Early History of Muslims needs fresh appraisal–XVI

M Aamer Sarfraz

The incident of Karbala, scripted after 139 years of its occurrence, has caused a retrospectively-inspired prospective and a poisonous split among Muslims. It was supposed to have been about power politics but has gradually assumed an inflexible theological configuration. As the Abbasid dynasty weakened, they found the political and religious authority very hard to maintain. The clergy took advantage of this lack of political consensus among various ethnic groups across the Empire and carved out religious identities across ethnic lines and assumed their leadership, which they enjoy till today. The Sunnis were advised to honour the history as it took shape (architect = al-Tabri), and the Shias decided to honour it as it should have taken shape (architect = al-Tabri).

The Sunni-Shia split cannot be resolved on the basis of debates and several such attempts over the centuries have failed miserably. This is because both camps have their own versions of Muslim history (and collections of Ahadith) and have developed their doctrines accordingly. If one deviates from any aspect of the relevant theology, he/she gets purged from that denomination. The last big Shia-Sunni debate was hosted by Emperor Nadir Shah of Persia (1736-1747) under the supervision of neutral judges in 1740. Its details are a fascinating read but its outcome (not based on the result) was to establish another Mussullah (congregation) in masjid-al haram to let Shia pray behind their own Imam. For those who do not know, before Ibne Saud (and Abdul Wahhab) abolished this practice, Sunnis used to pray separately behind their four different Imams in different places at different times within masjid al-haram but facing the Kaaba.

Islamic revival is not about going backwards, or about dominance of one sect over another in one place (and then exporting the ‘revolution’), nor is it about armed struggle against a much superior enemy (and getting annihilated in the process). All these approaches and models have been tried repeatedly over time and failed. There is absolutely no doubt in the sincerity and intellect of the theological giants including al-Ash’ari, al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyyah, Maududi and Khomeini, but they were wide of the mark. What has not been tried widely is the approach of Unity, Education, and Rationality advocated lately by Jamal Uddin Afghani, Sir Syed, and Allama Iqbal. They had concluded that the renaissance of Islam is not possible without observing the supremacy of the Quran. Humanity in general and Muslims in particular must realise that no Mahdi, apostle or prophet is coming as Muhammad (SAW) was the last messenger of God who passed away after establishing a model state and leaving the Quran to guide humanity.

Battles can be won and lost, but Nations and Civilisations rise and fall on the basis of their ideologies. The Quran offers all humanity, including Muslims, permanent values for a sustained and progressive existence, avoiding any internal or external clash. Muslims were undone by conspiracies against the Quran, and their inability to identify and deal with those. These conspiracies against the Quran included: creating doubts about its authenticity (revelation, compilation, order, renditions, meanings, explanation, implementation), creating and prioritising Ahadith over it, confounding its main concepts, turning it into a sacred relic, and making its reading a ritual than a practical manual. This gave rise to generations of corrupt and mindless clergy & complicit and ignorant politicians, in different types of regimes in different eras, dominating confused, disenfranchised, disunited and regressive Muslim populations.

Battles can be won and lost, but Nations and Civilisations rise and fall on the basis of their ideologies. The Quran offers all humanity, including Muslims, permanent values for a sustained and progressive existence, avoiding any internal or external clash. Muslims were undone by conspiracies against the Quran, and their inability to identify and deal with those

Some saw through the tricks against the Quran and took isolated stands against them but only to cause local commotions, and lost their lives and/or social status. Allama Iqbal was the genius who was insightful enough to inspire an academic route for Islamic conservation and revival. He persuaded Chaudhry Ghulam Ahmed Parwez, a scholar and civil servant, to prepare a dictionary of the key words/concepts in the Quran based on the language of the Arabs when Quran was revealed, and which corroborated with the modern Arabic dictionaries. Parwez spent over 50 years of his life not only compiling the dictionary (Lughatul Quran) but also collected Quranic verses subject-wise (Tubweebul Quran) and produced meanings of the Quran (Mufhoomul Quran) among other works. This single-handed effort gives him the unique honour to surpass any academic in Islamic history for over a millennium. The only unfortunate aspect is that 95% of his work is in Urdu and inaccessible to the world at large. Perhaps he expected too much from us or wanted someone else to translate those into English (and other languages).

The good news is that the two shining lights in modern Islam at present, both have their roots in Pakistan. I have already written about my friend Javed Ghamidi and his slow evolution towards the Quran. He could have been a world leader if his spoken English was as good as his Urdu. The other is the South Africa-based, Farid Esack, who acquired madrassa education in Karachi before achieving a PhD from England and postdoctoral studies in Germany. He has taught in New York, Cincinnati, and Cambridge before becoming a Professor at the University of Johannesburg, in South Africa. He has enriched his academic life by mixing it with secular activism and by becoming an administrator by serving as a Commissioner for Gender Equality, and founding organisation like “Call of Islam” and “Positive Muslims”. He has several books to his credit and was awarded the Order of Luthuli (South Africa) in 2018, for his brilliant contribution to academic research and to the fight against race, gender, class and religious oppression.

