Blogging the Qur’an: Letter to Ziauddin Sarda
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of All the Worlds. May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets, and upon his family and Companions.
For the last fourteen hundred years, Muslims and the scholars of Islam have been in a deep intellectual slumber and backwardness. The scientific, technological and economical handicap, which the Muslims are facing today, is primarily because the Muslims are relying upon scholars who interpret their scriptures the way they were interpreted almost fourteen hundred years ago for another time and era and which is not applicable for our time and circumstance. We must ignore the vast academic contributions that the scholars have left and which the generations after generations of scholars have reinvigorated to suit the conditions of the Muslims on sound scriptural understanding, we must ignore all this and request brother Ziauddin Sardar, a writer, broadcaster and cultural critic to rise to the challenge of interpreting and applying the scriptures in our times particularly living in the UK.
What a sad, mediocre and self-indulgent state. It is true as one Shaykh said that the fastest way to get a book published was to attack Islam and the Muslims. This was evident especially after 9/11; many Non-Muslim novelists became ‘experts’ on Muslims and Islam. This is also the case with some opportunistic Muslim sell-outs, who sell their religion for mere five-minutes of fame in the spotlight. We have to be aware of those who claim to support Islam and the Muslim but are only agent provocateurs guided by the neo-cons to tarnish the traditional orthodox Islam.
People, I mean Muslims of various affiliations should not be fooled with some of the language they employ. They might quote some well-known Muslim personalities, cite wise words of Sufi sages and seem to call for a deep spiritual re-call, these are all guises and double-speak they have inherited from their masters.
I am sure most if not all of you have come across blogging the Qur’an by Ziauddin Sardar in the Guardian Unlimited blog? Mr. Sardar has taken the challenge of interpreting and untangling the many misconceptions people have about the Qur’an, and every week for the whole year, he will make a thematic commentary on some of chapters of the Qur’an. Never mind the question of authenticity or qualifications, this person has serious problems accepting many of the fundamentally agreed upon aspects of Islam. I have forwarded some of my thoughts to him and hopefully he will take heed, OK, who am I kidding? That will not happen in a million years (unless Allah guides him)! Below are my comments.
Finally, it would be excellent if scholars who are qualified do start a rival blog to counter his one so the readers in particular the Non-Muslims get a correct overview of the Qur’an. I will Insha’Allah e-mail some Scholars I know to do just that, I would ask you also to request capable Sunni Scholars to take up this project.
A.H’s letter to Ziauddin Sarda
Dear Br Zia,
May God Almighty reward your valiant efforts in trying to convey Islam to the Western readers in particularly here in the UK.
I have been following your efforts on understanding or interpreting some of the chapters of the Qur’an. It is a wonderful and much needed venture however, with all due respects to you I do not think you are the most capable person for this enormous task. There are certain requirements that a person must attain before indulging oneself in speaking or interpreting the Qur’an that our scholars have highlighted and agreed upon. I will be correct in assuming that you are aware of the necessities but yet you put yourself forward for this mammoth challenge, the question is why? There are plenty of scholars who meet the perquisites of interpreting the Qur’an, why have you not humbled yourself and approached them and what makes you think yourself suitable or better than they for this weighty deed?
By your own admittance, you acknowledge that you do not possess the necessary qualifications for this task when you said, “I have no qualms in admitting I am not the most qualified person to talk about the Qur’an, let alone venture into the thorny territory of interpretation. I am not a Hafiz, or an Imam, or an Alim – a religious scholar – though on certain bad days, I do imagine myself as a Muslim thinker of some repute. Worse: I don’t even speak Arabic.” One may question your intentions after this statement.
As Muslims, we do not accept the clergy attitudes of some faiths that only selected people are permitted to inquire about the scriptures and thus only an elite section of the community try to understand the Qur’an however, the Qur’an itself places guidelines for proper understanding and it clarifies to us who should be consulted in matters pertaining to knowledge. It categorically states that if one does not have the qualifications he should refer to scholars ‘‘ask the people of knowledge’’. I put it to you, do you have the qualifications? Attending Usra’s and seminars does not qualify you to do Qur’anic exegesis.
