by ASHUR SHAMIS
An easy-to-follow scheme for the individual study of Islam
FOSIS members have expressed the need for a planned and systematic
programme of self- education aimed at increasing the individual's
knowledge of Islam and its basic and fundamental principles. The
"Tarbiyya Programme" is an attempt to devise such a programme.
The proposed scheme will consist of a number of individual study
programmes appearing in THE MUSLIM that will be simple and easy
It is proposed to start this programme with the fundamental
principles, slowly graduating to the wider aspects. It is hoped
that the scheme will act as a stimulant to those who are keen
and eager enough to acquire a deeper understanding of Islam.
The two basic foundations of Islam are Iman (enlightened and conscious
faith) and 'Amal (Purposeful action). The two are closely bound:
iman without 'amal is incomplete, while 'amal Without iman is worthless
in the eyes of Allah, as has been indicated in the Qur'an.
What leads to true iman? Iman stems from what the Qur'an refers
to as fitrah, or the "human nature" that recognises God and His
attributes. To be active and dynamic, iman must be sup- ported
by and based on practical knowledge. The next question is what
sort of knowledge? For the Committed Muslim the most essential
knowledge required is that of the Qur'an and sunnah. This may
sound off-putting, due to some misconceptions that we may have
inherited-for example that this is something to be left to the
imams and ulema, or that it is a life-time and monumental task
to study and understand them. Such impressions are unfortunate
because a workable and effective understanding of the Qur'an and
sunnah can be easily acquired if the right methods are employed
and the correct approach followed.
The reader must note that this programme is not all-embracing.
There will be ground that is not fully covered. The programme
recommends an approach only. Secondly, the scope of the programme
is limited by the shortage of reliable literature in English.
It is hoped that this attempt will result in an increased awareness
of these problems, and encourage Islamic organisations to provide
more effective facilities for such activities.
Part I-Study of Qur'an
An important aspect of studying the Qur'an is to know what the
Qur'an itself is, how it is arranged, how it came about, and its
message. One of the best treatises on this aspect of studying
the Qur'an is Abul 'Ala Maududi's introduction to his commentary
on the Qur'an entitled "The Meaning of the Qur'an".
In it Maududi explains the nature of the Qur'an and its central
theme, and presents some very essential background information on
its compilation, style and composition. He also makes some extremely
useful suggestions for the systematic study of the Qur'an. This
introduction will be a good starting point in our programme. Read
it very carefully and study it as much as you can.
Another treatise to be recommended is a chapter in Sayyid Qutb's
"Milestones", called "The nature of the Qur'anic method". This is
an extract from his introduction to the commentary on Sura At-Ana'am.
Other introductions such as that of Arberry to his translation of
the Qur'an called "The Qur'an Interpreted", those of M. M. Pickthall
and Muhammad Asad to their translations called "The meaning of the
Glorious Qur'an" and "The Message of the Qur'an" respectively are
also quite enlightening and informative. Studying these introductions
will insha Allah prepare you well for understanding the Qur'an in
Tarbiyya Programme-Lesson One
With the above general points in mind and having read and studied
the "introductions" referred to, we now embark on our first lesson
of the Qur'an. The lesson is mainly concerned with 'Aqeedah (belief),
that is the fundamental precepts and principles of belief on which
iman is built. This subject is dealt with in the Qur'an in various
places, but one of the best exposition is to be found in Sura
Al-Ana'am (The Qur'an, Chapter 6).
In this lesson we shall do no more than read the sura a few times,
absorbing as much as we can from it, and leaving those parts that
we find need further elaboration or explanation. Read the text with
full concentration several times noting any new ideas you may come
across. In our next lesson (December-January issue) we shall select
certain passages from this sura for further study and elaboration.
(i) "introductions" of Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Arberry, Pickthall
(ii) Reading of Sura Al-Ana'am.
It is recommended to use more than one translation when studying
the Qur'an in English. The two most satisfactory ones are those
by Pickthall and Arberry, and will be the main ones recommended
for this study programme. Yusuf Ali's explanatory footnotes are
quite useful in some instances.
TARBIYYA PROGRAMME -Part II
This is the second article in our Tarbiyya Programme series.
In the Previous article we introduced the approach. We started
with a general study of the Qur'an, its structure, nature and
content by studying a number of reference works on the subject.
