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 to follow.
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 general.
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 and Asad;
(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 to Him.
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) comforting statements.
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 of Qur’an.
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 this sura
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, Pakistan).