By Zafarul-Islam Khan
No Muslim living today will deny that contemporary Muslims are hated, despised, and considered backward. Exceptions apart, this is the case of Muslims whether living as a majority or minority across the globe. It is not that we are poor or uneducated or because we lack political power. There are 58 countries which claim to be “Islamic” and thus qualify for membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference. Yet they are unable to face a tiny country, Israel, to thwart one aggression after another against Muslim countries, or to force countries like Myanmar and China not to persecute their Muslim minorities.
The fact is that wealth at the disposal of millions of Muslim individuals, corporates and states today far exceeds what Muslims ever owned during the past fifteen centuries. There is an army of graduate, post-graduate and doctorate-holder Muslims. Yet, as people and communities, Muslims are not respected.
The only reason I can think of is that we have turned our Islam into rituals – our prayers, our fasts, our Haj, our ‘Umrah, our Zakat and sadaqahs have become lifeless rituals. Once outside mosques or on return from Makkah and Madinah, no difference is discerned in our character. Such visits hardly enthuse us to live Islam in our real lives in our homes, offices, workplaces, factories and on the street. We live carefree as if Islam poses no duties and obligations on us and as if there will be no Day of Judgment ever. Our lives hardly differ from those who do not believe in Islam, if not worse.
Turning a vibrant and revolutionary Islam into lifeless rituals is the direct result of our shunning the Qur’an. Today we read the Qur’an or listen to it for thawab (reward in the Hereafter), not as a source of guidance and inspiration, not as a guide in our daily individual or community lives. Even those who know Arabic prefer to listen to famous reciters of the Qur’an in order to enjoy the recital, not as a guide and source of inspiration and admonition. This is why our noble Prophet will complain to Allah on the Day of Judgement: “O my Lord! Truly my people deserted this Qur’ān” (25:30). What a severe indictment of our character – we have deserted the Book which taught us and made us how to be Muslims – a community which submits to Allah. It is the book which lifted the barefoot illiterate Arabs into guides and masters of the world within decades of its first revelation in 610 CE.
Today, we have in our midst, in this country, such wretched people who tell us not to read the Qur’an translation because, they claim, you will get misguided because without certain “sciences” (‘ulum) you cannot understand the Qur’an! How strange! These “sciences” did not exist in the time of the Prophet or the Companions or even during the time of those who succeeded them for the next few centuries. Ordinary Companions of the Prophet understood the Qur’an instantly without these so-called “sciences”. They lived it, propagated it and conquered most of the known world at the time fired by their faith and understanding of this divine message. Any part of “Islam” which was not known to the Prophet, his Companions and the immediately following generations (tabi’un, taba’ tabi’in) is not Islam of Muhammad.
Muslims in the Subcontinent are told today to read and are forced to listen to man-made books which are read out in mosques instead of the Qur’an.
It is a duty of every Muslim to read and understand the Qur’an in Arabic and if he does not know Arabic, he must read the Qur’an’s translation which is available in most languages of the world today. If you receive a letter from a government official, will you start doing its tilawat (reciting) again and again and assume that you have complied with its instructions? If you don’t know the letter’s language, you will rush to someone who knows it. But a majority of Muslims today are exactly doing this: making tilawat of the Quran, without knowing what it says.
Muslims are misguided that merely saying the Kalimah or saying a few prayers or reading certain chapters of the Qur’an will suffice for their Salvation in the Hereafter. If we actually read the Qur’an, we will never make such claims. The Qur’an on every page exhorts us to believe in Allah and do righteous deeds. The two, belief and continuously doing righteous deeds, go hand-in-hand. Many think that without doing any righteous deed they will enter Paradise while Allah says in the Qur’an that mere saying good words is meaningless unless accompanied by good deeds (35:10).
The Qur’an says that Prayer (salat) “restrains from obscenity and abominable deeds” (29:45) but our prayer today fails to make any real impact on our lives or character. The Qur’an says that you should spend “Whatever is in excess of your needs” (2:219) while our majority does not pay even the meagre amounts of Zakat, yet millions of Muslims around the world spend lavishly on social occasions, buy costliest gadgets and compete to make ‘Umrah visits, one after the other, while their fellow Muslims starve in so many parts of the world. We are doing everything to earn Allah’s wrath and yet blame others! The only way for our salvation is to read the Qur’an, in translation if we do not know Arabic, and meticulously follow Allah’s commands in every part of our lives.
According to the Qur’an, this community is the best community raised for mankind. It enjoins good & forbids evil (3:110). This community has not been raised for itself. It has been entrusted with a mission to bear witness to the Truth before humanity. In order to carry out this mission, Muslim individuals and societies must first return to the straight path in their thought and conduct. It is only by living true Islam that they can bear testimony before the world.
The author, an alumnus of Al-Azhar and Cairo universities with a PhD in Islamic Studies from Manchester University, has been attempting since 2010 at revising Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s English translation of the Holy Qur’an. It has now evolved into a wholly new, most accurate, translation of the holy book in simple and modern language, with new copious footnotes. It may be out before the end of this year.