Category Archives: Dr. Mansoor Alam – USA

The Purpose of Fasting in Islam – Part 1 (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The evening prayer has attracted a larger than usual number of worshippers. Today, the advent of the new moon might herald the start of the holy month of Ramadan – the Muslim month of fasting. In an effort to observe the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), some worshippers are busy trying to sight the new moon when the call to prayer is made. After the prayer, the Imam is informed that the new moon has been sighted. Members of the council also confirm this news. This prompts worshippers to congratulate each other and the mosque is filled with the chants of Allahu Akbar (God is great).

For this group the holy month of Ramadan has begun. Yet Muslims in many other mosques are still debating whether or not the new moon has been sighted. Sunni Muslims generally look to Saudi Arabia for answers to this, as well as many other religious matters. Although ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) has established for North American Muslims, a Shura (or consultation) council for dealing with controversial religious issues (such as moon sighting), many Imams in local mosques decide such matters on their own.

Year after year, this story is repeated among Muslims in many towns around the world. This pillar of Islam begins with controversy among Muslims and ends with controversy. Shi‘as have their own clerical system and their Imams look to Iran in this matter rather than Saudi Arabia.

One wonders if this is the way our Prophet (PBUH) and his companions started and ended the holy month of Ramadan?

Ramadan Begins

In any case, within a day or two of each other, the holy month of Ramadan generally begins for every (Sunni as well as Shi‘a) Muslim community around the world. The standard sermon for Ramadan goes something like this:

“Dear brothers and sisters! Allah opens the gates of Heaven in this month. Satan is locked up in Hell so he cannot mislead those who are fasting. The reward for good deeds is multiplied 10 times in this month. Allah becomes very generous in this month and forgives the previous sins of those who fast.” And so on.

Purpose of Fasting

Is fasting just about having sins forgiven and getting rewards multiplied in the Hereafter?  What about the problems of life here in this world?  Is fasting just a ritual or does it have some other significance?

Modern Islamic scholars draw attention to the physical and spiritual benefits of fasting.  But since physical and medical benefits of fasting accrue to anyone who fasts, regardless of one’s belief in God, it is obvious that the physical and medical benefits are not the primary purpose of fasting in Islam.

What about spiritual benefits?  Since different religions have different concepts of spirituality, what does spirituality mean in Islam and how can it be developed through fasting? The proponents of other religions, including many Muslims, claim that spirituality is an individual and subjective experience. How then can one know that one’s spiritual development is taking place due to fasting?  In addition, would a Hindu’s or a Buddhist’s spiritual development, due to fasting, be as significant as a Muslim’s?  In fact, Buddhist monks and Hindu saints go through much more rigorous rituals than Muslims.  Does this mean that their spiritual development is of a higher level? Obviously, no Islamic scholar would be prepared to accept this.

According to the Quran, every Muslim (who can) must fast in the month of Ramadan (2:183-185). And fasting has to be done collectively at the community level. Unlike a Buddhist monk or a Hindu saint, a Muslim does not have to go to a mountain or a forest retreat to develop his/her spirituality through fasting and prayer. Moreover, it is not necessary for this type of retreat-based, solitary spiritual development to be done in Ramadan. That can be done in any month. This shows that a Muslim cannot advocate a spirituality that is based on individual and subjective experience. Therefore, in Islam, individual and subjective spiritual development is not the purpose of fasting in the month of Ramadan.

Since the Quran prescribed fasting specifically in the month of Ramadan, it is important to know the significance of this special time. A special feature of the Quran is that whenever it gives a command for action, it also provides the wisdom behind it. It tells what the final result of that action will be in this world, if it is successfully carried out. In this way the Quran provides a pragmatic test for people to see whether or not they are moving toward that desired result.  Regarding fasting, the Quran says:

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.  [al-Baqarah 2:183] Translation: Yusuf Ali

Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful. [al-Baqarah 2:185] Translation: Yusuf Ali

In the above verses, three results of fasting in Ramadan have been mentioned: 1) Taqwaa: learning self-restraint, 2) Takbir: glorifying Allah because of being guided, and 3) Shukra: being grateful. Part 1 of this article will focus on Taqwaa or self-restraint.

What is Taqwaa? 

