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Whither Indian Muslims – Part One

DR.PASHA | June 02, 2009 | Section: Articles | 1664 reads


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Whither Indian Muslims
– Part One

 Dr. Pasha

Combining Deen and Dunya

So, in the light of all we have talked about earlier, whither Indian Muslims? What do they want and in what direction are they headed?

That means how do we ameliorate the condition of pain, suffering and frustration that seems to dog the steps of Muslims everywhere, not the least in India? How do we show them the way for a better life right here on earth and pave the way at the same time for a wonderful life of bliss and felicity in the hereafter?

In some ways, to ask that question is also to give away the entire game as it were. For, that is a full commentary in itself on the divine remedy that Islam is and offers to every human ailment on earth. It is the living and ongoing miracle of Islam that every solution it offers to a human problem on earth is also the golden recipe for earning an honored place in paradise.

Too many smart people spend their time and energy – and their expertise – arguing how to separate the Deen from the Dunya. They are fixated and obsessed with how to keep the affairs of this world from intruding on the affairs of the next world. Islam throws a very different kind of challenge at humanity: live your worldly life in such a way that it will automatically qualify you for the best and highest rewards in the life hereafter.

So, in Islam it is not choosing one or the other – this world or the next world. But it is combining both in a most complete and dynamic recipe for all-round success and happiness in both worlds. That means teachings of Islam offer perfect solutions not only with regard to the mundane and secular aspects of human existence but also with regard to its most sublime, spiritual and other-worldly dimensions.

Frankly, this obsession with separating the secular from the sacred is a legacy from Europe’s history of dividing up the world between the king and the pope and watching them both go at it forever with consequences in the form of gore and misery everywhere and for everyone.

There is no reason why the rest of the world should continue to suffer forever the consequences, and pay forever the price of, this misguided and, quite frankly, somewhat perverse European legacy. It is time to take human life for what it is – an organic totality and an integrated whole that needs to be viewed and treated in a holistic fashion and not piecemeal.

And that is the approach Islam takes.

Life is one, so treat it as one, says Islam. And Islam offers a world view and a set of teachings that show how everything in creation is closely intertwined not only in human life but also in the entire universe.

So, keeping these things in mind, how do we help build a new and better life for Indian Muslims – and for Muslims and human beings everywhere?

Building a Better Life
for India’s Muslims

Building a new life for Muslims, whether in India or in any other part of their natural habitat, which is the entire world really, how exactly do you go about accomplishing that goal? Just how do you do it?

Wiping out or dimming the dark and sad memories of their more recent past, which may extend decades or centuries depending on how you look at it, and setting them on the path to a glorious new future, how is it to be done?

Maybe we should begin by asking if it is even possible in the first place to turn the ship of Muslim destiny around. Let me make it clear at the very outset that the answer to this question is a categorical, enthusiastic and resounding “YES!

If we don’t believe that, then, not only will we be decrepit and dysfunctional psychologically and socially, it will also place our entire Iman in doubt. It will be a direct violation of a direct divine command in the Qur’an not to give up, no matter how desperate the situation and no matter how tough the going.

Laa taqnatoo mir rahmatillah is a categorical call not to ever despair of the grace, love and mercy of the maker, who made us for no other reason than that it was his will and pleasure to do so. To think that he will make us and throw us away without hope or recourse is the worst kind of insult we can level against our creator.

If we lose hope and give up, then, we simply may no longer be Muslims – or if you prefer, Mu’mins: people with any belief or conviction.

So, yes, absolutely, the Muslim condition is changeable and improvable. And yes it must be changed and improved. We simply cannot allow things to go on like this forever.

Yes, there is absolutely no doubt that we can build a new life and a new future for India’s Muslims. And for Muslims around the world. There is not a doubt about that.

The real question then is how: How do we go about doing it? To this question, there are two answers: (a) one a short, very short answer and (b) the other a long, very long one.

Here is the short answer, and it is in fact the only one that matters, for, everything else is details, details and more details of the same original short answer.

The short answer is this: education and character. That is it. That is the answer, the short and the real one. And the only one that matters if you ask me.

In the language of the Qur’an, these two things are called Ta’aleem and Tazkiyah respectively: education and character.

That means, number one, Muslims – as individuals, communities, nations and societies – need to undergo new comprehensive character training. We need to reshape the character composition of Muslims – in India and around the world.

