Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Jamadiul-Akhir / Rajab 1423 H
September 2002
Volume 15-09 No:189

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View from the Other Side


" Islam can promote Human Rights across the Globe"
40 Embrace Islam in Mewat
Muslim views are missing in the media
Khalifas in Kolkata


" Islam can promote
Human Rights across the Globe"

Nasr Abu Zaid, a well-known Egyptian scholar, is presently based in the Netherlands.
He was forced to leave Egypt, where he was a teacher at Cairo University, in 1995,
after he was accused of apostasy for some of his writings, a charge that he vehemently denied.
Here, he speaks to
Yoginder Sikand on issues related to Islam and human rights.

You have been writing on the question of human rights in Islam for a long time now.
What are you presently working on?

I am presently working on a project called 'Rights at Home', within The International Institute of the Study of Islam in the Modern Muslim World (ISIM). The major concern of the project is to explore and develop the notion of the rights of women and children in Islam. The aim of the project is to promote knowledge of the traditional sources of Islam, such as the Quran, the Sunnah or practice of the Prophet and fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, within Muslim communities so as to help promote general awareness of these rights. The project is envisaged as going beyond mere research to actually engage and work along with social activists in different Muslim communities to promote women's and children's rights from within an Islamic paradigm. This includes organising training programmes and developing printed, audio and visual material.

How does this work relate to what you have been previously engaged in?

I see it as part of my long interest in Islamic hermeneutics, the methodology of understanding the Quran, the Sunnah and other components of the Islamic tradition. Of particular concern for me are certain assumptions in popular Islamic discourse that have not been fully examined and have generally been ignored or avoided. Muslim scholars have not seriously reflected on the question of what is actually meant when we say that the Quran is the revealed 'Word of God'. What exactly does the term 'Word of God' mean? What does revelation mean? We have the definitions of the Word and revelation given by the traditional 'ulema', but other definitions are also possible. We need to ask what it means for the faith Muslims have in the Quran if one brings in the issue of the human dimension involved in revelation.

Are you suggesting that the Quran cannot be understood
without taking into account the particular social context of 7th century Arabia?

What I am suggesting is that in our reading of the Quran, we cannot undermine the role of the Prophet (Pbuh) and the historical and cultural premises of the times and the context of the Quranic revelation. When we say that through the Quran, God spoke in history we cannot neglect the historical dimension, the historical context of 7th century Arabia. Otherwise you cannot answer the question of why God first 'spoke' Hebrew through his revelations to the prophets of Israel, then Aramaic, through Jesus, and then Arabic, in the form of the Quran. In a historical understanding of the Quran, one would also have to look at the verses in the text that refer specifically to the Prophet and the society in which he lived.

Could you give an example of how a historically grounded reading of the Quran could help promote human rights?

Take, for instance, the question of chopping off the hands of thieves, which traditionalists would insist be imposed as an 'Islamic' punishment today. A historically nuanced understanding of the Islamic tradition would see this form of punishment as a borrowing from pre-Islamic Arabian society, and as rooted in a particular social and historical context. Hence, doing away with this form of punishment today would not, one could argue, be tantamount to doing away with Islam itself. By thus contextualising the Quran, one could arrive at its essential core, which could be seen as being normative for all times, shifting it from what could be regarded as having been relevant to a historical period and context that no longer exists.

If one were to take history seriously, how would a contextual, historically grounded
understanding of the Quran reflect on Islamic theology as it has come to be developed?

As I see it, Sunni Muslim theology has remained largely frozen in its 9th century mould, as developed by the conservative 'Asharites. We need to re-visit fundamental theological concepts today, which the Sunni 'ulama', by and large, have ignored, for there can be no reform possible in Muslim societies without reform in theology. Till now, however, most reform movements in the Sunni world have operated from within the broad framework of traditional theology, which is why they have not been able to go very far.

How would this new understanding of theology that you propose, reflect on the issue of inter-faith relations?

When I suggest that we need to re-consider what exactly is meant by saying that the Quran is the 'Word of God', I mean Muslims must also remember that the Quran itself insists that the 'Word of God' cannot be limited to the Quran alone. A verse in the Quran says that if all the trees in the world were pens and all the water in the seas were ink, still they could not, put together, the Word of God. The Quran, therefore, represents only one manifestation of the absolute Word of God. Other Scriptures represent other manifestations as well. Most Muslim writers are yet to free themselves from a rigid, imprisoning chauvinism.

How does this way of reading the Quran deal with the multiple ways
in which the text can be understood and interpreted?

The Quran, like any other text, can be read in different ways, and there has always been a plurality of interpretations. The text does not stand alone. Rather, it has to be interpreted, in order to arrive at its meaning, and interpretation is a human exercise and no interpreter is infallible. As Imam 'Ali says, the Quran does not speak by itself, but, rather, through human beings. It is for us to help develop new ways of understanding Islam that can promote human rights, while at the same time being firmly rooted in the faith and tradition.