We obviously need many more rationalist Islamic academics and activists before Islam (read Muslims) can be revived. This cannot happen through guns and swords but by heavy investment in improving the quality (and quantity) of the mainstream modern education throughout the Muslim world. Meanwhile, there is one very interesting project really worth taking on as an emergency. Someone should step up and write a book on early Muslim history based entirely on the Quran and the live artefacts scattered throughout the world. The person must have a few pre-qualifications though: open mind, quality modern education, solid grip on English language (and some on Arabic), and money. The latter can be found but the former along with motivation are definitely the main ingredients for success. I am happy to contribute to the budget for this project and provide practical support (I did the same in a minor way with (late) K.K. Aziz’s work about Pakistan history).

I can propose two of the best possible supervisors, Prof. Akbar Ahmed & Prof. Mubarak Ali, for this valuable project. I also have a few remarkable candidates in mind who could actually carry out this distinguished work; one is a newly-wed academic based in Oxford with a strong family history of academia and the other is the Editor of this newspaper. My backup are two busy civil servants in Pakistan who are trying to save the nation from itself at the moment. Can anyone persuade these people (or others) to undertake this epic work which will not only help revive Islam and humanity but also ensure that the world will remember them forever? Destiny is knocking at your doors, ladies and gentlemen!

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor

Published in Daily Times, January 27th 2019.

Early Muslim History needs fresh appraisal–XV

M Aamer Sarfraz

The Muslim fall from grace is a surprise and a tragedy because they are recipient of a living book, which guarantees success and splendour. The Quran promises them safety (6:82), reverence (63:8), sovereignty (30:47; 3:139), triumph over adversaries (4:141), and leadership (48:28; 14:27). But their fortunes have been in decline for centuries, and they are caught in a vicious trap of disintegration with no sign of escape. Not only are the other nations ahead, the majority of Muslim countries are also suffering from economic, armed-conflict or governance related crises.

We believe, with evidence, that the Quran is never mistaken, and His promises are always fulfilled. Therefore, flaws in our character (and their causes) need accepting and addressing, which could reverse our fortunes. Muslim decline has inherent internal and external causes. External causes are mostly related to martial setbacks followed by subjugation; and internal causes encompass schisms related to early Muslim history. I have examined the latter along with reasons in detail earlier; they essentially give rise to external causes of decline as well.

The Quran mentions that everything in this Universe follows the laws of nature (16:49) and this system developed by Him is faultless (67:3). He has given a similar system (Deen) to the human beings through revelation; following which leads to success and progress, while its defiance spells decline and disaster. The most recent version of that system is the Quran, which guarantees influence and glory for those who follow it (35:10). However, the progress is communal, and the scheme often unfolds slowly (30:4-5; 32:5) by human standards. Lofty ideals (revelation) combined with righteous character (revolution) can certainly increase the speed of this progress; and this is what was achieved in the State of Medina.

A ‘fatalistic Islam’was subsequently invented, which manufactured innovations that have nothing to do with the Quran. These include: bizarre concepts (regarding Hijab, Halal, polygamy, Satan, Jinns, Angels, Houres), Shab-e-Barat, distinction between Huququllah (the rights of Allah) and Huququl’Ibad (the rights of humans), Child marriage, Imam Zaamin, excluding non-Muslims from core Islamic values and places (Salaam, Hajj, Holy cities, sometimes mosques), Munnats and sacrificesto seduce God or Saints, limiting Heaven and Hell to life after death, prayers for rain and the dead, Istakhara, Jiziah, prohibiting art and music, and terrorism in the name of Jihad, etc

Prophet Muhammad said that he was a human being like others (but receives revelation); and people are not supposed to revert if he passed away (3:143). It means that Islam was always here to stay through those who follow (12:108) by “Doing good, and preventing evil” (7:156) individually and as a community (7:156; 3:107-8). However, Muslim conquests spread much faster than anticipated; and by the time of Hazrat Umar, two hundred thousand squares miles were being administered. Conversions to Islam also took place at an exponential rate, and mostly without the relevant education and guidance. Hazrat Umar was sensitive to these gaps, and planned remedial action, including sending over hundred thousand copies of the Quran to the newly occupied lands. This plan could not be followed through due to his sudden death; and multi-pronged conspiracies (already discussed) assumed a stranglehold with the passage of time.

A ‘fatalistic Islam’ was subsequently invented, which manufactured innovations that have nothing to do with the Quran. These include: bizarre concepts (regarding Hijab, Halal, polygamy, Satan, Jinns, Angels, Houres), Shab-e-Barat, distinction between Huququllah (the rights of Allah) and Huquq ul Ibad (the rights of humans), Child marriage, Imam Zaamin, excluding non-Muslims from core Islamic values and places (Salaam, Hajj, Holy cities, sometimes mosques), Mannats and sacrifices to seduce God or Saints, limiting Heaven and Hell to life after death, prayers for rain and the dead, Istikhara, Jizya, prohibiting art and music, and terrorism in the name of Jihad, etc.