In the above translation by Yusuf Ali, Taqwaa has been translated as self-restraint. Other translations include: God-fearing or God-conscious. But none of these translations bring out the true root meaning of Taqwaa. The root of Taqwaa means to steadfastly remain vigilant in practicing Allah’s commands and, because of this, to be protected from all kinds of evil, corrupt, and destructive forces. In other words, the cornerstone of Taqwaa is developing a strong character by following the principles laid down by Allah in the Quran.  A person who has developed such a character and which is reflected in his/her actions is a Muttaqi in the eyes of Allah.

Current Misconceptions Among Muslims

Many Muslims today who claim to fear God or to be God- conscious firmly believe that they are among the Muttaqoon based on their performance of certain rituals.  According to this belief, which of the following category of Muslims would qualify to be Muttaqoon?

  1. Would the rich, who pray regularly, fast the entire month of Ramadan, give the 2-1/2% charity from their wealth, and perform pilgrimage (Hajj or Umra) on a regular basis qualify as Muttaqoon?
  2. Would the current, so-called Muslim governments and the Muslims working for them  qualify to be among the Muttaqoon?
  3. Would Islamic scholars and leaders of various religious parties and their followers who  demand governments to implement the so-called Shariah qualify?
  4. Would professionals like doctors, engineers, professors, lawyers, etc. – who initially work very hard to build and establish their careers and later turn to Islamic activities on a voluntary basis – qualify?
  5. Would Sufis who spend most of their adult life in zikr (remembrance) of Allah in mosques or in solitary confinements, unconcerned with what goes on in the world outside, qualify as Muttaqoon?
  6. Would those who leave behind the poor, the orphans, and the widows in their own communities and go to far-off places, for several months at a time, inviting people to Islam, qualify?
  7. Would the professional Imams who lead prayers in mosques and give sermons about Islam qualify as Muttaqoon?
  8. Would the poor, who pray regularly and fast the entire month of Ramadan but cannot afford to perform the pilgrimage, qualify to be Muttaqi?
  9. Would the millions of average Muslims who struggle all their lives to meet the basic needs of their families and who try to pray and fast but do not have the time or resources for anything else, qualify to be Muttaqi?

How many of the 1.2 billion or so Muslims fall into categories 1-7 and how many into categories 8-9?  No doubt, 99% of Muslims fall into the latter. Will they be excluded from being Muttaqoon because they cannot perform all the five pillars? Or, should we say that all Muslims are Muttaqoon? No controversy, no discussion, no problem? Every Muslim, by virtue of being Muslim, is bound for Heaven anyway, sooner or later.

Quranic Definition of Muttaqoon

A very comprehensive definition of Muttaqoon is given in the following verse:

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing (muttaqoon). [al-Baqarah 2:177, Translation: Yusuf Ali]

This verse puts in perspective the ritual-based Islam that we practice versus the substance and goal-based Islam, which the Prophet (PBUH) and the Sahaba (R) practiced. Proponents of the ritual-based Islam would have us believe that once the rituals are done properly, meticulously, and sincerely we are guaranteed salvation in the Hereafter. The Quran clearly rejects this view of Islam in this verse. The Quran says that these people are misguided, have fabricated a Shariah, and have mixed it with the Book of Allah and which they proclaim to be Divine (2: 176).

According to verse 2:177, the essential purpose of Islam is not fulfilled by a mechanical performance of rituals, e.g., turning eastward or westward during prayer, but requires instead:

  1. 100% conviction, Iman, in Allah; in the law of requital; in the life Hereafter; in the forces created by Allah for our benefit, Malaa-ikaa; in all the Prophets (PBUT); and in all the Books revealed to them; and
  2. The establishment of a system in which resources are made available to help those who (a) are left without protection or support in society; (b) lose their means of livelihood or are incapacitated to work; and (c) cannot earn enough to meet their needs. This system will also provide assistance to those outsiders, who, while passing through its territory, become indigent, as well as arrange for the liberation of slaves from bondage.

According to this verse, Muslims are required to establish a system wherein members of the society adhere to the Divine code of life voluntarily  – this is a requirement of Iman -and the means of development are provided to all who need them. Muslims must honor their promises and commitments. If hostile forces confront them, they must face them with steadfastness and fortitude, and must not let fear and despair weaken them.

Only those who follow this path unswervingly can claim to be true believers and they only can rightfully claim to be Muttaqoon.

