Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Decrypting the Da Vinci Code from an Islamic perspective

By Mansur Ali

Deep in the darkest chambers of the Louvre museum, Dan Brown spins his magnum opus. A myriad of enigmas and cryptic codes, pagan symbolism and Masonic didactics, secret societies dedicated to the sacred feminine. From an array of Vatican conspiracy to gruesome corporal mortification. Da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Jacques Saunière, Opus Dei, fleur-de-lis and the dark arts. Dan Brown includes them all in a fascinating and riveting read which made it to the big screen and like a bush fire in strong winds spread to the four corners of the globe. The book has already been translated into Arabic called ‘Shafeer Da Vinci.’
Nevertheless, the most spine chilling part of the book is its shocking conclusion, that our beloved Prophet Sayyiduna Isa (as) left offspring behind him. However entertaining the book or movie might be, but from a religious point of view, both Christian and Muslim, such a sweeping and preposterous theory, even at the level of pure fiction and entertainment, is highly insulting and offensive and to even entertain the very thought of it is deemed blasphemous. Here we go again… a fundamentalist speaking, bent out to obliterate all forms of pleasure from the face of the globe. However, this is not the case. In Islam we have a very good understanding of recreation and entertainment as it includes a part of the right that our body has over us. Saying this, the line has to be drawn. Religion cannot be compromised just to make people laugh or give them entertainment. It is a moral and religious crime to make symbols and aspects of religion that are revered by people as objects of entertainment or satire.
Sayyiduna Isa (as) a distinguished Prophet of Allah lived a very ascetic life, a life of celibacy where he completely annihilated himself to the cause of Allah. He fought no military battles and all his wars were spiritual of nature. Allah raised him to himself in the heavens and just before the end of time he will come back to the earth to become the Imam of the Muslims. He will fulfil aspects of his life as a human being which he did not complete previously, i.e. get married and have children. He will lead the Muslims against the kuffar army and on his hand will the Dajjal breathe his last. His whole life is a miraculous one right from its inception. His astounding birth is one conundrum that professor Langdon or Tom Hanks cannot decipher. Peace be upon him the day he was born, the day he will die and the day he will be resurrected.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Education of the household

Delivered by Sister Maisha Kareem

I seek refuge in Allah from the rejected Shaitan. In the name of Allah the most Merciful most Kind. All praises are due to Allah the lord of the universe, the most Merciful most Kind. Master of the day of judgement. You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help. Guide us along the straight path. The path of those whom You have favoured and not the path of those who earned your anger and went astray. Ameen

Allah says in the Quran: O mankind protect yourself and your family from a fire whose fuel is mankind and stones. (sura Tahrim: 6). In this ayat Allah is telling us that it is not only enough to safeguard ones own imaan, rather the leading figure of the house will also be asked about the imaan of the household. This should be enough incentive for us to look at the religious needs of our loved ones. How we can provide the right form of education for our children and nurture them in the manner which will please our lord Allah? In the hadith the prophet ( peace be upon him says) that only 3 actions will benefit a person after he dies (1) an ongoing sadaqa, (2) knowledge that he has left behind, (3) and pious children who will pray for him.

The 3rd point of the hadith is concerning pious children. You can only expect to have pious children if you bring them up right by giving them the proper education. If you have not given them the right Islamic education then don’t expect them to pray for you. So in this hadith indirectly the Prophet peace be upon him is telling the parents that it is in your interest to give your children a good Islamic education.

Below are some instrumental forms of education taken from the teachings of our liege-lord Muhammad may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

1) Education through establishing habits. This can be done when only two factors are observed. Through (a) virtuous Islamic knowledge and (b) righteous environment

Example of virtuous Islamic knowledge
The Prophet peace be upon him says “a father has not given his child anything better than teaching him politeness. (Tirmidhi)

Example of righteous environment
The Prophet Peace be upon him said “Every child is born on the fitra (innate intrinsic nature), there his parents make him into a Christian a Jew or a Zoroastrian (fire-worshipper). (Bukhari)

In this hadith the Prophet is trying to allude to the fact that in order to give the children a good Islamic education, first and foremost the Parents need to sort them selves out because everything the parents do or say has a direct influence on the child. Here again it should be reminded that giving the children good Islamic education is in the interest of the parents. How? First of all, the parents would need to rectify themselves and secondly good children will pray for them after their death.

Another Example of righteous environment: See what type of friends the child has.
In the hadith the prophet peace be upon him says, the example of a good friend is like the example of an ‘attaar (a person who sells perfume) even though he does not use any perfume but he still will be perfumed by just staying there. And the example of a bad friend is that of a blacksmith, even if he does not do anything some of the bad odour will come unto him. (Bukhari)

One rotten apple spoils all the apples.

2) Education through admonition

(a) Rather than punishing the child, it is better to point out his mistakes in ways it will not hurt his ego or feelings, through advices and exhortation.

Example 1. Through using sympathy and love. As in the case of Luqman (as) who made his son understand by using a very sweet and loving tone (yaa bunayya) O my small child. Allah says in the Quran in narrating Luqman’s story “And as Luqman said to his son whilst admonishing him, O my son, do not associate others with Allah. Surely associating others with Allah is indeed a grave injustice. (Sura Luqman: verse 13)

(b) When they do something wrong to teach them by telling them a story from the Quran and Hadith, such as if the child is jealous then the story of sayyiduna Yusuf (alayhis salaam) and his brothers can be mentioned and the consequence of jealousy.

(c) To teach them by correcting the mistake by acting it out by yourself. The Prophet peace be upon him once led the prayer whilst on the mimbar so that others can see him praying and learn by watching. (Bukhari)

(d) Admonition through seizing the chance. Once the Sahaba backbited about a person, the Prophet did not say anything to them, but then they passed by a dead donkey and he said back biting is worse than eating the flesh of this carcass.

3) Education through observation

It is very necessary for parents to observe the belief, psychological and moral formulation of the child. As mentioned in the ayat: O mankind protect yourself and your family from a fire whose fuel is mankind and stones. (sura Tahrim: 6). How can it be possible to save your family from the fire of hell if you do not observe them.

This is why the Prophet said in a hadith: every one of you is a Shepard and everyone will be asked about his flock, the women is guardian over her husband’s house and responsible for her subjects, the man over his wife and the person over his own self. (bukhari)

Where the role of the father is instrumental and he is the bread winner, we find in this hadith the mother has a responsibility as well and that is to be responsible over her husband’s affairs including a good moral upbringing of the children. As the cliché says the first social institute towards building a harmonious society is the family which is the corner stone of society and the mothers lap is the first school.

The prophet taught few sahaba’s through observation. Umar ibn abi salama says: I was a boy in the lap of the Prophet and my hand used to move around everywhere in the dish whilst eating food, so the Prophet said, “O child mention Allah’s name eat with your right hand and eat from the nearest place to you. (Bukhari, Muslim) This is a prime example of education through observation.

Wa sallallahu ala ashrifil anbiya wal mursalin, wa ala aalihi wa ashabihi ajma’in wa man tabi’ahum ila yawmiddin

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Question from fiqh salat session 1


Q1. It says that women should not have a gap between their feet. But this causes loss of balance. What are we supposed to do? (I have been told that a little gap may be kept).

A1. There is nothing wrong with keeping a little gap

Q2. Whats tasmiya? (Women’s prayer, point 8, pg7)

A2. Tasmiya is another name for bismillah

Q3. Is it sinful to talk/do worldly things whilst the azaan is being narrated?

A3. It definitely is makruh to talk during azan. There is a difference of opinion concerning if it is wajib or not to listen and respond to the azan. It is mandub to stop doing all actions during azan time. This is obviously when stopping these actions does not inconvenient others or brings you some kind of loss.

