I was very kindly asked to speak on Glasgow Radio Ramadhan on Saturday 22nd September at 4:30am for the Bazm-e-Seher Program, hosted by my good friend Dr Abdul Quddus Sohaib, who is a visiting fellow at our Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow.
I was asked to talk about the Qur'an and I pondered long and hard about what angle I wanted to take. It was actually not an easy task. I am so used to giving lectures at university or lessons at school and my audiences are usually non-Muslim but on this occasion I knew that everyone listening was going to be Muslim. Waking up to have their pre-dawn meal they probably didn't want to hear my rants about my critical approach to the study of Islam.
"Why is it you are so critical when it comes to Islam Aman", said my good friend one evening. I just laughed. The answer to this is that I believe that any religion has the capacity and capability to withstand any criticism but most importantly God does not need a defender, infact God has given us so much choice that we can accept or reject Him.
Anyway, so I stayed up most of the night writing my thoughts! At the same time my two Roborovski Hamsters (Mirza and Ghalib!) decided to have the biggest fight in Hamster history! There was blood! They were quickly placed in seperate cages! Phew! So here is what I said on the radio that night.
"I want to talk about building a relationship with the Qur’an and to explore what the Qur’an means to us.
The Qur’an is the focal point of every Muslim’s belief and practice. I think every Muslim child and adult has this message strongly in their mind. Personally my relationship with the Qur’an started when I was reading the Qur’an at a small age but I understood very little. So where we understand little we look for real life examples. The sunna of our beloved prophet Muhammad is our excellent example but we also have many roles models who we look up to. When we are children we emulate the actions of those who we look up to, our mothers and fathers, a good parent or teacher should have all the goodness of the Qur’an within them. As we grow from childhood to adulthood our ideas change and our questions could be more different. We are then outside the safety and security of our closest role models and it is here that we hope that all the teachings create a good person in us all. It is here that we ourselves must seek answers and guidance from the Qur’an.
We must all reflect upon the Qur’an and firmly feel comfortable with the fact that the Qur’an must make sense to us in the context in which we find ourselves in. In education studies there is a theory called the child centred approach, when you link the teaching to the life of the student they understand it better. This is something we must all do when we learn and teach the Qur’an. We must grapple with the text which is the foundation of every Islamic tradition. When we do this we will see the very beautiful way in which the Qur’an will make all the other pictures clearer, be they social, cultural or political. When we delve into the Qur’anic world all the petty issues of the world become minute and the Qur’an becomes our guiding light. However, the academic study of the Qur’an in English works on the basis of ‘no holds barred’, meaning that everything up for grabs, the discussion and debate moves to the extent that some scholars have presented some extremely offensive discussions on issues such as the authenticity of the Qur’an or the compilation of the Qur’an. But contrary to weakening our faith through these discussions it must strengthen it and push us all to seek our own answers to these arguments. It is a two way process, we read and we reflect, reading the Qur’an demands us to utilise our mental capacity also. We will find negative ideas surrounding the Qur’an every where, in the media, on the Internet, but it is our deep love and commitment to the Qur’an that with stands all these arguments, ‘there is no compulsion in religion’, the Qur’an answers it most perfectly, ‘you have your religion and I have mine’. It is a beautiful place to be in when faith is so strong that no matter how negative someone will be it bears no significance on your state of mind and action.
And so when we move towards the Qur’an do we understand our existence and mission on this earth. The Qur’an becomes more than a beautiful book that we wrap up and place on our shelves or place within numerous frames around our house or something we just rote read and listen to in the Mosque. The Qur’an has to be more than just our show piece, it has to be a living entity in our lives. It has to be accessible to us all.
There is a blessing in the recitation and memorisation of the Qur’an and that is something we should all aspire to doing as often as we can but the text has to mean something to us all. The Qur’an must be a source of guidance to us all at every corner of the way. This is where I worry about the place of the Qur’an for the up and coming generation of Muslims. We have placed so many barriers to the Qur’an that we are losing touch with it. We are constantly told that to understand the Qur’an we need a)scholarly interpretation and then b) we must place that within the prophetic traditions and then we must do x, y, and z….by the time we get round to all these places we have lost interest in the initial intention. OK, if you have time to do all these things then brilliant but what if you don’t have time to do this? We must all seek the beautiful within the Qur’an, explore the stories that tell us many different things, in different ways. If God wanted to create a structured legal text he would have provided us with one but he provided us with a Qur’an. A Qur’an that narrates many beautiful stories with which we can learn about the love of God and the world we live in. From the very beginning the Qur’an is rooted to education, chapter [96: verses1-5] Read! In the name of your Lord who created - Created the human from something which clings. Read! And your Lord is Most Bountiful - He who taught (the use of) the Pen, Taught the human that which he knew not.
It is of utmost importance that we actively engage with the Qur’an. Don’t pass the buck to the nearest scholar but take ownership of your own beliefs and duty towards the Qur’an.
And so in conclusion I want to let the Qur’an speak , "Alif Laam Raa. A book which we have revealed to you (Muhammad) so that you may lead the people from darkness into the light by their Lord's leave to the path of the All-Mighty, the Praiseworthy." [Qur'an 14:1]
One of my favorite passages of the Qur'an is in the Chapter titled Kahf, verse 109, ‘If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the Words of my lord are spent.’ How vast is the sea yet how trivial is it in the context of the greatness of God. This is very warming that the same God is the most merciful and so much greater than anything we think is 'great' on this limited earth!
So during this blessed month of Ramadhan, the month of the Qur’an I pray that we all reflect on our relationship with the Qur’an in hope that our love for it is not a burden on us but a truly liberating force. The Qur’an must become our source of love and peace between us all and our path to God for He awaits us with a much greater love. May God accept our prayers and sincere actions.
God Bless Humanity! Peace to All!