The following verses further describe the character of the Muttaqoon. [Translation by Yusuf Ali]

[Al-Imran 3:76] Nay – Those that keep their plighted faith and act aright,-verily God loves those who act aright (muttaqeen).

[al-Anfal 8:56] They are those with whom thou didst make a covenant, but they break their covenant every time, and they have not the fear (of God) [la-yattaqoon meaning these people are NOT Muttaqoon].

[az-Zumar 39:33] And he who brings the Truth and he who confirms (and supports) it – such are the men who do right (muttaqoon).

[al-Ma’idah 5:8] O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety (taqwaa): and fear (wattaqoo) God. For God is well acquainted with all that ye do.

[Al-Imran 3:133] Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous (muttaqeen).

[Al-Imran 3:134] Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men – for God loves those who do good.


Fasting is a means to becoming Muttaqi.  No doubt, fasting has health and spiritual benefits, but we must never lose sight of the main goal of fasting.  Ramadan provides an environment for our collective training and development of character. Muslims are required to emulate and display, year long, the qualities laid down by the above verses as a result of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Since character building is a hard, long, continuous process, Ramadan is repeated every year as a reminder and re-enforcer.  We must judge our accomplishments by the standards laid down by the Quran.  We should not be under the false impression that our spiritual development is taking place while our life goes on as usual. We have to keep the life and works of the Prophet (PBUH) and Sahaba (R) before us to know whether or not we are among the Muttaqoon.

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The Importance of Understanding Qur’an (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Perhaps, it may be no exaggeration to state that the Qur’an is the most oft-recited but least understood of books.

Millions of Muslims around the globe recite the verses of the Qur’an daily in their prayers. In Ramadan, recitation of the entire Qur’an is completed in thousands of mosques around the world.  In some cases, the recitation of the entire Qur’an is completed in three nights or even in one night in the last ten days of the month of Ramadan.   In addition to actual participation, Taraweeh prayer is broadcast live every year from the holy city of Mecca to many Muslim countries. A global Qur’anic recitation competition takes place every year. Tapes, CDs and the Internet also provide Quranic recitation so people can hear it while on land, sea, and air.

Indeed, listening to and reciting the Qur’an has become extremely popular, and even fashionable among religious Muslims. However, how many of us are able to understand what is being recited? And how much importance do we attach to this understanding?  Further, what does it take to understand the Qur’an?

Several obstacles impede Muslims’ understanding of the Qur’an.  Many non-Arab Muslims mistakenly think the Arabs can understand the Qur’an better than others because they know and speak the Arabic language.  This may be so, but it is not true in general. Although most Muslims from the Indian subcontinent know and speak Urdu, can they understand Iqbal or Ghalib?  Do the British and Americans, just because they speak English, understand Whitehead, Russell, Emerson, or Thoreau?  Do all Germans understand Kant or Nietzsche? Do all French understand Bergson? Do all Iranians understand Rumi, Ghazali, or Shirazi?  Reading a book does not necessarily mean that one can understand it. Knowledge of a language is of course necessary for understanding a book written in that language.  But is it sufficient? Books of famous thinkers (in any language) may be read by many but, in reality, are understood by very few.  So, how can the Qur’an  whose author is Allah, possessing infinite knowledge and wisdom, be understood by Arabs simply because they know the Arabic language? They may be able to read an Arabic newspaper, but understanding the Qur’an, requires much more than just knowledge of the Arabic language.

Another obstacle in understanding the Qur’an stems, on the one hand, from the mistaken belief that salvation in the Hereafter is achieved by faith alone and not by understanding the meaning of the Qur’anic verses. On the other hand, secular and liberal Muslims dismiss the idea that the Qur’an is a guiding force in our daily lives.  Therefore, they do not consider it worthwhile to expend time and intellect in exploring Qur’anic meanings in the same way that other areas of interest are explored.  Further, some Muslims have assigned such special status to past Islamic scholars and Imams that the latter’s works are considered sacred and beyond error.  In this case, the question arises: should all Qur’anic interpretation be frozen in their time and space?  No doubt, these scholars of the past did their best critical thinking and research into the Qur’an during their time. But why do most of their followers shut the door for further critical thinking and research into the Qur’an?  However, as human knowledge evolves, it becomes imperative to enhance, reinterpret, or even correct past understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Qur’an.

