Reformation does not mean negating what is practiced and believed with new set of beliefs and practices. It is rather enhancement of existing practices to get closer to the original intent. For Muslims Qur’aan is the ultimate book of guidance, it is the word of God and it is flawless. However, the interpretation of the words have differed over a period time, as the Qur’aan itself is the testimony to it, it is for all times. Until recently only two translation of Qur’aan were available, now, we have over 15 translations and are increasing day by day. Most of them are very close in interpretation. Thus the average Muslim is getting the opportunity to understand the wisdom of the book, while at the same time there is one flawed translation in circulation that is erroneous and belligerent. Please refer to the Apology power point presentation in this regard. We sincerely apologize for the agony of that translation.
Many such reviews have become evident in terms of expressing women’s right, understanding Qur’aan, interpersonal relationships, interfaith work, Justice and peace. All of this is surfacing simaltaneously, please watch for the documentation to appear on this website.
Mike Ghouse World Muslim Congress
October 25, 2006
What has not happened in 1427 years of Islamic History has happened now. The American Islamic tradition has taken root, and the American Muslim community is as excited about it as it is divided. There is joy and commitment to nourish this new American Islamic tradition, and sorrow and determination to keep the age old tradition.
The new tradition that seems to have taken root, is the naming of predetermined dates for both the beginning of the month of Ramadan, as well as the festival of Eid, ending it. This has never happened in the history of Islam, as it was always based on sighting of the moon, as instructed by Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
As with most religious traditions, the religious festivals are determined by the lunar calendar. The entire Islamic system is based on sighting of the moon. The calendar has 12 lunar months, and each month is either 29 or 30 days, it averages to 29-and-a-half days per month for a total of 354 days in a typical lunar calendar year.
Four out of the 12 new moons are critical to the Muslim community. The first one is sighting the moon for the commencement of the 9th month of Ramadan where Muslims fast from moon to moon, the second sighting falls at the end of 29th or 30th day, which concludes fasting, and segues into celebration of Eid.
The third new moon determines the beginning of the 12th month — Dhul-Hajj — leading to the decision of the day of Hajj being 10th day of the month. Hajj is a world wide congregation of nearly 2.5 million Muslims praying together in one single space, Mecca, a tradition begun by Abraham. The last new moon commemorates Muharram, the first month of the lunar calendar, the 10th day of which is a solemn observation of at critical day in Muslim history.
Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) suggested that upon witnessing the first moon of Ramadan, begin the fasting and end it upon seeing the next moon to celebrate. Reward yourselves for your will power, forgive each other and celebrate.
The Islamic world has witnessed controversy for the last 1427 years as to what constitutes witnessing the moon. The debate has always been those who see the essence of the words of the Prophet, and those who give full value to the literal words.
Traditionally, sighting of the moon was understood to mean: 1) that one has to physically see the moon, and 2) that it will be acceptable, at least if some one else has seen it. Over the years these two have been interpreted both liberally and rigidly. Due to weather conditions, some stick to the words that if the moon wasn’t seen (due to clouds), Ramadan won’t begin. Others say if someone has seen the moon somewhere else on the planet, it is fine with them.
Then along comes NASA, the precision witness machine, which has made a significant dent this year. The Islamic Society of North America, the largest representative organization of Muslims in America, after consulting several experts, decided to follow NASA’s calculation as to the occurrence of the new moon.
Thus the beginning of Ramadan was predetermined by NASA to commence September 23, and the Festival “Eid” was predetermined to be this past Monday, October 23. There was great dissent on the subject, however, even though it turned out that the moon was sighted as predicted. Many disagreed with the making the decision in advance to celebrate the Eid on the 23rd. They remain adamant – you can’t decide when Ramadan ends without physically witnessing the moon.
