By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef
Rashid Shaz as a versatile, thought-provoking writer, thinker and a polymath scholar of Islam now came with an English reader in his reflections and musings, which may help evolving global Islamic thinking in the modern Muslim mind, for, It is to him, an attempt to unveil the hidden church in Islam.This volume with eleven sections comprising more than 700 pages, edited by Pr. Geoffre Nash and forwarded by Dr.Glin.T Martin president of the World Constitution and Parliament Association. (WCPA) is published by Milli Publications New Delhi.
Rashid Shaz’s previous books and writings on the theme of understanding the decline of Muslims were a new voice in the study of the causes of the decline of Muslim Ummah, although there is certainly room for disagreement with some of his expressed ideas and views, Islam Another Chance is also a further elaboration and interpretation of the same analysis. Wherein the question is further investigated and new ideas are developed so that it can start a healthy dialogue in the Ummah.
This book opens a new chapter of Islamic knowledge and unlocks a new window into the Quranic insights. The author has been commenting on different topics related to the main them of the book from time to time in Urdu and some writings have also appeared in English, but in this collection of his writings in English, many aspects of Shaz’s thought have been covered here in one place cumulatively, so this book should be taken as a scholarly beginning of a dialogue in the Ummah on the theme discussed in its pages and related issues raised in its chapters.
According to his thought, the vast majority of Muslims are those who know Islam from the perspectives of Sunni Islam and Shia Islam considering the opinions of their self-styled Imams, saints and jurists as inspirational last word, so this book is an invitation to get them out of this dilemma and is an attempt to tear the veil of illusion of a thousand years of human hermeneutics on the divine word; the Quran.
In trying to explore new possibilities in Islamic sources, say, Quran, Hadis, Fiqh, Tassauf, the writer has shed lights on how Muslims are unable to be benefited from the Quran afresh, it was because Muslims through the ages, he observes, have become captives of history. The Qur’anic revelation, thus, has been strictly guarded by inwardly and esoteric understanding of religion (Sufism) and also by an outward religious application called Fiqh based on hadith(prophetic narrations) and thereby they have been completely deprived of any direct contact to and benefit from the last Word of Almighty God, that is why reopening the book (Quran) became the most feared task in Muslim societies now.
It may come to the minds of many that in the long span of bygone centuries, hereditary (Sunni and Shia) Islam has gained so much sanctity that it is no longer possible to unveil this sanctity, for this, a prophet is needed. Even in the circles which we call Islamic movements, it is strongly believed and reiterated the notion that there should be no disagreement with the research of Qudama قدماء and elders, no debate should be started which could lead to conflict with their consensus (اجماع). Positive da’wah and corrective work should be done instead, circling within their set framework only, as new research will lay the foundation of another new sect etc. This may appeal to many, but it is based on a false argument because there can never be a true revival or any work of correction with this mindset.
In one section the writer observed that Islam had ignited the spirit of contemplation in signs of God in the universe and in the revealed verses of Allah and from that began the process whose by-product is the latest scientific advancement which created the present civilization as well. This development of scientific thinking and technology was driven by the Islamic religious needs of Muslims in the first place and secondly inspired by the new world view bestowed on Muslim Ummah by the last word of God.
How Islam interacts with other religions and civilizations and how it can herald a future revolution in which the blessed souls from other religions and civilizations, besides Muslims, may find solace to their plights in Islam is an important aspect of the author’s thought process. Unfortunately, the reaction from our religious circles to this thought has been so far based on very superficial and narrow-mindedness.
One very interesting chapter is on Being a European Muslim namely: To be or Not to be a European Muslim, for it Is commonly believed that westerners are a mundane lot, they are spiritually deprived people, they are completely lost in modern materialism, living a high tech life. Yet, the writer very beautifully describes in this chapter that westerners also be less nostalgic to the lost nature-friendly world as we people of the east are, nay, in some aspects we are more westerners than westerners themselves. Moreover Islam-Another Chance discusses some relevant questions on Muslim Women, the Issue of Palestine and Interfaith dialogue etc.
Concluding the book the writer envisaged a futuristic united Islam wherein all the sectarian hues and colours are finished and all Muslims represent one unified Islamic colour. This cherished goal may be achieved going back intellectually to the prophetic and related eras which can not be done without the eroding of the invisible Vatican in Islam. In brief, he discussed all the dynamics and causes of the Muslim Ummah being so divided and fragmented.
The purpose of this book to me is to work on the agenda of the revival of Islam with the retrieval of the same beyond fourteen centuries of Muslim history, which once filled our hearts with the trust of the Ummah’s mission. According to this reviewer, this is a blessed mission, but it should not come to anyone’s mind that the entire cultural heritage of fourteen hundred years will be wiped out, but this precious treasure can be an asset in this mission. Only a new orientation of this inherited knowledge capital is needed.
There are many other such topics in the book which have room for revision, rethink, criticism and open intellectual dialogue. However, the author is credited with holding that his word is not the last word on any issue, rather he has invited all to investigate the issue to explore the facts and furthering a fruitful discussion.
Research Associate with Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India, AMU Aligarh.