One could argue that even if education/training as part of conversion to Islam was not available, why did the human mind not accept a splendid programme on its own? I have already explained how human progress is usually slow because we evolve through ‘trial and error’ unless it is combined with a cognitive revolution facilitated through revelation in a conducive environment. The Quran had brought a message much sophisticated than the abstract, academic, cognitive and social conditions of its time which normally takes centuries to absorb and implement. This begs another question as to why expose human mind to an urgent revolution requiring a colossal ideological change? The answer lies in the accomplishments which created a model (signs) for the human race to follow when they are prepared (41:53). The epitomes established include: universal brotherhood, unconditional justice, fair distribution of wealth, equality of race and gender, abolition of slavery, a consultative council to support government affairs, etc.  in a primitive society within a short period of time.

As verified by Robert Briffault (1919), Islam in Muslim Spain (though the Quran) paved the way for the Renaissance (1300–1600 CE), the French Revolution (1779-1789 CE), and the American Constitution (1787 CE), etc. Our fundamental fault is the assumption that Islam and Muslims are the same entities! We also presume from the Muslim decline that Islam has run out of steam. Islam actually arrived in the world with the first human being, and whosoever adopted its permanent values(irrespective of time, place, race and ‘religion’), has progressed. These values when adopted by the Arabs over fourteen centuries ago under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad, achieved remarkable success. For the former As long as the Muslims followed those values (Quran), they prospered (14:27), but they have deteriorated since abandoning them. Islam, therefore, has never declined;it marches on, and evolves around belief system or hit-and-trial, through those who follow (Momineen) knowingly or unknowingly.  (to be continued).

Published in Daily Times, January 7th 2019.

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Vising Professor

Early Muslim History needs fresh appraisal—XIV

The beauty of Islam is that it is simple to observe and close to commonsense. The current version of Muslim history cannot be accepted as truthful if it departs from the Quran.

M Aamer Sarfraz

I have exhibited with two examples how early Muslim history, that has reached us via Ahadith and Imam al-Tibri, is chiefly responsible for breaking the spirit of Islam and causing schisms among Muslims. I am not the first person to highlight the aetiology of this Phantom Islam we suffer from; even the non-Muslims like the historian Dr Gibbs, have recognised this.

The Quran is an absolute reality. It gave birth (read re-birth) to Islam, set the Muslims on the path of glory, and has sustained them despite their betrayal. It is a dire necessity that they get back to the basics (Quran) urgently, and abandon anything which conflicts with the Quran. The current version of Muslim history cannot be accepted as truthful if it departs from the Quran (and where alterative versions are also available). This view must prevail, no matter how great an Imam had written that history or narrated those Ahadith. The Quran is here to stay, and be followed.

The Quran has always been there to rescue Muslims and the mankind. It proposes a simple Deen (way of life)called Islam which is the same as was revealed to the other Prophets. The Quran lays down broad and practical principles of peaceful and prosperous existence as a community. These principles are permanent yet so flexible that they are appropriate for all times to come. If they ever seem out-dated or impractical, it means our understanding or interpretation is incorrect. Halal, Hijab and Polygamy are prime examples of how Muslims are stuck by getting them wrong.

All prayers in Islam are communal and have a purpose to them, as prescribed by the Quran. Muslims have abandoned the spirit of Islam; but their fixation with the rituals and their intricate details has crossed all limits. It is interesting to note that our five-times-a-day Namazis very similar to that which is offered (Bandagi) by the Zoroastrians.

But similar to Judaism, we have made-up so many features just to make Islam complicated. For example, the observance of Shab-e-Barat

Like Zakat, Hajj is also a part of the Salat system of Deen given in the Quran. It has nothing to do with the current ritual where thousands upon thousands turn up in Mecca annually to be forgiven for their sins. It was supposed to be a general assembly of Muslims (and willing non-Muslims) arriving from all corners of the world. The Quran does not stipulate sacrifice for those who are not present on the occasion. Current tradition of sacrifice among non-Hajji Muslims and the associated Eid-ul-Adha are not supported by the Quran.

The beauty of Islam is that it is simple to observe and close to commonsense. The Quran repeatedly advises Muslims not to make life difficult for themselves and others. But similar to Judaism, we have made-up so many features just to make Islam complicated. For example, the observance of Shab-e-Barat. This is a night when the balance-sheet of past year’s sins-rewards is presented somewhere, and fortunes for the next year are decided.We are supposed to pray hard and shed tears to be forgiven for the past and be rewarded next year. This is a great legend with an optimistic outcome, but has nothing to do with the Quran and Islam. (to be continued)

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist &Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfraz

Published in Daily Times, January 2nd 2019

Early Muslim history needs fresh appraisal—XIII

The ‘most reliable’ collection of Ahadith by al-Bokhari was written after 250 years; and the mother of all Islamic histories by al-Tabri was written after 300 years of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) death

M Aamer Sarfraz

I have demonstrated how Ahadith have contributed to serious discords and brought Muslims in direct conflict with the Quran. The contribution of early Muslim history in this regard needs further examination.

