Our New Website – Quranists Network

May 30, 2011

Salaamun alaikum,

Further articles which would have normally been in this blog will now be hosted by our new website :  http://www.quranists.net/

This website will be a repository of a new theory of Quranism as we hope to build the third force in Islam.

Goodbye 🙂

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Quranists: Between Reading and Interpretation

April 6, 2011

Among Quranists, the question of reading and interpreting the Quran is a relatively subtle issue but nonetheless, very important for us to build a open and accepting association.

The question is ever present in Traditional Islam too. Traditional Muslims ask ‘who speaks for Islam’ just as we ask ‘who has the right to speak for the Quran’. The answer to this question is tied who will be answering for us on judgement day: we ourselves. If we are to answer for ourselves, then it really is our right, nay our duty to offer our opinions on Quranic interpretation.

Let’s get back to the question of reading and interpretation. This question may also be phrased as the question of objectivity and subjectivity. Is it possible to read the Quran objectively, that is, without any kind of human element involved?

I believe that yes, it is possible. The Quran itself tells us it is possible touch the Noble Quran which is in a guarded book but not everyone can do so. One must be instigating purification of the self (56/79-80).  This is, of course, hidden to us (there is no tattoo on one’s forehead saying ‘He is purifying himself, trust him’) so it would be difficult for us to convince anyone that we are rightly guided. Indeed this is the problem with Traditional Islam (TI). TI has knowledge regimes which has turned tafseer (exegesis of the Quran) into an industry. Traditional Muslims are hardly allowed to differ from these individuals or risk being ex-communicated (being labelled ‘fasiq’/impious or kafir/disbeliever). This seems of course rather ironic the mufassireen/exegetes of TI can hardly agree even among themselves on many issues. Yet these people assume to be reading rather than interpreting.

We Quranists must never fall into this trap.

We need to realise, from the very beginning of the Quran’s answer to humankind which is Chapter 2, it starts with the enunciation of three Arabic alphabets: Alif Lam Meem. If the text of the Quran with words is open to interpretation, what more these three letters and others like them? TI itself has a long history of opinions on these letters which apparently ‘The Prophet’ never explained. These letters show that there is a mental agility needed and further, a spirit of accommodation for the opinions of others.

Quranists also sometimes have the notion that because they have left TI, the Quran becomes immediately a hundred percent clear. All they need is an Arabic dictionary and all will be clear. They then assume to be reading the Quran while in fact, they are still like everyone else, interpreters of the text. While the Arabic language definitely goes a long way in clarifying the Quran, there are other elements like the basic philosophy of the Quran, the context and consistency. The dictionaries, however ancient or authentic they claim to be, cannot have the final word. They are human products after all and also susceptible to tampering.

So where does this leave us? Is it a hopeless exercise to engage with the Quran? Absolutely not. It is not that we cannot arrive at a correct interpretation, it is only that we cannot objectively prove it to anyone. Not that this matters. The Quran speaks to the individual reader. The reader, once convinced, sets out to implement the Quranic programme. The Quran doesn’t really seem to care about the reader convincing anyone of his interpretation. Once we put our interpretation of the Quranic programme into practice, people would be convinced of the truth …or not.

Quranism: The Metaphor of the House

March 17, 2011

Once upon a time, the Prophet built a house. Because all the people who lived in it had the attitude of ‘islam’, the house was always at peace and encouraged wholeness.  It was appropriately called the house of islam as a description. The people who lived there were called ‘muslims’ because they were agents of wholeness and soundness.

With time, all the original occupants died and their descendants and the newcomers did not necessarily have the same attitude. However, as a matter of course, the house continued to be called the House of Islam and the people still were called Muslims. These words Islam and Muslim were reduced to names by this point and the House itself was expanded to include a few floors.

One such floor was the Sunni floor. The Sunni floor had a number of rooms. At first there were many rooms (some say 500!) which eventually got combined into a total of four rooms, the Shafiee, Hanafi, Maliki and Hambal rooms. The Sunnis were very great in number so they actually spent most of the time in the living room. There were so many of them that when people visited the House of Islam, they saw only the Sunnis. This made most people think Muslims were only the Sunnis and that the Sunni version of how the House of Islam was built was the true version.

Another floor was the Shiite floor. The Sunnis and Shiites decided they couldn’t live on a single floor. However, they lived mostly in peace with each other even though when you asked them, they would each produce arguments against each other. The Shiites also had several rooms but in the Shiites case, each of the rooms claimed to be the true inheritors of the Prophets legacy whereas in the Sunnis case, they mutually recognised each other’s rights to the Prophets legacy although they recognised only each other and no one outside Sunnism. Even then the new Sunni room called ‘Wahabi’ rejected the Shiites altogether saying they have no right to live in the House of Islam or be called Muslims.

