Islamic Classes‎ > ‎2012 Spring‎ > ‎

Critique of Modernist Progressive Tafseer

Modernists, Progressives and Tafsir

2012 Spring Session (March 26 to May 28 2012)

Class taught by Shaikh Jamaal Zarabozo


This class will be a discussion of how modernists and progressive attempt to interpret the Qur'an, with a critique of their approach.

Time: Mondays 7:00 - 8:00 PM PDT

Course Outline:
Definition of Modernists and Progressives
Roots and History of Modernism
Modernist Tafseers
Approaches to the Quran by Progressives

2012-03-26 Class Notes


Why is it important to study the Modernists and Progressives?
This is a very important topic at this time because the people who call themselves modernists sometimes they don’t use that label, the progressives always use their title, they are wielding a lot of influence in the West.

Progressives are gaining the upper hand, modernists are now considered pase. Especially since 9/11. People may not realize the influence of progressive thought -- the “I’m ok, you’re ok, everything goes” mentality. E.g. someone was having dinner and someone said “It is important to correct revelation, e.g. give homosexuals their full rights.”, this statement would not have been considered a few years ago.

This progressive approach has had an influence, especially in the US and Europe. There are progressive Muslims and writers all over the Muslim world, but less so. It is not a coincidence that the “progressives” the less chance there is. But if people are ignorant about Islam, that opens the door for these people to come because they mostly give rational arguments.

They are publishing most of their work in Western languages and many of them have places and positions in Western Universities -- they have nice titles associated with their names. Media gives them credibility. Because of these reasons it is important that we study them. For this particular class, we are interested in how they approach the Quran.  

Why do Modernists and Progressives use Quran as evidence for their theories?
Every Muslim recognizes that Quran should be the central focus of their life, because of this every Muslim group go to the Quran for the evidence. In order to have any group to be success they have to prove the points using Quran, thats why all the this different groups do focus on Quran, because it is known that without giving out proof from the Quran even if it is weak people will not listen to them, same is true to with Modernist.

Many of the modernists and progressives have written texts on how to understand the Qur’an. The Progressives have also published their own version called “the reformist translation” -- “Offers a non-sexist understanding of the divine text. A collaboration between two men and a woman. Explicitly rejects the right of the clergy to determine the likely meaning of disputed passages. It uses logic and the languages of the Qur’an rather than ancient scholarly references to patriarchal hierarchy. It is God’s message for those who prefer reason over blind faith.”

The following paragraph is from http://www.islamicreform.org/quran-a-reformist-translation/

The Reformist Translation of the Quran offers a non-sexist understanding of the  divine text; it is the result of collaboration between three translators, two men and a woman.
• It explicitly rejects the right of the clergy to determine the likely meaning of  disputed passages.
• It uses logic and the language of the Quran itself as the ultimate authority in  determining likely meanings, rather than ancient scholarly interpretations rooted in patriarchal hierarchies.
• It offers extensive cross-referencing to the Bible and provides arguments on numerous philosophical and scientific issues.
• It is God's message for those who prefer reason over blind faith, for those who seek peace and ultimate freedom by submitting themselves to the Truth alone.

Do not judge people’s intentions, rather judge their words and actions in light of Quran and Sunnah
Important note: Sh does not know the intention of people, and though he vehemently disagrees with them, it may not be the case that their intentions are evil. They may think they are doing what they think is right.

But what we do know is that, intentions are not enough. What they say can be judged by the Shari’ah. If it is not consistent with the Qur’an and sunnah then we have to reject it, this is true even if this comes from the pious person or evil person.

They do not afford their opponents the same courtesy, e.g. many of them when they write about the Sahabah they will openly judge their intention and they conclude why they fabricated something without knowledge of their intention.

When one thinks of modernism and progressive  movement, they are not unique to the Muslim Ummah. Prophet (saws) mentioned (paraphrased) that we will follow people of the book, even into the hole of the lizard.  Modernism and progressive did exists before as well.

Definition of Modernism:
Modernism is a theory with respect to religion, is any movement in religion based on the belief that scientific and cultural progress requires a reinterpretation of the traditional teachings of the religion in the light of modern philosophies and knowledge.

In general, Modernist ideologies accept very few transcendental values -- there are no such things as objective absolute criteria or truth. Instead, they are relative and  their validity are limited to certain times and places.  Which means if the science  has changed then we have to go back to our text and reinterpret it according to the change in science.

Why did modernism take a strong hold in Judaism and Christianity?
Note this is not specific to Muslims. With respect to non-Muslims there is a strong reason why the modernist movement took hold in Judaism and Christianity. Those same reasons, however do not exist in the Islamic paradigm. The concept “If my religion fails, then all religions must fail.” this is not necessary true when it comes to Islam.

If this does happen, what is the source of ‘what is correct and what is incorrect’? Human reasoning. Thus human reasoning becomes the ultimate judge of what we decide is correct.

Human reasoning is the crux of modernism and progressiveness
This is crux of modernism and progressiveness. In reality this is the philosophy back to Greek times i.e. Greek rationalism. In it there is worship of human intellect i.e. ‘Aql. When the ‘aql takes that position, then it is replacing revelation. If it is replacing revelation, then in reality it is replacing the source of revelation as well. The fundamental errors that Greek rationalism made is:
(i) They assumed that  ‘aql or human reasoning can comprehend anything -- nothing is outside the realm of human comprehension. If that is the case, If there’s anything presented beyond what we understand, then it must be rejected. This became the foundation and a key rule of the modernist philosophy. Note: ‘Aql has its role to play in religion, but it should not be placed at the forefront. The rationalist even accept only about God also based Aql.  

Rational thoughts or human reasoning alone is inadequate to understand and comprehend God
This is another fundamental error. God is something beyond we as human being can experiment with. In reality, if we are going to use, if something go beyond the realm of our Aql , should we remain silent or speak about it ? Logically speaking we should remain silent. But for them even for God they speak about God using their ‘Aql. We have to admit that anything related to God it is outside our realm of understanding. But for greek philosophers If Aql cannot understand then they reject it.

History of Early Muslim Rationalists
The original Muslim rationalist, this is group of people who are well known, In the time of Khalifah Al-M’amoon, he established a centre is Baghdad called Darul-Hikmah, and the role of this centre is to translate all of the knowledge into Arabic. They had collected a number of Greek and Persian work and Khalifah hired people to translate it. This by itself doesn’t sound bad. The problem is that lot of these books were mathematics and related to science,this impressed Arabs. In Greek writing of philosophy it covers science, Mathematics and religion as well.

Fundamental problem of Early Muslim Rationalists
Now we have these books into Arabic, and the next effort was to reconcile these book along with Quran. This was less than 200 years after the Prophet (saws), thus being impressed with this knowledge they wanted to make sure that this knowledge is present in our religion as well. When there comes the phase where this knowledge is not consistent with what Islam says, the people tried to reinterpret the understanding of Islam.

What do you do in this case? Option (i) acknowledge a difference. Option (ii) try to reinterpret Islam in this new framework.

Mu’tazilah and their incorrect understanding of the attributes of God
One group amongst the Muslims, the Mu’tazilah who were influenced by Greek philosophy of giving importance to ‘aql. It affected their belief about Attributes about the God. There are lot of people now a days who call themselves as Mu’tazilah, who wanted to revive the Mu’tazilah beliefs, e.g. there is a new scholar in Indonesia who calls himself a neo-Mu’tazilite (Harun Nasution). This group what they take from Mu’tazilah is that Aql should be treated supreme. Zamakhshari (that we discussed earlier) was also a Mu’tazilah. The tafseer has good points as he brought balagha into the tafseer. There is poetry which is attributed to Zamakshari “Walk in your religion under the banner of human intellect and do not be dissuaded by narrations by so and so and so.” Over time Mu’tazilah dissipated (these free thinkers were very tough). They died away until recently who are tried to be revived by contemporary modernist.


Christians discover errors in transmission of their scriptures and gave birth to progressive revelation
The contemporary modernist have their roots in what happened in Europe. In Europe, as science developed they found there are lot of things in Bible which was not consistent with Science and there are lot of discrepancy in Bible and there are lot of problem in transmission their book. This led them to believe that basically the religion is product of divine and the human and you have to sort out what is wrong in religion and you have to bring it up  to date. For example, among the jews they were some who call themself liberal Jews, Steinheim, Goldheim and Geiger. They said we have to keep adjusting the religion according to changes in science.

Changes to Christianity as a consequence of progressive revelation
They instituted a lot of changes in their religion and this happened in 1700s and continued well into the 1900s. Among the changes in their religion was, no longer saying the prayer in Hebrew, they dropped many of the prayer saying they were inconsistent with modern times, they begin to use musical instruments in their worship, they changed the law related to women, they allowed free missing between men and women. they said circumcision does not have relevance, they changed the law of divorce. The exact things after 200 yrs, Muslim modernist being to Islam. The home for the reformist became USA.

These reformists moved from Europe esp in the 1840’s -- leaving most of their scholars behind. Those who are entrenched in the religion stayed behind. Because they were free and because they did not have people with in depth knowledge, by 1885 they had established a new platform called the Pittsburgh Platform.

Modernist rebellion against the Holy Roman Empire and the Church
Also in Christianity you had the same thing, where there was struggle between church and science. The church in Europe which was called Holy Roman Empire, the church controlled everything including business and religion. Church is referring to catholicism, they controlled everything which had Pope, Bishop who are incharge. They had number of inquisition and crusade, which was also with Christian as well who had different beliefs. Eventually things got worse and people started recognising that what church was teaching was not true and they started to move away from the teachings of Church. When you find that there is something like this there arises a group which goes to other end, and thus this gave birth to modernist where they reject everything what bible said. This movement was very strong although there was violence but the movement stuck to their goal and this lead church to change its stance.

Christians had valid reasons for birth of modernism which does not apply to Muslims
There is reason in their case why this movement started as it is known fact that the bible as discrepancy and has been modified. They can see that these have changed a lot and they know what they have is not completely divine and this gave birth to modernist. Thus there was good reason for judaism and christianity for modernism movement, so you can excuse them for their movement. Those circumstances and issues that led to their movement, now the question is do these circumstances exist in Islam? Is there any requirement for modernist movement?

Next time we discuss what was the situation when the modernist ideas entered the Muslim World and what were the responses to this movement.


2012-04-02 Class Notes


We are discussing the history and background of the modernist school. They were the .... for the contemporary school. Last time we spoke about the development of modernism in religion as a whole. Modernism is basically the belief that religion requires rethinking in the light of science and other advancements.

As a religious phenomenon, this developed in Christianity and Judaism due to particular circumstances and obvious to them -- e.g. the teachings of the Church as well as the scriptures they had -- e.g. scientific aspects contradicted day after day. E.g. Church vs Galileo. Many of these scientific facts did not turn out to be scientific but that is topic for some other time.

Higher Biblical Criticism

Similarly when they studied their text and they found there was discrepancy in their text and historically it cannot be verified, this is called higher biblical critics. They are basically admitting the fact that the text is imperfect and not God’s word and there was a lot of human input -- and then they pick and choose what they are going to accept from the text. Those people known as Evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is the literal Word of God. One Western scholar (Bart Ehrman) said “there are very few Evangelical Christians that are Biblical scholars.”

That was all related to Christianity and Judiasm, with respect to Islam those two major points of scientific issue and historical issue never existed in Islam. More than science it was clergy that led to the revolution.

Distinction between Islam and Christianity/Judaism with respect to modernism.

In Islam there’s never been a case of a clear contradiction between scientific fact and what is in the Qur’an. There is little evidence that the Qur’an has been tampered with. Those two major factors contributed to modernism they didn't exist in Islam.

Modern history of Islam

But if you go to the 18th/19th Century and look at the relationship between the Muslim and Christian worlds, there were definitely problems in Muslim world. The Muslim world was definitely weak and lagging far behind the technical innovations of the west.

Most of the Muslim world was colonised, they were being militarily defeated over and over again and they were getting weaker and weaker. Thus there was definitely something wrong in Muslim world and something had to be done. Over time there were some options presented in front of Muslims. Much of the crisis in that time is similar to that current situation what happened after 9/11, where Muslims has to think about what are their option which was made available to them. Unfortunately the options that are made available to Muslims is actually a kind of bogus option.

After 9/11 there were a number of reports going to places like Indonesia, Pakistan etc saying there were two choices in front of the Muslims, either you join the extremist terrorist OR you join the modernist Muslims. Those two choice are definitely false and there is third option and this option is not been given at all and Muslims were not aware of this third option at all.

Traditionalist approach of the Muslim Scholars

We are going through something very similar to what the Muslim community was at their time of weakness and stagnation. Unfortunately the majority of Muslim scholars took a traditionalist approach, in the sense that they didn’t see anything wrong in what they were doing -- they rejected the innovations and scientific advancements of the West -- they said that was not for Muslims, they ignored the plight of the Muslims in the world. They claimed what they have it from Allah and they are not going to change.

They did not reflect to think that maybe there is something wrong. Because they didn’t reflect and were unwilling to change, they opened the doors for the modernists -- in the same way now a days extremism and terrorism is opening a new way to Islam.

Most of the people known to be religious at that time took that approach. There was another group of scholars distributed around the Muslim world.

Many different groups emerge in response to Colonialism

The first group concluded that there was no problem with the Muslims and no problem with Islam.

The second group concluded that there was no problem with Islam, but there was a problem with the Muslims. Their basic argument was the we have strayed from the way of Prophet (saws) and we have moved away from the true Islam and we have fallen into Taqleed and we have fallen into all forms of mysticism, theological beliefs which are not based on Quran and Sunnah. And they said this was the problem, they said science is not the problem but the problem is that we have strayed from the teaching of Quran and Sunnah, The solution is that we have to review the way back and this is concept of Tajdeed.