Q4. Sometimes in eid prayer, there are two jamats, is this not makruh?

A4. It is not makruh to have more than one eid jamat. It is makruh only for normal salat in the mosque where the jamat has already taken place. This is the hanafi position.

Q5. Is it a bid’ah to kiss the quran after you’ve finished reciting it? Is it a bid’ah to kiss the prayer mat after completion of the prayer?

A5. These actions are not endorsed by the quran and sunna therefore if they are done out of love, they should not be done with the intention of a valid ibaada. Making them into an ibada will relegate them to the position of a bid’ah. Allah knows best

Q6. When you are unsure of whether you have made a mistake or not, should you do sajada sahw?

A6. If this happens very rarely then you should start the prayer again, if this happens frequently then you should do sajda sahw

Q7. You said about eating whilst in the state of hunger before salat, but what if you haven’t got much time left for salat?

A7. Its not haram to pray in the state of hunger. What I mean by hunger is that your body starts shaking due to intense hunger. In any case if the time is short then you can pray before eating.

Q8. If you are on a long train journey and time for prayer is running out but space is very limited – how do you pray?

A8. You can pray in your seat, it is better to be facing the ka’ba when you start the prayer.

Q9. What is the difference between nafal and halki nafal?

A9. Halki nafal (salat khafifa) are a set of nafals which carry additional merit and are normally shorter than other nafals.

Q10. If weetr is your last prayer then why pray halky nafal?

A10. You should make witr the last prayer, however praying the short nafals carry extra merits therefore they should also be prayed.

Q11. How much time should you leave between tahajjud prayer and your fajar prayer?

A11. One sixth of the night. If you were to make the night into six parts from isha till fajar. The first half will be for sleeping, the next third for tahajjud and the remaining sixth will be for going back to sleep before waking up for fajar.

Q12. Salatul witr. Point 5 Musthab to send salutation on the Prophet (saw), how do you send salutation on the prophet (saw) or is it included in the dua?

A12. After the dua of qunut salutation should normally be said like what we read after the tashhud in the last sitting of any prayer.

Q13. Can women do ikamah?

A13. Only amongst women, however it is better not to.

Q14. Is it qada to read isha salah after midnite? Is it makruh tanzihi or makruh tahrimi?

A14. It does not become qada after midnight. You can pray isha anytime before fajar however it is mustahab to pray it before one third of the night ends, after that it is makruh tanzihi.

Q15. Does the dua need to be in Arabic? Will it affect the response?

A15. In the prayer itself such as in ruku or sujud, it has to be in Arabic or the prayer will break. As far as outside of prayer is concerned then it can be said in any language, it will not affect the response for the response depends on your sincerity and not language and rhetoric.

Q16. If verbal intention is said before namaz but the wrong thing is said e.g. instead of isha you say maghrib, but go to takbir then realise the mistake, should you break the salat and start again or continue?

A16. You should not break the prayer as the verbal intention is not fard or wajib, as long as you know in your heart what you are praying its ok.

Q17. If the azan for asr has been called in a mosque, can you pray dhur in the mosque afterwards (due to difference of times between hanafi and shafir etc?

A17. Yes you can.

Q18. For sajda tilaawat is there a time limit for reciting the ayah to making the sajdah?
A18. If the sajda ayat has been prayed in the prayer it has to be immediately done however outside of prayer there is not time limit.

Q19. Sometimes in prayer, my sleeves move up and some of my wrist is exposed. What should I do in this situation? (note: this is a female case)

A19. You should take it down immediately; your prayer will be ok.

Q20. Is it sinful to pray namaz in the opposite direction?

A20. If it is done purposely, then yes it is sinful and you will need to do qada of your prayer, if it is done by mistake then inshallah there will be no reproach.

Q21. On a journey, are we allowed to read namaz sitting down?

A21. If you are not able to stand up for example in a train then you may do so sitting down

Q22. ‘Prevention before cure’ When someone ignorant sees us doing ‘eye thing’ they will think that it is part of ibaada so shouldn’t we be avoiding it even if your intention is pure?

A22. Very good point, yes it should be avoided in public as not to confuse the people, a better way of doing it is to educate people, however that will take a long time. Thank you for the valuable suggestion.

Note: all questions relating to female congregation prayer has not been answered as we will deal with them in depth in the next fiqh session.

And Allah knows best.

Aswers for tahara and usul al-fiqh test paper

Please see below for test paper: http://mansys.blogspot.com/2006/04/tahara-and-usul-al-fiqh-test.html

1. D
2. B
3. B
4. A
5. C

7. There are seven legal rulings in Hanafi fiqh, they are Fard, Wajib, Mandub, Mubah, Makruh Tanzihi, Makruh Tahrimi and Haram.
They differ from the rest of the schools of fiqh in the sense that the rest of the schools don’t have more than five legal rulings, they don’t have Wajib and Makruh Tahrimi.

9. Maa Mutlaq is water which is pure and can be used to purify.
Maa Mustamal is water which is pure but has lost the quality of purifying
They are both similar in the sense that both of them are pure, different in the sense that the former can be used for purifying whilst the latter can’t
Maa Najis is polluted water. It is the complete opposite of Maa Mutalaq and has nothing in common. It is similar to Maa Mustamal in the sense that both of them cannot be used for purification purposes. It is different in the sense that Maa Mustamal is pure and clean whilst this one is not.

10. Adab of Wudu

To sit in a high place
To face the qibla
To do the wudu independently without anyone’s help

11. In the state of major pollution you cannot

a. Read the Quran
b. Touch the Quran
c. Do Tawaf of the Kaba
d. Go into the Masjid without a valid reason
e. Pray Salaat

12. Sleep in its self is not a canceller of Wudu. Wudu breaks only if you lose control over your mind and body. This happens in the state of deep sleep. However if the sleep is light, then it does not break the wudu as long as the person is not lying down.

13. Tayammum can be practiced:
a. In the absence of water,
b. Or if someone is not able to use water because of illness.

14. 3 Days

15. Ghusl is Mandub:

c. For the one who has just majored (baligh)
d. After washing a corpse

16. Hamada cannot do tayammum because he is the wali (next of kin). He has the full right to make everyone repeat the janaza prayer if they have started without his permission, therefore the question of Hamada missing the janaza prayer does not even raise.

17. Seven days will be counted as hayd and seven days will be irregular bleeding. In the days of irregular bleeding she will have to do the wudu for every prayer time.

18. They will respond to Nizar by saying that every form of ibadat is haram unless the contrary is proven. Since this form of ibadaat cannot be proven to be a valid worship therefore it is haraam.

19. Nadia will be able to eat chocolate because everything in halal until proven to be haram. There is no mention of chocolates in the quran and sunna therefore it will be halal providing the ingredients are hala.

20. Hisham’s wudu will be broken because Hisham is sure that he entered the bathroom. Since normally people relieve themselves in the bathroom on this basis Hisham’s wudu will be broken.

21. Hiba is not obliged to do the full wudu again because she is still in the state of wudu

22. Nurhan and her friends can drink out of these glasses provided the glasses are washed properly. This is because impurity does not permeate into impermeable objects.

23. Shayma can teach, according to the opinion of Imam Tahawi, by breaking up the ayats into little portions. In this way it does not come under the category of qiraat. She is allowed to read all other types of Islamic literature being careful that at the same time she does not touch the verses of the quran if they do come in these books.

24. Shahrur’s wudu will be broken because letting out wind was not a problem for him.

25. Hanadi is allowed to take a bath in the pond providing the pond is big and he bathes away form the place where the najasat is.