A further stumbling block in understanding the Qur’an is the susceptibility of human beings to take shortcuts.  If we believe that simply reciting the verses of the Qur’an (without understanding them) is sufficient to bring lots of rewards – here as well as in the Hereafter – then why should we struggle to understand the Qur’an?  Ingenious shortcuts to wealth, prosperity, good health, and multiple rewards in the Hereafter through recitation of certain words, and verses, and even by simply running one’s finger on the words of the Qur’an are commonplace in the collective Muslim experience.

This has led to a mental malaise wherein Muslims fail to recognize and revere the value of acquiring Islamic knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an.  In turn, this lack of understanding of the Qur’an and our subsequent failure to act upon it, has led to our present deplorable status in the world.  How else to explain the position of the more than fifty Muslim countries which depend on others even for their physical survival?  Many have become accustomed to living on Western crumbs despite the fact that they own the richest resources of the Earth.  How else to explain the behavior of Muslims colluding with non-Muslims to inflict suffering on other Muslims?

Iqbal’s couplet describes our general malaise quite succinctly:

Bujhee  ishk  ki aag  andher  hai

Musalmaan nahin raakh ka dher hai

[The fire of love (of understanding and living by the Qur’an) among Muslims has died. Muslims now are nothing but a heap of ash.]

Is there any hope for us to regain our lost dignity? The Qur’an proclaims there is. The Qur’an says that Muslims should never despair of Allah’s mercy and blessing. It says that the Book of Allah is always there to help them at every step but …  But it can only help those who want to live by it and not those who simply want to read or recite it for earning some easy rewards for the Hereafter. The Qur’an is for the living and not for the dead: Li yundhira man kaana hayyan.

But, living by the Qur’an requires that, we, Muslims, understand it first. In order to understand it, however, we have to use our minds. And in order to use our minds we have to spend time and effort, we have to struggle and persevere, just like we do for other things in life. There are no shortcuts in this process. This is Allah’s law of requital. Without proper input one cannot get proper output.

How much time and effort do we normally spend in trying to understand the Qur’an compared to academic pursuits, sports, and hobbies? Also, it’s important to know that acquiring the knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an is incumbent on every Muslim.  Seeking knowledge of the Qur’an (and the Universe) is a sacred duty imposed by Allah on every Muslim.  How seriously do we take the Qur’an?  Do we live by it and die for it as instructed by Allah?  Or, do we pay mostly lip service by reciting it to earn rewards for the Hereafter?

In probing the human psychology of evasion, Iqbal advises: Ai Musalmaan apne dil se pooch Mullah se na pooch.  [O Muslims! Ask your own hearts, not Mullahs.]

We must question our own hearts – why do we not seek to understand the Qur’an on our own?  Why do we rely on fatwas and others’ understanding of the Qur’an?  Or are we waiting to hear what we want to hear?

Allah says the Qur’an is more valuable than any treasure we can accumulate. But do we really consider the Qur’an as the most valuable thing in our lives?  How much of our day- and night-time hours do we devote to it?  To what extent is our understanding of it compromised by our lack of willingness to study it?

To remove these aforementioned obstacles, we must make a sincere pledge towards understanding the Qur’an and then trying to live by it.   According to Allama Iqbal:

Gar tu mi khwaahi Musalmaan zeestan

Neest muumkin juz ba Qur’an zeestan

[If you wish to live a life of Muslim, then it is not possible except to live by the Qur’an.]

Also we must quit imitating the past, for imitation destroys our potential and damages our nafs.  Allah says that if all the trees on the planet became pens and all its oceans became ink, the words of Allah (i.e., the meanings contained in them) would not be exhausted [31:27, 18:109].  How then can we say that books written in the second and third century after the Prophet (PBUH) contain all the knowledge that we need to understand the Qur’an?  Allah enjoins on every Muslim in every age to use his/her reason, intellect, and knowledge to understand and explore the meanings of His revelations [25:73].  Allah tells us to do tadabbur in the Qur’an. “Afalaa yatadabbaroon al-Qur’an?” (4:82) Tadabburmeans highly focused, goal-oriented, intense thinking to discover the application of the Qur’an to our way of life.

Let us pledge today to do that.   Let’s not wait until the morrow which may never come.  Let the truth of the Quran change our individual and collective lives in this world as well as in the Hereafter.