Whenever there were visitors to the House of Islam, they mostly met the Sunnis and this led the visitors to think that the Sunnis are the House of Islam itself and the only Muslims. Some visitors found Shiites or Sufis (who were mystics and mostly accepted by both Sunnis and Shiites) and came to think that the House of Islam were truly represented by Shiites and Sufis though the Sunnis were also Muslims.

If the Prophet were to come back, he would be surprised to see Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis and Wahabis were so different from what he preached to be islam. However, he would not have denied that they were muslim (descriptively which is what Allah judges by).

There were actually people who thought all of these above floors and rooms were wrong. These people were critical of hadith and sunnah and stuck exclusively to the Quran.  However, they refused a floor of their own when they were asked to build one. They said, we are solely from the House of Islam and creating floor is against what the Quran is about so we shall remain in the living room.

Whenever visitors visited the House of Islam and looked for Muslims, these people said ‘That is US! We ARE Muslims’. However, those visitors felt cheated if not terribly betrayed when they found that these people were not like other Muslims much, if at all. No matter how strongly these people felt they were the exclusive claimants of the title Muslims, the sheer numbers of the Sunnis and Shiites had already coloured the perception of those visitors or seekers after Islam. Furthermore, the Quran did not say that people like the Sunnis, Shiites and others weren’t muslims (with a small ‘m’ because the Quran cares for our behaviour, not names), the only thing is they have taken sources which detracts from the Quranic ideal.

So what is the solution for these people? Perhaps they should understand that building a floor for themselves isn’t wrong. The Quran itself acknowledges a multiplicity of paths and techniques to serve Allah and that is what floors and rooms represent. Perhaps if they built a floor called Quranism and called themselves Quranists, they would be far more recognisable and people would appreciate their honesty. These people after all did not amount to even 1 percent of the House of Islam so a name, a floor and a room gives them recognisability. Does having this room mean that these people hated the others? Not at all. A floor is simply a space where people do what they do. People who visit that space automatically know that they shouldn’t expect people to adhere to hadith and sunnah there. When they communicated about such people, they called them ‘Quranists’ and do so with respect because these people acknowledge this term. The Quranist floor also has several rooms and they knowledge each of these rooms to be legitimate quests in seeking for the truth. Not only that, they are friendly to all other floors and rooms but they do gently tell the others that they are not following the true teachings of the Prophet.

Building floors and rooms gives space. Space exists on pages, in minds and in the world. Spaces help people find us and ensure that people aren’t cheated when they simply look for Islam and Muslims (which is much more often than not, Sunnism and Sunnis). Having a space doesn’t mean one is no longer muslim (agents of wholeness and soundness) but merely tells people HOW one is muslim. Lets not confuse this with sectarianism.

New Quranists: What Should You Expect?

March 15, 2011

So now you’ve decided: I am no longer a Sunni or Shia. I am a Quranist. I only accept Quran as revelation from Allah to the Prophet. You may see hadith as a body of humanly authored literature or at worst, a conspiracy against the Prophet and so, you’ve decided to give it up. Where does that leave you?

Well now, you have to start afresh. Everything you knew about Islam (except the fact that God is one, maybe) is up for grabs because lets face it: Hadith and Sunnah makes up most of what constitutes Islam. This is how it is for most people in the world. In fact, a famous scholar in this video says that if you are stranded on a desert island with the Quran, you are lost because you simply cannot practise Islam. That’s how disempowered the Quran is!

But anyhow back to you, the new Quranist. As a new Quranist, you should know what to expect.

First and foremost, unless you are 100% purified as Allah expects, expect not to understand the Quran fully on your first read. Most new Quranists tend to read much of their previous ideas of Islam into their reading of the Quran. That’s why the first question new Quranists almost invariably ask each other is ‘what’s your opinion on salat’. This is the result of a previous mindset carried into our new reading. These preconceptions will gradually disappear if you keep reading and keep adding to your notes. This is a lifetime journey after all.

Secondly, expect a vast difference between various Quranist groups and individuals. Not small differences but vast ones. This is no exaggeration, believe me. Why does this happen? Because once free of the dogmatism of Traditional Islam, our capacities to think freely are allowed to express themselves fully. This is a good thing so don’t let it scare you. Instead, please remember this. Whatever the case, you will be facing God all by yourself. So worry about your own interpretation. Learn from the others, sure but ultimately verify everything for yourself.

Thirdly, do not expect gloss. Let me explain: Quranist literature rarely, if ever, appears on high quality print or in mainstream media. At the moment, that simply isn’t our lot in life. Perhaps that is Allah’s test on the Quranist: Whether or not he can see past the very misleading sparseness of Quranist presence. Our books may not have the material quality and we may not be as public as scholars of Traditional Islam but we need to ask ourselves, do we have it where it counts and that is the quality of our discourse.