This is the concept of Tajdeed تجديد in islam. It is from the root word “JDD”, which means to revive something. There is hadith of Prophet (saws) that “There will be people in Ummah who will comes and do tajdeed.”


History of the Modern Mujaddideen (Revivalists)

You had pockets of these kinds of scholars -- e.g. in the Indo-Pak region -- Shah Wali-Ullah Al-Dahlawi. He and his children as well they were calling for reviewal of what Islam is about, breaking through the taqleed and mysticism. He wrote a book hujjathullahi al-baalighah حجّة الله البالغة and the first volume is translated to English.

In that book he wrote about salat writing about benefit and reviewal of the salat. His message was right, that Islam was correct the problem is with Muslims not Islam.

Similarly in Shaam (Syria) scholar by name Jamaluddin al-Qasimi, he emphasized more on Aqeedah. The Ashari belief about Qadr is very fatalistic belief -- there’s nothing much that we can do anyway -- so just wait for the Qadar of Allah.

The idea here is that Islam is correct and fit for all times and places, but we are misunderstanding it and misapplying it.

Modernists of Europe

There is a third group, which corresponds to modernist of Europe , their argument is that there is problem with Muslims and Islam and some went to extent saying the problem is with Muslim because of Islam and thus we have to create new Islam and fix the Islam. The only way to create a new Islam, is to go back to Quran and completely re-interpret the Quran in the light of Modern science and modern culture. This modernist movement, from the point of view colonial rulers, they like this group as the goals of this group was consistent with them for the most part it was never 100% which was good enough.

Similarly US semi-government groups (like RAND Corp., American Humanist? Assoc.)  is pushing all this progressive and modernist movement as that is what they want.

History of Geographical Response to the Modernism School of thought

There were three important areas of the Muslim world at that time:

1. Turkey: Important because it was the seat of the Khilafah and ruled over large parts of the Muslim world, including North Africa.
2. Indo-Pak subcontinent was also important mainly for economic reasons: wealth, spices etc.
3. Egypt: Important because it was the home to Al-Azhar university -- so it was the intellectual hub of Islam. Pretty much everyone around the world looked up to Al-Azhar. Now there are more universities.

So we are going to talk about some of the founders of movements in those areas. The ultimate goal is to tie it into their approach to the Qur’an.

Turkey
The ottoman empire eventually collapsed and was overrun and collapsed for many reasons, but it was also one of the most drastic changes. After the fall of the Khilafah, it became a completely secularist state.

Unfortunately, Shaikh Jamaal is not very familiar with respect to what happened in Turkey with respect to tafseer. But one of its leaders did sometimes talk about the Qur’an -- his name was Ziya Gőkalp. b. 1876-d. 1924.

Turkey was going through a process called Tanzeemaat. It must be acknowledged that Europe was making amazing progress. It is not surprising that Muslims might be overcome by the advances that the West had made. There were a number of movements for Westernization. Science is not bad, scientific progress is not bad, but the thing you will see is that … ?

Purification of Turkey - Removal of Arabic script and Arabic influences from Turkish language

Gőkalp’s first response was pan westernism. His argument is that the Turkish nation should be part of the West since it straddles both east and west. In order to achieve that goal, he laid out some principles, he said Turkish language must be purified of all Arabic and Persian words. At that time the Turkish script was Arabic. One of the first things Mustafa Kamal did was to change the script from Arabic to Latin script. British and Dutch did the same in other parts of the world, Swahili, Indonesian were moved from Arabic and Javanese respectively.

This was something that the colonialists were in favour of because nothing can break you off from your past like changing their script. Because you disconnect the people from their old books. If you want to re-form someone, change their script so that the only access to knowledge they have is the new script. So then all their thinking is based only on what is on the new script.

Part of the idea was that he was trying to purify Turkish from foreign influences. Gőkalp said that the call to prayer must be made in Turkish and Quran must be taught in Turkish. Here is his quote, “where every man big or small knows full well the command of God. “O son of Turkey, your land is this land of Turkey.”

Birth of a new religion in Turkey in 1928

In 1928, the Ministry of Education created a new Faculty of Divinity -- one of the first things they did -- note not Islamic, but to teach this new religion. In June 1928, they wrote their first text on how to modernize Islam:

Footnote: While looking at these points see how the original argument was made that we are behind scientifically but then these points are nothing but blind imitation of the West and have nothing to do with science.

- In the mosque, instead of open space, there must be rows of chairs. The worshippers have to pray with their shoes on -- note that this is blind imitation of Kuffar -- note the West did not become advanced because they wore shoes.
- The language of Salaat must be in Turkish.
- There must be no prostration in the prayers.
- In order to make worship in the mosque beautiful, it needs trained musicians and musical instruments. This is the part of recommendation that “the need is urgent” for modern musical instrumentation in the mosque.

This approach of modernisation, this is the blind following of the leading civilization of that time, this was very extreme approach.

Gőkalp sometimes mentions some things in the Qur’an but Sh is not familiar enough with respect to the Qur’an. But this approach of blind following of that leading civilization at that time. It was most extreme.

After a number of years, the Turks began to wake up and realized that it was just as oppressive and irrational as what they had before and they became a completely secular state. Now they are doing much better than they do.

Q: What is secularism? What is the difference between Modernism and Secularism
A: Where religion is removed from the public sphere. In comparison with Secularism, Modernism leaves some room for religious practice. But aren’t they shades? Modernism picks and chooses, but secularism says don’t pick and choose, remove everything. Many modernists share the view of removing religion from the modern sphere.

Because Turkey was the seat of the Khilafah, the loss of Turkey was a stunning blow. For 1400 years almost, we had a khalifah -- a weak khalifah sometimes, but at least they had one. It was gone.

Since Turkey is dominated by hanafi, and thus the effort for reviewal was less as there was strong attachment to Madhabs and it was really difficult to penetrate this, but within the Hanafi madhab there were a few attempts at reform -- they tried to produce something called the Majallah. They tried to codify the main principles of the law. Since if you know the principles of the law, it is easy when the new circumstance is faced. There was sometimes and some reforms were attempted.

Indo-Pak Subcontinent

In the life time of Shah Waliullah, the british started rule, The British East India company was ruling a large part of India and constantly trying to expand. They took over Muslim, Hindu lands.

One of the turning points for the history of India and the modernist movement is Indian rebellion in 1857. This rebellion different people has different theories on why this started. There is no question that starting was, there were lot of Indian soldiers who were working for British  and over time they fed up of this. As this movement spread then there was a call for jihad,this fighting took place for number of years, fighting broke out.

Muslim declared Bahadur Shah Zafar as emperor of India and he was descendant of Mughal Emperor. Eventually British defeated Muslims,Hindus and Sikhs. But lot of people among the British had the view that this mutiny was started by Muslims. And the goal behind is Jihad against the British. That in itself is disputable but it had a very strong effect on Muslims. This was like the 9/11 of the Muslims of India.

The British were looking at the Muslims as the cause of the problem. Muslims got scared of this and in particular some of them wanted to make clear that
1. They are not creating the problem.
2. They are willing to work with British.
3. Their religion is completely compatible with the religion of the British since Islam and Christianity are far more similar.

One of the most influential person at that time was Syed Ahmad Khan and later was knighted and called Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. After the fighting was done, he did two things.

1. He became strong proponent of the idea that Muslim as to change and accept the Western Ways.
2. But he also wrote a pamphlet, in which argued that the cause of the Mutiny was British itself. The British governor was not happy with this and he called him and warned him that this will lead to another revolution. Thus there was deal stricken between these two and they became friends and he was taken to England.

He said that “the salvation of Muslim is in cooperating with British and befriending them and adopting their culture.”
The other aspect of his movement which was much more positive was his starting a university -- a University that eventually became Aligarh university.

He did the write the commentary on the Quran and although he did not finish the complete tafseer.

Shaikh Jamaal had the misfortune of reading Syed Amir Ali’s book just after he accepted Islam, wherein he states  that various prophets made mistakes, but alhumdullilah he was aware from his experience with Christianity on how to tackle them. Syed Amir Ali even said that Prophet (saws) made mistakes in the Quran (SubhanAllah). Sh. Jamaal commented that his literature is filled with Kufr.

Ghulam Ahmed Pervez (distinct from Mirza Ghulam Ahmed Pervez) : foundation of his understanding of Quran was the premise that there is no value for Hadeeth. He completely rejected the hadith.

What are some of the key points, what we changed which was explicitly called out by him, we will discuss this in next class InshaAllah.


2012-04-09 Class Notes


We are discussing the background of the contemporary modernist movement and in a manner study their founding fathers. After we finish the history, Shaikh will determine whether we have grasped the topic by asking us three key questions.

Discussion of Syed Ahmad Khan
Last time we were discussing Syed Ahmad Khan.

If you look at translation of Quran into Urdu, the first such translation were from Shah Wali-Ud Deen and Shah Abdul Qadir. They died in 1818 and 1813.

And the second translation was from Syed Ahmad Khan. His first volume was published in 1880. But in 1862, he is known to have written the first Muslim commentary on Bible, the first such known work by a Muslim. He published three volumes. He did not know how to read English and so he had translations made from English to Urdu. He also published a book on principles of Tafseer -- Tahrir fi Usool Al-Tafseer was published in 1892.

Syed Ahmed Khan’s philosophy
One of his basic points is that everything in Islam should be in confirmative with Nature and Science. Anything in Quran which goes against science and nature he will reject it. For example, any reference to  miracles in the Quran is rejected like existence of Angels.  For example, he described the jinn as primitive savages living in the jungle.

One of the principles he mentions in his Tahrir is that when there is something in the Qur’an that is miraculous or supernatural, it has to be understood metaphorically.

One of the things about these reform movements is that not everything they had to say was wrong and sometimes they had some very good points. E.g. in tafseer by modernists is that they avoid any of what are called the isra’eeliyyat. Stories based on the narrations of the Jews and Christians, had good details that are used to “fill out” the tafseers. But this introduces many oddities, e.g. committing zina in the case of Dawood. You find this a lot in the case of tafseers.  

One of thing they emphasize is that you have to stay away from those kind of reports which is a positive sign in these kind of tafseer. They try to explain everything in Quran in simplified rational sense.

Example of “erroneous” tafseer by Syed Ahmad Khan
Ahmed Khan in Surah al Kahf he makes couple of interesting (edit: not necessarily based on any evidence) points: In the cave, the companions were dead in the cave. The verse says that they were moving in sleep. He said that in reality they were dead and mummified and people thought they were sleeping. One of his students extended this little further added that due to cross ventilation in cave their body moved. He even said that the stories in the Quran are not necessarily true and Allah (swt) is mentioning them since people already know them.

As a proof of that, in the 13th verse, after already describing the story of Ashaab-al-Kahf, Allah says “we narrate to you the story in truth”. There is some reference to them before this verse and the Ahmad khan says the word “Haqq”, Allah is saying that everything before this is not true and what comes after this is true.

نَّحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُم بِالْحَقِّ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ آمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى

Sahih International (18:13)
It is We who relate to you, [O Muhammad], their story in truth. Indeed, they were youths who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.

He says that they stayed in the cave for 300 years but he does not try to reconcile it. So he says that the “haqq” is an indication that he wasn’t telling you the actual story. And he says that the amazing points are what came before that???

Syed Ahmed Khan philosophy - Human beings can through practice achieve revelation
Even regards to receiving the revelation and nature of revelation, In his tafseer, he says, it is not incompatible with human nature that heart of a person not tied to anything then to such person revelation will come to such a person. This is based on the philosophical idea that one can achieve revelation by doing certain spiritual exercises. So any idea that revelation is anything supernatural, then it has to be re-interpreted. He says bodily resurrection, heaven and hell can only be accepted symbolically.

Syed Ahmed Khan philosophy - Social acts should adhere to Western societies prevailing notions
There is another trend among modernists: When science cannot tell us or explain something, for example you cannot conduct social experiments on human beings in labs, but the Muslim modernists still adhere to the western way of thinking, implying that science cannot explain certain social norms but they would still adhere to the western society. He said that polygamy is contrary to the concept of Islam and should not be practised except in certain cases.  

He also says that modern business transactions, riba, etc -- he said none of these fall under the definition of riba and therefore are not haram. Qisas punishments are barbaric punishments, and that are only required in societies without prisons. Jihaad is only for the dire necessities of self-defence.

Syed Ahmed Khan philosophy - Re-interpret Arabic words in the Quran
Became a close friend of Sir William Muir -- became very pro-British. Even made an interesting point about analyzing the Qur’an. When you look at the books of tafsir one of the things they often do is they analyze the meanings of Arabic words. There is too much dependence on understanding the words by the Arabs. It is possible that the words were not used in a way not registered in lexicons. So he’s trying to open the door for re-interpreting the words of the Qur’an and could be very destructive.

Footnote: You should not make any accusations against a person’s intention, because he claimed Islam is superior to Christianity and wrote book about it. But his actions had the opposite effect of weakening Islam.

In one of his lectures on Islam, he said that he is an ignorant person, not a mawlawi or a qaadi. But you would think that you would not go to the Qur’an and try to explain the mean it. But the modernist movement has something in common with Christianity.

In Christianity in the Catholic Church, people were not allowed to read the Bible. Until Martin Luther came along and said that the Bible should be able to read and understand. Syed Ahmad picked up on this as well. Influenced many tafseers after this e.g. Turjumaan Al Quran by Abul Kalam Azad. Also Mafhoom Al-Qur’an by Ghulam Ahmad Parvez. Then another influence is M. Enayat Mashreghi.

Most ironic things is that one of things he mentioned in his tafseer is that the cultural influence of Byzantium and Persians must be removed. Shaikh finds it ironic because he is trying to bring in Western influence and rewrite how to understand and approach Quran in light of modernist philosophy.