While there is external and internal evidence that every word of the Quran was safely transmitted, and is preserved, early Muslim history, based on Ahadith or otherwise, has no such credibility because neither God nor Prophet Muhammad (SAW) – or his companions- took responsibility for its writing or safeguarding. The ‘most reliable’ collection of Ahadith by al-Bokhari was written after 250 years; and the mother of all Islamic histories by al-Tabri was written after 300 years of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) death. Both works were based on oral reports from writers’ contemporaries, without any written evidence or reference.

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) established the State of Medina on the principles of Deen laid down in the Quran. Since this Deen was to remain after him, he prepared a community (Ummah) of Muslims led by his close companions. The Quran is categorical that every child (human being) is respectable (17:70) irrespective of their kinship, colour, creed, and socio-economic status. And his or her level of reverence would be determined by their conduct in line with the Quranic values (49:13). Beyond that, their status is based on their talent, knowledge and skills (46:19). This community was chosen to be the recipient of Quranic message, and He certified, “Those who believed, emigrated and struggled (did jihad); and those who helped them and gave refuge — are real Momins and worthy of deference and honour (35:32; 8:73).

The Quran is superfluous in praising the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) — they were endowed with invaluable affection for one another (8:64), and are the ones with all-embracing merits and have triumphed (9:88). Surah al-Fatah elaborates how these companions were most kind to each other, and resolute and strong towards their enemies. They were forever striving in the way of the Deen with humility, with determination etched on their faces. And that God is on their side against disbelievers, and promises great rewards for them.

The above leaves us in no doubt about how highly the Quran regards the companions of Prophet Muhammad. Let us examine what early Muslim history, derived from al-Tabri and Ahadith, offers on this subject.

It presents a confusing, contradictory and embarrassing portrayal of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It includes the Quranic view, but dramatizes and highlights negative details of the personalities and events too much, and clouds Qur’anic perception. Our history presents the majority of the close companions as ambitious, intolerant, and conspiring charlatans. A critical narrative is actually built around the events which surround Prophet’s (SAW) death.

Al-Tabri and Ahadith inform us that some companions of the Prophet: rejected his appointed successor (Hazrat Ali RA), did not let him write his will, ignored his burial to engage in power struggle, engrossed in abuse (scuffles, beatings, pulling each other’s beards, drawing swords) to trick others to agree on Hazrat Abu Bakar’s Khilafat because Quraysh merit the right to lead, reverted to pre-Islamic beliefs, caused physical harm and threatened to burn down Hazrat Fatima’s house, wrongly denied the inheritance of Bagh-e-Fidak to Hazrat Fatima, introduced unlawful innovations in Islam, etc. We are also ‘reliably’ informed by these sources that: Hazrat Ali RA claimed Khilafat on the basis of kinship, did not make a bid for it fearing rejection and never getting a second chance, Hazrat Fatima tried but failed to get support for Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Fatima rejected the succession of the Prophet, died discontented, and asked to be buried secretly, Hazrat Ali tactically accepted Hazrat Abu Bakar’s Khilafat later despite swearing not to do it earlier, etc.

The Quran is categorical that every child (human being) is respectable (17:70) irrespective of their kinship, colour, creed, and socio-economic status. And his or her level of reverence would be determined by their conduct in line with the Quranic values (49:13). Beyond that, their status is based on their talent, knowledge and skills (46:19)

We can surmise from the above that the picture of the companions of the Prophet (SAW) painted by our history is completely different from the Quran. We can therefore decide justifiably that we should reject such a history because the Quran is more reliable. However, it is not that simple because most of the above-mentioned history is derived from a collection of Ahadith by al-Bokhari. Leading religious leaders believe that this is as important as the Quran, and a significant number actually regard Ahadith over the Quran. They latter go as far as abrogating those verses of the Quran which are in conflict with the Ahadith. If you hold the alternative, apparently more sensible, view that Ahadith (or Islamic history) which contradict the Quran should be rejected; you are likely to be declared a non-believer and worthy of a death sentence.

The entirely irrational and unIslamic conundrum of Ahadith-above-Quran has put both leading scholars and general Muslims in a lethal straitjacket. This has made them take ridiculous academic and everyday positions over the years. For example, Maududi misused this paradigm on more than one occasion. During the heated debate, which split Jamaat-e-Islami split in the 1960s, he used the example of ‘leadership from the Quraysh’ to justify his own claim. He had actually gone further (1958) to write that lying is permissible in Islam for practical purposes (obviously relying on Ahadith which mention occasions where the Prophets, including Muhammad (SAW), is supposed to have, God forbid, lied).  (To be continued)

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist & Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfarz

Published in Daily Times, December 30th 2018.