Fourthly, expect to see a lot of shocking revelations. The extent of which Islam differs from what the Quran teaches is bound to shock anyone. After all, if we were from a Traditional Islamic background, we would have expected the Quran to be actually supporting what Traditional Islam teaches but it does not. All Quranists would agree that much:  That Islam has been distorted although there is no agreement as to exactly how much distortion has taken place. So don’t let the distortions shock you into questioning Quranism. Just ensure that whatever  you believe about what Allah teaches comes from the Quran and you’ll be fine.

Being a Quranist is a very exciting journey indeed. A Quranist has the ability to do something which no other Muslim has: the ability to challenge even the highest authorities. While our association isn’t as visible or well known as other Muslims, we have the opportunity to make Quranism a democratic and progressive version of Islam which is very much in line with the Quran itself.

From Reformism to Uniformism: An Analysis Quranic Fundamentalism

February 17, 2011

In Traditional Islam (TI), the Wahabist notion of the ‘firqa najiyya’ (saved sect) has rendered considerable damage to the open and tolerant attitude borne by most Muslims. Wahabis believe in the hadith of the 73 sects in which the Prophet stated that only one of the 73 will be saved and that is the one upon Quran and Sunnah. Naturally the Wahabis themselves claim to be those people even though at present they themselves are broken up into various groups. I wonder how that would fit into that hadith?

In Quranist Islam or Quranism, the story should be different. Postmodern Quranism comes at a time when Muslims are overwhelmingly following TI and it seeks to reform this situation for various reasons. As a Quranist, my reason for seeking reform would be to infuse in the Ummah a sense of direct experience with the Quran. The Quran isn’t meant to be dispensed by a few individuals for their ‘clients’ (i.e. the rest of us) but rather meant to be thought about freely and democratically.

On the whole, my experience tells me that Quranists are usually open minded and accepting individuals. They are much more partial to reading about other religions and accepting truth from any source. This is because the Quran itself is like that, very much open about diversity of opinion.

And this is why Quranic Fundamentalism (QF) is an irony. Although Quranic Fundamentalists (QFists) themselves would vehemently deny it, QF may be deemed as a part of Quranist Islam because they consider the Quran the sole source of Islam. However, instead of being affected by open and tolerant nature of the Quran, they have gone completely the other way.

QF’s ideology is clearly discernible by its language. They call themselves Muslims (which is not a problem in itself) but others are called ‘sectarians’. They consider themselves ‘monotheists’, ‘believers’ and ‘quran aloners’ whereas others are ‘polytheists’, ‘disbelievers’ and ‘god plus others’. In short, the terminology employed depicts those who are unlike QFists (which may include other Quranists as we are of a large variety) as the ‘damned’ whereas they themselves are saved.

In order to disabuse them of this erroneous position, we must explain how their above language does not reflect the Quran’s own position. If anything, the Quran is the complete opposite of this mindset as we will soon see:

  1. QFists say: We are Muslims and others are Sectarians.

Firstly, we need to ask: what exactly makes a sect? If we look at 30/31-32, we will see that the words shi3ah and hizb is used. Both these words connote confrontational attitudes and even states that these people are vainglorious about what is with them.

Does this not describe the attitudes of the QFists themselves? Aren’t they being confrontational by claiming that they are simply Muslims while others are sectarian thereby denigrating the others?

Secondly, we need to ask if there is only one way to be muslim? If QFists are concerned about what the Quran says, they would not say think so. The Quran actually mentions God’s paths in plural (subulana – see 29/69). It also talks about each person having his own expression (wijhah – 2/148) and as well as disclosures and methodologies (shir3ah and manhaj – 5/48). The latter two verses ask for us to race to bring about goodness (al-khayraat).

Therefore, QFists have no cause to call anyone sectarian. Allah himself acknowledges the existence of multiple paths. At this point QFists may raise the objection by pointing to the verse that says that the only deen in the sight of Allah is islam (3/19). Indeed this is true but let us ask them, why not translate the word ‘islam’? Why look at it as a label one assumes when the Quran uses it in functional terms (such as 6/71)? The word islam refers to the acquirement of salam or peace which is fully elucidated in the Quran itself. It is a philosophy of action which has many ways to actualise.

  1. QFists say ‘We are monotheists and others are polythiests’

 

This statement not only betrays a lack of understanding of the Quranic mindset but also shows a tacit acceptance of the mindset employed by TI. In the TI concept of aqeedah (a branch of the Islamic sciences in which articles of faith are articulated), Islam is seen as accepting a list of items after which one becomes a monotheist. In the same way QFists link becoming a monotheist to accepting the Quran alone as a profession of faith.  