He was knighted by the British Empire in 1899. He founded Aligarh University. He is a very influential person, even today.  A school that followed from him was the Qur’aaniyyoon. Barewalvi started up trying to answer to the Syed Ahmed Khan.

Extensively written about in English, including Maryam Jameelah, Mawdudi, Trol.

His speech that he delivered before the Islamic Protection Association and known as Anjuman ... is also translated into English. Any discussion of the Modern movement and tafseer will include a discussion of him.

Mawdudi is an answer to Syed Ahmed Khan and is completely opposite.

Interesting fact: Adolf Hitler praised the work of Ghulam Ahmed Parvez after he met Ghulam Ahmed Parvez. Ghulam Parvez went further into deviation then Syed Ahmed Khan and we will be coming to this person shortly.

Modernist Movement in Egypt

What happened in Egypt was more a response to the west, in terms of being an Islamic Modernism -- the claim is that the Syed Ahmad movement was imitating the west and the movement in Egypt was a response to the west.

Jamaluddin Al-Afghani

One of the most influential people here was Jamaluddin Al-Afghani (1838-1897). You can find anything imaginable written about him. He is mysterious. He is not from Afghanistan. He is from Persia and is Shia. He has been accused of anything imaginable. Some claim that he was the leader of Masonic movement; some claim that he was known to be a womanizer in France. He travelled to London and Paris and he was known as a womanizer. Some say that because of his shia background, some claim that he took advantage of the temporary marriages. There is some truth to some of the claims. He was very politically active. His message was clear, that the Muslims have to modernize and that modernisation has to be through education.

In 1884, he started publishing newspaper “al-Urwah al-Wuthqa” with his students Muhammad Abdu. His real anger was with British. He lived in India for a while but he was strongly opposed to Syed Ahmed khan movement is because that Syed Ahmad Khan accepted the british. He was arrested and deported from various places and eventually he died in Istanbul.
For some time he was the advisor to the king of Afghanistan.  However in 1944, his remains were asked to move from Istanbul to Kabul University.

He only wrote one book which is “Refutation of the Materialists” however his modernist thoughts have strong influence on Abdu. No one talks about Muhammad Abdu without talking about Al-Afghani.

Muhammad Abduh

Muhammad Abdu took this idea of reform from Al-Afghani, emphasising the idea of education and going back to the roots of Islam and doing away with lot of material which muslims stepped in which is not part of Quran and Sunnah, this was stuck as part of Islam because following the scholars.

Since the Quran is meant till the Day of judgement and the ruling of faqeeh can be because of time and place he lived. He said that these are incorrect as these are human being and they can be incorrect and they started the movement. That is why their movement is called the Salafiyyah movement -- which has confused many modern authors. (Edit: Salafi and Salafiyyah sound similar and confuse the modern authors.)

In Arabic there is one book “Al Madrasat Al-Salafiyya fi al-Tafseer”, this salafi is referring to Muhammad Abdu and his students. There is another group of salafis which are anti-modernist and this group from Abdu which are pro-modernist. He at least had the idea about breaking through the past and going back to Quran and sunnah. Since he lived in west and thus he was greatly influenced by Europe. He used to go to England and France very frequently. He said “I used to go there to renew my soul -- any time he would be depressed about the futures of Muslims, he would go back to England”

Various Philosophies of Muhammad Abdu

Because of that influence of the West, it’s not surprising that his influence also reflects the common culture of the west. Example: the idea of making pictures/statues; he said there is no problem making statues unless there is a danger of idolatry. He said it was fine to put your money in Western banks and take interest.

He was the first one in the Arab world to say it is permissible to adopt the western dress. Because of influence of education and science on his mind, unfortunately he came to the conclusion that human reasoning is absolutely supreme. He says religion complements and supplements human reasoning. The human reasoning judges on the religion according to him.

He also said that Islam is religion of reason and thus all doctrines can be rationally demonstrated. For example, with respect to the Jinn -- and this seems to be a tricky point for modernists --  he said “Ulema said jinn are living body which cannot be seen? But he said the microbes which have been identified using microscopes”  

He was convinced of Darwin’s theory of evolution and he said that it can be found in the Qur’an. He ran afoul of the authority because of his close relationship to Al Afghani. He was teaching at Al Azhar and then he was banned from the position. But because of the British influence, he got back his position.

The British governor of Sudan and Egypt at that time, Lord Cromer, said that the political influence of Abdu’s life is very important and  the task is that of great difficulty but they (Abdu and Syed Ahmed Khan) deserve all encouragement and support that can be given to them, they are the natural allies of the British gov’t

One of first thing which he wrote was “Risalath at-tawheed”, its basic work of Aqeedah, in it he emphasise the fact that everything in Aqeedah is in sync with science.

One of his important students was M. Rashid Rida. Rida kept on insisting on Abduh to write a tafseer. In 1898, Abdu began to write about tafseer. What happened was that Rida published tafseer al manaar as 12 volumes in 1927, bulk of it is Rida quoting his shaikh, Abdu. Abdu gave number of lectures on tafseer.

But his tafseer was specifically trying to address the question about what we should get from the Qur’an. This is one of the aspects of modernism that were good.

Some of his students included: Ali Abdul-Raaziq -- a book on secularism and in reality Islam has nothing to do with the state, and secularism is completely consistent with Islam. Qaasim Ameen -- famous for writing about called Tahreer Al-Mar’a -- the liberation of women. Taha Hussain is another one influenced by Abduh -- eventually Taha Hussain tried to deny the uniqueness of the Qur’an and made claims that it is nothing but classical Arabic poetry. Taha Hussain has been heavily refuted on this.  

Rida started publishing called “Al-Manar” it was open forum for any view in Islam. There was article written in it by someone with name taufeeq and he was talking about bedouin who were not possible to pray 5 times a day.

Over the years his views changed a great deal and he became more of a traditionalist. The history of the background of the modernist tafseers -- and before we start critiquing them.

There are three big questions we need to discuss that are critical to an overall critique of the modernist tafseer.

Footnote: Shaikh mentioned in a response to a question that there were many positive and influential movements that arose as response to Rida and Al Afghani. He reiterated that these movements were necessary, something had to be done to awaken the masses.

2012-04-16 Class Notes


Today’s class will be a discussion of certain topics that will help us recognize that the modernist approach to tafseer is not valid form of tafseer and that it has some clear weaknesses. And when you read some tafseer you will be able to see the modernist leanings.

Question #1: Do we need the Prophet (pbuh) and his hadith to be able to understand the Qur’an properly? Yes we do need him. Then the obvious question is why do we need him?

The first point is our attitude towards hadith for understanding the Quran. We need to go back to the Prophet (SAWS) in order to understand the Qur’an properly. When you pick a book of tafseer, it is obvious if they are going back to the hadith in order to do the tafseer.

Surah Aal Imran v 164

لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ بَعَثَ فِيهِمْ رَسُولًا مِّنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ

Sahih International (3:164)
Certainly did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.

Here Allah (SWT) has described one of the roles of the Prophet. He is giving us the Quran and he is conveying the words of the Quran and he is teaching us the book. Teaching the book is different than conveying the words of the book. He is showing us how to apply the words. Here Allah swt explicitly separates the two tasks assigned to the prophet.


بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالزُّبُرِ ۗ وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

Sahih International (16:44)
[We sent them] with clear proofs and written ordinances. And We revealed to you the message that you may make clear to the people what was sent down to them and that they might give thought.

In Surah Nahl verse 44, Allah swt has clearly explained to us that prophet’s responsibility was to make the message clear to the mankind.

This also means that when the Prophet (SAWS) explains the Qur’an, that is not his own production. Allah (SWT) says no individual can not bear any burden that they can’t bear. So it is part of the Prophet’s SAWS responsibility to teach the text to the people.

So the Prophet (Saw) received the quran and also the explanation of the  Quran and Allah (swt) told Prophet (saws)


لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ

Sahih International
Move not your tongue with it, [O Muhammad], to hasten with recitation of the Qur'an.

إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ

Sahih International
Indeed, upon Us is its collection [in your heart] and [to make possible] its recitation.

فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ

Sahih International
So when We have recited it [through Gabriel], then follow its recitation.

ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ

Sahih International
Then upon Us is its clarification [to you].


Allah is making it clear that Allah will explain, and Prophet (saws) was given further understanding of Quran.

We see amongst the Sahabah that they sometimes misunderstood the Arabic and could not know based on their understanding. So what of us?

It is not matter of knowing Arabic knowledge, even then it will be not enough to derive the ruling of Quran.

When Surah Anam: 82 was revealed


الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَمْ يَلْبِسُوا إِيمَانَهُم بِظُلْمٍ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمُ الْأَمْنُ وَهُم مُّهْتَدُونَ

Sahih International
They who believe and do not mix their belief with injustice - those will have security, and they are [rightly] guided.


The Word Dhulm which is many times translated as oppression, any kind of wrong doing. When you look at this verse, from the Arabic of this verse, the obvious question is who is that who does not mix their Imaan with some type of Dhulm. Everyone does wrong in their life, thus Sahabah were worried about it. So the Prophet (SAWS) had to explain to people that it did not mean everything, it means shirk. When the Prophet (SAWS) says that, it is revelation from Allah (SWT).

And then he explained that “shirk is a great thulm.” (31:13)
إِنَّ الشِّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِيمٌ

Thus the meaning of the verse is that “anyone who has imaan and does not mix it with shirk those are the ones who are rightly guided.”

Among the question of shortening the prayer, 4:101


وَإِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌ أَن تَقْصُرُوا مِنَ الصَّلَاةِ إِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَن يَفْتِنَكُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ۚ إِنَّ الْكَافِرِينَ كَانُوا لَكُمْ عَدُوًّا مُّبِينًا

Sahih International
And when you travel throughout the land, there is no blame upon you for shortening the prayer, [especially] if you fear that those who disbelieve may disrupt [or attack] you. Indeed, the disbelievers are ever to you a clear enemy.

There is a condition in this verse “if you fear that those who disbelieve may disrupt [or attack] you” This was the meaning that some of sahabah understood, Prophet (saws) explained this is a ruksha from Allah, although in Arabic language this is condition but this is not strict condition but it is rukshah that Allah has bestowed on the ummah.

One time the Sh tried to go to a conference being held by someone who denied the Sunnah (by Rashad Khalifa). Sh. Jamaal went to discuss their position. They were not allowed to get in. So they got into a bit of a discussion. He started with Syed Ahmad Khan and Pervez Ahmad and had turned away from Sunnah.

Sh asked: “How do you pray?” They said: “This is the prayer of Ibrahim.” But they could not come to agreement. Then they asked “What is the penalty for the thief?” And all three said “you cut the hand of the thief from the wrist.” Is that in the Qur’an? It says to cut off their yadd. But yadd in the Arabic language (e.g. in the verse of wudu) -- it covers everything from the fingertips to the shoulder. And the only reason they do not cut the hand of the thief is because of the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAWS). There is nothing that the Qur’an points to about where to cut.

The Prophet (SAWS) also corrected misunderstandings. E.g. the following verses.

يَا أُخْتَ هَارُونَ مَا كَانَ أَبُوكِ امْرَأَ سَوْءٍ وَمَا كَانَتْ أُمُّكِ بَغِيًّا

Sahih International
O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste."

But Maryam was not the sister of Haroon -- he was the brother of Musa. So the Prophet (SAWS) said that they used to name themselves after the Prophets and name yourself after pious people. This was the kind of speech they would have. It was a nickname.

Footnote: Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation of the text and it is different from the science of exegesis. The science of tafseer is closer to exegesis. So hermeneutics is a secular approach.

Question #2: Do we need Sahabah for understanding the Quran?

In the light of a very secular understanding about the companions of the Prophet (SAWS) is it possible to say that we can understand the Qur’an better than the Sahabah? Also can we claim that we have knowledge which ahabah did not possess?

1) Language of the Quran was the language of Sahabah. Is this important ? Languages evolve (e.g. in Surah Yusuf we see the word Sayyara--which does not mean the car which is meant today with this word).  Modern standard Arabic which is closer to Fusha, but not everyone speak fusha. In the Arab world today, they mostly speak colloquial Arabic.  
The one thing Arab boasted about themselves were the language. ‘Ajami was used for persian / romans or foreginers but linguistically it has interesting meaning. It referred to the one who cannot speak their language.

2) There were many verses in the Quran which was referring to what happened in their lifetime like the verses of Badr, for us to understand this we need to read about badr but for them they were part of it when it was revealed.

3) There are verses in the Quran which was referring to the action of the arabs like the one entering the house from behind. As some present day people explain that it is talking about the handling of the situation in a straight manner while this is not what the verse is pointing to. The verse  is pointing to the practices of arabs. Also In the time of Jahiliyyah the time of hajj was also time for business, all the fame of sooq was tied to business, sahabah were afraid if it allowed to do business during the time of hajj, Allah clarified that it is allowed to do business.

4) They were living and applying the Qur’an under the eye of the Prophet (SAWS). E.g. big difference between reading a software manual vs someone who knows what to do. And when you start straying he will correct you. It also shows us the Prophet (SAWS) corrected them in the application of the Qur’an. Otherwise he was watchful and approving in their understanding. How they understood the Qur’an was approved of by the Prophet (SAWS). There is no question from secular point of view to say that Sahabah play a vital role in understanding the Quran.

5) The status of Sahabah is clearly mentioned in Quran that they are best generation, they are the one who Allah is pleased with and thus in the religious aspect as well their importance is clearly called out.

If we wanted to claim that we have some advantage over sahabah, what kind of advantage do we have over sahabah ?
Technology and science are the fed where we are more advanced than what it was at their time. If our technology and science is better than the way of sahabah, how is that going to help us understand the Quran? Let’s say, yes it helps us. Does this help us in the verses of Imaan, law, attitude of life, etc?  It doesn’t help us in any of these things. It might help us in some of physical things, but the essence of Quran it is not going to help us.