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40 Embrace Islam in Mewat

By Andalib Akhter

Mewat (Gurgaon, Haryana): At a time when Islam is being maligned by different quarters world over, curiosity to know the religion has not faded away. In fact, many non-Muslims have shown interest in Islam in recent times and have become a part of it willingly. The latest news is from Mewat region of Haryana, where despite sharp resistance from Hindu fanatics, more than 40 Hindus of two villages have converted to Islam and pledged to promote the cause of the religion whole-heartedly.

Last fortnight, five Dalit Hindu families of the Thaharkpur and Virsika villages of this region, went to New Delhi and embraced Islam in the presence of Shahi Imam Ahmad Bukhari of the historical Jama Masjid. It is reported that the neo-Muslims were impressed by the Tablighi Jamaat whose members used to come to their villages often and talked about Islam.

“In our past religion, we were not treated with respect. Those belonging to the Valmiki community are being treated as untouchables. We hope we will get respect and acceptability in the new religion” says Mohar Singh, now Jamaluddin of Thaharkapur. Apart from Mohar Singh, his wife Sheela /Akhtari Begum (new name), Jitendra /Jawed, Ravindra/Zubair, Sunder/ Anisa Begam and four children of the family embraced Islam. In the Virisika, village a head of a Dalit family Parbhu/Suhrab Khan, Rohtas/Abdullah, Omkar/ Hakim, wife of Parbhu, Bharpai/ Zahida, Kamlesh/Maimuna, Rama / Fajri, Prakash/ Abdul Karim and eight children of Prakash and six children each of Rohtash and Omkar also embraced Islam. “ It is the teaching of Islam and equality for all that attracted us to this religion,” said Suhrab and Abdullah.

The Deputy Suprintendent of Police, Nooh area, Kuldeep Singh also confirmed that the police investigations show that there was ‘no pressure’ in the conversion. “They have willingly converted to Islam”, he said. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal are getting revengeful and have initiated protests against the conversions. They have also burnt the effigy of Shahi Imam. The national secretary of VHP and convenor of Bajrang Dal Surendra Jain is in forefront of the agitation. “The Bajrang Dal would launch a national level campaign against conversions,” he said.

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Muslim views are missing in the media

By A Staff Writer

Bangalore: “Justice must be done to the victims and perpetrators of crime must be punished,” stated former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court while delivering the presidential speech at a symposium on “ Gujarat Carnage and Media” in Bangalore recently. He also stressed that fundamentalists in the Muslim and Christian communities should be contained. Inaugurating the meet, former Prime Minister H. D. Devegowda reiterated his stand on the Gujarat riots and said that it was state-sponsored terrorism. The symposium organised by Karnataka NRIs and the Institute of Objective Studies roped in senior journalists including Press Institute of India Director Ajit Bhattacharjea, Kuldip Nayar, Prakash N. Shah, ‘Jansatta’ Editor Prabhash Joshi, who all stressed on the need to educate young journalists on how to cover communal violence, develop media literacy among regional papers in Gujarat. “ Gujarat is a testing ground for systematically arming a civilization. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka or Rajasthan could be next,” warned Teesta Setalvad, Editor of Communalism Combat. Executive Managing Editor of The Times of India Dileep Padgoankar said: “ When we ask one person from the Muslim community to write, there are 10 others of the community who say he is not their representative. Muslims are not well organised, you need strong intellectual replies for more critical writing about the community that is going to come regarding the American attacks.”

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Khalifas in Kolkata

 

Students attending lectures in KolkataKolkata: A city of culture and charm, Kolkata is known for many more things apart from its rosogollas. It has enlightened men and women to whom acquiring knowledge is a way of life. It was no wonder then that when Editor of Islamic Voice, A. W. Sadathullah Khan conducted the Workshop - Discover Yourself Through Islam, last fortnight here, the response from the youngsters was overwhelming. Along with co-anchor Sadia Tonse, Sadathullah Khan lent a new perspective altogether to being a Khalifa of Allah. The three-day workshop at Humayan Kabir was organised exclusively for girls-students, housewives and career women. It was a path-breaking effort as with the help of various topics, the participants were set to think on the lines of acquiring the attributes of Allah. For most Muslims, Islam is confined to the rituals of hajj, fasting and praying five times a day. In the workshop, the participants were propelled to look beyond the rituals and get closer to Allah by transforming themselves into the representatives of Allah-Khalifas. This is the first workshop of its kind which touched upon the practical aspects of Hijrat and also on the fact that if one wished to transform others, there was a need to transform oneself first.

Mr. Khan busy giving lecturersHuman relationships handled by Sadia Tonse was one of the most mesmerising sessions where the participants looked within themselves and their relationships with people around them in the light of Islam. "I have started thinking positively about my life and I know that Allah has chosen me for a good purpose," says Ayesha Nasim, one of the participants. Apart from students, members of the All India Muslim Women's Association, Noor Jehan Shakil, Saboohi Aziz, Khashi Ilyas and Asma Alam too participated. Backed by the organisers, Junaidur Rahman, Aijaz Ahmed, Masood Akhtar and Mansoor, the workshop has served as an eye-opener that people can have a closer relationship with Allah.

Workshops conducted by Islamic Voice

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