The Quran however, has nothing to do with this mindset. It does not even have the word monotheist (muwahid)! If one were to probe deeply, the closest one would come up with is the example of Ibrahim in which he is said to be ‘essentially not of the polytheists’ (maa kana min al-mushrikeen – 16/123). Ibrahim does say ‘I am not from the polytheists’  (maa anaa min al-mushrikeen – 6/79) but when does he say this? When he had achieved complete dissociation from his society (inni bari’un mimma tushrikoon – 6/78). Can any of us say the same thing? We are all trapped in the grip of modern living and the power of the false god firaun (symbolic of the total power of statehood). Only the superficial deduction of the QFists would pronounce that we are of the same deen status as Ibrahim. ‘Deeni haneefa’ (as it appears in 10/105 and 30/30) is something Allah instructs us to aspire to, not a label we take. The next section below will elucidate this further

  1. QFists say ‘we are believers and others are not’.

 

Once again, the Quran does not support with this extremist language. As we have seen above, the Quran allows for plurality in how one goes about expressing islam. In the same way, it has 88 calls for those who have believed (yaa ayyuha alladhina amanoo) yet nowhere in these calls does it instruct us to call ourselves ‘believers’. Why is this the case? Because belief is something within the heart as 49/14 shows and it is invisible to others. It does not suit at all the judgemental nature of QFists.

Conversely, only once does it instruct us to say ‘oh disbelievers’ (ya ayyuha al-kafiroon – 109/1) but to whom exactly? If we read the rest of chapter 109, it is for people who have completely dissociated themselves from ibadah or the service of Allah. The service of Allah in the Quran has four times been mentioned next to doing goodly deeds (2/83, 4/36, 6/151 and 17/23) which is a very strong emphasis. How then can we deem anyone who performs any acts of goodness to be disbelievers?

Unfortunately QFists have imported mindsets from some varieties of Traditional Islam (TI) as well as from Fundamentalist Christianity. This exclusivist mindset considers belief as something tied to an object of faith. In the case of TI, it is the whole historical phenomenon of Islam, for Fundamentalist Christianity it is the sacrifice of Jesus and for QF, it is the Quran itself. You become a believer by accepting the Quran alone. However, the Quran itself does not promote such a mindset. Nowhere does it paint itself an object of faith at all. It is possible to reject ‘signs’ (ayat) but signs are something one experiences, not something forced down our throats by QFists.

  1. QFists say ‘we are quran aloners and others are not’

 

This statement is only true on a superficial level. While Quranists as whole acknowledge that only the Quran can articulate islam, that is where the unity ends. We are still left with the question of interpretation. We tend to see QFists quote the Quran and ‘throwing’ it at others to impute them as disbelievers and hypocrites but this only shows how superficially the Quran is treated.

The Quran isn’t just read but interpreted. Unfortunately, QFists do not tend to see this and think by simply professing ‘quran alone’, they have understood it fully. The Quran simply does not see itself as a ‘one-off’ reading. Rather, it tells the reader to not rush to see what the signs point to (20/114) and to keep seeking knowledge to elucidate the text (41/3). Becoming Quran-alone in one’s approach to islam is merely the beginning to a more coherent reading.

By this reasoning as well, QFists should not vilify Quranists who interpret differently from they do. QFists use terms such as ‘satanic’ for Quranists who reject certain interpretations or paradigms. Such a mentality truly fails to understand the processual nature of reading the Quran. Reading the Quran is a process in which one continuously reads the book and finds greater and greater lucidity. Therefore, it is simply the height of arrogance to say that ‘Quran alone’ means anything on a salvation level. Interpretation is still an issue and only those who are superficial or live in delusions think otherwise.

Postmodern Quranism, which is my term for Quranism in an internet age, has unlimited potential to change the face of Islam for better as well as to offer humanity solutions for its current problems. However, in order to do this, we must first adopt the same mindset as the Quran. There is no use in being Quranists if all we do is simply remove elements of Traditional Islam but leave its mentality intact. Quranic Fundamentalism is a product of this mentality and threatens to destroy what could be a potentially transformative movement in the world.

My Being and Quran 2011

January 20, 2011

When I found myself in the world, there was Quran. 

For as long as I remember, Quran was part of my existence. In my early years, it was always at the top of the shelf in the upstairs family room, looking down on us, yet never saying a word like a silent sentinel. I remember that very copy too, an encyclopaedia-sized translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali bought in 1983 by my late grandfather. I took this very copy with me to England years later and after 5 years returned it to rightful place. It’s now in my own bookcase in the very same house in Malaysia, still bearing its receipt of purchase and a small note in grandad’s handwriting.