Number two, it means Muslims need a complete new education – a brand new approach to education and a brand new educational philosophy and orientation.

Right now Muslim character puts everyone to shame. Read Iqbal’s Jawab-e-Shikwah if you don’t believe me. As for education, what education are we talking about? What kind of an educational system do Muslims of India, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria and other places have in place?

In a blistering letter to his former teachers, 17th-Century Mughal ruler Aurangzeb bemoaned the sad state of Muslim education during his days. I wonder what he would have be saying to himself in his grave about the state of Muslim education in India today.

It isn’t as if the whole world is making a beeline for Delhi and Lahore and Dhaka to get their education. It isn’t as if the lands of Islam – you name your own favorite places – are in direct competition with Europe, America, Russia and other places in the world as the great centers of learning and enlightenment.

So, should I rest my case that Muslim education, in India and all over, is in dire and desperate need of complete overhauling, renovation, rebuilding and rejuvenation?

As for where you should start, whether you should start with education or character, it is all the same. It does not really matter which you consider to be the first and which second, for, they are both so closely interlinked that you cannot have one without the other.

But what is of critical importance is that we understand and take both these terms and concepts, (education and character, Ta’aleem and Tazkiyah) in their most inclusive, comprehensive and dynamic sense.

These Goals Are Attainable and Easily So

And what is more, from a practical point of view, both these goals are perfectly attainable and fairly easily so. All we need is the right vision, the right plan, the right leadership, the right resources and the right kind of people to bring all these things together and make the total and comprehensive transformation of the Muslim Ummah, the blessed Ummah Marhoomah, a reality.

Starting out, if that is where you want to start, with education – ta’aleem as the Qur’an calls it. Whether the target area you have in mind is India, or some other place, or the globe as a whole. And, frankly, whether it is just Muslims you are thinking about or all of humanity.

Let us start with education and go.

Let us give Muslims of India – and of the rest of the world – Ta’aleem and see what happens. Maybe that is why nobody talks about education and Muslims in the same breath. Because that puts a huge scare in the hearts of Iblis and his Majlis-e-Shura, as Iqbal called the Devil’s minions and cronies.

“What will happen to our hegemony of the world,” the Devil seems to be telling his underlings, “If the Muslims ever get educated? If their Deen ever gets to be linked to its core foundation of Ta’aleem once again? What will happen to all the grand plans and schemes we have in store for this miserable planet on which Adam’s children still live?”

“Didn’t we have enough the first time around, when the Muslims used to be the best and the most educated people in the world? In fact, they used to be almost the only educated people in the world then. Don’t you remember the havoc they caused at that time? They made light and dispelled darkness wherever they went. They spread truth everywhere, foolish people!”

“Don’t you remember how hard they made it for us to fool and mislead Adam’s kids? And how our favorite pastimes of aggression and injustice, lies and deceit, had to be put in cold storage waiting for a better day of darkness and ignorance to dawn?”

“And look what wonders we have been able to accomplish in this world ever since Muslims embraced ignorance in place of the enlightenment of Islam! We made the very names and concepts of Zulm and Sidq disappear from this world. No more all that nonsense about truth and justice.”

No doubt there are nightly celebrations fireworks in all the Devil’s dens everywhere at the wretched and deplorable educational condition of Muslims – in India and around the world.

So, Ta’aleem and Tazkiyaheducation on the one hand and character on the other hand. That is the name of the game as they say.

Ta’aleem and Tazkiyah: Two Peas in a Pod

But the question is can there be one without the other? Can there be Ta’aleem without Tazkiyah or Tazkiyah without Ta’aleem? The answer is no.

What happens when you try to force them to go their separate ways? That is, when you give the world one without the other? Exactly what is happening now: education without character and attempts at character building without the guiding light of education to illumine the path.

The result: a perfectly messed up world. Pretty much the way it is and pretty much the way it has been, except when Islam came and joined Ta’aleem with Tazkiyah.

The fact is that these two are not only interactive but completely interdependent. They are interrelated, intertwined, interactive, integrated and interdependent, which makes the relationship between the two a necessary one – in a mathematical sense. That means one cannot happen without the other. Nor can you cut one loose from the other.

