Moderate Islam

Question

I am a Pakistani student currently perusing my Engineering in Italy. During the last decade out nation has been introduced to a new term "Moderate Islam". I want to know if as a Muslim, we are so confident about the brilliance and comprehensive nature of Islam as a religion, why do we have to look for such terms as "moderate" to save our face? Is it because the real "brilliant Islam" never existed in us and we have been following something else. And now that this "something else" is looking bad, we want to amend it thinking that we are amending Islam? If you agree with the idea that we have been following "something else", don't you think we are a nation as lost as other ummahs like Jews and christens. These ummahs got lost because they lost their books, we got lost because we lost the sense to comprehend our book even though the book is still the same. Please note that when I say "WE", I mean in both context the Muslims of INDO-PAK and Muslims in general.


Answer

Yes indeed your observation seems correct. We Muslims are like a nation who has lost its soul. Terms such a "moderate Islam" or "fundamental Islam" or "radical Islam" all seem to be misnomers and reflect how much such labels bring us far away from the Islam found in the original sources of Islam. We do not need such labels as long as we have the book of God and the sunnah of the prophet (sws) with us.

It is more a question of letting scholars contribute what they can to interpret Islam because this interpretation needs is a human endeavor and is as such prone to error.

Actually, the last few centuries bear witness to a sharp decline in the individual as well as the collective affairs of the Muslims. All over the globe, they seem to have lost their identity. They appear to be dispossessed of the real spirit of Islam, and have been stripped of the position of supremacy they once held in the comity of nations. Though they have with them the last and final word of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, yet it no longer plays a vibrant role in their lives.

One very significant reason for this sorry state of affairs is the intellectual stagnation which generally exists about religion. Two root causes of this intellectual decadence and backwardness are apparent to every keen eye:

1) The ailment of Taqlid (blind following), both at the level of the religious scholars as well as at that of the masses.

2) A complete disregard of the role of human intellect in matters of religion.

An elaboration of these two points, which are actually the two sides of the same coin, follows:

Our religious institutes all over the Ummah, which produce religious scholars, are actually the source of this Taqlid syndrome. Here, a student from the very first day is labeled as an orthodox follower of a particular sect. His destiny seems to be carved out beforehand as a devout denouncer of every other sect and an ardent acclaimer of his own. He is made to believe that only his brand of beliefs is in direct conformity with the Qur'ān and Sunnah. He is brainwashed with the notion that only his sect has been divinely blessed with the true version of Islam. An inference attributed to a highly revered scholar of his sect stands supreme until the Day of Judgment. That it can be challenged by explicit reasoning derived from the Qur'ān and Sunnah cannot be dared thought of. On the contrary, it becomes part of his faith that such a scholar cannot falter.

It is this superhuman veneration that has actually given rise to the menace of religious sectarianism. Differences in opinion have often developed into severe conflicts. An atmosphere charged with lightning and resounding with thunder prevails amongst the religious circles. Every now and then, a new episode of defamation erupts form our mosques, which are unfortunately being used for these malignant offensives. The intense disregard the various sects have for one another has led them to violate all norms of decency. Even unethical tactics are employed to safeguard their own views and interests. Like nations at war, they continue their crusades against each other -- while, very close to them, the forces of evil mock at them and continue to flourish.

With this concept of Taqlid prevailing among the religious scholars, the common man also has been led to associate himself with the scholars of a particular sect. Instead of weighing the opinions of various scholars and accepting the one which is the most convincing to their intellect they blindly follow an imam's directive however much they may be convinced against it. The greatest ill effect of this approach is that following religion becomes a mechanical process – it does not flow out from one's heart and does not bring about a change in one's character and behavior. Since using one's intellect in understanding religion has long been done away with, the Qur'ān is read but not understood. Its greatest utility was providing guidance to mankind; now it is mainly used for reciting for the dead.

If the above mentioned thesis is correct, then there is a need to bring about an intellectual awakening in the Muslims. The most effective way to do this perhaps is to produce highly competent scholars of Islam who are able to directly access and interpret the sources of Islam and thus are able to break the shackles of Taqlid. They should be groomed in a manner that they can face the challenge of the modern era.

Until and unless efforts are made to produce such scholars, there is a very little chance that the Ummah can come out of its current state of deterioration.

About the Author

Dr. Shehzad Saleem


 

 

EDUCATION

University of Wales, Lampeter, United Kingdom
  Ph.D. Title of dissertation: Collection of the Qur’ān: A Critical and Historical Study of al-Farāhī’s View (2010)
  Under the tutelage of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi for religious studies (1988-)

University of Engineering and Technology,  Lahore, Pakistan
  B.Sc Electrical Engineering (1990)

The Government College, Lahore, Pakistan
  Intermediate, Pre-Engineering (1983)

 

RESEARCH WORK

Special Area of Interest
  History of the Qur’ān and the Previous Scriptures

Projects
  Associate Fellow (1992-2008) / Fellow (2008 to present) at Al-Mawrid, A Foundation for Islamic Research and Education, Lahore,  Pakistan (www.al-mawrid.org)

•      Recently completed (2018) an eighteen year research project on the history of the Qur’ān that attempts to address the issue of multiple versions of the Qur’ān and some nagging questions regarding its collection.

•      Completed translation of a five volume Qur’ān commentary (Urdu to Eng) of Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī  titled Al-Bayān. (1998-2018).

•      Currently working on translating a nine volume Qur’ān commentary (Urdu to Eng) of Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī titled Tadabbur-i Qur’ān (2008 to present).

•      Currently working on a critical study of the corpus of Ḥadīth literature, including the “Hagar-Zamzam” narratives, “First Revelation”  narratives and “Return of Jesus” narratives.

 

EXPERIENCE

On Campus Work for Al-Mawrid
  •      Vice President (1995-1996/2013-2019). I assisted the president in organizing academic research work on Islam, its subsequent publication and various educational activities. Also oversaw administrative and financial spheres of the foundation.
  •      Secretary General (CEO)  (2012-2016). As a representative of the Board of Governors of Al-Mawrid,  was required to run the foundation comprising more than thirty staff members.
  •      Headed a graduate program of Islamic Studies (1999-2001) offered in affiliation with a private university (MA Jinnah University, Karachi). Work included organizing staff affairs and also supervising the syllabus and its effective instruction.
•      Instructor for Qur’ānic studies (1999-2001). Besides teaching,  responsibility involved developing the pedagogy and curriculum for teaching the Qur’ān to graduate students of the foundation.
•      President, Centre for Islamic Communications (1997). The objective of this centre was organization and marketing of various media of Al-Mawrid as journals, audio-video cassettes, lectures and seminars.
  •      Director General (1993-1995 / 1998-2003). Job responsibility as Director involved development of the institute and management of all its affairs.
  •      Director Admin (1992-1993). Job responsibility involved assisting the President in the administration of the institute.
  •      Editor of Renaissance Journal (1991-1995/ 1998 to present)
Oversaw the management of a monthly Islamic journal and all aspects of its publication.  Over the course of almost three decades, the journal has published several hundred articles on various aspects of Islam.

Online Work for Al-Mawrid
  •        Launched in 2014 http://www.abdus-sattar-ghauri.org, a website on the Biblical scholar Abdus Sattar Ghauri (1935-2014).
  •        Launched in 2012 http://www.tadabbur-i-quran.org, a website on the exegesis of Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī (1904-1997), a Qur’ānic scholar of the sub-continent.
  •        Launched in 2010 http://www.hamid-uddin-farahi.org, a website on life and works of the Qur’ānic scholar Ḥamīd al-Dīn Farāhī (1863-1930)
  •        Launched in 2004 http://www.amin-ahsan-islahi.org, a website on life and works of the Qur’ānic scholar Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī
  •        Launched in 2003 http://www.studying-islam.org, a website that offers online courses on Islam in English and in Urdu. Currently, there are over fifteen thousand registered students from around the globe and about 50 courses on Islam in English and Urdu.
  •        Launched in 1999 http://www.monthly-renaissance.com, the website of the monthly Islamic Journal Renaissance. Besides regular issues, special issues on Islam and Non-Muslims: A New Perspective, Islam and Women, Political Directives of Islam, Economic Directives of Islam, Understanding Islamic Punishments and Collection of the Qur’ān have been published.
  •        Launched in 1998 a comprehensive distance learning program for Al-Mawrid. It was well received in an era where online religious education was not that common.
•        Founded an Islamic Query Service (IQS) in 1997-2003), an email based service meant to answer questions on or about Islam. By 2003, more than 3000 questions had been answered by this service.

 

PUBLICATIONS

1. A New Economic Framework, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 1995.
  2. Common Misconceptions about Islam, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2008.
  3. Playing God: Misreading a Divine Practice, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2010.
  4. Islam and Women:  Misconceptions and Misperceptions, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2010.
  5. Essays on Character Building, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
  6. Qur’ān Workshops on Character Building,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2016.
  7. Lessons on Character Building, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2016.
  8. Selections from the Qur’ān, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
  9. Selections from the Bible, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
  10. Selections from the Ḥadīth, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2014.
  11. Introduction to the Qur’ān: Insights from Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, 1st ed., Lahore:
  Al-Mawrid, 2019
.
  12. A Treasury of Prayers from Qur’ān and Ḥadīth,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2017.
  13. The Good Human, 1st ed.,  US: Amazon, 2019.
  14. Modern Challenges to Parenting, 1st ed., US: Amazon, 2019.
  15. History of the Qur’ān: A Concise Study,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2018.
  16. History of the Qur’ān: A Critical Study, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2019.
  17. From the Core of my Heart (poems), 1st ed., US: Amazon, 2019.

Translations (Urdu to Eng) (Published)
  1. Selections from the Tadabbur-i Qur’ān,  Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2004.
  2. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Mīzān (Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction), 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2010.
  3. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Al-Islam (Islam: A Concise Introduction), 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2009.
  4. Selected Essays of Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015. (co-translator)
  5. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Al-Bayān, 1st ed., vol. 1, Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
6. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Al-Bayān, 1st ed., vol. 5, Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.

Translations (Urdu to Eng) (Unpublished)
  1. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 6, (Al-Mawrid, 2016)
  2. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 7, (Al-Mawrid, 2015) 
  3. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 8, (Al-Mawrid, 2015)
  4. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 9, (Al-Mawrid, 2014)

Works in Print
  1. History of the Qur’ān: A Critical Study
  2. From the Core of my Heart (poems)

PRESENTATIONS

I have lectured in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Pakistan. Some important topics include:
  1. Critical History of the Qur’ān
  2. Misconceptions about Women in Islam 
  3. Interfaith dialogue
  4. Selected Biblical Verses
  5.  Question on the Qur’ān by Serious Students 
  6.  Misconceptions about Islam 
  7.  Muhammad (sws): The Misunderstood Prophet of Islam
  8.  Marriage and Married Life
  9.  Basic Morality
  10.  Islam and Islamic Welfare State 
  11.  Misconceptions about Divorce in Islam 
  12.  Misconceptions regarding Jihad of the Companions of the Prophet (sws) 
  13 Imbalanced Religious Attitudes
  14.  Intellectual Freedom and Critical Thinking
  15.  Parenting
  16.  Challenges faced by the Youth of Today
  17.  The Mind of a Muslim Militant

I have also conducted several activity-based workshops for adults and sessions on Character Building and Personality Development for teenagers. Topics include:
  1. Charity 
  2. Pride and Arrogance
  3. Remembering God   
  4. Civic Sense 
  5. Kindness to Parents
  6. Gratitude
  7. Forgiveness 
  8. Moral Courage 
  9.  Truthfulness  
  10. Showing Off 
  11. Humility
  12. Sympathy
  13. Sinful Speech
  14. Honesty
  15. Justice

Most lectures are available at:
  http://www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleem / www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562019607

Have also recorded a 90 lecture series on the history of the Qur’ān that is available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sNWx-SSvc8&list=PL7oYOZNO0kHwDzi9P4UmSremVOVKzku7s

PERSONAL
  An avid tennis player besides being a swimmer, cricketer,  golfer and a chess player.
  Hobbies include reading books on religion, philosophy,  literature and history and writing poetry.
  Born on 18th June, 1966. Married with one son.

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