We may have better technology, knowledge, etc but it’s not going to help us with understanding the central aspects of the texts. Early 1900’s wrote a tafseer and it was all science. You get no moral teachings. That’s not what the Qu’ran is most about and what we are trying to get from Quran. So the thing we claim gives us excellence doesn’t help. At best we will based on what they said. There were lots of elaborations but these elaborations have to be consistent with what sahabah understood also at the same point there are  things that the Prophet (SAWS) did not explain.

We are the ones in need of further elaboration. And we should benefit from it.

Question #3: We are living in different era, lot of things changed since the time of Prophet (SAWS) what are the aspect of deen of that need to be changed and what are the aspects that cannot be changed?

When Allah says in the quran “O You believe” does this verse apply to us ? Prophet (saws) was the final messenger, this was final revelation for all the humanity, thus when Allah says “O You believe” this refers to us and to all the people who believe till the day of judgement, now if someone says that this is referring to the people who were present at that time ? Now who has the burden of proof who says that this verse doesn’t belong to us ? The onus the person who claims this. This is going to be difficult to prove and Allah has revealed this book which is for the people who will come till the day of judgement.

If you study the Shari’ah carefully, you realize there are things that are fixed vs ones that are flexible. Somethings don’t change. A lie is a lie. There are other things that need to be changed and built in to allow for change. There are certain things that the Shari’ah refers to but never defines. Eg. traveling. The definition for travelling in different madhab where they come up with distance, this not defined from shariah. Thus if there is anything which shariah did not define which means these are time sensitive and meant to be flexible. It is flexible in those things which require flexibility. The Prophet (SAWS) defines something then it’s part of the text. E.g. traveling has not been defined in the Shari’ah. Similarly, for Nafaqah for the wife. It is not defined how much and it is also time and custom sensitive.

Shari’ah has its own built-in flexibility. Many people don’t understand this point. Those things can change, but you don’t need to change the things that weren’t meant to be changed. You have to distinguish between the two.

When there is a reference to a category, when it comes to maintenance of wife there is confusion about how much is it, etc.

2012-04-23 Class Notes


We were discussing certain keys issues which are critical to protect us from falling prey to the modernists and progressive attack on the Qur’an and Sunnah.

We discussed the criticality or importance of the Prophet in order to understand the deen. We also discussed the importance of Sahabah for understanding the deen. The third point that we discussed was that Quran and Sunnah are for all time and places. The Muslims however, need to be careful that there are things in Islam which cannot change with change of time and place and there are things (opinions based on ijtihad) which may or may not change.

Question #4: Is the Qur’an free for anyone to interpret?

One of the key points of reformation or modernist movement in Europe was that anyone should be allowed to interpret the bible and anyone should be allowed to understand on their own. Does this also apply to the Qur’an.

Abul-Kalam Azad from India, said that based on the following verse of the Quran

أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا

Sahih International (4:82)
Then do they not reflect upon the Qur'an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah , they would have found within it much contradiction.

He said that based on this verse, the interpretation of the Quran is not just for Imams and mujtahid but it is for anybody to go, reflect and understand it in anyway. Is there any truth to this? How valid is this point ?

We do see in the Qur’an Allah speaks to us about reflecting about Quran. It is speaking to reflect about it not about the meaning of it. They can derive lessons from it and the meanings should be left to the scholars.

If you say this verse means such and such is it that you are speaking on behalf of Allah (saw) as you are claiming that this is what Allah (swt) is saying this.

Allah swt in Surah Araf says

قُلْ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّيَ الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَالْإِثْمَ وَالْبَغْيَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَأَن تُشْرِكُوا بِاللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا وَأَن تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ


Sahih International (7:33)
Say, "My Lord has only forbidden immoralities - what is apparent of them and what is concealed - and sin, and oppression without right, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has not sent down authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know."

In this verse the gravity of the sin is growing, and then he describes the various sins, and after mentioning shirk, he says the following, saying something about Allah for which you have no basis.

In one case you are speaking on behalf of Allah swt and in the other case you are trying to understand what the verse means to your life.

One case you are speaking on behalf of Allah (swt) and in other case you are looking at how can we apply this in my apply The later one is very important for everyone to do this. More knowledge you have the better you are in application. On the other end we have to be cautious about to comment on verse and to claim that “this is what the verse is talking about”.

Ibn Abbas said (although sometimes incorrectly attributed to the Prophet SAWS): “Whoever speaks about the Qur’an without knowledge should take his seat in fire.”

If somebody speaks about Quran according to his opinion even if he is correct, he has committed a sin. (Sh. Jamaal said most probably it is statement of a Sahabi but sometimes attributed to Prophet (saaw)).

There is obvious reason why we have to be cautious, beside the fact that we are speaking on his behalf. We should have proper knowledge about the sunnah of the prophet or how sahaba interpreted the Qur’an, or are not familiar with the Arabic language, in fact some people make interpretation based on the English translation of the Qur’an. Some misguided people claim that all of the Quran is figurative and all symbolic.

There is a certain methodology that the Prophet(SAWS) established: e.g. the meaning is the literal interpretation unless there is explicit evidence to the contrary. Many people do the opposite -- and assume all the verses are symbolic. Thus there are some qualification required before you go and interpret the Quran.

So the correct approach is to read the meanings of the verse and then apply that to your own life.

But many of the modernists are actually jumping right to saying that this is what the Qur’an means without following the Prophetic methodology/sunnah.

A scholar can sometimes make conjecture and he should make it clear what is conjecture and what is based on solid evidence.

Question #5: What is the role of the ‘aql in Islam as a whole or in understanding the Qur’an?

By Aql we mean, the rational thought of human, the intellect of human, can include natural instincts of human, can include acquired knowledge. For someone to be considered having aql, he should be acting according to the knowledge. Applying the knowledge to one’s daily life is part of the aql. This is how the scholars of the shari’ah define aql.

Does it have any role to play in Islam? This is one of the major points made by modernists: we have to apply our reasoning to understanding Islam!

Allah swt shows us something very clear in the Quran, human reasoning when done in a sound manner is able to protect us from falling into the hellfire.

Allah swt says in Surah al Mulk verse 10


وَقَالُوا لَوْ كُنَّا نَسْمَعُ أَوْ نَعْقِلُ مَا كُنَّا فِي أَصْحَابِ السَّعِيرِ

Sahih International (67:10)
And they will say, "If only we had been listening or reasoning, we would not be among the companions of the Blaze."

Our ulema throughout the centuries, say that Islam is the religion of evidence and proofs. Allah swt asks us to reflect as mentioned previously. For example, Allah swt says in Surah Yusuf verse 109

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِي إِلَيْهِم مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْقُرَىٰ ۗ أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَيَنظُرُوا كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ ۗ وَلَدَارُ الْآخِرَةِ خَيْرٌ لِّلَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا ۗ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

Sahih International (12:109)
And We sent not before you [as messengers] except men to whom We revealed from among the people of cities. So have they not traveled through the earth and observed how was the end of those before them? And the home of the Hereafter is best for those who fear Allah ; then will you not reason?

So aql has many roles to play within the Shari’ah -- there’s one thing that all scholars agree upon: if someone doesn’t have the tools to understand, then he is not bound by the law. If someone doesn’t have aql, the shari’ah isn’t going to help you. So it is one of the key aspects of being obliged to abide by the Shariah.

The problem we run into is, Human beings have looked at two sources of knowledge, revelation and human derived knowledge.  So we Al-Aql العقل (human intellect) and we have Al-Naql النقل (transmitted knowledge, but we mean here transmitted from Prophet (saaw) either in the form of Quran). One of the key points that mentioned is that to identify the limits of Aql.

Are there any limits to ‘Aql?

We are limited to what we can access, for example, we have only 5 sense and other limitations. For example, can we speak about what will happen in the hereafter based just on aql? We do not have any first hand reports from human beings who have returned to inform us.

What about things related to social sciences? What are its limits? For physical science we can test and conduct experiment to get the results. With respect to social science, from the scientific method point of view, we cannot conduct experiments. Econ graduate students are always requesting funds for conducting experiments upon the lifestyle of the millionaires, meaning they want money to live the lifestyle of the rich.

Example: the long-term effects of alcohol -- how do you quantify all of the things that occur: violence, health etc. we can see some of the negative things about alcohol, but we don’t understand the picture.

Or another example is human rights where everyone talks about it. Why should humans have rights ? Even this question, in 1942, where all the countries signed declaration of human rights a french philosopher jacques maritain.

Everyone has different perspectives about human rights and what constitutes a human right. There’s nothing really out there that decides exactly what is a human. Even this which is basic thing which people discuss we can not determine that based on ‘aql. We can maybe come to an agreement about it, but we can’t prove that something is a human right. It is beyond the level of ‘aql. We might come to some agreement but in reality it is beyond the level of Aql to determine what is the human right.

“Virtually everything related to human rights is controversial” -- one author wrote.

This shows to us very clearly, even when it comes to regulating our lives, ‘aql has severe limitations. The problem isn’t that ‘aql doesn’t have a role, it’s that it needs to be guided. It needs to have proper foundation and once we have foundation then we can build up on this.

Some of the roles of the ‘aql in Islam are to reflect on the signs of Allah (SWT) -- seeing how things work in this world, increasing our technology -- clearly in the realm of ‘aql. Making ijtihaad is also part of the role of ‘aql. To take the text of Quran and Sunnah and to apply to new situation is part of Ibadah, this people cannot do without ‘Aql.

In the Shar’iah, the aql is considered a source of knowledge. But what happens when aql and naql contradict which one should take precedence ?

This is a trick question because what you getting from Aql and naql has different level of certainty. For example, when you look a the text of the quran, some of the texts of the quran are very clear and are not open to any kind of interpretation, their meaning is one and clear either on its own or based on some external evidence. Speech can be ambiguous sometime.

Consider the headline: “Reagan raises taxes, more lies ahead”

What is the meaning of lies ahead? Does it mean that he lied to the people that he will not raise their taxes or does it mean he will raise more taxes ahead? The above statement is ambiguous.

When you look at both of Aql and Naql, the things which you get of the Naql the meaning is definitive and sometime the meaning can be conjectures. Some is true for Aql, sometimes it is definitive and some time conjuncture. Scientific facts are definitive but scientific theory are conjecture. For example, big bang theory which is conjecture, we cannot definitively prove it, there is only circumstantial evidence.

We know Allah has ability everything, Can Allah swt create a rock that acts and feels like a three million year old, even though it was created now? This is just a hypothetical conjecture.

What Muslim ‘ulema have said that you can’t have a conflict between ‘aql which is definitive and naql which is definitive, this is not possible at all, the reason is that they both come from the same source. It comes from Allah (swt) thus it is not possible at all. If that looks like it’s happening to you, then you have made a mistake somewhere -- there has to be something wrong. Otherwise, if you look at these two, it is possible that ‘aql can take precedence over naql. if aql is definitive and naql is conjectural then aql has to take precedence . Vice versa is also true. What happens if both are conjectural ? By itself you cannot take decision on this and you have to look for other evidence. If there is no external evidence and  you can’t tell, then you should suspend judgement.

The problem with many modernists is that they always put aql above naql. And they have a lot of confidence in science including social science.  What science says is definitive, they say, is definitive. This is one of the issue. The second things is Aql …. be a judge.

Even some of the so-called Islamic philosophers is that aql always takes precedence. And they even call Allah (SWT) al-aql al-awwal. Amongst the sufis, there was another extreme where there was an extreme distrust of anything from aql.

Ibn Tayyimah has a 9-volume book “Negating the possibility of contradicting the ‘aql.” Took what Al-Razi said and refuted it point by point.

Historically we had both extremes. The progressives are even further out there -- all they have is aql and they use the Quran as a smoke screen, we will discuss them shortly.


Examples of Modernist Tafseer

Let us take the example of Surah Inshiqaaq

إِذَا السَّمَاءُ انشَقَّتْ

Sahih International
When the sky has split [open]

This verse is translated as heavens are spent asunder, ..... According to the mufaseerin it is talking about the day of judgement.

Syed Ahmed Khan says that we reject these interpretations of ...... He is referring to the greek philosophy that has entered our interpretations. But he goes further and says about the hadith which discusses it, he says that heavens have to be burst in order for God to descend. And he says that may Allah protect us from these lies. If this is Islam, the tales of demons and fairies are a thousand times better than it.  

What he is implying is that any hadith that you have about the sky rent asunder etc -- this kind of thing doesn’t make any sense. Clearly he is putting aql ahead of naql. Do we have the right to say that this cannot happen, what is our basis for these statement?

Nowadays the scientist are claiming that the universe is going to rip apart, since it is expanding. And maybe based on this scientific claim, Syed Ahmed Khan could have claimed that this is a scientific miracle of the Quran. He is not just rejecting anthropomorphism (human like attributes) but he is rejecting even angels descending. They are trying to make Islam modern, such that it is compatible with the most modern scientific thinking.

Surah Al Fil

وَأَرْسَلَ عَلَيْهِمْ طَيْرًا أَبَابِيلَ

Sahih International
And He sent against them birds in flocks,

تَرْمِيهِم بِحِجَارَةٍ مِّن سِجِّيلٍ

Sahih International
Striking them with stones of hard clay,

Even the most modernist translation says that Allah swt sent down upon them birds.

Syed Ahmed Khan says that commentators have the habit of exaggerating ... and then he disparages the hadith and says that the story is not narrated like this in the Quran, and that the calamity is not described in this way, but based on collateral evidence, it was smallpox. (Edit: This opinion is totally out of thin air and has no basis in Islam or History).

He is completely destroying what is in the naql and he is blaming it all on the commentators. This is an example of using aql to make very strange conclusions.