Tell me this. Is training Muslims – or anyone else – to be doctors, carpenters, engineers or computer scientists a matter of character training or simple education? When children spend endless hours doing their math or language homework, is it part of their education or is it part of their character?

How can people who don’t have the will and the discipline – character shall we say? – to go to school regularly; to work hard at school; to do their homework on time and well; and to endure all kinds of hardships and challenges that a superior education throws their way; how can people like that ever expect to be educated?

So what is it when you are staying late to do your homework? And walking five miles to go to school because that is how far the nearest school happens to be? And what is it when you are still doing your homework indoors when so many other kids are playing outside or watching a movie?

When other children are having a good time playing or watching television, you are delaying your gratifications – an essential of character formation – and putting in some extra hours in your school work, is that character or education? The fact is that it is both.

That is because you cannot separate one from the other. They are two peas in a pod. They only work in tandem. And that is why the Qur’an combines the two of them together. Because that is how Allah created human beings. And that is the perfect plan – joining Ta’aleem to Tazkiyah, character to education – he devised to educate them and train them to excel in this world as well as to be successful in the next world: combining character training with educational training.

Islamic Social Change

This is what is called social change at its best – a most amazing and thoroughgoing social change. Islamic social change if you ask me.

Call it development if you will. Or call it a quick course in modernity. For, that is what it is: social change, development and modernity, all rolled into one, each at its best. The way Islam first introduced the core of these ideas in the world and the way Islam is waiting and working to make these things happen again.

And that is precisely what Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, accomplished in this world during his own lifetime. And he did it all in about 20 years or less. Social change, development and modernity are all boons and blessings that he and his followers – Companions he called them – conferred upon this world.

And don’t forget to include globalization in that list. We invented this entire family of concepts and words, the whole vocabulary of bien etre on earth, not just for you and your tribe, nation or country, often at the expense of all the others, as most other people like to do things, but for all of humanity: for everyone everywhere. For your people, whoever they may be and for our people whoever they may be.

That is the good thing about Islam: it is good news for all. Not just for this or that group, but for everyone everywhere.

Tell me you have a better model, a better plan, a better idea than that.

As Muslims, that is who we were when we started this game of Islam on earth 1400 years ago. That is who we want to be again, over and over again, for as long as this world lasts. We want to be the agents of the best kind of social change this world has ever seen or can possibly ever see for as wide a gamut of humanity as possible.

Don’t forget that when applied to Islam, Muslims and the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, all of these expressions must be taken in their very best sense and in their most benign and noble connotations and not as fig leaves to mask exploitation of man by man or to camouflage domination of people over people.

And the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, ushered in this unprecedented era of the most comprehensive and inclusive social change with no schools, colleges, universities, television, radio, newspapers or the Internet being available to him. And he did it without standing armies or teeming treasures and resources at his disposal. While all of what he did was a miracle from God, at the same time, all of what he did was also as completely human as possible. Everything was being done right in front of everyone’s eyes and in the most natural way.

That is what is so amazing and so great about this amazing social change that Islam produced under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam. On the one hand, it is all divine and miraculous. On the other hand, it is all human and natural. Divine or human, it is by far the best and the most complete that this world has ever seen or can ever see.

Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, produced this unprecedented and thoroughgoing social change by using the Qur’an to give the people of his time the best character and the best education possible. He said it was a mission for the accomplishment of which he was sent into this world.

In doing this, he made these people the best they could be, able to rise to every occasion and challenge and capable of doing anything and everything. They were the best and the greatest generation of humans this world has ever seen. They were the finest flowering of humanity on earth during, before or since their time.

And thus Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam guaranteed a better life for them – what the Qur’an calls Hayaat Tayyibah – in every conceivable way, both in this world as well as in the next world.

And for the rest of humanity as well.

That is the kind of social change Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam produced using the Qur’an as his master-plan – in less than 20 years. And that is the kind of social change that needs to be produced now by changing the character and education of Muslims – and the rest of the world. For, that is the kind of social change the world is waiting for – the Muslim world as well as the non-Muslim world.

How Could the Rest of the World Not Join This Caravan?

How could then the rest of the world not join such a group of people?

Or how could any enemy defeat such a people or put them to flight in combat or destroy them?

And that is exactly what happened: people joined and followed them in wave upon wave – Afwaajaa. And those who out of their arrogance or greed picked a fight with them without just cause or reason were pushed back and made to change their ways. They were reduced to dust on the pathways of history.

Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam did all this using the two-fold strategy of character transformation and educational reform and restructuring. Using this strategy, he changed a nation starting out with the Arabian Peninsula and he changed the world.

We can do no less.

Or we can’t and shouldn’t be called Muslims. For, Muslims without character is an oxymoron just as Muslims without education is also an oxymoron and anomaly. These are contradictions in terms. And yet, unbelievable as it may sound, that is precisely what we have happening today: Muslims with flawed and questionable character and Muslims with no education worth the name.

“Does Not Compute!” some may say.

So, that is the short answer to the question how to change the condition of Muslims in India and everywhere else: We need to change Muslim education and we need to change Muslim character.

(1) Ta’aleem.

(2) Tazkiyah.

Right now Muslims have neither. So, we need to start at the ground level and build the whole edifice up one brick at a time.

Let us now go to the long answer. To the details of what we mean by education and character and let us see how we can go about making them both happen in Muslim lives in our beautiful and beloved India – and all over our beautiful and beloved world that Allah made for us and placed at our disposal.

Know Islam and Know the World: You Will Be Able to Change Everything

So, how do you change the condition of Indian Muslims? Nothing could be easier or simpler, given a little bit of common sense; a little bit of courage and confidence; a little bit of imagination and creativity; and a little bit of understanding of what Islam really is.

And of course a little bit of understanding of how Allah’s world works.

For, Islam came so that we will apply it to human lives, needs and situations right here in this world on Allah’s earth. If we don’t understand how the world works, we will never understand how Islam works. And right now that is one of the most serious problems with Muslims: Muslims do not understand the world of Allah.

At the same time, it is also a serious problem with the world that the world does not understand Islam and Muslims.

The world does not ask and the Muslims don’t tell. Or show. So they both live in a fool’s paradise of their own making. Except that being a fool is not an excuse in the eyes of God and the place where they live right now is anything but paradise. The result has been that both Muslims and the rest of the world have taken enormous pains to turn God’s beautiful earth into a virtual hell.

So if we don’t understand Islam, we will never know how to run the world well and successfully. For, that which we refer to as Islam is actually the name given by God Almighty to the formula – a set of beliefs, rules and practices – that he designed to make his world run smoothly and well. So, for as long as Muslims followed that formula, God’s earth came close to being a paradise.

But when Muslims forgot or misplaced that divine formula, and replaced it with their own whims and fancies and fantasies, they handed Allah’s earth over to the Devil and his minions who then pillaged and plundered and abused God’s earth and its human, animal and plant inhabitants and turned it into a burning hellhole for all.

And that is part of the problem with the Muslims, including Indian Muslims. In all too many cases, they either don’t know Islam, or the world, or both. As a result, in more ways than one, Muslims are part of the problem, both in India and globally, and not part of the solution.

We need to change that. We need to make Muslims, both in India and overseas, part of the solution, not only to their own problems, but also to the problems of humanity and the entire world.

Thus, Muslims must be part of the solution to their own educational and character problems. They must be part of the solution to the challenge of educating the rest of humanity about Islam and the world.

And at the same time Muslims must also be part of the solution to such world issues as sustainability and the environment; global warming and the melting of the Polar icecaps; world hunger and poverty; killer diseases like AIDS, malaria and cancer; nuclear proliferation and landmine saturation in former battlefields; growing water shortage and rapid deforestation.

So, how do we do that? How do we change the condition of Muslims? How do we change Muslims from being a part of the problem to being a part of the solution? From being perpetual victims of all kinds of enemies and adversities, real as well as imagined, to becoming masters of their own fate and captains of the ship of human wellbeing on earth?

Here are the two requirements for changing the condition of Muslims and making life better for them, and for everyone else, which are really two interrelated dimensions or aspects of what we mean by knowledge or ‘Ilm:

(a) Give Muslims a proper and clear understanding of Islam.

(b) Give them a proper and clear understanding of the world.

Sadly, most Muslims are deficient on both counts. Knowledge of the world is at best spotty for most Muslims, which makes knowledge of Islam problematic for them as well.

I am tempted to cite a powerful Aayat of the Qur’an in this context – and all Aayats of the Qur’an are powerful – Khasirad dunya wal aakhirah, which in paraphrase means “thus incurring the loss of this world as well as the next world.”