Early history of Muslims needs fresh appraisal—XII

When the Quran was revealed, several religions were in vogue

M Aamer Sarfraz

“Making of Humanity” by Robert Briffault (1876-1948) is described as a part of the knowledge-base of human civilization. Briffault writes, “The ideas that inspired the French Revolution and the Declaration of Rights that guided the Framing of the American Constitution and inflamed the struggle for independence in the Latin American countries [and elsewhere] were not inventions of the West. They find their ultimate inspiration and source in the Holy Koran”.

The Quran states that humanity started as a brotherhood of man until they started fighting among themselves (10:19). From thereon, they divided and subdivided into casts, tribes, nations and different religions. God sent his Prophets with a code of life from time to time to remove their differences and bring them back into the fold of brotherhood (2:213). My principal issue with the current version of early Muslim history is that it brings Muslims in direct conflict with the Quran. Let me give you an example to drive this point home.

One of the foremost conventions of the Quran is Unity (brotherhood of man). Therefore, it proclaims “Hold on to this rope of Allah (Quran) steadfastly, and do not split yourself into factions” (3:103). The Quran is a code for fulfilling and successful existence for all mankind for all times; and this code is everlasting (2:256), detailed (6:114), consistent (10:64) and complete (6:115; 10:57). The plural expression in this verse underlines that a religion is not about an individual relationship with God; it is about being part of one community. And “Do not divide” is a divine command, which does notofferchoice. Elsewhere in the Quran (42:13), it is also revealed that the message in this verse is not new; it has been given earlier to other Prophets including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

The Quran is revealed by one God and promulgates one Deen (way of life). But the followers of the Deen compete with each other subsequently and create factions (religions) due to jealously and inflated egos (42:14). This practiceis based on emotions and the lust for power; evidenceis created later to support or oppose the relevant faction. When the Quran was revealed, several religions were in vogue. It clearly propositioned that Islam is here to remove confusion and schisms, and to mould individuals into a community (Ummah). And that this development would be insightful and by choice, otherwise, He could create all human beings as those animals who exist in herds and follow the herd mentality.

Initiating schisms in a community is a crime against humanity. When Moses went away for a while leaving Aaron in charge, he found Israelites worshipping a ram on his return. He was furious with Aaron for letting them do it until he informed him that the alternative would have been a breakdown of the community into factions (hence he looked the other way). God also chose to forgive them subsequently, but they were humiliated and ruined (3:111) once they divided themselves into different blocs and factions (7:168) later one.

The Quran repeatedly spells disaster for those who instigate and sustain schisms. In contrast, it promises eternal rewards for those who follow the code (3:107). It also warns Muslims to stop worshipping Idols, and one wonders why the believers would do that. It explains that creating factions is akin to idol-worship. It advised Prophet Muhammad to stay away from those who create factions (6:159). Unsurprisingly, the Prophet destroyed Masjid Zarrar which was built by some Muslims (covert secessionists) in the name of local convenience. The Quran called the construction of this mosque a great conspiracy against Allah and His Prophet and pledged hell for the perpetrators.

“Discord in my Ummah is beneficial (Rahmah)”. One could dispute that something so illogical and against the Quran cannot be attributed to Prophet Muhammad. But you would be risking personal safety and being declared an apostate by the leaders of different religious factions

Since Muslims are categorically instructed to follow the Quran and stay united (no factions, and even separate mosques are allowed), you may question why we have Islamic sects, factions and firqasthrough out the world? The plain answer is — due to our Ahadith and the early Muslim history.

It was started with ahadith, “Discord in my Ummah is beneficial (Rahmah)”. One could dispute that something so illogical and against the Quran cannot be attributed to Prophet Muhammad. But you would be risking personal safety and being declared an apostate by the leaders of different religious factions. They would also “defend”their position without realising their own strong bias and conflict of interest on the issue. However, they cannot answer why they hate Ahmadis who have only created another self-proclaimed firqa/sect? In line with their beliefs, they should actually be congratulating Ahmadis for being so beneficial to the Muslim community.

The above hadith has been a historical defence for having schisms/firqas in Islam. But there was a problem because it gave every sect the liberty to call itself original/true/right. So, another hadith was invented, “My Ummah would have seventy-three sects, but only one of them is true/right.” This solved the problem because for over one thousand years, each sect has the license to call itself genuine and others fake. They do not care that this ‘solution’ has created permanent discord among the Muslims; leading to endless disharmony, bloodshed, loss of wealth and lack of progress.

(To be continued)

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfraz

Published in Daily Times, December 24th 2018.

Early history of Muslims needs fresh appraisal—XI

We keep going in circles because insanity is about repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

M Aamer Sarfraz

Muslims have embraced religious dogma instituted by some Imams and broadly determined by the early Muslim history for centuries. Leading names like al-Ghazali, Ibne Tamiah, and even Maududiand Khomeini tried unsuccessfully to tweak this religious outlook, from within the system, by capturing whatever space for manoeuvring was available. They were applauded for it during their lifetime (and beyond, to some extent) for finding the middle-ground. Is this just a coincidence then, that despite their formidable efforts, Muslims fortunes (scholarship, moral, social, financial) have steadily declined?