The American Muslims have been exceptionally accommodating to relying on NASA, and are indeed making a genuine effort to respect each group’s decision to celebrate the festival on the 23rd, 24th or even 25th. The most beautiful part of this development is that no one is saying the other’s decision is thoughtless. In fact many of them are praying. “Let not arrogance creep into us that one interpretation is better than the other.” A sense of pluralism has taken root.
On the other hand, the spirit of celebrating Ramadan across the world on a single day is immeasurable. A predetermined holiday helps secure a day off from work for many people, a day off from school for our kids and also gives you time to rent a hall for Eid. Insha’Allah, it may take a few more generations for all of us to be on the same page. Let it happen with free will.
May this festival be a happy occasion whether you celebrated Eid on Monday or Tuesday, or will do so at sunset today. May this Ramadan be meaningful to us and infuse the sense of caring for the world and work for peace, prosperity and security of the humankind.
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Mike Ghouse is a Muslim thinker, speaker and writer, and president of the Foundation for Pluralism. He is a frequent guest on talk radio, discussing interfaith issues. He founded the World Muslim Congress on the belief that if we can learn to accept and respect the God-given uniqueness of each one of the 7 billion of us, conflicts will fade and solutions emerge. His email is [email protected]. © copyright 2006 by Mike Ghouse
Interpreting Islam for Muslims and Non-Muslims alike
Dr. Inayat Lalani
At the World Muslim Congress, we will interpret Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims alike,
Not through laboring with the old, stale recycled cliche, so reeking with rancidity but so lacking in the honest spirit of inquiry that has passed for scholarship among many of our writers but by invoking, nay, insisting on, fearless pursuit of truth, interpreting the scriptures not in their most regressive but in their most progressive requirements consistent with humane and enlightened view of the religion in the modern world;
Not through meekly acquiescing in the rampant abuse, by the irresponsible ulemas, of toxic words like Munafiqe (Hypocrite), Mushrikin (idol worshippers) and Kafirun (Infidels) and their thinly disguised substitutes but by banishing such terms from Islamic discourse altogether,
Not by rationalizing all failed, irrational policies and justifying them because they worked so brilliantly for the success of Muslims in past but by fearlessly seeking the reasons for current failures – in human and not divine terms – and conduct a search for their remedies such as to be consistent with the modern realities and pregnant with acknowledgement of the rights of other faiths who outnumber Muslims five to one in the family of Man and with whom Muslims must find ways to live in true harmony and goodwill.
By acknowledging that God has spread his Barakah (blessings), in material and intellectual dimensions, among all men and women, of all races, regions, cultures and civilizations and not limited those to Muslims alone, now or even in the distant past, and that failing to profit from the philosophy and wisdom of the Non-Muslim East or West (but especially the latter) is not a requisite of faith but a contraption of those who seek to control and hold captive the flock that is so inured to obediently following the phony charlatans posing as the â€˜learned menâ€™ and
By asserting that Islam is a religion of peace, goodwill, justice, honesty and truth not with hollow, pious proclamations but by living our faith in a manner that will give credence to those assertions.
Moderates Must Challenge Terrorist ideology.
By: Farzana Hassan.
It is somewhat ironic and strange that moderate Muslims often balk at the very mention of Quranic verses possibly forming the basis of a militant ideology, while terrorists quote dierctly from the Quran to justify their nefarious agenda readily.
While moderate Muslims insist its verses are being misinterpreted, Bin Laden and his associates continually invoke verse 2:191 which clearly states that “persecution is worse than killing”.(Quran:2:191)
Needless to say, incitement of terror was undoubtedly not the intention of the quoted verse, nor is the Quran the only scripture susceptible to misinterpretation. However, arguably, the cited verse can lend itself to a number of different interpretations because of what could legitimately be understood as “persecution”. It is hence any one’s subjective call. Furthermore, “killing” is now subordinated to the more noble goal which calls for the eradication of “evil” or “persecution.”