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IQBAL AND TAQDIR (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Allama Iqbal has written so much about the concept of taqdir that it may require a complete book to fully explain and justify his views on this difficult issue. But in a nutshell he says:

“The world of plants and animals is subject to taqdir. A Momin is subject to nothing except the orders of Allah (SW) (i.e., Quran).”

On the other hand, seeing the condition of the present Muslims, he said:

“The actions of Muslims these days is predicated on taqdir. (This, despite the fact that) the taqdir of Allah (SW) was always the driving force behind the will of their ancestors.”

“Muslims these days use the excuse of ‘taqdir’ in order to justify their inaction and irresponsibility towards Islam.”

(To some there may seem to be a contradiction in this view of taqdir given by Iqbal. But, according to Iqbal this contradiction arises due to the wrong concept of taqdir which the present Muslims in general have come to accept, due mainly to the Magian influence on Islam)

One very important point to note is that Iqbal talks here about Allah’s (SW) taqdir and not man’s taqdir. Thus, according to him there is no man’s taqdir. At first, this may sound strange because Muslims have, by and large, always thought in terms of man’s taqdir whenever this topic is discussed. We will shortly see that the concept of taqdir presented by Quran and eloquently explained by Iqbal removes this (apparent) contradiction.

First of all, let us find the root meaning of the arabic word (taqdir) which was prevalent at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions. Then we will see how the Magian influence slowly changed this meaning to its now “acquired” meaning which in English is translated as destiny, fate, or predestination etc.

The root meaning of the word “taqdir” comes from the root q-d-r ( ). The meaning of this root is measure or standard. means “I measured the thing.” means “I made clothes according to his measurements.” Therefore, the root meaning of “taqdir” is for something to fit according to some measure or standard. And “Miqdarun” ( ) means model, pattern or standard according to which something is made. In order to make something fit a pattern or standard, one has to have complete control over that thing. Therefore, means that I have power to make that thing according to a standard.

Quran says:

“Allah’s command (directive) took a definitive pattern (model).” (33:38)

Thus, in the light of this Quranic verse, it is now easy to understand what Iqbal means when he says:

“Plants and animals are subject to taqdir.” This implies that all the objects in the universe are working according to a set pattern. This is because Allah (SW) has decried a pattern (model) for everything:

“Allah (SW) has made a standard for everything.”

This “standard” is what we call “law of nature” in modern scientific terminology. Isn’t it amazing to note that this was said more than 1400 years ago when the world did not know anything about science. [By the way, this is one way to realize (and provide proof) that the Quran is THE Word of God]

According to the Quran, there is a world of Amr (God’s world of command, planning and direction) and there is a world of khalq (God’s created world, i.e., the physical universe). The world of Amr completely and exclusively belongs to Allah (SW) and no one can have any share in it. This is the world of (kun-fayakoon) in the words of Quran – Allah (SW) says “be” and it “becomes.” This world of Amr is beyond human comprehension. No one can understand how it operates. For example, it is beyond human beings to know how the universe came into existence from nothing. But after its creation, it enters the world of Khalq and follows definitive patterns (i.e., laws) which Allah (SW) prescribed for it. It is possible for human beings to discover and understand these laws. As a further illustration, we can say that Allah’s exclusive power created the law of gravity. We cannot understand how this law was created by Allah or what it was before its creation. It is beyond the human mind to know anything about it before it was created. But after its creation, we can understand it and make use of it. Thus it becomes possible for us to design airplanes and fly them using this law – we can have complete trust in the law of gravity. The same thing applies to all the other physical laws. When Quran says:

it means that these are the laws whose knowledge can be obtained. (15:21) or, (15:4)

It is also worthwhile to note that according to the Quran, we can talk about Allah’s (SW) taqdir (laws) and not human’s taqdir because Allah (SW) is The Only One who has created these laws (of nature) and has the exclusive control over them. No one can create even a single law of nature. As a matter of fact, everything is subject to Allah’s (SW) taqdir (law) including human beings.

Now let us see how Iqbal expounds and beautifully illustrates this concept of taqdir as given by Quran.

“The subtle secret of this concept (of taqdir) is hidden in one word. That is, if you change then the taqdir changes accordingly.”