2012-04-30 Class Notes (Notes transcribed on 05-08-2012 based on Audio Recording by Atif)


Syed Ahmed Khan (continued): Today we will continue to discuss Syed Ahmed Khan because of the great influence he had, including couple of people who he influenced the most. The reason we are spending some time on Syed Ahmed Khan is due to his great influence and he is still respectfully called Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. He influenced many in his generation and the later generation. Some of the points that he fails to make, still very relevant to the issues of Tafsir. One of his theories (mentioned in a 1890 pamphlet by him) where he argues that the pre-Islamic poetry is not preserved and the dictionary was written much after the death of Prophet (saaw), so to Syed Ahmed Khan the meaning of lots of words in Quran are missing. This argument of Ahmed Khan is not defendable. Since Allah (swt) has mentioned in the Quran (15:9):

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

Sahih International
Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian.

Part of the preservation of the Dhikr is words as well as meanings. If words are preserved but not the meaning then preserving something is useless. Such a preservation has not benefit to it. When Dhikr (i.e. revelation which means Quran and Sunnah) then it means that Allah (swt) is preserving the Arabic language. If you look at the Old Testament and New Testament, then neither original Biblical Hebrew (which is different from the modern day Hebrew) nor the Aramaic language are preserved. In fact the modern Hebrew was constructed through the Arabic language (by understanding the principles of the semitic languages through Arabic).

However, Syed Ahmed Khan had a theory that there are words in the Quran which will have meaning different from what we know. One word which got Khan’s attention was the word Jinn. He says that original word meant ‘something hidden’. To Khan, these were some of the pagans of Makkah were the ones who eavesdropped on Prophet (saaw) and later became Muslims (this is reference to Surah al Jinn 1-2) so due to this hiding and listening to the Quran they were called a class from the Jinns. So to him later muffasiroon interpreted it to be a different creation, etc. The problem with Khan’s theory is that it breaks apart if one continues reading the Surah Jinn, one realizes that Jinn are very different from human beings. Consider the following verses of the Surah al Jinn:

وَأَنَّا ظَنَنَّا أَن لَّن تَقُولَ الْإِنسُ وَالْجِنُّ عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا

Sahih International
And we had thought that mankind and the jinn would never speak about Allah a lie.

وَأَنَّهُ كَانَ رِجَالٌ مِّنَ الْإِنسِ يَعُوذُونَ بِرِجَالٍ مِّنَ الْجِنِّ فَزَادُوهُمْ رَهَقًا

Sahih International
And there were men from mankind who sought refuge in men from the jinn, so they [only] increased them in burden.

وَأَنَّا لَمَسْنَا السَّمَاءَ فَوَجَدْنَاهَا مُلِئَتْ حَرَسًا شَدِيدًا وَشُهُبًا

Sahih International
And we have sought [to reach] the heaven but found it filled with powerful guards and burning flames.

These verses make it clear that Jinn are distinct from Humans, they “mankind” took refuge with the Jinn and they are capable of reaching the heaven.

So Syed Ahmed Khan came up with an opinion without going into details of what he was claiming to study.

On the issue of the incident Angel, Ibless and Adam (pbuh), Khan only believes in Angelic and Satanic faculties but not in Angel or Satan. This is weird, since if one can believe in Angelic faculty or Satanic faculty, then in fact one is believing in Angels and Satans. Nevertheless, Khan did not realize this contradiction in his thought. To Khan these faculties are felt inside humans so Allah (swt) made them into beings. He is assuming that Arabs at that time were not intelligent enough to deal with the concept of faculties, so they had to be explained things in forms of beings of Angel and Satan. He did not believe in the conversation of Allah (swt) versus Satan and eating of the fruit from a tree. Khan always did this in a cunning way. He would suggest to the reader, “if you want to believe it then it is upto you...but as far as I am concerned I believe.....”. This way, he basically makes a sarcastic remark towards the reader who does not agree with Khan.  

Another example, where Khan clearly distorts the teaching of the Quran. This is verse (26:53):

فَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ مُوسَىٰ أَنِ اضْرِب بِّعَصَاكَ الْبَحْرَ ۖ فَانفَلَقَ فَكَانَ كُلُّ فِرْقٍ كَالطَّوْدِ الْعَظِيمِ

Sahih International
Then We inspired to Moses, "Strike with your staff the sea," and it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain.

Khan says, that all commentators are wrong (i.e. red sea part into two), but he says they all overlooked the fact that in history, the red sea had 30 some islands in it and if Prophet Moses (pbuh) came at time of low tide, then he could cross and if others came at the time of high tide then they could not cross. He clearly distorts the words by translating; “the We said to Moses to walk across the sea with the help of your staff....” and to him the above translation of the verse regarding “....Strike with your staff the sea....”. Now in Arabic the words are Adhrab (strike) and then particle Ba in front of Asak (your staff). The words are not Amshi (to walk) and hence Khan is playing even with the words of the Quran, which is even worse compared to misinterpreting the text, as it is called Tahreef ul Quran (i.e. changing the Quran).

Some points he makes are good like Quran is true, God is truth and no Science can falsify it. On the contrary the truth of every science throws light on the Words of God. However, he does not make any point regarding turning to the Sunnah of Prophet (saaw) or the way of Sahabah (ra). This is a big reason for people to stray when they detach Quran from Sunnah and Sahabah.

Another interesting point that he makes is that he praises the people who have faith without much need of philosophical arguments and calls them shining stars of faith. One would expect the Khan will mock at them, however, he praises them and says he admires them since they are people who have stronger faith compared to him (Khan), who needs philosophical arguments to justify his faith. Compared to these are men who want philosophical arguments for everything regarding Islam and it is to such audience that Khan wants to address. However the problem here is that Khan is sacrificing the truth to bring such people towards Islam. Khan is giving such people giving what they want rather than giving Islam to them. If you give someone half truth (or compromised truth) then one is bringing more harm than good. On top of it Khan is passing it as the truth. The Dawah is about truth, if people do not want to the truth, then it is not the job of Dawah giver to compromise the truth.

At that time there was a lot of complex of inferiority among the Muslims due to being colonized, hence it was a very defeatist time for Muslims, so probably he did it under that pressure. He did consider Islam superior to Christianity and Hinduism. However, Khan went too far in his thought process of compromising the Islamic way of thinking and impacted many future thinkers, who are still thinking along those lines. He still called himself Modernist, Rationalist and Apologetics. He lacked knowledge of Sunnah at all. Sh. Jamaal has seen people who reject Sunnah but still quote from Sunnah a lot, however, Khan never quotes from Sunnah. He went too far on his modernist and rationalist way of thinking and distorted the clear and sound way of Islamic thinking.


Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958): The book Tarjuman ul Quran is by Abul Kalam Azad. It is 2 volumes in English (original in Urdu). When Sh. Jamaal became a Muslim, there were very few books in English on Islam. He learnt basics of Salat from a book written by a Christian missionary. The first translation of the Quran that Sh. Jamaal read was from a Qadiyani and the first book on Islam was by a student of Syed Ahmed Khan called Sir Ameer Ali. Sh. Jamaal got suspicious of the Sir in front of their names. Tarjuman ul Quran was also one of the first books Sh. read on Tafseer of the Quran. Azad comes from a very religious family and knew Pashtu, Urdu, Arabic, Farsi, Hindi. He took a very different way and he started to have doubts by the age of 15. His doubt took him towards Atheism/Agnosticism (where he stopped praying etc...) and according to some reports it lasted for 10 years. What turned him away from Islam was mutually contradicting dogmas and statements to the point that he became confused that he said “where is the truth....?”. Then he found happiness in Science and considered it the right way to light. However, he says that science starts with doubt and takes one to the path of Atheism where there is nothing but darkness and despair. He says that he had to pass through all those stages but then he did not walk the road all the way to the end. Then he started to question Science and then he started to see the relation between Science and Religion and considered it the right way to the ultimate truth that humanity needed.

Abul Kalam Azad was influenced by Syed Ahmed Khan, even though Azad was very Anti-British and Khan was the opposite i.e. very pro-British. He was imprisoned due to his problem with the British, and he began to chang his ways. According to Maududi (until 1921-22) he was very pro-Khilafat movement however later he became 100 percent nationalist indian and started to believe in a single Indian nationhood comprising of Muslims and non-Muslims. He assimilated some Hindu philosophy of unity of different religions and the Western biological theory of evolution. Imprint of this can be seen on his commentary of the Quran. He was against the creation of Pakistan and he was against British even though he believed in the unity of Humanity. Interestingly enough he was pro-Hindu. After the partition of Sub-continent in 1947, he became the Indian education minister and stayed in that position up until 1958. He was in favor of making Latin alphabets to Urdu, Farsi and other Indian languages. He later became very secularist and considered Islam to be only a belief system. On issue of abortion and birth control, he said that it is purely a social and biological process and there is no reason why Islamic Law should deal with it. If experts (in sociology and biology)  feel that they need to give a verdict, then they may do so in its favor. He was against the slaughter of the cow (on Eid), to bring Hindus and Muslims together. He ended his life in a pure secularist mind set. He said whatever the religious theology may say, it is the secularism which works. One of his Muslim student, called Chagla, advised the Indian gov’t to abolish the Muslim personal law, forbid hijab and allow marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men. A number of his students became entirely secularized and said that Quran has nothing to say about social issues.

The Urdu version of his Tafseer is to Surah al Kahf, however the English version only goes to the Surah Al Anfal. So the original Tafseer in Urdu is incomplete in the first place. He actually makes some good points in the introduction of his tafseer. He writes about that our relationship with Quran has weakened, lots of foreign elements have entered into tafseer and that the Greek has impacted our way of thinking. He called for removing these foreign influences from the tafseer and our way of thinking. Azad even said that Sahabah understood and lived the Quran the best, however, at the same time he said that Hadith cannot be trusted and Hadith is not preserved. So here Azad is giving a mixed message.

He rejects the idea to take every scientific theory and to prove it through the Quran while at the same time rejecting any miraculous aspect to the Quran. For example, on the ability of Yusuf (pbuh) to interpret the dreams he said that Yusuf (pbuh) did not have the knowledge of interpreting the dreams but rather he had the knowledge of discerning end result or conclusion of events and affairs. So it is basically just a normal insight. For the youth of Surah al Kahf he tried to argue that the wind was passing through the cave and doing the turning of youth as we discussed earlier.. He makes an argument that there is no need for Prophet (saaw) to have anything miraculous and here he is going against both the Quran and Sunnah on this issue.

He rejected the idea of Darwinism. He said what survives is the the most beneficial but not what is the most fittest. Azad refutes Ahmed (since Ahmed did not believe in virgin birth of Isa (pbuh)) and Azad accepted the virgin birth as a dogma from Quran. He ran into trouble with those Ulema who supported creation of Pakistan and later he became completely secular. He was a modernist in his tafseer but not as egregious as other modernists.

Ghulam Ahmed Pervez: Another person along this line is Ghulam Ahmed Pervez (1903-1985): What is important about Ghulam Ahmed Pervez is that he has gone to the extreme which makes it beneficial for others as this man becomes a lesson for everyone. The lesson is that if one is not thinking on proper foundations of the Deen, then how far astray one can go. He was influenced by Syed Ahmed Khan. He wrote Maarifa al Quran in 1941-49 in Urdu. He is one of Quraniyun and rejects the Hadith and Sunnah completely. The only book in English that he wrote is one he titled, “Islam: A challenge to religion”. The deen in his view is a form of a government, just like the communism, democracy and socialism and as such all the authority rests with the law of God given in the Quran. One of the laws according to him is that food and wealth has to be distributed equally to everyone. He separates between Deen and Madhab and he says that He says that people with vested interests converted this Deen into Madhab (religion) and they did this through fabricated hadith.

More on this InshaAllah next week.

2012-05-07 Class Notes


Muhammad Asad
We have been discussing people important to our topic from 200 years ago. And last week we were discussing Ghulam Ahmed Pervez and today we discuss an author closer to home, Muhammad Asad who wrote “The Message of the Quran”. This book is important for us to discuss since some unknown group distributed copies of this book to the masajid all across the USA.

The author Muhammad Asad was originally Leopold Weiss and he was born in 1900. He was an Austrian Jew, who became a writer and eventually he ended up in Palestine when it was under the control of the British. It was in that period that he met with Arabs and studied their Zionist concerns. This is early in the 20th century and the Jews had started to move to Palestine. In 1926 he converted to Islam in Berlin. In his works he travelled extensively and his other book is “Road to Mecca”. In this book he discusses the Zionist movement and its concerns.  

In 1932 he moved to British India and met with Mohammed Iqbal and became a strong supporter of the idea of an independent Pakistan. During second world war, his parents were killed by Nazis in Austria. Asad himself was living in Lahore when the WWII broke out. The British arrested him because he was an alien. In 1947 he was released and given the citizenship of Pakistan and he worked in Pakistani gov’t for a while. He then moved to Spain and stayed there and died there in 1992.

He wrote an interesting book titled “Islam on the Cross-Roads”. He was saying that there are two paths: either take your own path or follow Europe. And if you follow Europe, you’lll always be following. He gave a clear message that you either take your own Islamic path or you follow Europe. If you follow Europe then you will always be behind.

Maududi says about him, after he had married a Muslim woman who had Western influence, and he attributes this event as a catalyst for changes in his life. His commentary of the Quran shows these influences. In particular you can see the clear influence of people like Syed Ahmed Khan and he was also called the European scribe of Syed Ahmad Khan. As we go through the book, we’ll see examples.

Examples of tafseer by Muhammad Asad

When talking about the People of the Cave page 439 -- he says:

“It is more than probable that their mode of life made so strong an impression on the imagination of their more worldly co-religionists that it became gradually allegorized in the story of the Men of the Cave who "slept" - that is, were cut off from the outside world - for countless years, destined to be "awakened" after their spiritual task was done.