It is now established that Muslim decline has been proportional to the religious outlook of Muslim civilization over time. Nations actually rise and fall on the strength and profundity of their ideology. Muslims achieved glory when they believed in, and carried the simple and rational message of the Quran. I have explained in detail how they drifted away from the Quran through conspiracies hatched by their enemies but mostly due to their own foolhardiness. Muslims kept following those who were already lost; despite alternative narratives being presented to them by valiant intellectuals at the cost of their social status and personal safety.

We keep going in circles because insanity is about repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

Among those who tried to buck this decline in modern times, Mohamad Abduh (1849-1905 CE) dominates. He was a student of Jamal al-Din Afghani at the al-Azhar University. He combined modern knowledge with theology, and advocated reforming all aspects of Egyptian society through education. He suffered exile due to his views and lived in the West. He returned to Egypt later and was appointed a judge. He said during this time, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam”.  He gave innovative judgements, e.g., the allowance to consume meat slaughtered by non-Muslims and the acceptance of bank-loan interest. He was appointed a Grand Mufti in 1899. He advocated that instead of relying on the interpretations of Quranic texts by medieval clerics, Muslims should employ reason for their reinterpretation. He promoted religious harmony, and equal rights for women; and was against polygamy. Following his death, the next Grand Mufti reversed all his reforms.

Husain Nasution (1919-1998) came with the next wave. He hailed from Indonesia. He had received traditional and modern education by spending most of his early life outside the country studying in Mecca, Egypt and in Canada. He did his PhD in the theology of Muhammad Abduh from McGill University. He was one of those who first suggested that the scientific and economic decline of the Muslim world was partly due to its embrace of the Ash’ari school of theology, which he regarded as fatalistic. He is less known outside his country but influenced fellow academics including Nurcholish Madjid. He has also inspired other rationalist thinkers such as Mohammed Arkoun and Abu Zayd.

Our own, Fazlur Rahman Malik (1919-1988) was a renowned scholar. He hailed from Hazara and studied at Punjab and Oxford Universities. He taught in Canada and the UK before coming to Pakistan at President Ayub Khan’s request to head the Central Institute of Islamic Research to help implement Islam into the daily lives of the nation

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (1943-2010) was an Egyptian academic who challenged the mainstream religious views. He had received traditional and modern education ending in a PhD from the Cairo University. Zayd argued that the Quran needs to be understood and interpreted in the context of the language and culture of seventh century Arabia. He also criticized the use of religion for political power. In 1995, an Egyptian Sharia court declared him an apostate because he had questioned the prevalent notions of Jinns, slave girls, and Jizyiah. Threats of death were made against him and his marriage was declared annulled; which made him flee the country. He spent the rest of his life teaching and writing in Europe.  He returned to Egypt quietly before his death and was buried at his birthplace.

Our own, Fazlur Rahman Malik (1919-1988) was a renowned scholar. He hailed from Hazara and studied at Punjab and Oxford Universities. He taught in Canada and the UK before coming to Pakistan at President Ayub Khan’s request to head the Central Institute of Islamic Research to help implement Islam into the daily lives of the nation. After Ayub Khan’s power declined, mullahs disputed his interpretations, denounced him as an apostate, and called for his death. He left in 1968, and wrote several books while teaching in the US for the rest of his life. Rahman linked Islamic revival to the return of intellectual freedom of the Islamic scholarly tradition. He criticised Muslim theologies for failing to create a balanced worldview in the light of the Quran, which requires perpetual interpretation. He unscrambled the issue of riba by citing Imam Malik that it must be understood in the context of pre-Islamic Arab money lending customs, and not be equated to modern banking.

Finally, Javed Ghamidi is a friend. He would agree that despite using rationality, he is not a ‘Rationalist’. His past is in Jamaat-e-Islami and he was mentored by Amin Ahsan Islahi. He has travelled in the right direction (Quran) over the last 30 years, but too slowly. He has adopted the same balancing act which Wali Ullah and Maududi attempted; which is essentially a continuation of the failed Ash’ari theology with some modern patchwork.

(To be continued)

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfraz

Published in Daily Times, December 17th 2018.

Early History of Islam needs fresh appraisal—X

Madani, Azad, Maududi and their posterity have the same vision of Islam with minor variations. This should not be surprising because they had received traditional madrassa-based education and associated upbringing

M Aamer Sarfraz

Allama Iqbal’s thesis was that the existence of clergy is an antithesis to Islam. Therefore, Abu A’la Maududi (current form=Sirajul Haq), Hussain Ahmed Madani (current form=Moulana Fazlur Rahman) and Shabbir Ahmed Usmani (Current form=Taqi Usmanior Khadim Hussain Rizvi) etc. are different faces of the same malevolence. Only two forms of Islam are acceptable to them: one in which they rule (theocracy) and the other in which they control the Muslim personal laws. Iqbal (and Jinnah) had a different vision in which peoples’ representatives govern and make the laws in line with Quranic guidelines with due regard to religious minorities — the State of Medina model. Fortunately, Jinnah and Iqbal won this battle against the mullahs; but unfortunately, the losers arrived here unashamedly and have held Pakistan to ransom since then.

Madani, Azad, Maududi and their posterity have the same vision of Islam with minor variations. This should not be surprising because they had received traditional madrassa-based education and associated upbringing. Maududi was more ‘enlightened’ for having no formal qualification, being related to Sir Syed and due to lateral influences (including that from his wife). All of them were practitioners of what I have earlier described as Ajami Islam after having studied the centuries old Dars-i-Nizami, a curriculum devised by Nizam Uddin As-Sihaalwi (16th century) based on its forerunners by al-Ghazali and al-Toosi. The syllabus offers redundant logic and philosophy along with the Ahadith etc. for learning but only a few Surahs of Quran are taught (in the light of Ahadith). No wonder these Ulema have a history of declaring trailblazing scientific inventions e.g. printing press, as haram, which kept the Muslims backward for centuries.

Allama Iqbal derives his vision of Islam directly from the Quran. Same is the case with Sir Syed, who is the true architect of Pakistan. Sir Syed not only rescued the Muslims from the wrath of the British after natives’ failed bid for independence in 1857, but also defended Islam against Orientalists and Christian missionaries active under Imperial protection. He also wrote a commentary of the Quran and demonstrated how the prevalent commentaries and translations were biased, and had no relation to the actual meanings of the Quran. After Abi Dawood’s Kitaab al Masahif, Sir Syed was perhaps the first scholar to highlight how traditional commentators including Shah Wali Ullah had distorted the Quran by avoiding the realities and reason. Due to his insightful efforts regarding understanding and reinterpretation of the Quranic text, he is often compared to St. Thomas Aquinas and his contribution to the Christian world.

Iqbal and Jinnah had great affection for the Aligarh University. Iqbal had close relations with several academics including Allama Aslam Jairajpuri who had taken early retirement, as Professor of Arabic Language and Islamic History, to head the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. At Iqbal’s request, he had agreed to compile an authentic dictionary of the Quran which corroborated with the character of the language in the poetry of the same era as well as the reliable Arabic Dictionaries. Iqbal protégé, Choudhry Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, had started working in Delhi in 1930-31 as a civil servant. He went to see Jairajpuri to discuss Quranic concepts and seek guidance on certain aspects of Arabic literature. Due to similar interests (Quran, Literature, Iqbal, Sir Syed, plight of Muslims), they became soul-mates soon and hardly spent a day without seeing each other if they were in Delhi. Jairajpuri was impressed with the 27-year-old Parwez’s keen interest in Quran and knowledge of the Arabic language and literature. He soon started referring queries regarding Quranic themes, from his students and visiting scholars, to Parwez.

Iqbal and Jinnah had a different vision in which peoples’ representatives govern and make the laws in line with Quranic guidelines with due regard to religious minorities — the State of Medina model. Fortunately, Jinnah and Iqbal won this battle against the mullahs; but unfortunately, the losers arrived here unashamed and have held Pakistan to ransom since then

The close association of Jairajpuri and Parwez continued until Parwez moved to Karachi in 1947. This included trips to see Allama Iqbal together in Lahore. During this time, Parwez also lived with Jairajpuri for six months in 1935 to hone his expertise in finer aspects of Arabic language. Along the way, both of them realised independently that the challenging labour for Quranic dictionary was perhaps too much for Jairajpuri due to his age and busy life. Therefore, Parwez took up this mission in addition to his day-job, and discrete work for Mr. Jinnah for Pakistan. The latter was to rebut the Nationalist and anti-Pakistan mullahs in the press while writing under a pseudonym (due to being a civil servant). This invaluable work has since been published and is an important source of reference for historians. Mr. Jinnah valued it so much that Parwez was one of only two such persons who were allowed to meet him without an appointment.

Allama Parwez singlehandedly carried on his missions (Quran and Pakistan) until he took his last breath in 1985. Jairajpuri was the happiest man when the first volume of Parwez’s Maariful-Quran was published in 1939. Quranic Dictionary (Lughatul-Quran) eventually came out in 1960; and meanings of the Quran (Mafhoomul Quran) was published in 1961. All his life, Parwez crossed swords with anybody, including his old friend Maududi, for the sake of the Quran and Pakistan, mostly at the risk of his own life, health, and property.

(to be continued)

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfraz

Published in Daily Times, December 11th 2018.

Early History of Islam needs fresh appraisal—IX

Jinnah, within days of Pakistan’s creation, asked Muhammad Asad to establish the Department of Islamic Reconstruction

M Aamer Sarfraz

Allama Iqbal had lost faith in the Ahmadia Jamaat a decade earlier due to its divisive nature and Imperialist designs, and Aligarh boys seemed too ‘worldly’ to undertake the tedious task of propagating the Quranic model of Islam. He lamented about his own lack of resources and the absence of generosity among affluent Muslims for this project. This was until Choudhry Niaz Ali, a retired civil servant and landlord, came to his rescue.

Niaz Ali offered hundred acres of land in Pathankot (India) and financial resources to build and run a Dar-ul-Islam according to Iqbal’s vision. Iqbal wrote to the Jaamia Al-Azhar immediately to provide a scholar-cum-administrator for this Institution. After receiving their apology, he approached Syed Suleiman Nadawi, among others, to spearhead this project. He declined due to old age but agreed to be a part of the faculty. He and Allama Jairajpuri recommended Chaudhry Ghulam Ahmed Parwez, an Iqbal protégé and a civil servant, for this role. Parwez, when asked, sought counsel from Mr Jinnah who refused to release him from his similar but discrete work for the Muslim League. Parwez, in turn, endorsed someone who visited him from Hyderabad (Deccan), and had penned impressive articles in leading journals about Islam.

Allama Iqbal wrote to the young man to come to Lahore to discuss the project. Iqbal had two meetings with him at Javed Manzil in 1938 to illustrate his own vision and assess his potential. Iqbal was not impressed…he thought that the clean-shaved man was regressive, and lacked religious academic depth and administrative experience. There was a discussion that he was ‘a mullah’ and more suited for Khitabat at the Badshahi Mosque. However, Niaz Ali and others prevailed because the project was already late and a faculty needed to be formed immently. Following Iqbal’s reluctant agreement, a formal announcement was made…Abul A’la Maududi had arrived.

Maududi made an impressive start at Dar-ul-Islam as he prepared a curriculum, published a Journal, and gathered an inspired faculty. Maududi’s task was to establishan academic and research centre to preparea community of competent scholars to produce works of outstanding quality on Islam. He instead went about making it a nerve centre of political ‘Islamic revival’ in India, through an ideal religious community, providing leaders and laying the foundation for a religious movement. He wrote to various Muslim luminaries and invited them to join him there. Leading scholars including Nadawi, Islahi, Farahi, Asad and others came on board. The community was composed of rukns (members), a shura(a consultative council), and a sadr (head).

Meanwhile, Allama Iqbal died after a bout of acute illness. Maududi was reportedly in Lahore but could not find time to attend his funeral. It soon became clear to Niaz Ali and colleagues that Maududi was more interested in politics than academics; and was being critical of Jinnah and Muslim League. Maududi was soon to declare the League to be ‘a party of pagans’ and of ‘nominal Muslims’ who wanted to create a secular country in the name of Pakistan. This led to parting of the ways, and Maududi took most of his faculty to Lahore and laid the foundations of Jamaat-e-Islami in 1941. Maududi’s fervent attacks on Pakistan could not stop the momentum that the League had gathered by 1946 and an independent Muslim state came into being.

Allama Iqbal had lost faith in the Ahmadia Jamaat a decade earlier due to its divisive nature and Imperialist designs, and Aligarh boys seemed too ‘worldly’ to undertake the tedious task of propagating the Quranic model of Islam. He lamented about his own lack of resources and the absence of generosity among affluent Muslims for this project

Maududi opted for Pakistan and commenced his mission of ‘Islamising’ it from day one. He has a significant following and his Islamic vision or journalism are the topic of a separate article. However, he remained sheepish about Iqbal and Jinnah all is life. Leading lights in his movement, including Amin Islahi, Dr Israr Ahmed and Irshad Haqqani left him after the Machigot meeting in the mid-sixties. They wanted him to focus on human beings as the Islamic agent of change as opposed to Maududi’s vision of trickle down Islam after getting into power. He had amalgamated organisational aspects of Leninism, Hegel’s dualism, Afghani’s Pan-Islamism into his political thesis, which appealed to movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and youth outfits like the Islami Jamiat-e-Taleba. The mujahedeen who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan and the Al-Qaida were also inspired by him. His brainchild, Jamaat-e-Islami, lies in tatters while Javed Ghamidi of the dissident faction is flying high today.

Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss)never joined Maududi as he supported the idea of a separate Muslim state in India. After the independence of Pakistan, Asad was conferred citizenship by Pakistan and become the first passport-holder. Jinnah, within days of Pakistan’s creation, asked him to establish the Department of Islamic Reconstruction (DIR) in Lahore to “help our community to reconstruct its life on Islamic lines.” The DIR was also asked to help draft Pakistan’s first Constitution. Some of Asad’s work at the DIR features in the Objectives Resolution. Soon after the death of Jinnah, Sir Zafarullah Khan got Asad transferred to the Foreign Ministry. Asad left Pakistan in dubious circumstances soon after and DIR was abolished not long afterwards. Most of the DIR’s record was destroyed in a mysterious fire in October 1948, only a month after Jinnah’s death.

To be continued

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist & Visiting Professor. He tweets @AamerSarfraz

Published in Daily Times, December 7th 2018.