These included the introduction for their translations of Qur'an
of Abu-'Ala Maududi, Mohammed Asad, A. J. Arberry, and M. M. Pickthall,
and the article by Sayyed Qutb on the "Nature of the Quranic Method"
in his book "Milestones".
These works should have now given us an understanding on what is
the Qur'an, what it contains, how it came to be collected and arranged
in its present form, what its theme and objectives are.
We should have now learnt why the Qur'an is a unique book in its
composition and style, how it presents its message, and what place
it occupies in the human history of know- ledge ;and in the life
of Muslims. This study was an essential first step that had to be
made before embarking on a closer study of the Qur'an.
We should also have undertaken a reading of sura al-Ana'am (Cattle),
the sixth sura in the Qur'an. We should therefore now be ready for
a closer look into this sura as a case-study of the Qur'an, its
style and approach.
Sura al-Ana'am-a case-study.
The sura represents the perfect model for the Makki Qur'an (the
Qur'an revealed in Mekka before Hijra. Medani Qur'an refers to
the portion revealed after hijra in Medina and includes that revealed
in Mekka after hijra) in its content, composition and style. In
his introduction, Sayyed Qutb has described the characteristic
and nature of the Mekki Qur'an. A feature is that it addresses
itself to man's fitra-his basic human nature which, when left
to decide for itself, recognises God's existence and responds
It is one of the longish suras of the Qur'an (165 verses). The
majority of reports from the Sahaba informs us that the sura was
revealed in full on the same night in Mekka during the fifth or
sixth year after the Prophet's call to prophethood (13 B.H/610
A.D.). It is the fifty-fifth sura according to the chronology
of revelation. Its subject matter, its moods and its style confirm
that to a very large extent.
Sura al-Ana'am is a testimony to the creator and the phenomena
of creation. Its main theme is AQEEDA-conscious, willing, deliberate
and unshakeable faith in Allah and all of this attributes and
powers. The sura contains such penetrating logic, clarity and
power. In every statement, every description and every similitude,
the sura points out a sign and manifestation of the existence
and absolute power of God.
The opening verse is a key statement for the rest of the sura as
it summarises the whole of its message and spirit.
"Praise is due to Allah who created the heavens and the
earth and provided darkness and light; yet those who disbelieve
assign partners to Him."
Up to verse 73, the sura proceeds to establish certain facts
about creation, God's sovereignty over the world and His attributes
and powers, His efforts to teach man the truth.
The sura then turns to the history of messengers and prophets
briefly describing their experiences with their own people so
as to console Muhammad, peace be upon him, in his encounter with
the disbelievers of Mekka who were giving him a difficult time.
It opens this section with lbraheem's confrontation with his own
father and his people. It tells of Ibraheem's logical quest for
truth, based on genuine fitra. The sura goes on to mention seventeen
more prophets and messengers, exhorting the Prophet to learn from
their example and follow in their footsteps (verses 74-94.)
The next section takes us back to the main theme of the sura,
God's creation and control of the whole world. In about nine short
verses, occupying not more than one page, the sura lays down some
of the most important and fundamental aspects of the Islamic concept
of God and belief in Him (verses 95-104).
The verses that follow (up to verse 117), are an elaboration on
the preceding section. From verse 118 we are presented with a practical
situation in which people assume divine roles and give themselves
the right to permit and for- bid without an authorisation from God
to whom this prerogative belongs. The case at hand is that of deciding
what meat, or parts thereof, should be made lawful and what should
not. This might seem a trivial or minor issue for some, but it is
the principle that is important; who should have the right to determine
what is lawful and what is unlawful in the life of humans on this
earth, God or man?
Verses 151-153 sum up in ten separate articles what God has
chosen for man to -do and not do. The sura finishes off by elaborating
its main theme, and closing with the powerful but (for Muslims)
Let us read the Sura from the beginning a few times with the
above points in mind. Then we take it in sections as divided roughly
in this article as follows: verses 1-73, 74-94.. 95-104, 105-117,
118-150, 151-153, 154-165. Study each section separately to start
with and then take two or more further sections together until
you study the whole sura as a complete integrated unit.,.