But whatever the source of this legend, and irrespective of whether it is of Jewish or Christian origin, the fact remains that it is used in the Qur'an in a purely parabolic sense: namely, as an illustration of God's power to bring about death (or "sleep") and resurrection (or "awakening'); and, secondly, as an allegory of the piety that induces men to abandon a wicked or frivolous world in order to keep their faith unsullied, and of God's recognition of that faith by His bestowal of a spiritual awakening which transcends time and death.”




“It is more than probable that their mode of life made such a strong impression that it led to aggrandizing their period to 300 years -- they were merely cut off from the outside world.” So there is no miracle. Whatever the source of this legend, the fact remains that it used purely in an allegorical/parabolic sense. So he is “reinterpreting” the Qur’an. They weren’t sleeping, they were “sleeping.” Since their friends were very materialistic they were just cutting off from them which is called “sleeping”.

With Respect to the story of Solomon, page 498 footnote 77 he says: “The Qur’an alludes to many of the Judeo-Christian lore and legends” -- the words “lore and “legends” are used to describe things that are stories and not necessarily true.

“Although it is un-doubtedly we can rationalistic explanation, I do not think this is necessary. These stories were not true, but they were so deeply ingrained in the minds of people, so Quran addresses them and treats them as true.” So basically he is saying that since people believed so Allah (swt) added them in the Quran.

He’s saying the people believed in it, so Allah is going to use it as a teaching tool. But why would Allah (SWT) use something that is false? Especially when He asserts that the Qur’an is the truth? He says that was because the people at that time believed them to be the truth. And Sh asks this question, if that was the case, why did Allah not use the crucifixion of Christ as an argument since the people knew it? A good counter argument for M. Asad will be that the crucifixion of Isa (pbuh) was also ingrained in the minds of many people, however Allah (swt) refuted that story. So why will Allah (swt) will put other stories in the Quran.

He’s saying that there are parts of the Qur’an that are not necessarily true. Similarly for the verses from Surah Baqarah verse 260 page 59 about Ibrahim

وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِي كَيْفَ تُحْيِي الْمَوْتَىٰ ۖ قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِن ۖ قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَٰكِن لِّيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِي ۖ قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنَ الطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ اجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا ثُمَّ ادْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًا ۚ وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

Sahih International
And [mention] when Abraham said, "My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead." [ Allah ] said, "Have you not believed?" He said, "Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be satisfied." [ Allah ] said, "Take four birds and commit them to yourself. Then [after slaughtering them] put on each hill a portion of them; then call them - they will come [flying] to you in haste. And know that Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise."

He says that the birds were not killed and he quotes a scholar Abu Muslim (Abu Muslim Al Asfahani). This person is one of the leading Mutazilah scholars in history, but he does not tell you that the author he is quoting is a Mutazillah. Abu Muslim says that the moral of the story is that if man is able to train birds to obey him, then Allah is able to train birds to come back to Ibrahim (pbuh). In refuting this point, Sh. asks, is giving back life to a bird is same as training it to respond to your call?

He is trying to rationalize every aspect of the Quran just like his predecessors. But his unique views go beyond that to fiqh and aqeedah also./

An example of fiqh issue can be found in his tafseer of Surah Maida verse 33 on page 148 and 149. This verse of the Quran is about punishment for those who declare war on Allah (swt) and his Prophet (pbuh).


إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

Sahih International
Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.

He starts out by saying, most of the classical commentators regard it as an order to do what the ayah says, but he says that this interpretation is not warranted by the text. Sh responds that he cannot find anyone before M. Asad who did not interpret the verse in a way that he is critiquing. Ibn Al Jawzi has a book on tafseer and he starts out by enumerating all opinions about this verse. Every one from the time of the Prophet has understood it as description of punishment. M. Asad should have clearly stated who says that this is a legal ruling. Unfortunately M. Asad is making things up about this verse.

M. Asad says, it is not an injunction but it is a statement of the fact, a declaration of punishment that will come upon those people by Allah (swt). And the way he gets there by using evidence from the Arabic language. He says that the verb is in imperfect tense, and he says that it cannot be a command and that it is statement of fact. And both of these points are incorrect. He says that noun that follows the verb becomes a clause. So he is making a claim that no one before him made it and he says that the reason why no one understood it in this way, because they did not understand the Arabic language as much as he did. Can he, not being a native speaker of Arabic, really make this claim?

Appendix #1 starting on page .... which is titled, .... allegory in the Quran. In the second sentence of the second para, he says that there is one fundamental statement that occurs only once and that is a key phrase of all phrases. He says the verse 7 from Al’ Imran, he says that this verse gives key understanding of the Quran and makes it easy for everyone to understand. He says that without understanding mutashabihat, most people will not be able to understand the quran. And then he claims that Quran must be understood in an allegorical sense.

What do you think about this claim of his?

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

Sahih International
It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise - they are the foundation of the Book - and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah . But those firm in knowledge say, "We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord." And no one will be reminded except those of understanding.

Allah swt in this verse says that there are muhkamat and mutashabihat verses. We have to understand the meaning of these two words. But if you look at the translation of these words in most English translation (Pichtall, Yusuf Ali, including M. Asad), mutashabihat is translated as allegorical.

What does allegorical mean?
Definition according to the American Heritage Dictionary: A literal, dramatic and pictorial representation. Basically you give a presentation but that is not true, you are giving some meaning behind the presentation. It is almost like fables, which have morals behind stories that are not true and in fact the stories do not have a literal meaning.

What does mutashabihat mean?
Definition according to Lane’s Lexicon: Mutashabi means equivocal or ambiguous i.e. something which is susceptible to interpretation and whose meaning is not to be understood from the words only. So it means words or phrases which have more than one possible interpretation.

The above verse was revealed when the Christian tribe of Najaran came to the Prophet and argued that the proof of trinity is in the Quran where Allah (swt) calls himself  “We”. So it could mean that there is more than one Allah (swt) (as Christians have argued) or it could mean that it is Royal “We” which is what the scholars mention. A weaker opinion from Ibn Taymiyyah has that We is used when Allah (swt) is referring to himself and the Angels. So the verses like of Surat al Ikhlass (among many other) are very clear and cannot be interpreted in any other way except one way hence they are Muhkamaat. So these Muhkamaat are the foundations of the book and the verses which are Mutashabihaat are to be interpreted on the basis of the Muhkamaat. So all the tons and tons of verses in the Quran which make it clear that Allah (swt) is Ahad, makes it clear for us that We is referring to special honor (i.e. Royal We) and not that there is more than one God.    

Most concerning is that he believes that all of Allah’s attributes are allegorical. As the Mu’tazila, he doesn’t want to ascribe any positive trait to God -- they can only say what he is not.

But the Qur’an is clear about this: The very verse that says “there is no-one like Him” is followed by the fact that He says “and he hears and sees.”So rather than saying that Allah’s attributes have nothing in common with what Allah (swt) has created, they start to deny Allah’s attributes.

But the approach of the Qur’an is different to denying God’s characteristics. If you take the approach of denying, then you end up worshipping nothing. And you remove the love that would be in the heart of the believer towards Allah (SWT).

لِّلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا الْحُسْنَىٰ وَزِيَادَةٌ ۖ وَلَا يَرْهَقُ وُجُوهَهُمْ قَتَرٌ وَلَا ذِلَّةٌ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ


For them who have done good is the best [reward] and extra. No darkness will cover their faces, nor humiliation. Those are companions of Paradise; they will abide therein eternally (Yunus 10:26) [Sahih International]

The Prophet (SAWS) says that the meaning of the verse of ziyaadah is that Allah will remove the veil and we will be allowed to see the face of Allah. But for these people who don’t believe in the attributes of Allah don’t believe that Allah doesn’t even have a face. So of course he’s not even going to quote this verse.

So all that Muhammad Asad says is that ziyaadah is “more than their actual merits may warrant” No reference to the hadith, no reference to the Prophet (SAWS) and what they said.

There is a passage where he says the great thinkers of the past understood the Qur’an through the Prophet’s teachings. But you will rarely see a hadith quoted by him. In another book “Principles of State and Government in Islam”, the whole foundation of the book is one hadith: Ikhtilaafu Ummatee Rahmah (“The difference of opinion in my Ummah is a mercy.”) . This is not even a hadith of the Prophet. There is no scholar who says this can be traced back to the Prophet (SAWS). He also uses this hadith in the following passage in “The Meaning of the Quran”:


“The great thinkers of our past understood this problem fully well. In their commentaries, they approached the Qur'an with their reason: that is to say, they tried to explain the purport of each Qur'anic statement in the light of their superb knowledge of the Arabic language and of the Prophet's teachings - forthcoming from his sunnah - as well as by the store of general knowledge available to them and by the historical and cultural experiences which had shaped human society until their time. Hence, it was only natural that the way in which one commentator understood a particular Qur'anic statement or expression differed occasionally - and sometimes very incisively - from the meaning attributed to it by this or that of his predecessors. In other words, they often contradicted one another in their interpretations: but they did this without any animosity, being fully aware of the element of relativity inherent in all human reasoning, and of each other's integrity. And they were fully aware, too, of the Prophet's profound saying, "The differences of opinion (ikhtilaf) among the learned men of my community are [an outcome of] divine grace (rahmah)" - which clearly implies that such differences of opinion are the basis of all progress in human thinking and, therefore, a most potent factor in man's acquisition of knowledge.”


So he gives the impression that the interpretation and understanding of the Qur’an can change. Obviously the Qur’an is intended to be interpreted in the time and place that we are in (We need to take lessons from the Quran and apply it to our life), but that doesn’t mean that we come up with new meanings that contradict the opinions of the Prophet and the Sahabah. The meanings should be consistent with what the Prophet and the sahaaba said, but the exact way in which we apply it may change. He is saying that the meaning may change, indeed he says it is a blessing.


So these are some samples -- and hence this is a representation of a classical modernist approach to tafseer.

(This book came out in 1980 and was the third translation that Shaykh Jamaal read)

2012-05-14 Class Notes


Last week we talked about Muhammad Asad’s commentary on the Quran. Sh had found the copy in the musallah. And then last Friday he went to see if he could find another translation that we are planning to discuss today and he did find a copy, it was by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. This was one of the first books given to him when he became a Muslim.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali 1872-1953 CE

Link to the translation and commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali http://al-quran.info/default.aspx?x=y#&&sura=1&trans=en-yusuf_ali&show=both,quran-uthmani&format=rows&ver=1.00

There is a good possibility that he is from an Ismaili family. He studied English literature at a number of universities, including New York. He has references to Tennyson and others. He began the translation and commentary in 1934 and published in 1938 by Mohammed Ashraf in Lahore India (now Pakistan). Then he toured US as part of his book tour and visited the third mosque in North America which was in Edmonton in Canada. He emigrated to England and died there.

One of the reasons that this book is so popular is, that translation for most part is accurate and it is powerful translation. The only problem is that translation is very archaic since the English he chose to use is the language of the King James Bible. The issues are though in the commentary which are in the footnotes of the translation.

List of errors prepared by Muslim World League
There was a time when the Muslim World League (MWL) was distributing this commentary with a pamphlet warning about this book. The MWL has prepared a “list of errors” that this book contains, including the point that the heaven and hell have no existence and that they are allegorical and are a state of mind. According to him, Heaven is the state of ecstasy and hell is a state of agony. In the pamphlet they quoted a number of footnotes. They then quote a few of the footnotes as being against the teachings of the Qur’an. Therefore the commentary should be considered null and void.

Influence of Monism
The pamphlet by MWL did not cover all of the errors in the commentary. For example, there is more than one hints of pantheism/(monism=wahdatul wujood) style discussion. e.g. in the commentary for Surah Fatihah he says there are many worlds -- spiritual, material, etc, and in every world, God is all in All -- the essence of wahdatul wujood -- or monism.

(Edit: Definition of Monism from wikipedia: Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic. Monisms may be theologically syncretic by proposing that there is one god who has many manifestations in the diverse religious traditions.)

Footnote #5276 describes the word: baatin -- that which is within versus that which is evident in things outside. God has both these qualities: his signs are evident in the universe, but he is also imminent within us and in the soul of all good things.

Mistakes about improper understanding of the attributes of Allah swt
The author repeats these ideas too often in his commentary. He goes above and beyond the mistakes made by Muhammad Asad. He says, “the attributes of God are so different from anything that we know in this world that there is only one name we can give Him (swt) is Huwa (i.e. He).” Then he goes on to reject the name God or Allah despite the fact Allah (swt) in the Quran asks us to call upon Allah (swt) through these names.  

Muhammad Asad claimed that we can only say what is not Allah, and this goes against the teaching of the prophet and the sahabah. When Quran and Sunnah negates things about Allah it is very general, but when it mentions his attributes they are very specific. Such as he does not sleep, he does not tire etc. But very specific about his rahmah.

In footnote #4429 which is related to what Allah swt is talking to Iblis and asking him why he is not prostrating to Adam. Here he uses olde english which can be difficult for some. He does not play with the words of the translation. But he gives a very different impression in his footnotes. He says what he means by my hands, it means by my power and my creative skill. This is the implication of what Allah swt says, but that is not the complete meaning of what Allah swt says.

Similarly he says the throne or Arsh is the seat, power, symbol, authority. However, when you read his translation, it looks different than what is seen or looks strange compared to some other tafseer such as Ibn Katheer whether it is in Arabic or English. Sh is implying that Yusuf Ali’s translation looks strange.

When you look at all the footnotes of Heaven and Hell, it says that it is antithesis to the previous ayah, he says if the fire is the symbol of punishment, then garden is the symbol of felicity. This kind of esoteric understanding of the Quran might be because of his Ismaili beliefs.