Or as a poet once put it: Deen bhi gayaa, dunya bhi gayee!

So, know Islam and know the world and you will be able to change everything in the world, including the condition of Muslims, in India as well as everywhere else. As a bonus, you will also be able to change the condition of the rest of the world.

What Does Knowledge Mean?

But Muslims won’t let things be that easy. Even though taking things easy is the very essence of Islam. No one can put it better than the man who was himself the personification of Islam. Ad-deen yusr, said Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam. That means Deen is doing things the nice and easy way.

It is simple. It is easy.

But Muslims like their Deen a bit hard and difficult and challenging. Otherwise it wouldn’t be Deen, they seem to think. Look at the Jews. Look at the Christians and the Hindus. Look at the Buddhists. See how difficult their Deens seem to be.

Catholics say if you want to be a priest you shouldn’t marry. Instead, you must practice celibacy and remain alone and unmarried forever. Paul, whom many consider to be the real founder of Christianity, says everyone should be like him: unmarried and celibate. But if you cannot do that, says Paul, it is better to marry than to burn.

That means the institution of marriage and conjugal relations, the only guarantee humans have for the continuation of their species on earth, is a necessary evil. So, marriage is evil. And the human child, every single one of them, is born a sinner, as a result of the original sin that Adam the first man committed in Paradise. The Christian credo is if you love God you must give up the world, for, you cannot love God and this world both at the same time.

Now, this is a difficult social and psychological scenario for anyone to live with in this world. The highly demanding and stringent teachings of Puritanism and Calvinism were to a large measure a product of this mindset. They made life difficult for people in the name of religion.

If Christians would like God-seeking people to be monks and nuns, Hindus too offer the same broad concept in the form of Sanyas and Vanvas as the pathways to the Divine. As for the Jews, their entire history is filled with the trials and tribulations they had to go through to please, placate or make peace with their God. Rigors and complications of religious demands and strictures in Hinduism make life difficult for most ordinary people.

Buddhists too point to the suffering that fills this world and call for eternal sacrifice and self-denial as a means to Moksh or Nirvana or salvation. When Siddhartha Gautama found enlightenment, and became Buddha, he walked away from the world leaving behind his wife, his child, the responsibilities of his kingdom and the care of his people.

So, what is wrong if every now and then Muslims too want a little bit of flavor in their Deen, right? What is wrong if they too like their Deen to be a bit challenging? Just like the Deen of the Hindus, the Christians, the Jews and the Buddhists?

Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, however, predicted this scenario: Muslims mimicking non-Muslims in everything. He said Muslims would do what the people before them had done. If those earlier people had dived into a lizard’s hole, Muslims would do it too.

So, Muslims too would perhaps like their “religion” of Islam to look a little bit like a “real religion,” the kind of religion everyone else has, complete with priests, holy water and all kinds of intricate rituals that only a selected few have knowledge of or can perform.

They already refer to their Deen of Islam as “religion,” just like those other people do. And they call the Qur’an “their” Holy Book just like some others say the Bible is their Holy Book. Some of them even refer to their Islamic Scholars with Christian titles such as “His Eminence.”

I am holding my breath and waiting for the title of “His Grace” to make its appearance among Muslims. That is the address mode Christians use for the pope.

Muslims and Their Endless Theological Disputations

That is who many Muslims are and on a good day that is what they love to do. But there are fundamental problems associated with it.

First of all, there is no “theology” per se in Islam. Islam is Islam, full stop. Second, Islam abhors wasteful, directionless and meaningless arguments and hairsplitting and gossip – qeel wa qaal.

Finally, abortive and purposeless back-and-forth like this is a nonstarter to begin with. It does not take anyone anywhere. It is wasteful of time and energy. And it is a typical loser trait.

So, when it comes to knowledge, don’t be surprised if Muslims want to know what kind of knowledge we are talking about. They will ask Islamic knowledge of the “holy” kind that will somehow get them a passport to Jannat or secular and worldly knowledge of the ordinary kind that everybody goes to school for?

For, “Islamic knowledge,” they will say, “is the best knowledge and all else is at best a waste of time – Khurafaat – and at worst a pathway to Jahannam.” They will argue that the path to hell is paved with “bad” knowledge.

But what someone should tell the Muslims is this: Knowledge means knowledge. Full stop! And it is knowledge of all things knowable. There is nothing esoteric, mysterious or complicated about it.