Extension paper

1. Hamdi should start his prayer again, he does not need to do wudu again

2. Ibtisaam can do wudu with the same water again, because the condition for the water to become used is that she is using it with the intention of worship.

3. Naguib will not be branded as a kafir because sexual intercourse with ones wife during her menses is not haram because of a primary prohibition but because of a secondary prohibition i.e. menstruation.

4. The water that emanated from the fingers of the Prophet is the most blessed, even more than zamzam.

5. Zaid should pray when he finds water of soil and not before that

Monday, May 08, 2006

Questions from fiqh al-tahara lessons

Q.1. If I have normal menstruation for 10 days, but one I get it for 9 days, do I pray on the 10th day

A.1. The Ulama have written that in this situation the woman should pray on the 10th day in case she has really come out of her menstruation. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Q.2. what if you have an illness of clear discharge all the time, would you have to 2 perform a new wudu each time?

A.2. If the illness is such that it comes under the category of the excused then wudu should be done only once for every prayer time.
If the illness is not that serious then wudu should be done each time the discharge leaves the body.
Condition for qualifying to be from the excused: If discharge continues for one full salat time (the whole time and not the time that it takes to pray only), in the sense that after doing a fresh wudu you can’t stay five minutes but the wudu breaks again. To remain an excused the illness should be found once in every salat time hereafter.

Q.3. A woman has irregular bleeding, e.g. 2 months. When her regular cycle is 10 days, when should she resume to read her prayers.

A.3. The answer to this question in its simplest form is that the woman will observe the first 10 days as menstruation, the next 15 days will be counted as istihaada (irregular vaginal bleeding) and the next 10 days will be counted as menstruation. (Every 15 days between two bleeding will be counted as istihaada period.)

Q.4. When I first started, regular days of menstruation was 5 days. Then, due to some problem my menstruation became irregular. Then it became regular again for a couple of months, then irregular again. What should she do? What is her average?

A.4. The question is a bit vague. If the menstruation started with 5 days and then became irregular. Then there are two possibilities. If the irregular bleeding did not exceed 10 days then the extra days will also be counted as hayd. E.g. if the menstruation started with 5 days but then extended to 9 days, then all 9 days will be counted as hayd.
If the irregular bleeding exceeded 10 days then from the 6th day onwards everything will be counted as istihaada. E.g. if the menstruation started with 5 days and extended to 14 days then the extra 9 days will be counted as istihaada.

Q.5. if exceeding the 40 days in which you’re supposed to trim, cut (etc) the under arm hair and below the naval hair, what are the punishment and is it a major sin?

A.5. Its makruh and is against the fitra

Q.6. when discharge leaves a woman’s body does this need fresh wudu?

A.6. Yes the wudu breaks and a fresh wudu is needed

Prayer of the Prophet (peace and blessings on him) in Taif

O Allah, I complain to you of my weakness of strenght,
And my lack of strategy
And how insignificant I have become in the eyes of people
O most merciful of those who show mercy
You are the lord of those who have no power
And you are my lord
Who are you going to leave me to?
To some distant person who will be like fire to me
Or to some enemy that you give him power over me
If you have no anger towards me then I have no objections
But your protection is easier for me
I seek refuge in the light of your countenance
By it even the darkness has been illuminated
And the affairs of this world and the hereafter have been taken care of
I seek refuge that your wrath should descend on me
Or your displeasure falls on me
For you is the reproach until you are content
There is no strength and power except from you…Ameen

Prayer of a child

Allama Iqbal

My hopes and wishes come upon My lips from inside my heart. Oh Allah! My life should be Like a lamp, never to go dark.
Let the darkness of the world Disappear with my presence. Let every place become bright With my shining existence.
Just as the flower stands with others, Increasing the garden’s beauty, Let my life stand with knowledge And dignify my community.
My life should be built around Those who seek the light, Just as the moth loves the glowing lamp In the darkness of the night.
Oh Allah! Make me strive Constantly to educate my mind, With the light of knowledge That you gave me the power to find.
I want to dedicate my life to those Who are in need of special care. The old, the young, the ill, the hungry, I want to be fair.
Oh Allah! You gave us choices! Protect us from sins, Lead us to the path of righteousness, Help us to do good things.

Urdu lyrics

lab pe aatii hai duaa banake tamannaa merii zindagii shammaa kii surat ho Khudaayaa merii
ho mere dam se yuuN hii mere watan kii ziinat jis tarah phuul se hotii hai chaman kii ziinat
zindagii ho merii parawaane kii surat yaa rab ilm kii shammaa se ho mujhako mohabbat yaa rab
ho meraa kaam Gariibon kii himaayat karanaa dardmandon se zaiifon se mohabbat karanaa
mere allaah buraaii se bachaanaa mujhako nek jo raah ho us raah pe chalaanaa mujhako

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tahara and Usul al-fiqh test

Course code: LTFM01
Please circle the correct answer

1. The following are from the faraid of wudu: (2 marks)

Washing the face and wiping the ear
Wiping the head and wiping the neck
Blowing the nose and gargling
Washing the arms up to and including the elbow and doing masah (wiping) on leather socks

2. Laughing out loud in prayer: (2 marks)

Breaks the prayer only
Breaks the Wudu and prayer
Ghusl becomes fard
Nothing happens

3. Acts that are permissible during post-natal bleeding (nifas) are: (2 marks)

Reciting the Quran
Listening to the Quran
Doing tawaf
Having sexual intercourse

4. Intention is a fard in: (2 marks)


5. Something which has been established by means of probable evidence and entails punishment upon commission is: (2 marks)

Makruh Tahrimi

6. Please write in detail the proper way of taking a bath, (include the faraid and sunans). (7 marks)

7. How many legal norms are there according to hanafi fiqh, and how do they differ from the rest of the schools of thought? (5 marks)
8. What is the punishment for missing out a sunna muakkada (4 marks)

9. What is the difference between maa mutlaq (normal water), maa mustamal (used water) and maa najis (impure water)? Please discuss their similarities and differences. (6 marks)

10. Please write some adaab (etiquettes) of wudu. (3 marks)

11. What can you not do in the state of major pollution (i.e. in need of a bath)? (5 marks)

12. Does sleeping break wudu? Please elaborate (5 marks)

13. When can tayammum be practiced? (2 marks)

14. What is the time limit for wearing leather socks for a traveller? (1 mark)

15. When is taking a bath mandub (preferable)? (2 marks)

16. Hamada’s father has passed away. On his way to the Janaza prayer Hamada got stuck in a traffic jam and was getting late. He thought to himself that if he were to do the wudu he might miss the prayer; in this situation would it be permissible for Hamada to perform dry ablution (tayammum)? Please explain your answer. (5 marks)

17. Sister Hanan has regular seven days of bleeding. One month she became irregular and bled for 14 days. In this situation how many days should be counted as menstruation and what should she do about her prayers? Please explain your answer. (5 marks)

18. Nizar suddenly decided to worship Allah by hanging upside down from a tree with a Quran in his hand. Upon coaxing from family members, Nizar asked them to prove where in the Quran it says that this form of worship is haram. How would they respond to his argument by using the principles of fiqh (usul al-fiqh)? (5 marks)

19. Nadia is a very good Muslim girl who strictly follows the Quran and Sunna. She is also a chocoholic (someone who loves chocolate). She once heard the local Imam saying that Allah has not left anything out of the Quran. Nadia did not find the mention of chocolate in the Quran or the Sunna therefore she decided to stop eating chocolate. In this situation how can we make her understand that chocolate can be halal and yet not be mentioned in the Quran and Sunna? Please apply your knowledge of usul al-fiqh. (5 marks)