The only times Quran’s presence was known to me was when it was recited as the opening TV program every evening. I had to wait patiently for it to finish before my cartoons began. There was also when a member of the Malaysian royalty passed on and Quran was read on TV for 40 days. I resented it then because it delayed my cartoons. 

When my grandmother passed away in 1985, our entire family started practising Islam as we knew it. We all began praying and suddenly Quran became a big part of our lives. Even though I had already been through religious studies in school for 2 years before that, this event made Quran something known in my life. A religious person was engaged to read Quran for the soul of my grandmother. I remember his presence in our living room after her passing faithfully reciting Quran for her soul as per his paid appointment. Later, when he finished, we had a small ceremony to mark the occasion.

  With religion becoming a part of our lives, I was also made to learn the art of recitation of Quran. My grandfather engaged a teacher who would come with his van on hot Malaysian afternoons and I, sleepy from the heat and the soothing breeze of the ceiling fan, would recite Quran with adequate skill. I eventually completed my reading under this teacher who then told me that if I couldn’t read the text, to kiss its pages for that would be at least some benefit for my soul. I never opened the Quran again on my own volition till years later.

With that religious grounding, I was able to make my way through religious studies in school without much difficulty but there was no feeling in it. Religious practises were a norm in my house but I only participated if there was adult supervision and not unless. Religion became a tedious ritual and that included the reading of Quran. It’s almost like a robot practising religion.

  When I was fifteen, an unnoticeable change came over me. There was something that was invoked in me leading me to find an interest in Islam. I studied Islam because I wanted to and for the next five years I learnt something more of Islam and in particular, Sufism. Sufism is considered to be the esoteric mystical branch of Islam and it interested me to the point of my wanting to engage in its practises myself. I read a lot on its theory and did some practises but never progressed very far.

  When I was 20 in 1996, I came to the UK for my university education. The first time I logged on to the internet at uni, I keyed in ‘islam’ in the search engine and I encountered a idea which I had not contemplated before let alone met in the flesh, the idea that Quran stood on its own and rejected any other source of revelation. This was the ‘quran alone’ doctrine which was to change my life in ways I could not even imagine back then. It took me a year to come to accept this principle due to the fact that I was very much entrenched in traditional Islam. During this time, I researched into traditional Islam as much as I could and found questions which were unanswered back then and remain unanswered till today. These questions scared me because they undermined what I held dear in the world, my religion. I actually fell ill at one point for some weeks when I realised traditional Islam was indefensible.

I went home to Malaysia for my summer vacation in 1997. In that summer, I visited an uncle in my home state of Penang and found in his library a book which gave me the final decision in my dilemma of Traditional Islam vs Quranic Islam. I read that book and made a copy for my best friend. After the summer holidays that year, in the middle September,  in an Edgeware Road flat in London, my best friend and I first openly declared our agreement to Dr Kassim Ahmad’s thesis in his book ‘Hadith : A Reevaluation’, the book I found in my uncle’s library. Irony is the warning written by my Uncle on the copy of this book that it should not be believed in, my dear uncle’s grim warning. There was a momentousness to this  event as both my friend and I were both struggling with the problem together for the whole year previously. It was the beginning of my journey into Quranism. I had become a Quranist just then.

The initial mindset I had as a new Quranist was that everything about Islam was right except what contradicts the Quran. So initially, only sharia law became unacceptable as the bulk of it was from hadith and the opinions of scholars. It was during this time that I encountered Kashif Ahmed Shehzada whose understanding of Quran was phenomenal.  Kashif had his own website where he wrote articles on the misconceptions about Islam. It was fantastic how far he had come even at that time. Although Kashif was a Quranic thinker in his own right and even now I do believe that he has the greatest understanding of Quran of anyone I know, he was also thoroughly familiar with the various thinkers of Quran and introduced me to them.

Toluislam was the first of those. At last, an institution which upheld Quran! But it was so much more than that, of course. It was founded by Mr Ghulam Ahmed Parwez whose understanding of the Quran took it away from the paradigm of religion. Parwez’s ‘Lughatul Quran’ (language of the Quran) which was partially available online was so powerful in showing how concepts in Quran had meanings which were natural (i.e. based in creation) or in philosophy. This helped shift my own reading to my first step in reading Quran as a manual of being human as opposed to a religious text Parwez wrote many other books too such as ‘Islam : A Challenge to Religion’ and ‘Kitaabun Taqdeer’(book of fate) but nothing to me was better than Lughat.

Dr Abdul Wadud was another figure in Toluislam who influenced me in my reading. His book ‘Conspiracies Against the Quran’ was a very helpful introduction on how the Muslims came to be apart from Quran. His book ‘Gateway to the Quran’ was my first example on how non-religious Arabic which Parwez taught can be applied and the result was, chapter one became so powerful. Quran was beginning to show its power to me and I was hooked.