For terrorists therefore, any number of offenses committed by those perceived to be enemies of Islam may qualify as “persecution”, be it the presence of foreign troops, proselytizing by Christian peacekeepers or the invasion of Muslim territories. And Muslim extremists believe they are merely fighting a defensive war in keeping with the dictates of the Quran, as it is they who are being constantly attacked by Non-Muslims.
The real challenge therefore for Canadian Muslims, Imams and religious leaders is to reinterpret Quranic verses for potential terrorists, by contextualizing them based on a thorough analysis of history. A proactive approach focusing on moderate religious education would certainly go a long way towards promoting a culture of tolerance rather than hate among disgruntled Muslim youth.
No longer is it enough to simply react to terror or alleged terror through statements condemning it. An over haul of Madrassah-taught education is sorely needed both in Muslim and diasporic communities with a special focus on reforming the curriculum, as well as what is imparted informally.
Farzana Hassan-Shahid is a freelance writer and a member of the Muslim Canadian Congress. She is also the President of Family of the Heart. an organziation of South Asian Literatti and host of the weekly Radio Program: Islam: Faith and Culture. She is the President of Muslim Canadian Congress.
Qur’aan: Encourages to think
Muslims are indeed encouraged to think beyond the box
You know, it’s funny. I have been told, several times, that I am “not qualified” to make the statements I make about various verses and passages of the Qur’an. I am “not qualified” to do so. Why? What are the qualifications to read the Qur’an? What credentials do I need to possess to make me a “bona fide” certified reader of the Qur’an?
Now, I am not talking about making Qur’anic exegesis, or “tafsir.” This is an academic discipline in and of itself. It requires ample knowledge of the Arabic language, not just modern Arabic, but classical Arabic, the language used at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an. It also requires understanding the reasons of revelation, or “asbab ul nuzul.” One must also know proper Arabic grammar. Moreover, one has to know the various relevant Prophetic traditions that may surround a particular verse in the Qur’an. No. I am talking about the reflection of a believer on what a verse of the Qur’an means to him or her. What sort of qualifications does one need to do this? Why do so many Muslims immediately jump to what shaikh so-and-so has said about a verse of the Qur’an before thinking about the verse beforehand? I mean, did not the Qur’an clearly ask the question: “Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? Or are there locks upon heir hearts?” (47:24)?
In so many places in the Qur’an, God appeals to the intellect of the human being. He wants the believer to think for himself. Take these verses: “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: ‘O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose.
Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire!” (3:190-191) “…Tell [them], then, this story, so that they might take thought.” (7:176)”…Thus clearly do We spell out these messages unto people who think!” (10:24) “…in this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who think!” (16:11)”…so that thou might make clear unto mankind all that has ever been thus bestowed upon them, and that they might take thought.” (16:44)”…In all this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who think!” (16:69)”…In [all] this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!” (39:42)”…And He has made subservient to you, [as a gift] from Himself, all that is in the heavens and on earth: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!” (45:13) “…And [all] such parables We propound unto men, so that they might [learn to] think.” (59:21)These are only a portion of the verses that speak about those who think, those who reflect, those who are endowed with insight, those who ponder, and so on. All these verses point to a theme: that God wants the human being to think and ponder. Why can’t we take this theme to the verses of the Qur’an itself? Why can’t we – before consulting a scholar – think about what a particular verse means to ourselves? If we don’t understand something after we have reflected upon it ourselves, then we consult those who are more knowledgeable.
It seems that many Muslims today have abandoned the first part of this interaction with the Qur’an. For example, I remember listening to a lecture and hearing the story of Mu’awiyah (r) asking Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (r), the Prophet’s (pbuh) cousin, about this verse of the Qur’an:
“And [remember] him of the great fish [Jonah], when he went off in wrath, thinking that We had no power over him! But then heeded out in the deep darkness [of his distress]: “There is no deity save Thee! Limit less art Thou in Thy glory! Verily, I have done wrong!” (21:87) Mu’awiyah (r) told Ibn ‘Abbas (r) that he kept thinking about this verse for a long time before coming to him and asking how Jonah, a Prophet of God, could think that God has no power over him. Ibn ‘Abbas (r) told him that the word “yaqdiru” here means “punishment.” Yet, the point of this story is that Mu’awiyah (r) reflected on the verse by himself first, then he asked the scholar. Why can’t we do the same thing?As another example, at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), ‘Amr ibn Al ‘As (r) – who was a new Muslim at the time – made ablution with sand instead of water. Typically, a Muslim can make the ritual ablution before prayer with sand or earth if there is no water available. Yet, in this instance, there was water available.