20. Hisham is not sure if he has wudu or not. He does remember going in to the bathroom but does not remember if he relieved himself or just washed his hands. In this situation what should he do and why? (5 marks)

21. Hiba wore leather socks in the state of purity. She took her leather socks off after five hours (whilst still in the state of wudu). She then decided to wear them again. In this situation is she obliged to do the full wudu again before wearing the socks? Please explain. (5 marks)

22. Nurhan and her friends go to a restaurant on Wimslow Road for a meal. They order orange juice which is served in the same glasses that are used to serve alcohol in. Would it be permissible for them to drink from these glasses? Please explain. (5 marks)

23. Shayma is in her menstruation, however she teaches Quran to little children. Taking 7 days off every month will really affect the children’s education. How does Shayma solve this problem? And if she wanted to read any other Islamic literature such as Hadith is she able to? (5 marks)

24. Shahrur suffers from constant nose bleed; therefore he performs ablution in the beginning of every prayer time. At maghrib time Shahrur did wudu and was about to pray maghrib salat when he suddenly let out wind. Would we say that his wudu is still valid because he is from the excused? Please elaborate. (5 marks)
25. Hanadi is in Bangladesh and wishes to take a bath in the pond (fushkoni). He finds some najasat at the other end of the pond. Is he allowed to take a bath in this pond? If he is then what are the conditions, and if he isn’t then why? (5 marks)

For the Really Daring
(Note this section is not a part of the actual test and does not need to be completed. It will not contribute to the marks)

1. Whilst praying the janaza salat Hamdi suddenly burst in to laughter, in this situation what should he do?

2. Ibtisam is in the state of wudu. On a hot summer’s day she decided to do wudu again just to cool her self down. She performs the wudu in a bucket. Can Ibtisam use the same water that she used for wudu a second time to purify herself later? Please explain your answer.

3. Naguib believes that it is halal to have sexual intercourse with one’s wife whilst she is in her period. This is in violation of an unequivocal text of the Quran. Can Naguib be branded as a kafir for holding this opinion? Please explain

4. Which is the most blessed water in this world and the hereafter? Please explain

5. Zaid is locked up in a metal container by terrorists; he hasn’t any water to perform wudu with nor any earth to do tayammum. The time for prayer is almost finishing. In this situation how does Zaid react?

Wa sallallahu ala ashraf al-anbiya wal mursalin wa ala aalihi wa ashabihi ajmain. Nastaghfirullah wa natubu ilayh.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ramadan: The spring of the hearts of Muslims

By Mansur Ali
Spring is the time of the year when everything in nature is blossoming and blooming. The earth looks like a beautiful Turkish rug with its lush grass and rainbow coloured flowers. The animals are giving birth, the baby fawn is drinking its mother’s milk and the nightingale is singing in the sweetest of tunes. A mystical and spiritual awe can be felt, which immediately brings felicity and bliss to the heart. Warm drops of tranquillity can be felt trickling out of the eyes and kissing the soft cheeks. The creativity of God can be felt in its full glory in spring. At this moment the heart of the believer quivers with joy and yearning that it should also get a chance to develop and blossom like Mother Nature. God in his infinite mercy has not forgotten the believers. He has stipulated thirty consecutives days of abstinence from base desires, to be observed from dawn till dusk. Ramadan is the spring in the lives of the believers. It is the cue that we yearn for, to go into retreat and leave the world with all its complexities and problems behind and focus ourselves in pleasing the lord most high.

Festival of Light

By Mansur Ali
Delivered at Oldham Interfaith program 2005
Queen Elizabeth Hall

There are two types of light, one that illuminates and one that scorches the eyes.

Rumi the great mystic was once asked by a person to pinpoint the exact location of God. In response he lit up a candle and asked his interlocutor to identify the precise orientation of the light. In this manner Rumi demonstrated that like the light, God does not take to one place, rather he is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. The Quran speaks of God being light in chapter 24 which is called the chapter of light, verse 35

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (This lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon light. Allah guides unto His light whom He will. And Allah speaks to mankind in parables, for Allah is Knower of all things.

It is with this very divine light that the whole world is illuminated; also the hearts of the believers are kindled with this blissful and heavenly aurora. Ar-Rumi says:

I tried to find Him on the Christian cross, but He was not there; I went to the Temple of the Hindus and to the old pagodas, but I could not find a trace of Him anywhere.
I searched on the mountains and in the valleys but neither in the heights nor in the depths was I able to find Him. I went to the Ka'bah in Mecca, but He was not there either.
I questioned the scholars and philosophers but He was beyond their understanding.
I then looked into my heart and it was there where He dwelled that I saw Him; He was nowhere else to be found.

There are many lessons for us to be learnt from this heavenly light. One of the qualities of light is that it gives to everyone friend and foe, rich and poor and good and bad. God gives in abundance without asking for anything in return, we should take up this Godly trait and be more charitable, give to the needy, feed the poor. We should try our best in this time of giving that we just don’t remember our immediate family, rather we remember that we belong to the greater human family and recognize our moral obligations towards the less fortunate members of this family.

We might think that if we were to share our light it will diminish but that is not true, for we see that it is impossible for a person to light the path of others without shedding some light on his own.

Allah says: in chapter 2 verse 261

The likeness of those who spend their wealth in Allah's way is as the likeness of a grain which grows seven ears of corn, in every ear a hundred grains. Allah gives increase manifold to whom He wills. Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing.

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within. This light is very important as it is the essence of all good, we are in need of this light to lead a happy life, even relationships are in need of a spark.

Now it sickens the heart and makes one so sad to see many horrible crimes being committed, all we can do is to be patient and pray to God, because as someone said I will love the light for it shows me the way. Yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars

I will conclude by reading a couplet written by the great mystic Muhiyy al-Din ibn al-Arabi who says

There was a time when I took it amiss in my companion if his religion was not near to mine. But now my heart takes on every form, it is a pasture for gazelles, a monastry for monks, a temple for the tablets of the torah, a kabah for pilgrims and the holy Quran. Love is my religion, and whichever way its riding beasts turn, that way lies my religion and belief.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Coffee: The Devil’s Brew

By Mansur Ali

Coffee (coffea arabica) is drunk by over two-third of the world’s population. At 16 pounds per person (in terms of volume) Germany is the world’s second biggest consumer of coffee, America being the first. It is one of the few crops that small farms in third-world countries can make a profit from. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that coffee is grown in 53 countries of the world, most of them along the equator between the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. However feasible the statistics may seem, coffee did not always enjoy this success in history. In fact it had to fight for its right to be recognised in the orient as well as the occident. The story of its success is saturated with angry protests and heavy oppositions.

Coffee was first discovered by Kaldi, an Ethiopian Shepard from the town of Kaffa in 850 CE. He noticed that his herd became energetic after feeding on a particular shrub. Upon inspection, Kaldi found the plant to have red berries and decided to taste them. Immediately he felt ecstatic and hyper-active. Not knowing what to do, he consulted the local Imam (Muslim priest). That evening both of them experimented with the berries. It is said that in a state of euphoria the Imam had a vision of the Prophet who advised him that this is a blessed drink because it enhances wakefulness and promotes prayer. The following morning, the Imam let the people know of his vision, and soon his monastery become famous all over Arabia. It was introduced in to the Shadhilliyya Sufi order of Yemen and was perceived by them to be a holy drink, the only link between the mortal realm and Nirvana.

Doctors of Muslim law on the other hand eyed it with suspicion. The Arabic word for coffee being ‘qahwa’ (assumed by some to be derived from Kaffa) literally means dark wine. Given the fact that it has intoxicating effects like alcohol, brewed with its somewhat ambiguous name, the scholars lost no time in issuing a verdict (fatwa) for its prohibition. Even then its popularity increased by the day. People started to build coffee houses (kahve khana) and started to drink the liquid of boiled coffee beans rather than chewing it. Soon it became such an integral part of Muslim life that a Turkish woman was able to stipulate in her marriage contract that if her husband did not provide her with coffee she can demand a divorce. As the popularity of the beverage grew, it was banned from being taken outside Arabia. A person by the name of Baba Bundan illegally smuggled some out of Arabia through the port in Mocha and started a farm in Mysore, India, from there coffee spread in the sub-continent and far East.

Coffee in Europe also went through the same phases of being rejected first and then openly accepted. It was introduced into Europe by Venetian merchants who traded in silk and spices with the Turks. Spontaneously it came under heavy attack from the Church. The Church saw it as the antithesis to wine. It was branded as the devil’s brew and drinking it would lead to eternal damnation. The Church tried to justify its self by giving the explanation that this brew was concocted by Satan for the infidels (Muslim) to compensate for wine which they cannot drink. The wine symbolised the blood of Christ therefore this drink must symbolise the blood of the anti-Christ. The dispute over its permissibility was finally settled by Pope Clement VIII in 1500 CE. Whilst testing it before passing a verdict, he himself became addicted to the brew. The sweet aroma intrigued him so much that he baptised it and blessed it on the spot. With the popes blessing, coffee saw the light of day in Europe. In fact it became so popular that cappuccino derives its name from a group of Christian monks from the capuchin order, because the colour of the drink resembles the colour of their robes.

In 1652 the first coffee house was opened in England and was named ‘Penny University’ (a cup of coffee costing a penny). Coffee houses became a popular place to fraternise and socialise, and it was in these places that many revolutionary political ideas were concocted, exchanged and foisted. The Parisian coffee houses were opened as a testing ground for the ideology that led to the French revolution. In 1675 Charles II declared a proclamation for the suppression of coffee houses. The public went ballistic and after 11 days of rebelling the houses were re-opened.
We seem to take this beverage that we are all infatuated with for granted. But reading the pages of history, it can be seen that coffee had to go through many challenges and trials, from the cool dunes of Arabia to the Basilica in Rome. It even had to submit to the wrath of English women. When coffee was first introduced into England, English women took to the streets in protest to ban it because it made their husbands think better!

The concept of Vilayate Faqih and the Islamic Revolution of Iran

By Mansur Ali
Revolution is broadly defined as, “A movement by various groups that are strategically located throughout society, when the state is weak and vulnerable, to acquire the powers and authority of the governing elite.”[1] This leads us to ask the question, ‘What are the causes of revolution, and in the case of Iran, are the causes of the 1979 revolution short-termed or do they stretch deep into Iran’s past?’ Social scientists have engaged in long debates in trying to pinpoint the root and exact cause/s of revolution. They have come up with a number of theories in their own disciplines.

Some social scientists are of the opinion that revolutions occur when there is a discrepancy between the value system of a society and the realities of its social life. This is known as the value-systems approach. The theory suggests that societies are homeostatic meaning that can adapt to changes and influences. But when society loses its capacity to adapt, it becomes disequilibrated, at that moment three factors; military weakness; the confidence of the revolutionaries in over powering the government and the strategy they use in doing that, work as a catalyst towards the revolution.

In the case of Iran, the Iranian society could not adapt to the rapid social and cultural changes of the 1960s and 1970s, thus it became disequilibrated. This was further accelerated by the reduction of oil prices after 1973 and president Jimmy Carter’s human right policies.[2]

A second group of scholars boil the causes of revolution down to aggravated psychological factors. They argue that revolution occurs because of a state of mind, a mood in society. People are frustrated with the regime and are in close contact with each other to form a critical mass. One scholar argues that people become frustrated when they perceive rather than actually experience a reduction in their social and economic opportunities. This again can be seen in the Iranian revolution with an economic recession in 1977, inflation and the industrialization of bazar markets, products such as the hand made rugs were now made with machines. The bazaris saw this as a threat to their economic and social opportunities. It seems to me that this was done on purpose to break the politico-economic strength of the bazaris, who were the major source of funding for the ‘Ulama.[3] Khomeini alone was donated £20 million by the bazaris whilst in exile in Paris.

A third theory suggests that revolution occurs because the state cannot meet the challenges of evolving international situations. International pressure especially from Washington was an important development leading to the Iranian revolution.[4] These are some of the theories used to understand revolutions. I will now turn my attention more specifically to the Iranian revolution.

The fundamental question that needs to be asked is, ‘what does it mean by the Islamic revolution? Does it mean that people will start practicing and become more pious after the revolution? And how does the Islamic revolution of Iran differ from other Islamic revolutions?’ The answer to this question is no! People do not become practising just because of a revolution. What it means by an Islamic revolution is that Islam is coming back into the political scene. The term Islamic revolution implies, in theory, that the state will be a theocratic one with God as the supreme arbitrator. Islamic revolutions have occurred before in Pakistan, Libya and Saudi Arabia, but the distinguishing characteristic of the Iranian Islamic revolution is that it was not a king or ruler who claimed the Islamic rule, rather it was a leader from the regular ‘Ulama.[5] The only similar case that I can think of, if it ever would have been successful, is the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The revolution was the culmination of public frustration and discontent with the Pahlavi state. The contenders who worked towards the revolution can be broadly put into four ideological fronts, in the words of Hamid Dabashi: “(1) The obviously and essentially religious, (2) The blatantly and patently secular, (3) The crypto-secular religious, and, finally, (4) The crypto-religious secular.”[6]

The secular front believed in the trinity of socialism, nationalism and democracy. Nationalism to the Iranian people was always a source of pride. They were always consciously aware of their ethnicity, even before and after the great shubiya movement in the seventh century. This can be seen in the very language of Iran. Iran is the only Muslim country in the Near East where Arabic is not spoken and written as the official language. Even today Iranians take pride in relating stories of kings from the Shahnameh of Firdawsi. The Pahlavi regimes modernization scheme was seen as a threat to the very identity of the Iranians. This consciousness of identity and fear of loss of identity gave birth to a number of nationalistic groups such as the National Party and the Fada’in e Khalq Party.

From the crypto-religious secular front, the name that comes immediately to mind is the Hizb-e Tudeh-e Iran Party (The party of the Iranian masses). Founded in 1941 by an Iranian born, German educated chemist and orthodox Marxist Taqi Arani. Right from its inception the Tudeh Party served as an instrument of Soviet policy in Iran. By 1965 a splinter group emerged which named itself as the Hezb-e Enqalabiy-e Tudeh (The revolutionary Tudeh Party), but later the name was changed to Sazman-e Marxist Leninisti-ye Tufan (The Marxist Leninist Organization of Tufan (storm)). The Storm party hardly gained any recognition and finally ceased to exist.

One of the reasons why the secular front failed to attain a measure of legitimacy in Iran is because of the lack of religious rhetoric. They completely overlooked the fact that Islam is an important part of Iranian culture. Those who recognized this took full advantage of it. They presented secular political ideas in the rhetoric of religious language. Even the religious front failed to do this, as they were too traditional in their approach. One of the most eminent proponents of this ‘Islamic ideology’ is the crypto-secular religious intellectual Jalal Ale Ahmad.

Ale Ahmad born in the house of a cleric had a strict Islamic upbringing. He was taught all the preliminary Islamic knowledge by his father and other clerics in his locality. He majored in literature from dar al-funun, after that he was sent to Najaf to gain further education in Islam, but he came back and decided to finish his secular studies. During this time he met Khasravi, who was an intellectual and was strongly opposed to the ‘Ulama. Ale Ahmad liked what the man had to offer. But Ale Ahmad shocked the world, to the uttermost disgust of his father, by joining the Tudeh party. Having a preliminary education in Islam Ale Ahmad very cleverly interjected his political ideas with Islamic teaching. He wrote his famous book Gharbzadgi (Westoxication) in which he is highly opposed to the westernisation of Iranians. Later in life Ale Ahmad became unhappy with the Tudeh group and turned back to Islam. He went for the Hajj, but by this time his mind was too saturated to accept Islam uncritically.

Towards the end of his life he wrote a book, which he called ‘Four Ka‘ba’. This book can be read like an account of Ale Ahmad’s evolution from a Muslim to a communist and then again a Muslim. The four Ka‘ba that he mentions are: USA, which is the Ka‘ba for most people in the world; Israel, which was the Ka‘ba for the early Muslims, and the Muslims of today can learn a lot from this race; USSR, which was a Ka‘ba for Ale Ahamd and all communists and finally Makka, which is the closest to his heart. Unfortunately Ale Ahamd never lived to see the revolution happen.

The ideological front that finally took the country to revolution was the religious, headed by the Shi‘a cleric Ayatullah Khomeini.

Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini was born on the 24th of September 1904, in a small village, 60 kilometres south of Tehran, called Khomein. He came from a family of religious clerics. He himself attained the title of ‘Ayatullah’ the highest cleric in Shi‘a Islam. A minimum of 3,000 jurisprudence problems needed to be solved to attain this title. He had a deep interest for mysticism and philosophy, which can be found profoundly in his books.

Khomeini was not always in the political limelight as one might assume. Higher authorities overshadowed him. He like many of his comrades wrote literature and delivered sermons against the government’s anti Islamic policies. Reza Shah ordered the unveiling of women and put a ban on the turban and clerical attire. His son Muhammad Reza Shah began to propagate Iranian culture near the end of his regime. The Persian title ‘Aryamehr’ (the sun of the Aryan race) was attached to his name. In 1971 the 2,500th year of the establishment of Persia was celebrated. The Iranian calendar was changed from the hijra of the Prophet, to the Iranian solar calendar. The Zoroastrian fire was introduced in the national birthday of the Shah, and a ban was put on the ‘Ashura plays, where people got together and acted out the incident of the Karbala.

The ‘Ulama saw the above-mentioned points and many others as a direct attack on Islam, therefore they lashed out against the regime. Khomeini’s first set of attack on the Pahlavi regime started in 1944; in a book he named ‘kashf asrar’ (secret exposed). Khomeini’s criticism of government policy attracted a large number student whilst teaching theology in a madrasa in Qum 1960. This led him to become the marja‘-e taqlid (source of imitation).

By the 1960s Khomeini was in direct confrontation with the government, which led to his exile to Iraq in 1964. Khomeini was not famous amongst the public yet. The fatal mistake that Shah made, which turned the whole nations eyes towards Khomeini, was that he openly slandered Khomeini by name in a semi-official newspaper called Ettela’at. This led to a massive protest in Qum by students of theology. In two days seventy people were killed. This newspaper incident, according to Keddie, is seen as the key point in the shift of opposition from the secular groups to the ‘Ulama.[7]

Looking at Khomeini’s life, we find a gradual process from a quietist to a revolutionary character. In a work written forty years before the revolution, it could be seen that Khomeini does not demand that clerics should rule, but their advice should be sought by the government. Martin Kramer is of the opinion that the revolution occurred because this fundamental role of the ‘Ulama was neglected. The ‘Ulama’s antipathy towards Iran’s subservience to the USA was only the symptom to this greater illness.[8]

Khomeini saw that Islam and Muslims were being alienated from the socio-politico-economic scene. Khomeini was not the first to notice this. Crypto-secular religious intellectuals such as Jalal Ale Ahmad and Ale Shari‘ati have written on this subject before. In fact Jalal Ale Ahamd has dedicated a whole monograph to this subject, which he called Gharbzadgi (Westoxication). Khomeini’s departure from these intellectuals lies in two points. Firstly Khomeini believes that the crisis is a threat to the very existence of Islam, whereas the intellectuals believe that it is a threat to the culture of Iran of which Islam is a piece in the jigsaw. And secondly, Khomeini assimilates these problems into a complex of philosophical and jurisprudential concerns. This issue is illuminated nowhere better the concept of vilayat-e faqih.[9]

If it is asked, ‘what is novel in Khomeini’s revolution?’ The answer, in my opinion, would not be the founding of the Islamic state; rather it will be Khomeini’s reading of the vilayat-e faqih.[10]

Vilayat-e faqih is the concept of the authority (velayat) of the jurisprudents (faqih) over the Muslim community. The velayat may be exercised in the following three areas: (1) guardianship over the personal and properties of the weak, such as the orphans, handicapped and widows. (2) Guardianship over the activities and property of the religious life of the community, such as the public endowment (awqaf) mosques, madrasas and holy shrines. (3) A general guardianship over the Muslim community, such as enjoining the good and forbidding the reprehensible and the guiding of political leaders.

These three areas are unanimous amongst the Shi‘a jurisprudents. But there is a fourth area, which is highly debated. This is where the velayat empowers the faqih to exercise political authority, i.e. to become the government. The majority of the jurisprudents do not accept this opinion. Even the ones that conform to this differ in its application. Sheikh Ali Tehrani opines that this is the collective job of the fuqaha (singular of faqih) and not the job of one man. He calls Khomeini’s claim for the authority of a single faqih to be a bid‘a (heretical innovation).[11]

Khomeini is of the opinion that the velayat should be given to only one faqih. This faqih enjoys the same authority as the Prophets and the Imams, however Khomeini denies the rank of the faqih to be the same as the Prophets or the Imams. Khomeini saw that people have been wronged and they need justice. In order to give them justice they need to be led, and he sees himself fit for this job. He does not claim for one moment that he is equivalent to the Imams, but his followers see him as the deputy of the Imams (na’ib Imam), thus giving him a divine sanction.[12] Some of his followers go to the extreme in calling him the 12th Imam who has emerged from the great occultation.

Khomeini goes about solving the alienation of Muslims and Islam from the political scene through the creation of a shari‘a milieu and through ideological unity (yek kalam). The velayat-e faqih is the institutional instrument for the realization of this milieu.

Looking at all the above mentioned facts, we can now safely ask the questions, ‘Was the Iranian revolution of 1979 an Islamic one, and are the roots of this revolution short termed or long termed?

Nikki Keddie is of the opinion that it was not exclusively an Islamic revolution rather it was also a social, economic and political one. Keddie identifies the roots of the revolution to be short-termed as well as long-termed going deep into Iran’s past, amongst which is the geographical characteristic of the country.[13]

According to Said Arjomand (The turban for the crown), although it looks like the revolution is rooted in the past and the Shah is digging up and reviving pre-Islamic Iranian culture, in reality the cause is short-termed. The Shah had no real interest in digging up the past. The reason he resorted to the past is because the monarchy is the only aspect of the Persian culture that had survived. By going to the past he tried to show that the monarch in pre-Islamic Iranian culture was the embodiment of God on earth, the primus inter pares. He should be followed without questioning and disobedience to him is tantamount to blasphemy. In doing this Muhammad Reza Shah actually wanted to modernize and secularise Iran from the influence of the ‘Ulama.

Abrahamain (Iran between two revolution) seems to be of the opinion that the causes of the revolution are short-termed, blaming it on the inflation and increase human right policy.

Dabashi opines that the revolution was inevitable, but the Islamic revolution was not necessarily inevitable. He says, “If there is any legitimacy in branding the Iranian revolution of 1979 ‘Islamic’ it must inevitably be because more Iranians, and more in Iranians, were touched and moved by words of patently or latently Islamic resonance than by any other. And that is reason enough to call it ‘The Islamic revolution.’… The Islamicity of the revolution ultimately rests on its theological language. The theology of discontent, calling God on one’s side when drafting a political agenda is but one, yet crucial, element in the mythology of revolt.”[14]

Dabashi is the opinion that the roots of revolution go far into Iran’s past. There has always been a tension between Islam and culture, and the revolution is yet another exhibition of this tension. In my opinion Dabashi was not successful in explaining why the revolution took place, but I think he has correctly pinpointed why the revolution took a political form i.e. Islamic.

In conclusion I can say that I would have to disagree that the revolution goes deep into Iran’s history. I think it is more to do with economic factors, international pressures and the Shah’s antipathy towards the ‘Ulama. I wonder if Khomeini never made it to the top, then would the revolution have taken an Islamic form???


Abrahamain, E: Iran between two revolutions, Princeton University press 1982

Arjomand, Said: The turban for the crown: the Islamic revolution in Iran, Oxford University Press 1981

Dabashi, Hamid: The theology of discontent, New York University Press

Kamrava, Mehran: Revolution in Iran: the roots of turmoil, Routledge, London and New York

Keddie, Nikki: Introduction, in Nikki Keddie (ed.): Religion and politics in Islam, pp. 1-18, Yale University Press

- Roots of revolution, Yale University Press

Kramer, Martin: Introduction, in Martin Kramer (ed.): Shi’ism, resistance and revolution, pp.1-18, Westview Press, Mamsell Publishing Limited

Rose, Gregory: Velyt-e- Faqih and the recovery of the Islamic identity, in Nikki Keddie (ed.): Religion and politics in Islam, pp. 166-88, Yale university Press
[1] Kamrava, Mehran: Revolution in Iran: the roots of turmoil, p. 8
[2] Ibid. p. 6
[3] Keddie, Roots of revolution, p.245
[4] Kamrava, Mehran: Revolution in Iran: the roots of turmoil, p. 6
[5] Keddie, Roots of revolution, p. 4
[6] Dabashi, Theology of discontent, p.10
[7] Keddie, p. 242
[8] Kramer, Introduction, in Martin Kramer (ed.): Shi’ism, resistance and revolution, p. 7
[9] Rose, Velayt-e- Faqih and the recovery of the Islamic identity, p.166
[10] Kramer, p.6
[11] Rose, Velayt-e- Faqih and the recovery of the Islamic identity, p. 170, footnote No. 14
[12] Kramer
[13] Keddie, p.1
[14] Dabashi, p.496

Life is a thing that turns on wheels

When we are asked about our youth
Would we say what we've done the truth
Have our degrees and diplomas come to use
Or have they brought us bad news
Have we branded Islam as an education?
Are we to become a non Islamic Generation?
A garden in paradise or a pit in hell
The choice is ours make it well
The requirements are simple
The rewards are high
Sacrifice the short journey here
For the hereafter you'll have no fear
Think well
Be prepared before we die
Because life is a thing that turns on wheels
Death is a thing that every man feels
If life was a thing that money could buy
Then the rich will live and the poor would die
But Allah in his wisdom has made it so
That the rich and the poor together shall go.

Foreign Vocabulary of the Quran

By Mansur Ali

With the rise of European colonialism of the Middle East, the West became greatly interested in the Orient. Edward Lane’s ‘Customs of 19th century modern Egypt’ is a good example of this. Colonialists discovered large amounts of manuscripts tucked away in boxes in mosques and other religious centers. This led to a deeper academic interest. Upon studying these manuscripts orientalist scholars felt that the Muslim method of source criticism to be unscientifc and unscholarly, therefore they decided to study the Qur’an using their own parameters and methods of inquiry taking their cue from social theories and methods of Biblical criticism. This was the turning point in the study of the Qur’an in the west, which is still carrying on today not only by Western scholars but also by Muslims, sometimes to their own peril, as Taha Hussain and Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid had found out.

There are many methods of Biblical study and social theories, which have been employed to understand the Qur’an. To name a few; (a) Historical sociology and psychology, (b) Structuralism, (c) Hermenutica sacra, (d) Anthropological method, (e) Feminism and the theory of liberation and (f) the Historical philological approach.[1]

The historical philological approach is a method of Biblical study, which is used to find the answers to ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘how’, and by who. In the study of the Qur’an this method will be used to find the answers to when the Qur’an was written, what were the stages by which it came into being, how did it reach us and by who was it written?[2]

The historical critic in his search for the truth will apply the following criticisms to the Qur’an: (a) Form, (b) Term, (c) Text and (d) Literary criticisms.

Form criticism is a complete historic reconstruction of the Qur’an. This will be done through bypassing all auxiliary and subsidiary disciplines such as Tafsir, Hadith and Fiqh. This is because the historical critic believes that Hadith and Tafsir are the product of a later generation, therefore they will not give us an accurate understanding of the Quran, rather the understanding of the Quran of a later generation.

Term criticism tends to find the implication a word had in the milieu that it was revealed in, and not what it means in the present. Text criticism finds answers to the question, ‘What were the earliest sources for the text?’ Again this is done by going directly to the Qur’an by working backwards. If two texts talk about the same subject, the historical critic sees it very necessary to establish a chronology of which text came first and which text came second. Literary criticism helps to determine anachronisms in a sentence.

In short it can be said that the historical critic is interested in the genesis of the text. The processes that the text went through are more important to them than the end product. It can be seen that this approach is diachronic in nature and not synchronic.[3]
Muslim scholars undertook the study of foreign vocabulary in the Qur’an, long before the Orientalists came unto the scene. The origin of this study stems from the claim of the Qur’an itself that it is a book written in pure Arabic (‘Arabiyyun mubin).[4] The tenth century scholar al-Suyuti (d.911) dedicated a whole monograph to this subject called ‘al-muhadhab fi ma waq‘a fi al-Qur’an min al-mu‘arrab’. He then summarized this book and included it as a chapter in his compendium of Quranic sciences called ‘al-Itqan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an’.

The first modern orientalist to write on this subject was Aloys Sprenger, who came into contact with a lot of Arabic books, including al-Suyuti’s al-Itqan, whilst he was acting as a principal in the middle of the 19th century in a madrassa in Calcutta. Being a child of his time, Sprenger had a romantic streak in his study of Islam. He penned an article on the foreign vocabulary of the Quran, basing his article on al-Suyuti’s work. This article was published in the ‘Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal’ for 1852.[5] Another scholar by the name of S. Fraenkel followed suit in 1880. This was a more serious and detailed study.[6] Basing his article on the works of his predecessors, the great scholar Theodore Nöldeke wrote an essay on this subject for the 9th edition of the ‘Encyclopedia Britannica’ 1891.

Subsequent scholars who have dealt with this subject have generally adopted and reiterated the Sprenger- Nöldeke view. The most elaborate study in this field had been carried out by professor Arthur Jeffery, an early 20th century scholar of Semitic and Islamic studies.

Professor Jeffery studied at the University of Melbourne, Australia, where he attained his degrees (BA 1918, MA 1920) and a degree in theology (B.Th 1926). In 1929 he received his PhD from Edinburgh University and a D.litt in 1938.

He was a teacher at Madras Christian college in India, when a center for Oriental and Islamic studies was founded in Egypt called the ‘School of Oriental Studies’ (S.O.S), affiliated with the American University of Cairo. Part time missionary scholars such as Dr. Zweimer and Dr. Watson did much of the work at SOS. In addition to these part-time teachings, the school needed the services of a competent orientalist with professorial status. Dr. Jeffery was chosen for this job. He Left Cairo in 1938 to occupy the chair of Near Eastern and Middle Eastern languages at Columbia University. One of his major interest was the textual criticism of the Quran, which he carried out throughout his life. He has contributed many books on this subject. Just to name a few: The Quran as a scripture; the textual history of the Quran; A variant text of Fa>tih}a; the orthography of the Samarqad codex; Materials for the history of the text of the Quran and the Foreign vocabulary of the Quran.

What is the driving force behind this extensive and intensive study of the Quran? Badeau answers this for us by saying, “As a minister of the Methodist church, he was devoted to the missionary, enterprise and exemplified in his own life and interests a deep Christian concern. His Scholarship had a Christian purpose, for he believed that only by a pain staking and exacting study of the Islamic materials could that faith be understood and a Christian contribution made to these who followed it.”[7]

In the introduction to his book, ‘Foreign Vocabulary of the Quran’, Dr. Jeffery writes, “One of the few distinct impressions gleaned from a first perusal of the bewildering confusion of the Quran, is that of the amount of material therein which is borrowed from the great religions that were active in Arabia at the time when the Quran was in process of formation.”[8] One way that Jeffery goes about proving this contention is by tracing words back to its philological origin. He lists over 300 words. The proposition is that if a foreign word is found in the Quran, then this will prove; (a) that the Quran has contradicted itself by claiming to be in pure Arabic, and (b) “ We are able to estimate to some extent the influences which were working on Muhammad at various periods in his mission.”[9]

Jeffery builds up his argument by summarizing the facts that al-Suyti mentioned about the difference of opinions amongst Muslim scholars regarding foreign vocabulary in the Quran. He then produces a list of all the foreign languages that al-Suyuti mentioned which are found in the Quran. He dedicates the rest of the introduction in expanding on these languages. He comes to the conclusion that Muslim scholars were incompetent in their analysis of foreign words in the Quran, as they did not possess adequate knowledge of these languages, also Western scholars have found many more foreign words in the Quran than Muslim scholars have ever found. Jeffery writes that when Muslim scholars found non Arabic words in the Quran, of the origin of which they don’t have a clue, they cloak their ignorance by saying it is of Berber or Nabtaien origin.[10] He says, “As a general rule, the philologers were at their best when dealing with Persian words, a fact which may perhaps be explained by the Persian origin of so many of these savants themselves.”[11]
Coming from a methodological point of view, it seems that Dr. Jeffery did not stick strictly to this approach. It can be seen that in his form criticism he did not always go direct to the Qur’an. Sometimes he went direct whilst other times he used the ideas of other scholars who came before Al-Suyuti. At times he resorted to Sprenger and Nöldeke, but he mostly depended on al-Suyuti.
Text criticism is applied to find out which words and versus of the Qur’an are ideas which pre-dates Islam, and which are the spiritual property of Muhammad. In the words of Jeffery, “To ascertain whether an idea or expression was Muhammad’s spiritual property or borrowed from elsewhere, how he learnt it and to what extent was it altered to suit his purposes.”

The application of literary criticism is to find anachronism in Muslim scholars’ interpretation of the Qur’an. An example of this can be seen in Jeffery’s analyses of the word ‘taht’. He blames the Muslim scholars for twisting the meaning of Arabic words and making them into non-Arabic words so that it corroborates with a borrowed idea.

The word ‘taht’ in Sura 19:24 is a proper Arabic word meaning ‘beneath.’ Muslim scholars have interpreted it to mean ‘bat}n’ meaning womb. This is because there is a difference of opinion amongst the scholars as to who spoke, was it the babe or was it the angel Gabriel from the bottom of the hill, this gave rise to variant readings of verse 19:24. Is it in the genitive case (fa na daha min tahtiha), or is it a subject (fa na daha man tahtaha)? Muslim scholars saw in Biblical sources that it was the babe that spoke therefore they readily accepted this view and interpreted ‘taht’ as ‘batn.’ In order to justify themselves they branded the word to be of Ethiopic origin.
Professor Jeffery identifies the foreign vocabulary of the Quran to be of three distinct kind: (a) Words which are entirely non Arabic such as istabraq and namaariq, (b) Words which are of Semitic origin, but have become naturalized into Arabic, and (c) Words which are genuinely Arabic but have been influenced in their meaning by the use of cognate language.

Dr. Jeffery gives his view as to the reason why there are foreign words in the Quran. He makes two assumptions, the first being that the Quran reiterates over and over again that the religion of Muhammad was something new to the Arabs, therefore new words had to be introduced to explain the new ideas. The second assumption is in the words of Jeffery, “ Muhammad had a penchant for strange and mysterious sounding words, he loved to puzzle his audience with these new terms though he himself had not grasped correctly their meaning.” [12]

In my critique of Dr. Jeffery it could be said that excluding the proper names he mentioned, we are left with about 275 words about which Montgomery Watt says, “About three quarter of the words in this list can be shown to have been in use in Arabic before the time of Muhammad ... Of the remaining seventy or so, though there is no written evidence of their earlier use, it may well be true that they were already employed in speech”[13]

Dr. Jeffery assumes that the Quran again and again mentions that it has brought something new. I disagree with him because in my reading of the Quran, I have found that it repeatedly asserts that Islam is not a new concept, but rather it confirms the teaching of the previous Prophets, and the people of Arabia where familiar with it because of their contact with these people, as acknowledged by Dr. Jeffery. As for the redundancy of the Arabic language, it can be said that the foreign words are equivalent to one percent of the holy Quran. It is an established fact that the Quran in its Arabic is a literary masterpiece.
In conclusion I can say that professor Jeffery very skillfully traces the origins of words back to its roots. It shows that he has a good command over the Semitic languages, and his application of the historical critical approach is very scholarly. Jeffery’s book, in my opinion, is an appraisal and annotation of al-Suyuti’s work, and an extension of Sprenger and Nöldek’s work. Although it cannot claim originality it certainly is an excellent exhibition of the of historical phillological approach.


Published work

Ali, Mohar, The Quran and the Orientalists, pp. 305-313, Jamiyt Ihya Minhaj al-Sunna, Ipswich 2004

Jeffery, Arthur, Foreign Vocabulary of the Quran, Baroda, Oriental institute, 1938. Online print http://www.answering-islam.org.uk/books/jeffery/vocabulary/

John Barton, The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation

Khan, Muhsin, The interpretation of the meaning of the Noble Quran, Da>r al-sala>m publication, Riyadh

Al-Suyuti, Jalal al-din, al-Itqan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an, pp. 271-287, Dar al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, Beirut.


Arthur Jeffery-A Tribute, Moslem World, vol. 50 (1960) pp. 230-247

Unpublished work

Notes by Dr. Andreas Christmann on theories and the study of Islam.
[1] Taken from notes provided by Dr. Andreas Christmann
[2] John Barton, The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation, p. 9
[3] Taken from lecture delivered by Dr. Christmann on 10/02/2005
[4] cf. Surah 12:20, 14:4, 41:44
[5] J.A.S.B. 1852, pp. 109-144
[6] S. Fraenkel, De Vocabulis in Antiquis Arabum Carminibus et in Corno Pregrinis, Leiden, 1880
[7] Arthur Jeffery – A Tribute. Muslim World, vol. 50 (1960), pp. 230-247)
[8] Arthur Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary of the Quran, p. 1, Baroda, Oriental institute, 1938, abbreviated after this is fvq.
[9] Fvq p. 2
[10] Ibid p. 31
[11] Ibid p. 32
[12] Ibid pp. 38-39
[13] Watt, Bell’s Introduction p.85, cited by Mohar Ali in The Quran and the Orientalists, p. 313