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Monday, December 06, 2004

Doubts about Quran?

Question: This Ramadan I decided to read an English translation of the Qu'ran. I found myself questioning a number of things. I won't go into specifics, but I was thinking "No way, that can't be right!" and then I started to feel guilty. Has anyone read an English translation of the Qu'ran only to find that you started to question your religion and the version of Islam your parents taught you? Maybe I should have just stuck with reading it in Arabic, which I don't understand anyway.

Peace be upon you,

I was where you are a few years ago but then I took God's advice from the Quran (Irqa: read) and read a little. Do I have all the answers no, but Im certainly closer to understanding Islam than I was then. As the scholar Suyuti observed, 'The result of a search is not the point, the point is the search'.

As for doubts regarding faith, Ibn Masud said that the Prophet said that part of faith is doubt, referring to doubt saying 'tilka mahd al iman' (this is the true nature of faith). By trying to question, and wanting to improve the things we do not understand, or have doubts over, we actually clarrify and improve our understanding. Hence doubt being a crucial part of faith.

When we read the Quran today there are many aspects of which which we may not understand mostly because of our infamiliarity with the Quran, its history and the value of the knowledge it contains. Suyuti observed, "It is impossible to understand a verse (of the Quran) without knowing the qisa (the story) and the causes that led to its revelation" [Suyuti, Lubab al-uqul fi asbab al-nuzul, p 13].

For example, Khola one of the female companions was with a group of the male companions, she stopped Caliph Umar, held him back and spoke with him. Later he was criticised by another companion who said that the Quraish were delayed because he was listening to that woman. Umar counter criticised him saying, 'This is the woman whose complaint was heard by Allah from high above the seven heavens. This is Khola bint Tholaba. By Allah! Had she not left me for the whole night, I would not leave her unless I fulfilled her needs'"

Kholas husband divorced her using a style of divorce common in the days before Islam. She loved him, and she had small children and (at that time) she didnt have an occupation. So she went to the Prophet and complained, and she prayed to God. And it was as a result of her prayer to God, that that form of divorce was prohibited as a verse was revealed concerning it.

It is important to understand the Quran for Muawiya said, "There is no doubt that the worst deviation (from truth) is that that a man may read the Quran but doesnt ponder/ think/ contemplate it" [Khandalawi, Lives of the Companions, Vol III, p 227]

Some say reading the Quran has benefit in its own right - and there is no doubt about the mercy of God in rewarding a persons committment. But faith is about understanding, it is about making informed choices, it is about rejecting falsehood and accepting truth - none of this can be done without actually understanding the Quran and its explanation.

Hasan al=Basri said, 'The people before you considered the Quran to be correspondence from their Lord, so they would ponder by it at night, and perform it by day' [An-Nawawi, Etiquette with the Quran, pp 26]

This is a full reflection that faith is much more than just something to be lived, it is something to be understood. How many of us actually pause, stop, and think about life? The answers are there for those who seek it. I personally used to spend far too much time playing arcade games; I still do now (Halo 2 rocks), but do so in moderation.

One of the common failings amongst muslims is reading the Quran without knowing about the abrogated verses. Again the scholar Suyuti shed light on this in his book 'Itqan fi Ulum al-Quran' (Precision and Mastery in the Science of the Quran) where he lists 20 verses which all scholars acknowledge have been abrogated.

For example, in the early period of Islam people would pray towards Jerusalem as the Kaba was full of pagan idols. When they were removed, a verse was revealed informing us to pray towards the Kaba. Contradictory verses? No. Remember the Quran was revealed over a period of 22 years, so the verses reflect different situations.

In addition, as the 'modern' scholar Azizi documents for us, abrogation is of the following types:

1. Where the verse has been removed from the Quran and another revealed in it's place

2. Where the injunction is abrogated and the letters of the verse remain

3. Where both the verse and the injunction are removed from the text

If we as the reader do not make ourselves aware of the structure of the Quran, then we are the only ones who will loose in understanding it.