Among other figures whom Kashif introduced me to were Dr Kamal Omar whose work called ‘the Ultimate Truth’ gave me a first clue of how the concepts of Quran were misunderstood and racialised. Two initial concepts which I saw a Quranic view were Children of Israil and People of the Book. I remember thinking how deeply entrenched these misconceptions are but really, if one studies Quran on its own terms, the falsehoods simply fade away.

An enigmatic personality whom Kashif introduced me to was Inayatullah Khan Al-Mashriqi. Till today, I have not read possibly more than 5% of Mashriqi’s own words but that 5% was enough to initiate a vital notion in my reading, the notion of reading Quran as a human being and not a Muslim (Mashriqi saw this as being a religion but I see it as part of a culture). Quran must be read as God’s message to humankind for their evolution as a species. Al-Mashriqi’s deep insight into this liberates Quran from being a religious text to the Muslims alone and wallahi, it’s the liberation every reader must take with him.

Kashif also introduced me to the two people closer to home. I remember the day I met them both. I was escorting a new Quranist visiting the UK from the States and on that tiring spring afternoon, I met up with the London Quranists. They were followers of Parwez who moved beyond him. WAY beyond. I will call these two great men as the two Ali’s. The first Ali was older and a keen historian. He showed me how Quran contradicted much of Islamic history which didn’t surprise me at all. The most precious thing the older Ali showed me was the use of Quran as a political manual, as in how to govern society. While I do not agree with him at this stage, he definitely planted those seeds in mind.

The second and younger Ali introduced me to my favourite philosopher. The younger Ali was a keen philosopher himself and I guess it was through my endless late night talks with him that I was able to see Quran as a philosophical text. In fact, this is how we can tease out the sheer conceptual power of Quran, when we invoke it to answer our philosophical needs. Quran moves beyond any field created by human beings and lands us in our essential field of being: human being.

Kashif eventually moved away but he did leave me with a final acquaintance: Mr Mohamed Sheikh of the IIPC. Mr Shiekh brought to my mind the concept of the living Quran. That is, Quran which is alive now and not a historical reading. Through this principle alone, Quran became alive! It became our living prophecy and was able to foretell all our essential future. Mr Shiekh had several novel interpretations of various concepts like Children of Israil and People of the Book. His lectures still continue and now they have a presence on youtube.

Other than Kashif, I also encountered a number of Quranists who helped me form my current thinking.

In the year 2000, through Layth Al-Shaiban, I was introduced to the ideas of Mohamed Shahrour, a Syrian Quranic thinker. Shahour introduced me to a technique called ‘ghair taradduf’ (non-synonymity) which says that no two words in Quran have the absolute same meaning. Shahour focussed on the words ‘al-kitab’ and ‘al-quran’ (among other similar words) in his most famous book but the principle applies to all of Quran of course. I have found this principle very powerful in teasing out subtle meanings and defending against false interpretations.

In 2001, I was shown that traditional Islam had still much to offer in the field of exegesis. I was out on a book finding mission charged to me by the Older Ali in London and by some miracle, I was introduced to the work of Mustansir Mir, ‘Coherence in the Quran’ which, although assumed traditional interpretations for Quranic concepts , was able to employ the arrangement of Quranic chapters and verses for its exegesis. The effect was devastating – another tool was disclosed to me! Mustansir’s teachers, Hamiduddin Farahi and Amin Ahsan Islahi had tremendous insights by simply employing the arrangement of the text.

Perhaps my most earth-shaking moment in my journey was my encounter with Aidid Safar in 2002. I had known Aidid for some years before that and I considered him a dedicated student of the Quran. Aidid was concerned about application of the Quran and that summer, we brought up the topic of the hajj. Aidid’s initial stimulus allowed me to see for the first time God’s system and led to some fulfilling research into the topics. While my conclusions differ a lot from Aidid’s, 9 years down the way, I must thank Aidid for his courage. Aidid fears no one and nothing and this is why he was able to break through preconceptions in such a manner.

In early 2008, I became pre-occupied with the use of the word ‘al’ in Quran thanks to my online conversations with a brilliant young man from Pakistan by the name of Fahad Ali Khan. Fahad’s intriguing questions have led me to question principles which I have held for the past 8 years or so, that when Quran uses the word ‘al’ for a word, it refers to the same thing throughout the text. . Such is the nature of our inquiry into Quran. We must always be prepared to hold our hands up and say ‘I will need to reinvestigate this’.

Later in 2008, I had the privilege of editing ‘Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform’ and one of the essays submitted was by Ahmed Subhy Mansour. Dr Mansor wrote an essay on the concept of ‘believer’ in the Quran and showed that it wasn’t necessarily a ‘religious’ idea. I partly agree with him but certainly appreciate his concept of ‘believer’ which is close to my own.

