one of his slaves. That is our job. That is the very purpose of our being and our life on earth.
(c) Allah gave us all that we have in this world – health, wealth, education, family, job, business, home, power, position, status, … , every thing – to enable and help us to carry out our fundamental duty of taking his book and his message to everyone everywhere.
(d) Namaz, Roza and Hajj and everything else of that kind and category, while they are all important Islamic duties and requirements, are also at the same time a part of doing our duty of inviting the whole world to Allah and taking Allah’s word to every home and heart everywhere.
(e) Fundamental to success with regard to every one of these things is the purity of hearts and motives and intentions: doing things purely for Allah and not for personal gain of wealth, power, name, fame, position, recognition, social status, organizational advancement or prestige.
(f) Don’t forget that all you are responsible for is your motives and your efforts. Results of your actions are not in your hand, even though you must at all times carefully think through the consequences of what you say and do, ensuring that your actions are always peaceful and within the legal framework of the land in which you live and the society of which you are a part.. In the final analysis, as they say, Allah will bring about the results he wants, based on what he knows and pleases.
© 2008 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.