Knowledge is simply getting to know things you did not know before. At least that is how the Qur’an defines knowledge. If you think you have a better definition of knowledge, you are welcome to it. In fact, I would like to know it too.

Muslims with shallow understanding of the Deen and only a peripheral acquaintance with the world have wasted a great deal of time and energy debating what knowledge was good knowledge and what knowledge was bad knowledge. They have also raised issues such as whether nice Muslim kids should even go to college to have all that “bad” knowledge stuffed into their heads. Especially, if that nice Muslim kid happens to be a female.

For sure, Akbar Allahabadi – that talented, witty and “college”-educated Urdu poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – was not serious, and he was only using satire and sarcasm, when he described the role of colleges in his days as follows:

Yoon qatl say bacchon kay who badnaam na hota;

Afsos kay Fir’aun ko college ki na soojhi!

Paraphrase:

Pharaoh would not have had to kill all those infants. Too bad he could not come up with the idea of a college.

But somehow all too many Muslims – “good” Muslims in particular – seemed to have gotten the idea that colleges were bad for good Muslim kids. Especially, during the earlier part of the last century and especially if those children happened to be female.

Watching Muslims in Action

As a child I have personally sat, like a fly on the wall, and observed Muslim movers and shakers and Islamic scholars of considerable standing and repute arguing back and forth on some of these same issues. I have seen them debate how it may or may not be such a hot idea for gifted Muslim children to go to college and learn all the dubious stuff colleges teach. Especially for those of them whose characters were not yet properly developed.

At least that is the recollection I have. It was a long time ago. And I may be wrong in the way I recall things now. Sometimes I hope and wish I am.

Maybe they all voted the other way. Or maybe what they were saying was that all too often colleges are a graveyard of personal morality and character for young and impressionable Muslim youth, in which they would not have been completely wrong.

But there is a great big presumption here.

We seem to assume that from a purely “moral” point of view it is far worse for boys and girls to take an open interest in each other than for them to tell lies and steal. And that people who pray extra Namaz and do extra Dhikr of some kind, but who never keep a promise and never show up for anything on time, are somehow better human beings than those who are deficient in the former but meticulous with regard to the latter.

I am not sure that is how Islam works.

Allah bless them all – the people whose discussion I was privileged to observe in person as a child. They were good people. Just misinformed in some ways, I thought, about Allah’s world and somewhat unsure in their practical approach to Allah’s Deen and its role in that world, even though the specialty of many of them was the Deen itself.

In any case, here is what the Qur’an itself has to say on the subject of knowledge. To me, there could not have been, and there indeed is not, a better definition of knowledge anywhere in the world. So, here it is: ‘Allamal insaana maa lam ya’alam.

And here is what this divine miracle of an Aayat may mean in broad paraphrase: And God Almighty, the maker and master of the world, imparted to the human being – that means you, me, our ancestors and our posterity – all the knowledge that he or she did not have before.

He taught human beings everything they did not know earlier: maa lam ya’alam.

That means there are two worlds or universes if you will: the world of the Known and the world of the Unknown. And there is an organically inverse relationship between the two. That means as the one expands and grows the other contracts and diminishes. It is like water and fire.

The job of the human being – any human being – then is to make the world of the Known grow larger and concomitantly make the world of the Unknown dwindle in size.

That is the mandate God Almighty gave humanity the very first day of revelation. It goes without saying that those who make their world of the Known grow in size will be more successful in dealing with the challenges of this world, whereas those who are swallowed up in the world of the Unknown will become a victim of the vicissitude of time and the depredation of those better informed and better educated than them.

It is that simple.

And that is precisely what happened to Muslims – in India and elsewhere. Those with better education got the better of them, while those with flawed character among them such as Mir Ja’afar and Mir Sadiq in India double-crossed them and betrayed them to the British. Many of their characterless leaders also let them down during the Mutiny, which in many ways was a war of independence in which both Muslims and Hindus fought the British shoulder to shoulder.

Due to the last-minute betrayal and treachery of their characterless and traitorous leaders, the Muslims were crushed by the Colonial British who proceeded to make an example of Muslims by massacring them by hundreds of thousands and hanging their corpses throughout Delhi.