I find it absurd and please, I intend no offense, that you suggest you do not know much yet you have no problems in interpreting the Qur’an. This attitude is very similar to a person who only after some rudimentary reading on medicine and surgery without attending medical college and years of training assumes himself in the task of performing delicate surgical procedures on patients. I do not know of any hospital in this vast planet of ours that would accept such a charlatan. Would you allow me to operate on you who whereby I were to possess no knowledge of medicine save the foundational secondary education he received in his school years? I would anticipate your reply would be a resounding no! Likewise, the institution of exegesis will not allow for a person who does not posses the certifications to undertake this task. If you do have the qualifications please present them to the readers so all are aware that they are taking knowledge from a credible source.
I will not prolong this letter but it is imperative that I remind you of the conditions of a Mufassir. The classical Sunni scholar Imam As-Suyuti cites in his monumental book on the sciences of the Qur’an al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an fifteen or so characteristics of the Mufassir. Scholars affirm that any tafsir (commentary), which disregards these principles, must be scrutinised with great concern and caution, if not completely rejected. Below are some important conditions:
1- Proper intention and sound creed.
Are you confused about your creed Mr Sardar? In one instance you declare you are a Mutazilite and another you say you’re a Sunni: “Now, I regard Mutazilites scholars such as ibn Sina and ibn Rushd, as my heroes – and regard myself, particularly at certain moments (alas, all too limited) of enlightenment, as a Mutazilite.”
“I ought to confess that I am a Sunni through and through. But I disagree strongly with those Muslims who have declared the Ahmadis to be “non-Muslims”; and I would definitely condemn all those who persecute this small community. I think the Admadis add to the richness and diversity of Muslim communities.”
Which is it? You are in favour of the Ahmadis and yet you say you are a Sunni. I would very much like to know your understanding of Sunni Islam. If you consider that the creed of the Ahamadis is the creed of the Muslims, I hope you are aware that the Ahmadis [otherwise known as Qadiyanis] are a heretical sect not from amongst the Muslims who believe amongst other things that a man called Ghulam Mirza Ahmad was a ‘Prophet’ when the seal of the Prophets is known to be Muhammad [pbuh] – so how could they possibly be deemed as Muslim whereby they have nullified the Shahadah [testimony of faith]. Such grave errors are further evidence that you are not in a position to perform commentary on the Qur’an.
2- Knowledge of the Arabic Language; this requires one to master Grammar [nahu], Morphology [sarf], word etymology [ishtiqaq], Arabic rhetoric [balagha], Poetry amongst other things. These are the basic prerequisite for interpreting the Qur’an, do you posses these qualities? No, by your own admission you stated, “I don’t even speak Arabic’’.
3- Knowledge of the various modes of Qira’ats [recitations].
4- Knowledge of the Principles of Fiqh [Usul al-Fiqh] and Fiqh.
5- Knowledge of the Asbab an Nuzul [reasons for revelation] and its related topics.
6- Knowledge of the Nasikh and Mansukh.
7- Knowledge of Hadith especially those pertaining the explicit commentary made by the Prophet (pbuh).
8- Knowledge of the makki, madani, muhkam, mutashabih and the various types of ‘Ijaz of the Qur’an.
9- Referring to the reports of the Companions of the Prophet.
10- Considering the reports of the successors of the Companions.
11- Consulting the opinions of eminent scholars.
12- Following the proper methodology of exegesis of the Qur’an.
These are but a few conditions, which an interpreter of the Qur’an [Mufassir] must posses that are agreed upon by the Scholars of Islam.
Dear brother in Islam, this is great a task which by your own admittance have proved to be unworthy of. I would suggest if you are at all sincere before God to drop this venture or request a qualified scholar to guide you in this endeavor.
May God guide us all upon the truth