(1) Translation of sura al-Ana'am by Mohammad M. Pickthall and
A. J. Arberry.
(2) Explanatory notes on the sura in A. Yusuf Ali's translation
TARBIYYA PROGRAMME- Part III
The last two articles of this series dealt with the study of
the Qur'an. The purpose of the first article was to demonstrate
that an essential first step in the study of the Qur'an is the
need to be acquainted with its features, style and content. To
some extent this can be attained by studying the literature that
was recommended. In the second article, Sure An'am (Cattle, V])
was chosen as a 'case study', because it dealt with the subject
of aqeeda (creed or faith) and represents an excellent example
of the Makki Qur'an. Suggestions were made as to how to study
Study of Sira
In this article it is intended to embark on the task of studying
the sira or life of the Prophet Muhammad. It is generally agreed
by Muslim authorities that the sira of the Prophet includes not
only the reported chronology of his life's events from his birth
at Mecca, 53 years before hijra (570 A.D.) and his death at Madina
about ten years after hijra (632 A.D.) but it also includes the
analysis and interpretation of those events, and the lessons and
guidelines to be drawn from them.
Thus while the chronological study of the sira must by necessity
be done in the context of the history of the region and society
in which the Prophet was born and in which he grew and lived, the
analytical study has to be made, first and foremost, in the light
of the Qur'an.
The Qur'an is after all the most authoritative source on all aspects
of Islam. Thus the Qur'an, though it does not contain detailed bio-
graphical information of the Prophet's life and can in no way be
considered to be a book of history, it is the primary source on
the nature, character, and significance of the Prophet's life as
the practical model and living interpretation of Islam, to be emulated
and studied by Muslims for all time to come. An attempt will be
made in this programme to offer suggestions as to how the sira may
be studied in relation to the Qur'an.
The Seerah from the Qur'an
The Qur'an defines the nature and duties of a prophet. Accounts
of the lives of prophets preceding Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon
him, is the first step in the study. These are found dispersed over
a large section of the Qur'an. However, there are a number of suras
that have more material on the fives of prophets than others, and
some deal almost exclusively with prophets' stories. Examples are
Yunus (X), Hood (Xi), Yusuf (Xil), lbraheem (Xiil) and the Prophets
(XXI). Suras al-Furqan and al-Shura (XLII) in particular deal with
the basic concepts of prophethood as related to Prophet Muhammad.
Accounts of specific episodes of the Prophet's sira can also be
found in the Qur'an. The early Meccan revelations of al- Muzzamil
(LXXJII) and al-Mudathir (LXXIV) are appropriate examples. The first
few verses of sura the Pen (LXVIII) describe the personality of
the Prophet. Almost the whole of sura al-Anfal (Vill) is devoted
to the battle of Badr, which marks a very important point in the
history of Islam, while Sura Al-lmran (111) verses 121 on- wards,
deal with the battle of Uhud in which the Prophet and his companions
underwent a decisive test of faith and endurance.
Sura al-Fath (XLVIII) deals with the pact of al-Hudaybiyya, another
significant event of the sira. In the present study it would be
sufficient, to begin with, to concentrate on the basic concepts
related to the Prophet and to become acquainted with some familiar
events of his life. This can be done by studying suras al-Furqan,
and al-Shura, and then to study the three episodes contained in
suras al-Anfal, Al-i-imran and Al-Fath. This would complete the
task for this part of the programme.
For the chronological study on the Prophet's life the two major
works that could be consulted are:
Alfred Guillaume, THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD, a translation of Ibn
lshaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes. Oxford
University Press, 1955.
Abd al-Rahman Azzam, THE ETERNAL MESSAGE OF MUHAMMAD, London,
The New English Library, 1964.
lbn lshaq's work is considered to be one of the most authentic
and authoritative works on the sira in Arabic. The translation,
by a non-Muslim Western scholar, while technically faithful on
the whole, does contain critical remarks made by the translator
which themselves have to be taken critically. It would also be
useful to read Dr. Tibawi's criticisms of Guillaume's translation,
which appeared in The Islamic Quarterly, January, 1957.
For Urdu readers there is the classical Seerat un Nabi by Shibli
Naumani. The original work is in six volumes, and still incomplete.
However the first two volumes give the complete life of the Prophet.
The first volume also presents a critique of the literature of
the sira in all the important languages of the world. The second
volume presents his akhlaq, method of tarbiyya, ibadat and other
aspects. This book is also available in Turkish. It has not been
translated into English, except for the first part of the first
volume, which had appeared in the journal 'Voice of Islam' (Karachi,