He says Iblis is the power of evil, with root idea of disbelief and rebellion, and Satan is the symbol of enmity and ...  He says they are two different manifestations of evil. He says that there are not one reality, they are just symbolic.

Footnote #57 says the hell fire is spiritual fire, and if we commit sins, we have to pass through fire of repentance and regret.

During the time he was living, and the influence of Western culture, we can find the concept of Western economy spreading in his commentary of the Quran. For example in footnote #241 which talks about gambling, he ends up talking about insurance and says that insurance is not gambling and says that risk is eliminated due to statistical calculations. He is implying that insurance is not gharar (risk). The problem is that he is speaking from the perspective of the insurance companies, who are trying to reduce their risks, one may with some stretch of imagination say that it is not gambling (although Sh. Jamaal does not agree with this conclusion either) but for the individual it is definitely not so. It is definitely gharar and akin to gambling, e.g. he may pay for 20 years and nothing happens.

Footnote #344, where he discusses riba, he opens the door and says that the Prophet did not explain it properly and he quotes Umar ibn Khattab where he wishes that he hoped to ask three questions to the Prophet when he was alive. It is a rare occurrence for a hadith to be in his commentary and specially with quotation of Umar. There is another hadith that Yusuf Ali uses elsewhere which is known to be fabricated.

He defines riba, as undue profit made not in the way of legitimate trade made of out loans of gold, silver, wheat and barley and he says that this is a statement of the holy apostle. He says my definition would exclude profiteering made by economic institutions.

He says that polygamy restricts the number of wives to four provided you could treat all of your wives with perfect equality in affection. And then he says that it is difficult to do so, then he recommends monogamy. You have to treat them equally but not in affection, you simply cannot do that. If that were a criteria then it would be very difficult to meet.

His views of the angels is also problematic. In the story of Harut and Marut in verses from Surah Baqarah verse 102, his translation says that the word comes to the angels Harut and Marut, his translation does not play with words.

وَاتَّبَعُوا مَا تَتْلُو الشَّيَاطِينُ عَلَىٰ مُلْكِ سُلَيْمَانَ ۖ وَمَا كَفَرَ سُلَيْمَانُ وَلَٰكِنَّ الشَّيَاطِينَ كَفَرُوا يُعَلِّمُونَ النَّاسَ السِّحْرَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ عَلَى الْمَلَكَيْنِ بِبَابِلَ هَارُوتَ وَمَارُوتَ ۚ وَمَا يُعَلِّمَانِ مِنْ أَحَدٍ حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ فِتْنَةٌ فَلَا تَكْفُرْ ۖ فَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مِنْهُمَا مَا يُفَرِّقُونَ بِهِ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَزَوْجِهِ ۚ وَمَا هُم بِضَارِّينَ بِهِ مِنْ أَحَدٍ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۚ وَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مَا يَضُرُّهُمْ وَلَا يَنفَعُهُمْ ۚ وَلَقَدْ عَلِمُوا لَمَنِ اشْتَرَاهُ مَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ خَلَاقٍ ۚ وَلَبِئْسَ مَا شَرَوْا بِهِ أَنفُسَهُمْ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ

Sahih International
And they followed [instead] what the devils had recited during the reign of Solomon. It was not Solomon who disbelieved, but the devils disbelieved, teaching people magic and that which was revealed to the two angels at Babylon, Harut and Marut. But the two angels do not teach anyone unless they say, "We are a trial, so do not disbelieve [by practicing magic]." And [yet] they learn from them that by which they cause separation between a man and his wife. But they do not harm anyone through it except by permission of Allah . And the people learn what harms them and does not benefit them. But the Children of Israel certainly knew that whoever purchased the magic would not have in the Hereafter any share. And wretched is that for which they sold themselves, if they only knew.

But in his footnotes, he says in modern translation the word angel is applied to good and beautiful women. Is this part of Islamic culture at all? Are angels from human beings? This is a grave distortion of the text.

In footnote #178, he describes angels as being Allah’s powers.

Jinn are also an issue for him, in footnote #929, you can see an obvious influence of Syed Ahmed Khan. He says that we were told the Iblis was one of the jinns and that is why he disobeyed Allah swt and we see that in another verse it was asked for angels to prostrate and Iblis was influenced by the angels. He then defines jinn, and then says that jinn are hidden qualities and capacities of man. Other says it means wild and jungle folk. He says that the meaning is simply spirit or a spiritual hidden force.

In footnote #953 he says that the whole verse is addressed to man and jinn. He asks are jinn but disembodied spirits of men. He implies that jinn are the ghosts of men. Which is a very strange statement to make.

Footnote #4189 is reference to the verse about Sulayman in Surah Saad verse 34.

وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا سُلَيْمَانَ وَأَلْقَيْنَا عَلَىٰ كُرْسِيِّهِ جَسَدًا ثُمَّ أَنَابَ

Sahih International
And We certainly tried Solomon and placed on his throne a body; then he returned.

He says that his earthly powers were like a body without soul and God gave it the real life and power. He then quotes Bible a lot, maybe because he is directing his commentary towards the English speaking audience and include non Muslims.

There are two revised editions and it is from Amana Publications and another from King Fahd Quran Complex in Madina. The King Fahd publication at no time says on the cover pages that it is related to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, however, it says that in the discussion. Most of revision has taken place in the footnotes while keeping the old English of the translation. And then the publishers say that they chose his translation because of its good quality. The revisions on the commentary includes some work done by Sh. Jaafar Idris. All the footnotes that are revised have a “R” next to it meaning revised. They recognized many of the problems in the commentary. Some of the footnotes are completely removed.

E.g. Footnote 929 they deleted it and replaced it. Footnote 52 they removed some of the things about tempting man from a lower to a higher state. The one from Madinah removed much more. E.g. Footnote #20 from S Fatihah the one about God being “all in all” they did not remove that. But in the Madinah one they did. On page 21 of the introduction, they add something that the top translations are Asad’s, T. B. Irving and Ahmed Ali’s -- “A contemporary translation” which has been banned.

Next week we will discuss progressives.

2012-05-21 Class Notes


Progressive Movement
Who are the progressives? It is a small movement, but it is growing. We will first define who are the progressives? Muslims are once again taking an ideology from non Muslims. Progressive movement is a philosophy which is completely alien to Islam. It started as a political movement. In the US it was a strong movement from 1900 - 1920. The chief ideologues were Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt.

Origins in Labor Movement and Public Welfare
After the Civil War in US, the corporations were running the country and things were really poor for the labor movement and the poor people. They had a big agenda, all the way from Railroad reform, combating diseases and poverty. From their point of view, things had become un-American, due to the large difference between the rich and the poor, and public welfare, care for the poor and oppressed. Something needed to be done. That movement died out around 1920. It still exists today -- most people see it as the left wing of the Democratic party. Others would say that the democrats are now too “establishment”.

World Union for Progressive Judaism 1926
Famous progressives include Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman (of “democracy now”) etc. This started to spread into religions as well, e.g. Judaism -- the world union for progressive Judaism, who argue for pluralism. This started in 1926. Surprisingly there is a Zionist wing to progressive Judaism.

Progressive Movement in Christianity
The same thing happened with Christianity -- condemning unjust war, corruption, etc. Among the influential groups is the Center for Progressive Christianity. The eight points of Progressive Christianity seem to be reminiscent of sufism and humanism. There are strong influences of post-modernism and liberalism.

Progressive Movement in Islam
You can also see an emphasis on abstract concepts. But this means that there are also no limits, and thus there is no real structure of form. If you look at the progressive movement now among the Muslims, you see that the progressive movement grew out of the modernist movement however it has its unique features as well. Their author Omid Safi “... both continuations of and a radical departure from the 150 year history of Islam”

Progressive see the blemishes of the West even though they believe in Western Modernity & Post Modernity
It is continuing the idea of modernity and changing Islam. But one of the differences it has is an idealistic vision of the West by the modernists-- to modernists the West was so beautiful and wonderful. After World War I and the Muslims saw the tricks done by the West and the creation of the State of Israel -- they see the West in a post-Colonial way. They seek modernity, but they don’t see that the West as ideal. Also because they have adopted a post-modern perspective, they also critique Western culture.

Omid Safi
That is a radical departure. But the ideas of changing Islam are shared. One of their leading spokespeople is Omid Safi. They believe in critique of both Modernity and Islam. He says Progressive Islam comprises a number of things, to engage Islam in a discussion to create a just society, relentless pursuit of social justice, equality of genders, basically the same eight points from the Christianity Movement. He says we can base our view on Quran, but they also draw freely from other sources in their pursuit of social justice. They draw from Ali Shariati, Edward Said and secular humanism of Noam Chomsky.

Most of the following quotations of Omid Safi are from his book on Progressive Muslims on Justice, Gender, and Pluralism.

What they are saying that these other sources are equal to the Quran and Sunnah. It is one thing to read these others works and benefit from it, but it is much different to say it is as much a source of knowledge as Quran and Sunnah. They are sceptical of revealed knowledge, so they consider all of these other sources as equal to Quran and Sunnah.

According to them the  true measure of human beings worth is his character. They are anti Nationalist. They believe, all members of the human race and have equal rights because they have the same divine essence, they quote from the Quran, but understand the verse from a Sufi perspective. To them all what matters is the presence of the ruh in the human regardless of whether they are obedient to Allah (swt) or not. They define Islamic Humanism and have a very secular view of Justice.

It is beautiful and moving speech, but it is a classic case of mixing the goals or maqaasid of shariah. They forget the first and most important goal of uboodiyah (submission to Allah (swt)). They forget what Allah (swt) commands as justice but believe in secular justice.

They are still a relatively small group, they have presence in only a few cities, such as Washington DC, Toronto. They have a mosque, they meet regularly, they publish pamphlets. Their symbolism combines the feminine sign with the crescent. They have attracted the attention of academia and orientalist. They are being backed as the hope for Muslims. They receive democracy prize, they put their books on the book of the month club, such as Oprah Winfrey with Irshad Manji’s book. They sponsored a mixed gender Jumuah prayer, and the khatib was Amina Wadood.

More recently in The Huffington Post, you will see the story of gay friendly mosque. They don’t read specific verses but “Quran is to be taken in general way” which is fitting their agenda. And it talks about a gay imam and why they would be able to talk to youth who are gay.

Progressives relationship to the Quran
Anyone who reads the Qur’an would have trouble taking this movement seriously. It is not much more than a smoke screen. They clearly have their agenda and articles of faith. If they want to attract other Muslims and if they do not have any attachment to the Quran, they will not be able to attract them, so they have to try to show that they are

In the book edited by Omid Safi, it quotes a verse from the Quran on the teaser page, and then he has two stanzas from Bob Dylan on the same page. You can see he is giving the same ranking to both of them. And then in a 29 page chapter on .... Gandhi is quoted, Bob Marley is quoted, but not one verse of the Qur’an is used as a basis for their argument.

The next article is by Khaled Abou El Fadl -- the Ugly Modern and the Modern Ugly: Reclaiming the Beauty of Islam. 44 Pages, refers to 3 Qur’anic verses (but doesn’t include them). Fareed Issak a very well known progressive in South Africa -- one verse of reference to the Qur’an. Another article by Ahmad Karam Mustapha is trying to define what Islam is and there is not one reference to the Qur’an. Another article on being a scholar of Islam -- risks and responsibilities -- you would think the Qur’an touches upon that -- not one verse of the Qur’anic verse. Transforming feminism -- not one reference to the Qur’an. They don’t really need the Qur’an since they already have the agenda. They have their agenda, they have their sources of knowledge. But they need the Qur’an in order to attract others.  

When the masses have no knowledge, these kind of movements take hold

Something like this progressive literature can only have effect if there are no people of knowledge. One of the crises we are going through (and couple of books are similar title) is the point who speaks for Islam. If you look at Saudi Arabia (newspaper and media) the Saudi Arabia is in a mess. There are have been a group worse than progressives called Haddathiyeen.

One scholar in a lecture he was giving -- they are called the Haddathiyyeen -- they have been there for some time -- but they did not write for some time. He asked them why are you writing more? It was because of one man Sh. Bin Baaz that was highly respected.If these Haddathiyeen wrote anything, Bin Baaz will immediately respond. But then Bin Baaz, Uthaaimeen and Albaani passed away, there was a big vacuum. This means that now the scholars no longer have the kind of influence they used to have. In the United States we don’t have many ulema at all. This is why this kind of movement, although its arguments are extremely weak and it is difficult to understand why any Muslims would listen to them; because there is a lack of knowledge and leadership, there is an opening for them.

They are even questioning the authenticity of Quran
They get to the point of even questioning the authenticity of the Qur’an and the status of the Qur’an. Many of them have the hermeneutics of suspicion -- some of them are true postmodernists and they are basically nihilist.

Amina Wadud
Her PhD dissertation was entitled “The Qur’an and Women: Reading the Qur’an from a Woman’s Perspective”. She is American, she embraced Islam in 1972, she did her PhD at University of Michigan and graduate work American University in Cairo Egypt. During graduate school she did study in Egypt.

For a few years, she was a teacher in Qur’anic Studies at IIUM and in 2007 she received the Danish Democracy Prize. Her basic things that she argues is that during the Abbasid period the scholars were exclusively male and were sometimes influenced by cultures that were antithetical to Islam (footnote: when her views are clearly antithetical to Islam). As men, they must have been biased and they could not have written things from a woman’s perspective.

She emphasizes the idea of language a lot. She refers to Allah (SWT) sometimes as he, sometimes as she and sometimes as it. This is because she says that God’s nature is beyond any gender limits.

This begs a simple question: If Allah (SWT) did not want himself to be referred to in the second person masculine, then why did he reveal the Qur’an in a language that doesn’t have a neuter, and that he didn’t refer to himself in the feminine? So who are you upset with? Amina should not be upset with all the male scholars, but with Allah himself.