In 2008/2009 I also took some classes in Islamic studies. I came across historical studies of Islam which helped me realise that Quran has prepared its own defence against even a historical criticism. I was amazed at this discovery but this is so typical of Quran, easily defending against any critique.

It is now January 2011. This year I find myself taken by the structure of Quran which I mentioned above was revealed to me by Mustansir Mir. I am beginning to see layer upon layer of groupings and pairing of chapters. Through these groupings and pairings, each chapter is exposed in a variety of ways. I find that every chapter can be exposed in a variety of ways depending on which grouping you compare it with. I also am finding ‘progressions’ in themes in the later chapters which I find use a markedly different vocabulary than earlier chapters. Perhaps the most exciting thing for me is now seeing how concepts are used in subtly different ways in different chapters. Truly Quran is amazing beyond words.

It has now been fifteen years since my first encounter with Quranism and at this point, I know of some issues and don’t know of others. I have seen a lot of research and many arguments. One thing I can say about the whole experience though is that I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey and Quran’s exposition on things. It really addresses my being in the world and I hope to dive deeply into it in times to come.

Our Own Shadow: Quranists and the Term ‘Quranists’

January 18, 2011

The term ‘Quranist’ was first made known to me by Anwar Goins. He uninhibitedly used the term ‘Quranist’ a few years ago and his website is appropriately called ‘www.quranists.com’ . I was more apprehensive at the time, thinking the term ‘al-muslimeen’ was the stated name given by Allah and that’s the name we should stick by. Anwar however believed that we are not to be called Muslim. Perhaps I misunderstood him at the time but I disagreed.

Fast forward a few years and some experience under my belt, I find myself changing my mind. Calling myself ‘Muslim’ is not untrue. I am Muslim but stating that I am Muslim without any ‘footnotes’  is an answer which gives my audience a completely different perception of who I am. When someone asks you ‘what religion are you’ and you say ‘Islam’ or ‘I am Muslim’, you almost always (or in my experience, always) get the following perception:

  1. That you believe in the 5 pillars of Islam (I don’t)
  2. That you believe in the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet (I don’t)

Even the Shia who are about 10 percent of the Muslims will get these wrongful perceptions. They don’t believe in traditions of the Prophet so much as they believe in the authority of the Ahl-Al-Bayt. So even they will have to correct the perception of the audience. What more the Quranist? The Quranist is perhaps no more than one percent of Muslims in the world. What chance has he got that he will be correctly perceived on the first go?

This term Quranist is objected by some Quranists and I can understand their objections. However, I believe its due to some misperceptions of what the terms represent. Below are their objections and my rebuttal:

  1. Allah has named us al-muslimeen so we can’t create another term.

When we say He named us ‘al-muslimeen’, what does it mean exactly? Does it mean that when I meet someone, and he asks ‘what is your name?’ , I say ‘I am muslim?’. Well if Allah has named me Muslim, I would not be telling a lie if I said that. But clearly that’s not the point. Allah named us muslim in a particular context. That context isn’t our name. We do not all have to change our names to ‘Muslim’ or ‘Muslimah’.

What is that context? That context, if one reads all the ayat about islam and muslim from Quran, is a description of our personal beliefs and actions. These beliefs and actions aren’t even limited to the people in the world we know as ‘Muslims’. Many, many people have them even if they have never opened Quran or use the term Muslim. One will see in Quran that the only acceptable deen is islam (3/19) yet many personalities have nothing to fear nor grieve (2/62 and 5/69). Why is this the case? Because ‘islam’ is not a name in the labelling sense, it’s an attitude or personality type.

This leaves us with the question, where does the term ‘Quranist’ operate? Quranists are, as common perception goes,  grouped with  ‘Muslims’. However, when we say ‘Muslim’ here, we are not talking about Muslims in the Quranic sense. These Muslims have a whole other criteria to be ‘Muslim’ and it is this  criteria we as Quranists reject. This is why we need the term ‘Quranists’. It is a free space which helps relate who we are in a religio-cultural sense. Among Muslims (religio-cultural Muslims that is) we are not Sunni or Shia but Quranists. We need this term because they already used Sunnis and Shia.

2. You are creating another sect.

Firstly, let us acknowledge that none of us think alike. With Sunnis and Shia there are already differences in how they think but with Quranists, our differences are even wider. Say we drop the term Quranists altogether and call ourselves Muslim, will we then be uniform in our thinking? Of course not.

The good news is, the differences aren’t what makes us a sect. Quran talks about this sectarian attitude in 30/32 and uses the particular term ‘hizb’. ‘Hizb’ in the Quran is a very polarised term which shows a confrontational attitude. 