People took ‘Amr (r) to task for this, including one of the Prophet’s (pbuh) closest companions ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab (r). When the Prophet (pbuh) later asked him why he did that, ‘Amr (r) answered: “Messenger of God, God said, ‘let not your own hands throw you into destruction.’ If I had made ablution with water on that cold night, I would have died. Thus, I made ‘tayammum,’ or ablution with sand.” The Prophet (pbuh) accepted his understanding of this verse. Now, I looked up the whole verse, and I realized that it is talking about spending in God’s cause: “And spend [freely] in God’s cause, and let not your own hands throw you into destruction, and persevere in doing good: behold, God loves the doers of good.” (2:195) Reading the verse on its surface, I would not think it would have anything to do with making ablution with water on a cold night. Nevertheless, ‘Amr ibn Al ‘As (r) – again, a new Muslim at the time -read the verse and applied his own understanding, and the Prophet (pbuh) did not correct or rebuke him. ‘Amr (r) reflected on the verse on his own. Why can’t we do the same thing? I believe we can.Now, there are several caveats to my contention. First of all, I am not saying that we should never consult the scholars on the verses of the Qur’an. No. The scholars of Islam – past and present – have dedicated their lives to the study of our faith, and they deserve our admiration and respect.
There are many times I have asked scholars about various verses of the Qur’an myself. In fact, a wholesale abandonment of the scholars may lead to manifestly incorrect religious understanding. For example, one could “reflect” upon this verse of the Qur’an – “O you who have attained to faith! Do not attempt to pray while you are in a state of drunkenness, [but wait] until you know what you are saying…” (4:43) – and conclude that it is allowed to consume alcohol. Yet, it is well known that this verse was revealed early in the history of Islam. Later on, when the Islamic community was firmly established, alcohol was formally banned for all time: “O you who have attained to faith! Intoxicants, games of chance, idolatrous practices, and the divining of the future are but a loathsome evil of Satan’s doing: shun it, then, so that you might attain to a happy state.” (5:90).
We would not properly understand this without input from the scholars. Indeed, I myself rely heavily on Muhammad Asad’s explanation of the Qur’an, who quotes from various classical commentators of the Qur’an. Yet, still, what is wrong with reflecting over the meaning of the Qur’an before consulting the scholars? I mean, we have been endowed with an intellect by God, and He has clearly said in His sacred text that we should use what He has given us. Despite this, so many Muslims rush to read what various scholars have said about verses of the Qur’an without first reflecting on what the verse means to themselves. Furthermore, they hold the opinions of various scholars on Qur’anic verses as sacrosanct, beyond all questioning and reproach. Why? Why can’t we question the opinion of a scholar? Are these scholars God Himself?I mean, the whole killing of apostates issue is a perfect example. Like I said before, the Qur’an could not be any clearer freedom of religion and conscience, but still so many Muslims claim that the verse, “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith.” (2:256), is a “one-way door” into the House of Islam.