In the Arabian Peninsula and the land of Syria during World War I, corrupt and characterless Muslim leaders did precisely the same thing. They betrayed the Muslim Turks to the British and the French, dismantling the 400-year-old Ottoman caliphate and leaving the Muslims for the first time in their 1300 year history without the overarching sociopolitical umbrella of the caliphate to hold them together.

This act of millennial betrayal by traitorous and characterless Arab leaders with Muslim names, pedigrees and professions paved the way for the Balfour Declaration through which the British granted a national home in Palestine to the Jews of the World, which in turn led the establishment of the Zionist state of Israel in Palestine at the end of World War II.

So, the whole thing was a Muslim handiwork. It is a standing monument, if you will, to Muslim lack of character and consequent acts of betrayal and treachery over the ages. That is what people do when they call themselves Muslims but somehow turn out not to have character, which is a defining attribute of Islam.

That is why no character, no Islam. And that is also why character and education are so closely intertwined in Islam.

As for the meaning of education in Islam, how do you make that Qur’anic definition of Ilm or knowledge any better or plainer: Allamal insaana maa lam ya’lam? How do you improve upon it? You can, if you want, hire a few super-scientists and super-scholars of our time and get them to give you a better definition.

But I don’t think they can.

And even if they did the Qur’an would have beaten them to it in any case. That is why I became such a fan of the Qur’an. It continues to puzzle and astound me how so many better people than me and so many brighter and sharper minds than mine fail to see this simple fact.

Is it because all the university learning we have acquired over the years has failed to light our hearts and illumine our souls? Is it because decades of socialization into a culture of denying God has left us incapable of examining the question of God’s existence and his power over our lives with an open mind?

As the Qur’an says, Innahaa laa ta’amal absaar, wa laakin ta’amal quloobullati fissudoor, meaning, it is really our hearts that go blind, not our eyes.

Being a Fan of the Qur’an

That is why I am a fan of the Qur’an. Simply speaking, I am in awe of the clarity of its concepts; the purity of its diction; the profundity of its meaning; and yet the supreme practicality and immediacy of its models, methods and teachings.

I never considered myself a fan of anyone or anything in all my life. Not film stars or other celebrities; not sports or other teams; not anyone or anything of any kind. In fact, in the context of the lose use of this word in modern times I consider that label “fan” somewhat derogatory and insulting when someone calls me a “fan” of someone or something.

But when it comes to the Qur’an, Allahu Akbar, I am a fan. No buts or ifs or reservations of any kind. I have, over the past years, become a fan of the Qur’an in every possible way you can think of.

Spiritual” would be too lofty a title to put on it when it comes to my experiences with the Qur’an. For, I am perhaps the most ordinary and least spiritual of all human beings. “Rational” at least comes close to capturing in some ways the touchstone of the method of early and ongoing inquisitiveness, evaluation and interrogation that I took to the understanding of the Qur’an.

Imagine not just my surprise, but how puzzled and intrigued I must have been, when I found that the Qur’an, far from frowning upon me for my critical approach, and for my endless questioning and interrogating of it, seemed to accept and even welcome and encourage my skepticism.

Over and over again, I went toe-to-toe with the Qur’an. And the Qur’an let me. Evidently this was not in any way a distinction I had earned. Clearly it was a grace that was somehow bestowed upon me. The Qur’an drew me to it and held me tight.

And the world was never the same for me again. I saw through and in the glorious light of the Qur’an things I had never suspected existed – answers for which I had been searching for decades and not just for years; answers for which I had knocked on every door and sat at every set of feet.

Now when I talked about the Qur’an, it was not about what others said, it was about what I saw. And all our Dars and Tafsir sessions thereafter became not about giving lectures to people about the Qur’an and its miraculous Aayats, but about showing and sharing with people what the Qur’an was magnanimous to show and share at a particular time and place. No comments or lectures were needed.

What the Qur’an wanted to share and show was in plain sight for all to see.

With one condition, it seemed to me, that appeared to hold in most instances: liman alqas sam’a wa huwa shaheed – caring and paying attention and being there one hundred percent.

Every Aayat now became one hundred percent miracle and one hundred percent proof that no way this book could have been the product of a human mind. This was no longer a matter of belief or faith, but a simple and clear matter of self-evident fact and reality visible to the naked eye.

Walking in the Vistas of the Qur’an

The Qur’an blew my mind, as they say, when I found it full of questions, statements and remonstrations such as the following:

  • Don’t you see, the Qur’an asked repeatedly.
  • Can’t you think, the Qur’an challenged time and again.
  • Why can’t you understand, the Qur’an cajoled and teased.
  • Don’t you get it, what is wrong with you, the Qur’an remonstrated.
  • Go ahead and check things out, the Qur’an encouraged.
  • Do you have padlocks on your hearts that you are so completely incapable of thinking straight or understanding the simplest and the most elementary of things, the Qur’an asked.
  • Let us assume for a moment, said the Qur’an most disarmingly and in a most conciliatory fashion, as if trying to negotiate the best deal it could get out of us mortals. Let us assume, the Qur’an said, that this Qur’an is really from God, let us just make that assumption for a moment and then let us talk about it. The Qur’an made this offer as if it was talking to the most stubborn and unreasonable children; as if it had some stake at the outcome; as if the Qur’an did not want a foolish, headstrong and stubborn humanity to lose out, to fail; as if the Qur’an were vested in our wellbeing and success.
  • And then there were places, issues and moments when the Qur’an was totally unbending. In those places, the Qur’an said at its most magisterial best: if you all thought that this man, Muhammad, (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam), made this whole thing up, why don’t you try and produce a document of comparable merit – or at least a small portion of such a document? Thus the Qur’an inexorably threw down the gauntlet. It raised the bar beyond what anyone imagined possible.
  • In this context, to say “Put up or shut up” will be a trivialization and vulgarization of the grand and yet most fair and frank challenge that the Qur’an made to all bull-headed humans who acted more out of arrogance and malice than out of rationality and a spirit of inquiry. And yet that is what it seemed to be. And lo and behold, 1400 years and yet the Qur’an towers astride the horizons of time and space awaiting a proper response to its challenge.
  • And then there were times when the Qur’an demanded in the most cool, calm, fair, dispassionate and professorial manner, why can’t you examine the empirical evidence before you – evidence of your own senses – that is out there in front of you and then in the light of that evidence come to your own conclusions, one way or the other?
  • Why can’t you analytically evaluate the arguments that are put forth by all parties to this debate and then decide for yourself, the Qur’an suggested?

And so on and so forth, as they say.

The Qu’an, a beacon of rationality and logic? The Qur’an, a tower of analytical thinking? The Qur’an, the inventor par excellence, centuries before Bacon and others, of the empirical method of scientific observation and analysis?

Quote-Unquote a so-called 7th-Century “religious” book reading like a 21st-Century science manual?

Unbelievable! Impossible!

These and many other similar things blew my mind away. And I had no choice but to end up as a fan of the Qur’an the way I did.

I try to read it as much as I can. I spend hours, days, years, thinking about it. I try to understand what little I can of its meaning as well as of its implications in practical life.

And my heart dances like the daffodils as Wordsworth would say whenever the Qur’an throws a crumb of its bounty and a bit of its light or Noor in my direction, which it does in the direction of all those who come to it on bended knees, bowed heads and with a beggar’s bowl in their hands.

So, I am a fan of the Qur’an. Absolutely, unconditionally. No question about it.

Even though the fact is, as I said earlier, I came to the Qur’an questioning it closely and wrestling with it on every count. At least so I thought.

Little did I realize that it was not me, but the Qur’an, that was in command, every step of the way. And in total and complete command and control was the one whose immortal and eternal word the Qur’an is. It was they who were in charge of the situation all the time. Not poor little ignorant foolish mortal me, full of holes in every part and prone to err on the drop of every hat.

So, there is no cure for an ailing heart or a sick mind like the cure of the Qur’an. Nor is there a solution to human affairs, both individual and collective, better than the solution offered by the Qur’an.

But the ongoing challenge is for human minds in every age, clime, culture and place to have the intelligence and the wisdom – Hikmat – to grasp it and work out its details.

That is why the Qur’an says: Wa man yu’tal hikmata, faqad ootiya khairan katheera – that is, Hikmat is a lot of good stuff to have as a blessing from God Almighty.

And provided of course human souls have been touched by the divine flame leaping out of the words of the Qur’an. Man-yahdillah fa-huwal muhtadi, is how the Qur’an frames the broader paradigm.

END

© 2009 Syed Husain Psha

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.

 

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