Sectarianism isn’t what being Quranist is about at all. Quranism describes our methodology. We all believe Quran is the sole source of Islam and therefore we act accordingly. I have personally no hostility for the Sunnis or Shia and I do believe they can reach salvation as much as anyone else. Had I not believe that and reserved salvation for myself and my brand of Quranists (lets not delude ourselves into thinking we are a uniform group!), then I would be sectarian

3. We are Monotheists but they are not. We are the only ones rightfully calling ourselves Muslim.

Once again, we must go back to Quran to understand how it thinks. Quran does not use the term ‘muwahiddoon’ (monotheists) in any verse at all. Rather it uses the term ‘millatu ibrahim haneefa (2/135, 3/67) to denote a state where all the false images are destroyed. This is not a confessional state which means its not something one simply says. Ibrahim actually destroyed the false gods in his life.

We do not become Monotheists by simply professing Quran alone. There is still the shirk of worshipping the hawa (delusions, mentioned in 25/43 and 45/23). This is not to impute that any one are idol-worshippers but rather to say that the Quran doesn’t free us from shirk by simply professing the Quran alone. We may want God alone but do we actually have God alone? That is the question.

Having said all of the above, I deeply respect why my fellow Quranists (even those who disdain that term) have deep  reservations about this term.  What I believe is however that we are creating a new identity within the cultural entity of Islam. This new identity is what is needed for people to recognise that Islam is not monolithic but has endless variations. If we can create this new culture, we can thereby draw people to Quran. These people need to know what they are being called to. Let them not feel as if they are cheated if they later discover that this is not the Islam they sought in the first place. Let us be clear about who and what we are.

Why am I a Quranist?

January 16, 2011

When I first became a Quranist about fifteen years ago, I had the sure notion that the minute I told fellow Muslims of this, they would run to re-embrace the Quran. Of course they didn’t and it wasn’t just my inadequate propagation methods either. I later learnt (through the experience of Tolu-Islam) that Muslims tend to give the opposite response – they get really hostile!

Why is this the case? Perhaps it is due to perception. Muslims tend to view Quranist Muslims as one of the following:

1. Agents of the Infidels (most especially Jewish Agents).

2 Rejectors of the Prophet

3. Secret Atheists

4. Secret Rejectors of Islam

5. Admirers of the West

You get the idea..

Am I any one of those things? Of course not! I am a Quranist not because it is expedient to do so! In Traditional Islam, it is enough for us to do the five pillars to achieve salvation.

This Blog’s Change of Direction

January 16, 2011

Salaamun alaikum,

After a reorganisation phase, I am back. I have decided on the ‘quranology’ brand to reposit my writings on Quran itself.  This blog, by its very name, will be used for Quranist issues. My plan is to write notes on what it means to be a Quranist and our critique of Traditional Islam. In time, I hope to edit these notes into a series of essays for publications. The rest of the notes here will be transferred to   http://quranology.wordpress.com/

Juz Amma 3: The Chapter TRIPLETS

August 5, 2010

Some of my readers may know that I was most taken by the book ‘Coherence in the Quran’ where Mustansir Mir expounded on the concept of sura twins, that is two chapters which are next to each other and seem to mutually compliment the other. I have discovered this to be true for many chapters, like 10 and 11, 13 and 14 and many more. However, in the ‘juz amma’, I believe there is a sura triplet. These are chapters 91-93, ash-shams, al-layl and adh-dhuha.

Why do I think they’re triplets? For a start, all of them begin with the mentioning of natural metaphors. These natural metaphors involve the sun, moon, day, night and others. These metaphors help us get a concrete meaning of the ideas which are about to come. Lets take chapter 91 for example, It starts with the sun, the moon, the night then goes on to mention the soul. What follows are the evil-doers of the past and a summation of why they’re evil. For a chapter of 15 ayat, this is a jam packed chapter! We must take all the ayat as gradual expositions of the main idea . It’s the same with chapters 92 and 93 as well.

Next, we find that these chapters seem to have a gradual focus on the nafs. The nafs, the human personality or I prefer person-ness the quality of being human, In chapter 91, this is given 4 ayat to describe what the nafs is about and the forces acting upon in it. In chapter 92,  the nafs is set against the principles of good and the nafs is said to be unable to grow without giving. In chapter 93, the nafs isnt mentioned at all but the states of experience of the nafs are set against the positive events. The reader is then told to enact certain things if he wishes to achieve those positive events.

I highly recommend reading these chapters in oscillations, 91-93, then 93-91 and observing the gradual exposition of ideas found in these chapters. You may come to agree that they are indeed triplets

Next, the bracketing of these chapter triplets.