One of the claims that these Muslims make is that throughout the history of Islam is that they did not pay any attention to the goals of the Shari’ah but this is provably false. She also implies that even common sense was not taken into account. She says that “common sense was considered inferior to hadith” -- again provably false -- lots of discussion about the meaning of hadith.

Her ultimate goal is to try to strip our understanding of the Qur’an from any kind of gender bias/inequality. She fails miserably. Because what’s she’s doing doesn’t make sense. She says “The Qur’an’s intent is that of full equality.” Most of her arguments are straw-man arguments or she is making a mountain out of a mole.

Example: The verses about witnesses, inheritance, and how to deal with your wife when she is behaving in an intransigent fashion to her husband. In these cases she says “it is not as bad as some people say.” E.g. the verse about qawwaamah she says that degree refers to a husband’s right to divorce and male ontological supremacy. What Ulema got out of these verses that the responsibilities of men and women are different.

She therefore has to admit that there are differences -- she has to admit them over and over again. There’s a lot of what may be termed “double speech” -- e.g. about the creation of human beings. E.g. denying that woman was created from Adam.

According to her, in the Quranic account, Allah (swt) did not create Adam first. She ignored the verse which says that Jesus (pbuh) was created from Turab just like Adam (pbuh).

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

Sahih International
Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, "Be," and he was.

Another example is:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا

Sahih International
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah , through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.

Then there is double talk like the fact that “there is a contingent pair system -- that nafs and its zawj” -- the Qur’an is revealed in a clear Arabic language. She is somehow depicting it as a pair from the beginning. What does this mean? She’s going through this to prove that there is no gender bias in the Qur’an whatsoever. Why doesn’t she accept it? Perhaps it is the Shaikh’s male nature that is allowing him to be unable to read this?”

Don’t even talk about bringing in hadith -- the only hadith she is willing to quote is the hadith that says “take half of your deen from Aa’ishah” -- according to most scholars this is a fabricated hadith in any case.

2012-05-28 Class Notes


This is the last class for this quarter and we will discuss Progressives.

There is a wide spectrum of progressive movement and it is an outgrowth of the modernist movement. When you consider the people who are in this movement, you can categorize them into four groups.

The first group are progressive even from the secular perspective, they are influenced by secular and post modernists philosophy. They are rooted in a philosophical background and they are trying to plant it into Islam. They are more intellectual and are active in academia, they publish a lot. However their influence on the Muslim masses is a very minimal.

The second group are the sufis, sometimes very clear and extreme sufis, they are into the pantheism and monism movement.  

The third group is the leftovers from Rashad Khalifa movement. Rashad Khalifa was from Egypt and then moved to Arizona and he first claimed he found the number 19 as the miracle of the Quran (Edit: This was a false claim and refuted very easily) and then he claimed to be a prophet of God. He just claimed that the verse in Surah Yasin (إِنَّكَ لَمِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ ) is addressing him. However, his followers never gained much confidence among Muslims.

One of the books we’ll be looking at is the Qur’an: A Reformist Translation. But they carefully avoid mentioning that he claimed to be a messenger of God. They have a problem with both Muslims and non-Muslims.

The fourth category is the group that does not belong into any of the above three groups.

Leaders of the Modernist/Progressive movement

It’s important to know their names so we can identify the sources for information.

Amina Wadud we discussed her last week. In some ways she is not as extreme as many of the others. She give her support to their movement and writes in some of the publications.

Mohammed Arkoun often comes up -- lived most of his life in France.

Harun Nasution Popular in Indonesia also influential. Also his student Nurcholish Madjid (from Indonesia).

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd - He was in the news a lot, he is Egyptian, teaching at American University in Cairo. He was denied promotion, and he was declared a kaafir, murtud by a group of scholars. He fought the case of being separated from his wife by virtue of his declared a murtud, he won the case, and then migrated to Holland.

Huseyin Atay from Turkey

Farid Esack is of Indian descent from South Africa. He has written a number of books including Quran & Liberalism, Quran An Introduction. He says Islam is all about justice and nothing else. He is teaching at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His name along with Abu Zayd and Arkoun are mentioned quite often.

Abdullah Saeed from Australia. He is claims that he is trying to build on the work of the early Muslim scholars, whereas others claim that the earlier works by the Muslim scholars mean absolutely nothing.

Khaled Abou El Fadl from California.

Progressives are a very wide spectrum of people, they do not necessarily have a common or unified approach.


Mohammed Arkoun

His books include  Islam: To Reform or Subvert   Islam - Common Questions and Uncommon Answers, The Unthought.

He was born in 1938, he is of Berber descent. He has written a number of books in Arabic, French, and English. In his book, ‘The Unthought’ claims that the Quran is not true. He taught in Sorbonne, and has received the French Legion of Honor, received ... award for lifelong dedication of Islamic Studies, he has given .... lectures (well known named lectures).

The weird thing is that the Western Society is showering praise upon praise on this man, and his thoughts are anti-Qur’an in essence and he is labeled as one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. He died in 2010. At the time that he died he had a position at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in England.

He’s basically a post-modernist secularist humanist. He doubts both the authenticity of the Qur’an as well as the truth claimed in the Qur’an.

When describing the Prophet (saaw), he says he is a man who was one of the significant men in the line of history, he was a leader and had bold ideas. The real thing that distinguishes Prophets from other people is the psycho-spiritual ability to mobilize the audiences using revelation.

One idea actively rejected by secularists is that God is an active participant in history. This is really something that they don’t like. Once you recognize that there is a sacred history, then you have to submit to it, and this is something they clearly do not want to do. Why? Because according to them,  it would violate the autonomy of human reasoning. Once again, human reasoning is the only important thing (even if their thinking leads humanity no where).

He starts out with a lot of premises. They have a whole aqeedah but they don’t have any proofs for their aqeedah. He says that the Prophets could not have come to restrict human reasoning, since that is the highest logic.

They did not come with any measure of compulsion. And he says that they did not come from a criterion from heaven, but only came to propose a means for existence. These meanings are subject to amendment and interpretation within the framework of reason that was part of the covenant with human beings.

He raises the question: ‘Why do Muslims limit themselves to the Quran even today and Sunnah and Salaf al Salih, and restrict to what the prophet interpretation of the Quran?’ His answer is: because of the “debt of meaning” -- we Muslims feel indebted the Prophet for the good he brought that we don’t like to question it.

He says that the Muslims have to free themselves from the idea of what the Prophets brought. He also says that anyone who continues to believe in the Prophetic model and stick to the Prophetic model, you must prefer myth to history, spirituality to positivism and imagination to rationality.

The Qur’an was giving alternatives to the ancient symbols that were out there and it is time for mankind to move on, i.e. we have to move to Science (i.e. Scientism) and we have to leave the myth and move to reality.

When talking about the truth value of quran, he says that revelation can be divided into two categories, Umm al Kitaab which is referred in the quran as the preserved tablet (Lauh Mahfooz), he says that the only truth is in the preserved tablet and when it is revealed to the earth, it is distorted and we no longer have it. And he says that oral Qur’an was lost as soon as it was started to be written down. It shows his lack of the knowledge of history as well as the Quran. He does not even know that the Quran was always preserved orally as well as writing.

He says it took until the 4th Century Hijrah to finally be completed. The thing that Muhammad had at the beginning was called the “Prophet’s discourse” and that the thing at the end of the 4th century it was a “the official closed corpus.” He was very disappointed that nobody followed this approach that he had figured out.

Bizarre theory that sacred texts cannot discuss historical events or figures
Then he says how can the quran have the real truth anyways, since it has words that refer to certain historical figures. He says, How can we deal with the sacred and spiritual when all of the things refer to events of historicity? Another pseudo-argument he brings is where he says that ‘how can we call Quran eternal truth when it discusses those people who died.’

There’s a field called semiotics that we have to use to understand it. It’s the study of signs and symbols. Eventually he comes to his conclusion that the only reasonable reading of the Qur’an is that of a secular theology. This is his ultimate goal.

Quote: “Secularism is included in the Qur’an and Madinan experience … it is necessary to deconstruct Islam within and only this can lead to the secularization of Islam -- we have to destroy the orthodoxy from within.”

Postmodernists do not believe in absolute truths, this is their philosophy, which they apply to history, religion, linguistics, etc. They say that everybody is wrong. And they do their best to bring their theories into Islam and how we can understand quran and change people’s understanding of the Quran. (Edit: If everybody is wrong, then they must be wrong too!!!!)

But you get that fundamental problem where you start with your conclusion and then you go to the Qur’an. You don’t decided first what is correct and what is incorrect and then look to the Qur’an for supporting argument.

This is a fundamental mistake made by all the bid’a groups is that they start with their premises and then they bring these premises to the Quran (without showing why the premises should be considered true in the first place).

He’s very academic in the way he writes -- it sounds scholarly, but when you really look at it, there’s nothing there. His theories sometimes he shows an ignorance of the Qur’an and he can not back up his claims. He’s written a number of books, but he doesn’t prove them. He gives some logical proofs, but often based on incorrect facts.

He’s very influential in the progressive movements, and also popular amongst the orientalists and they bestowed many prizes upon him.

Two kinds of people are convinced by these writings, one group who wants to remain Muslims but they are not willing to accept Islam as described in Quran and Sunnah, so these writings allow them to justify their actions or behavior while still say that they are Muslims.

If they really believe that every passage can be understood in any way that they want, but what is strange or inconsistent is that they are not willing to allow Muslim scholars to understand the verses in a manner as explained by the Prophet and the Sahabah. Sh said that if they are willing to accept any understanding of the verse, what right do they have to restrict my understanding of the verse as explained by the Prophet and Sunnah.

Clearly there’s a relationship between progressives and humanism -- humanism postulates that mankind is the centre of the moral universe.

A lot of post-modernism is about doubt. The authority of the church broke down, and in the last 200 years, they’ve gone through lots of different stages. Postmodernism is a relatively new phenomenon, and now there is something called post-post-modernism. So a relatively new field has already been overruled and new approaches are being discussed.

They are trying to destroy Islam and then reconstruct it. But why Mohammed Arkoun is even worried about religion is beyond comprehension, he says that he wants to destroy it from within, and that is the reason why he is interested in it.

Qur’an: A Reformist Translation

Text available here: https://www.irshadmanji.com/PDFS/ReformistTranslation.pdf
(Disclaimer: The link above is being given just for academic purposes. Neither this book nor Irshad Manji are being recommended as serious sources of knowledge).

The last cover page and the front three pages are all about the praises for this book. Sh read a list of people who praise this book. The last praise of the book says, from the perspective of academia it does not contribute much at all, this is from a renowned Sunni scholar who is listed as anonymous.

It is edited by two men and a woman, and they are proud of this fact, since it now removes the male perspective. The first author is Turkish/Kurdish, in 1956 he experienced an epiphany and converted from Sunni to rationalist movement. This author belongs to the Rashad Khalifa movement.

The Rashad Khalifa movement are the ones who came up with the number 19. But Bilal Philips made a project to count the mentions and found that it was wrong. Appendix VI is entitled: Why should we trash all the hadith? They then discuss why we should trash all of the hadith, these people are Quraniyoon to the max.

Amina Wadud actually says that she cannot go to the extent of rejecting all of the hadith. These people don’t have the academic approach of some of the people on the board. But what they do have is that they are much more active on the internet. Can you imagine wanting to learning about Islam, and then you read this?

Appendix X discusses the salat according to the Quran alone. Since they reject all hadith, and salat is not detailed in the quran such as how to start the prayer etc. So they pray according to this appendix.

They question whether we need Muhammad to understand the Quran. They discuss Surah Nahl verse 44, and present the various translations of this verse.

بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالزُّبُرِ ۗ وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

Sahih International
[We sent them] with clear proofs and written ordinances. And We revealed to you the message that you may make clear to the people what was sent down to them and that they might give thought.

Here is an excerpt from the text showing the comparison:


So this verse clearly shows that the Prophet has a role, but according to their correct translation it should say “proclaim to the people” and not “make clear or explain to the people”. So they discount the role of the Prophet in explaining the Quran. At no point do they explain how these three authors understand the Arabic language better than the sahaba.

They stress over and over again that it is a multiple meaning word. They say it means to reveal what is good and ....

A majority of the readers of this book will not understand the deception that is going on. If you look in any Arabic dictionary, you will not see the meaning of the word as proclaim. Rather various dictionaries state to make something clear and not just proclamation.  

This is the style that the follow throughout the book.

When discussing the punishment for thieves, they translate the verse to mean that you should mark it in order to make the person known as a thief.

وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

Sahih International (5:38)
[As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah . And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.


In Surah Tahrim verse 5, where Allah swt is telling the prophet who he can marry if he were to divorce his wives, the verse describes the qualities of the woman whom he should marry.

عَسَىٰ رَبُّهُ إِن طَلَّقَكُنَّ أَن يُبْدِلَهُ أَزْوَاجًا خَيْرًا مِّنكُنَّ مُسْلِمَاتٍ مُّؤْمِنَاتٍ قَانِتَاتٍ تَائِبَاتٍ عَابِدَاتٍ سَائِحَاتٍ ثَيِّبَاتٍ وَأَبْكَارًا

Sahih International
Perhaps his Lord, if he divorced you [all], would substitute for him wives better than you - submitting [to Allah ], believing, devoutly obedient, repentant, worshipping, and traveling - [ones] previously married and virgins.

They translate the word virgins as foremost and the reason is their claim that the root B K R occurs 10 times and 7 times it means early morning and in one case it means cow and we conclude that it has to do with time so we translate it as foremost. Then they continue with the argument of the name Abu Bakr (ra) and this name was not given since he was father of the virgin. They continue claiming that Abu Bakr was one of the foremost progressive. What is even funnier, that the people who are endorsing this book are all professors of Islamic Studies. What credibility can one can give to these professors after this?







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