In more recent years Ahmad Von Denfer in his book Ulum al-Quran: an introduction to the sciences of the Quran points out that there are in fact six different types of verses in the Quran:

A. General & Specific
B. Free & Bound
C. Literal & Understood

Again, understanding these verses, their context are crucial to actually understanding the meaning of the Quran.

Anyone can memorise the Quran, and by the Mercy of God there are so many who have done so, but sadly only few can understand or appreciate it which is why Fudayl ibn Iyad said, 'The bearer of the Quran is the bearer of the banner of Islam'. [An-Nawawi, Etiquette with the Quran, pp 27] The person who really understands what the Quran says, its meaning, should by default be a scholar of it.

It is perhaps for the above reason, our ignorance of the Quran, our ignorance of the hadith that the condition of the Muslims can be explained today. There are some very odd opinions floating around, from all sorts of sources, but it is in fact knowledge and understanding it, will get us our of this mess.

There are many common abuses of Islam:

1. Dogs: some say they are devils, should be killed etc. History shows that dogs used to ravage the city and attack the people, especially in and around the area of the kaba, and it is in THIS context that such statements were made. Just one example to show this point: the account where the Prophet on his final campaign against the Quraysh at Mecca, ordered Amr ibn Suraqah to stand guard over a bitch who had given birth to pups beside the road; "he was afraid that she the dog might be molested by one or another of the men (the fighters)" (alWaqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi (a chronicle of the military campaigns of Prophet Muhammad)).

2. Women travelling alone: historically in that period if a woman travelled alone she would be kidnapped and held as ransom. For this reason the scholars then said a woman can travel alone but only within a certain distance - where that distance reflected a 'safe area'. The issue as the scholars noted IS NOT the idea of a woman travel alone, rather it is the issue of her safety: big difference

3. Non-Muslims: so much misunderstanding over how to deal with non-Muslims. Even the stricter of the scholars Ibn Taymiyyah said: "A credible Jew or Christian who has medical expertise may treat a sick Muslim. Such a person may, likewise, be entrusted with funds or other financial transactions" (Ibn Muflih, Al-Adab ash-Shar'iah) - just the tip of the iceburg in this discussion showing that sustaining good relations with non-Muslims is crucial, even working with them is ok.

4. Apostacy: killing all those who leave abandon Islam? S A Rahman wrote an excellent expose on this myth showing that some people did abandon Islam at the time of the Prophet, but the only ones upon whom the death penalty was carried out were those who were actively attacking Muslims.

5. Women in general. The scholar al-Jahiz pointed out, "We do not say, and any reasonable person cannot say, that women are above men or lower that men by a degree or two or more. But we have seen people who revile (women) the worst of revilements and disdain them and deny them most of their rights. It is true impotence for a man to be incapable of fulfilling the rights of fathers or uncles unless he disparges the rights of mothers and aunts"

This is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to understanding what does and doesnt constitute aspects of Islam.

Am I a scholar? No. Am I even a learned person? No. But God Almighty tells me on the day of judgment I'll be accountable for what I did and what I believe - and I'll be darned if Im just going to follow something which doesn't make sense or doesnt sit well in my heart.

I got tired of some of the websites out there which are supposed to help us understand Islam, as many of them actually end up pushing us away.

Prophet Muhammad said, 'Whoever seeks knowledge so that he can contest fools, vie with the scholars, or attract attention towards himself, such a person
occupies his seat in hell-fire' (al-Bazaar 178; Ibn Majah 259; Tirmidhi 2656)

My intention, as it is I suspect for anyone who got this far, is to understand Islam better; and lets face it, if we dont have confidence in our belief, then we really are lost in life.

May God Almighty have mercy and guide us all, ameen. Best of luck in your efforts, and dont forget, back to basics, read a little, you will with time improve your understanding, inshallah.

And upon you be peace.


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