You are free to not come inside the House. But once you come inside, you are stuck there under pain of death. And to prove this, they quote the opinions of various – respected, no doubt – scholars. Yet, when you simply reflect over the meaning of “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith,” the opinions of those scholars – may God bless them – just make no sense. Why am I “not qualified” to make such a reflection? Yet, almost without fail, whenever I raise the question of why we Muslims are not allowed to reflect upon the verses of the Qur’an for ourselves, I am rebutted with the analogy of the medical profession: “Can you simply read a medical text book,” I am asked, “and then start to practice medicine on your own?” “No, of course not,” I answer.”Well, the same is true with the Qur’an.”This analogy is fallacious. Medicine – just like Engineering, or Computer Science, or Architecture – is a profession. It has a compendium of knowledge that must be mastered, and after this compendium has been mastered, the newly-graduated doctor of medicine must undergo a 3-7 year apprenticeship, during which he or she practices the trade under the supervision of more experienced physicians.
Once this is completed, then, and only then, can one practice medicine on their own. Is Islam a profession such as this? If someone wants to become a Muslim, is her or she required to go to college for four years, then four years of “Islamic school,” then complete a 3-7 year “Islamic residency” in order to be a “board-certified Muslim”? No. We Muslims, in fact, brag about how easy it is to become a Muslim: simply declare “There is nothing worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is His Messenger.” Yet, after one becomes a Muslim, he or she cannot read the Qur’an and reflect about what the verses mean to him or her. No. This is akin to picking up a pair of scissors and performing coronary bypass surgery after reading a surgical textbook. Does this make any inkling of sense? The Qur’an, speaking about itself, says: This divine writ – let there be no doubt about it – is [meant to be] a guidance for all the God-conscious (2:2). Who are these “God-conscious”? The Qur’an continues: Who believe in [the existence] of that which is beyond the reach of human perception, and are constant in prayer, and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance; And who believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon thee, [O Prophet], as well as in that which was bestowed before they time: for it is they who in their innermost are certain of the life to come! It is they who follow the guidance which comes from their Sustainer; and it is they who shall attain to a happy state! (2:3-5)These verses seem to tell me that the guidance of the Qur’an is open to any and everyone. All I have to do is open the book and read it. Yet, if I do so, I am told, it is akin to reading a medical textbook and opening a medical practice. Does this make any inkling of sense? Now, Qur’anic tafsir, or exegesis, is a profession such as medicine. If I, after reading various translations of the Holy Scripture, turned around and published a book of Qur’anic exegesis, then the medicine analogy would make complete sense. Yet, this is not what I do. None of the reflections I have made about various verses of the Qur’an was ever intended to be the ” tafsir according to Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa.” As I said above, whenever I speak about various verses of the Qur’an in my writings, I always first consult the explanation of the Qur’an made by Muhammad Asad. I do this because, as correctly pointed out by so many,
I am not a scholar of the Qur’an.But the Qur’an is not the property of the scholars alone. The Qur’an is a book of guidance for all. How could reflecting on a verse of the Qur’an on my own be akin to reading a medical textbook and then practicing medicine? Islam – unlike medicine – is not a profession. What’s more, we Muslims brag that our connection with God is direct, that we Muslims have no priesthood, that there is no intermediary between us and our Creator. Shouldn’t this also apply to the Word of our Creator? If we cannot reflect on the Word of God on our own – because we are not scholars – then how is this different from having a priesthood? I remember being told that – before Vatican II – Catholics could not study the Bible without a priest present. Is the same thing occurring with Islam and the Qur’an? Yet, I must reiterate that I do not advocate a wholesale abandonment of the scholars. They deserve our respect and admiration. What must be remembered, however, is that these scholars are human beings with a ethnic, cultural, social, and political context.
This context must be taken into account when analyzing a scholar’s opinion about a certain verse of the Qur’an. And the opinion of a scholar must never be confused for the Word of God itself. Moreover, we must make a distinction between making a legal ruling based on the Qur’an and reading and reflecting on the Qur’an, which is something God commands us to do.So, please, don’t tell me that reading the Qur’an and reflecting over what the verses mean to you or me is the same as opening a medical practice after reading a medical textbook. Reading and reflecting over the Qur’an – unlike medicine – is not a profession that requires training. It is obedience to God’s command: Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? Or are there locks upon heir hearts?
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer.