New Age Islam
Mon Jul 13 2020, 11:41 PM

Books and Documents ( 19 Jun 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Let the Quran Speak for Itself


By Saif Shahin, New Age Islam

20 June, 2011







Text and Context: Quran and Contemporary Challenges

By Arif Mohammed Khan

Rupa & Co.

Pp 306, Rs395/-





IS ISLAM inherently violent? Are Muslims in India and the world over condemned by their faith to remain steeped in illiteracy, intolerance and radicalism? Or can they meet the modern world, the world of democracy, women’s rights and multiculturalism, on its own terms?

Arif Mohammed Khan thinks they can. And in Text and Context: Quran and Contemporary Challenges, a collection of his newspaper and magazine articles published over the past decade or so, this rare scholar-politician tells us why.

As the name suggests, the essays here tackle a host of issues that have beset Indian Muslims in particular and the global ummah in general in recent years from a Quranic perspective.

What is more, Khan takes care to provide the contexts in which many of these issues arose, as well as the contexts in which the Quranic injunctions he refers to were revealed—showing how critical contextualisation is for a proper understanding of such issues and injunctions.

Take, for instance, the issue of ‘triple talaq’. Those who use Quranic verses to justify a divorce by three pronouncements at one go rarely tell you that Prophet Muhammad, when informed about someone, who had done so, stood up in anger and said: “You are making sport of the Book of God.” Or, that Caliph Umar had such people whipped!

Another common practice is to call some people ‘kafir’, or non-believer, and declare war upon them. Khan says the practice started at a meeting of Deoband clerics in 1945 after one group split from Jamiatul Ulema to support the Muslim League.

“A perusal of the minutes of the meeting,” writes Khan, “shows that ideologically both groups held similar views and their dispute were confined to the question whether their interests would be served better in a united India or in Pakistan.”

Abuse of ayats

To justify his political and self-serving decision to support the Muslim League, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani resorted to the misuse of religion, declaring all non-Muslims as one group of kafirs and all Muslims as united against them.

Today, of course, it’s not just non-Muslims who are thus damned; the clergy of virtually every Muslim sect calls all other sects kafirs who must be annihilated in the name of Islam.

Where does the Quran stand on this issue? Khan writes: “The Quran, unlike the clergy, acknowledges that all people have been recipients of divine guidance and uses the term ‘kafir’ for individuals and groups who deny the truth and arrogantly indulge in persecution and mischief. The Quran does not use the term Kafir to describe any religious denomination or community.”

Khan goes on to challenge Islamist exclusivism and violence-mongering as a religious cause by enunciating Quran’s emphasis on restraint and thoughtful action. The Quran, he says, has more than two dozen verses highlighting the importance of the virtue of moderation and strongly denouncing extremist behaviour in religion and other matters.

In addition, the Quran has more than 500 verses exhorting believers to reflect and contemplate. The Prophet, Khan says, is believed to have declared that an hour’s reflection is better than worshipping God for seventy years.

“The teachings of Islam and the prophetic exhortations had created an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of subjects hitherto unknown,” writes Khan. “Islam made no distinction between religious and natural sciences. On the contrary, it made a distinction between knowledge and ignorance…”

It was this aspect of Islam that made Muslims purveyors of science and philosophy; intellectual adventurers who took Eastern knowledge to Europe and helped usher in the Renaissance.

Route to reform

Text and Context relies heavily on the works of Indian Muslim reformers like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to make its case for modernising the Muslim milieu and inter-community harmony.

It quotes Sir Syed as saying at an Amritsar college: “The College is indeed for national education. And by nation, I do not mean one community, I mean both Hindus and Muslims. They both should study in this institution and learn good manners. We may describe ourselves as Hindus and Muslims, but foreigners call us Indians.”

Maulana Azad went a step further, and said in 1923: “These thousand years of our joint life have moulded us into a common nationality. This cannot be done artificially. Nature does her fashioning through her hidden processes in the course of centuries. The cast has now been moulded and destiny has her seal upon it. Whether we like it or not, we now have become an Indian nation, united and indivisible.”

Azad was proved wrong in calling the nation “indivisible” a quarter century later. But six decades hence, “Islamic” Pakistan’s abject failure as a state and its transformation into something redolent of the pre-Islamic Jahiliya period, an age of tribal wars and utter lawlessness—in contrast with plural India’s rise as a global power where Muslims live largely in peace with non-Muslims—shows that his thinking was right.

Both Sir Syed and Maulana Azad were criticised by clerics for their supposedly “anti-Islamic” teachings and actions. History repeats itself, and people like Khan face the same charge today for trying to represent Islam as tolerant and forward-looking rather than bellicose and bigoted.

That is because it is such bellicosity and bigotry that give rise to Islamophobia, which in turn leads to discrimination and attacks on Muslims in India and worldwide, creates a sense of victimisation in the community and builds the grounds on which “Muslim leaders” and “Muslim sympathetic parties” can ply their trade.

Khan had to resign as a Union minister in 1986 when the Congress government, pandering to the Muslim clergy, overturned a Supreme Court judgement in the momentous Shah Bano case. It was a moment of weakness whose ill effects are still being felt by Indian Muslims.

The self-serving clergy will remain what it has always been, but Muslims can change by turning their back on it as they embark on a difficult road illuminated by the text of the Quran—in its proper context.


Compose your comments here

Total Comments (13)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles and comments are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of

Total Comments (13)

  1. In the Quran, being Final Revelation, Allah spells out and defines certain key concepts including the nature of Allah (There is no worldly example like Him). He does not have partners or other divinities who share his governance. He does not need them. All, apart from Him are His creation. He is known by His attributes but man is not to create idols representing those attributes. His attributes include Rahman, Raheem, As Salalm, Al Mu'min, etc. etc. These are spread out in the pages Qur'an so as to avoid any subjective speculation.

    So that man does not complain or put up and excuse, Allah spells out the right concept of God Almighty and tells us that He is not a triune God. A man cannot be God or God cannot be a man and that God must not be represented by idols and statues.

    We also learn that God also makes his business to provide guidance in different spheres of life including family, social relations, economics, justice, human rights etc. God is not a statue or an idol that needs regular worshipping (pooja) but He like a Guide who provided guidance and following and obeying His guidance is like worshipping him.

    After spelling out all principles, man is left alone to choose what way he wants to go as there is no compulsion in religion. However, man must remember, he will be faced with the consequences with the choices he makes, both in this and the world hereafter as every action has a reaction and this world operates on the basis of law of consequences.

    Once we choose a way, we are not to impose or fight about it with each other. We are to compete in doing well for humanity.

    There is Islam (living and believing in peaceful existence) and Al Islam which means living in peace according to a tradition based on revelation. We need to pay attention to the word Islam which comes from the root word S L M (Salamti) and Muslim (One who believes in Salamti) and Al Islam and Al Muslim!!

    As for Jews (Br Anwar) they do not split God and believe in strict monotheism, so I don't know why they are being lumped with Christians and idol worshippers)?

    By Mubashir 24/06/2011 08:02:28
  2. Thank you everyone for a riveting discussion. Whether we agree or disagree, the fact that my piece made some of us rethink received notions about religion, revisit the Quran and have a relook at several important verses is rewarding in itself. My particular thanks to Mr Anwar and Mr Reyaz, who always share their opinions boldly and honestly with us on this and other issues. Keep it going.

    By Saif Shahin 24/06/2011 05:32:41
  3. What is the similarity between Arif Mohammad khan and Paras Rajput. Read some lines of Arif Mohammad khan. He clearly conveys the violence and intolerance as the version of Islam just like Paras Rajput after reading books of Arun Shorie. Khan writes: “The Quran, unlike the clergy, acknowledges that all people have been recipients of divine guidance and uses the term ‘kafir’ for individuals and groups who deny the truth and arrogantly indulge in persecution and mischief. The Quran does not use the term Kafir to describe any religious denomination or community.”

    Khan goes on to challenge Islamist exclusivism and violence-mongering as a religious cause by enunciating Quran’s emphasis on restraint and thoughtful action.

    For hearing the thoughts and similarity of critic like, arif a BJP Politician, shorie and Paras analyse it yourself, there is intolerant or disturbing message.

    By Anwar 22/06/2011 14:50:28
  4. @Brother Mubashir. Quran considers muslim faith or truth prevailed before prophet mohammad(pbuh) and considers   abrahim (pbuh) as muslim as he  joined not gods with Allah.," Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian, but he was true in faith and bowed his will to Allah's (which is Islam) and he joined not gods with Allah. (Quran3:67)

     Brother present  jews and christians have joined partner,s to Allah, as they considered their prophet as son of god, so the people among them believing in one god without associating partners and torah & injeel  as revelations of their times are righteous.

    "They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord, and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah?Allah will forbid him the Garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. (72) They disbelieve who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (73)" (Quran 5: 72-73) 


    The verses quoted by you according to Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation is                                        "Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures." (Quran 98:6)

    "Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." (Quran2:62)


    By Anwar 22/06/2011 08:55:34
  5. Nice commentary but I disagree with some points. Mr Saif says :"Perhaps Allah doesn’t want everyone to have one way of looking at Islam. He, being all powerful, could have made it so if He wanted to". I personally do not think it is right. Take for instance that Allah created M.K.Gandhi and Hitler, one good, the other bad. So, according to the commentator Allah is responsible for the sins Hitler has done, because "He, being all powerful" wanted it."Let the Quran speak for itself". The Quran says: " We have created people and have divided them into nations and tribes so that they can recognize each other and not despise each other. And the most honored in the sight of Allah is the one who has taqva (God consciousness, piety)."What I feel is that those verses which are clear cut and straight like the one just mentioned above cannot have various commentaries. It is simple and unambiguous. There can be no question about it. But those verses which fall under the category of ambiguity can have various commentaries. For ex:  the Quran nowhere mentions HOW to offer prayer, it comes from the sayings of the Prophet. If anybody wants to, can offer prayer in his own style, since the Quran is not clear about it. I may be wrong but this is what I feel. 
    By Aiman Reyaz 22/06/2011 06:53:32