“If you become (like) dust, then even a mild wind will blow you and scatter you and will carry you wherever it wishes. If you become (like) a stone (i.e. develop the characteristics of a stone in yourself) then you will break any glass which comes your way.”

“If you become (like) dew then your destiny will be an abyss and lowness (and even a mild ray of sunshine will wipe you out of existence). If you become (like) an ocean then your destiny will acquire depth and permanence.”

Therefore, if someone has fallen into an abyss, then he/she should not just cry and blame his/her taqdir. One should not say that God has written this in one’s fate and that one cannot do anything about it. Iqbal (and indeed Quran) says that this attitude is wrong.

“Whatever condition you are in now, you are subject to (Allah’s) taqdir accordingly. If you want that some other taqdir (of Allah) be applicable to you, then change yourself and another taqdir ( of Allah) will apply to you. God has an infinite number of taqdirs (laws).”

What is this change which Iqbal talks about here? He talks about a change in mental attitude. And there can be no change in mental attitude unless there is a change in the psyche of an individual. Therefore, (psychological) change in the self of an individual is absolutely essential if change in the external condition is desired. Also, a people’s condition cannot change unless individuals change. No amount of extrinsic law making can change a society unless there is a psychological change in the individuals composing that society. This is the law of Allah (SW) (on a higher plane) – just like the law of gravity.

Allah (SW) says in the Quran:

“It is a fact that Allah (SW) does not change the condition of a people unless and until the individuals (composing that society) change whatever is inside of them (i.e. their psychology).” (13:11)

Thus, the human plane cannot take off and reach greater heights if we do not follow this law (verse) just as the physical plane cannot take off and fly if the law of gravity is not followed. This is the taqdir of Allah (SW)and no one can change it. Momins (believers) are those who believe in it, have conviction for it and act accordingly. This is what Iqbal means when he says:

“A Momin only follows the law of Allah.”

Since Allah (SW) does not force anyone to believe in his laws or not to believe, the initiative has to come from human beings. To have this choice, Allah (SW) has endowed us with Free Will. This is the essential hallmark of being human and it is the distinguishing feature between animals and humans.

The entire universe is operating under the laws created by Allah (SW) which we call laws of nature. Human beings are responsible for their own actions if performed by their own free will. One cannot escape the consequences of one’s own actions. This is what Iqbal calls “Mukafat-e-A’ml.”

But once a person has exercised his/her free will then he/she has to face the consequences of that choice. In the physical world we see this everyday. If I burn my finger I face the consequence and I cannot transfer my pain to somebody else. Whatever we sow, that is what we reap, be it in the field of agriculture, health, education, or business. Iqbal says:

“Wheat produces wheat and barley produces barley (i.e. if we sow barley, we cannot reap wheat). Never be unmindful of ‘Mukafat-e-A’ml’ i.e. law of action and its corresponding consequences. (Allah (SW) has the authority that He can change into wheat if one sowed barley, but He never does; this is the law of Allah (SW). He never changes His laws for anyone).”

Allah (SW) says in the Quran:

“Allah does not change His laws either in theory or practice (for anyone).”

The same law of “Mukafat-e-A’ml” applies in the human world as well. All our actions produce their desirable or undesirable consequences depending upon the action performed. One’s bad action (i.e. any action which is against Quran) can never produce good results and one’s good action (i.e. any action according to Quran) can never produce bad results. Human beings only get what they work for.

Also, one can not transfer the consequences and responsibilities of one’s own action to someone else.

Iqbal says (in his only English book, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam):

“Thus there is nothing static my inner life; all is a constant mobility, an unceasing flux of states, a perpetual flow in which there is no halt or resting place.” (page 38, 2nd ed., published jointly by the Institute of Islamic Culture and Iqbal Academy of Pakistan, 1989)

He continues:

“Pure time, then, as revealed by a deeper analysis of our conscious experience, is not a string of separate, reversible instants; it is an organic whole in which the past is not left behind, but is moving along with, and operating in, the present. And the future is given to it not as lying before, yet to be traversed; it is given only in the sense that it is present in its nature as an open possibility. It is time regarded as an organic whole that the Quran describes as Taqdir or the destiny – a word which has been so misunderstood both in and outside of Islam. . . The destiny of a thing then is not an unrelenting fate working from without like a task master; it is the inward reach of a thing, its realizable possibilities which lie within the depths of its nature.”

In other words, Iqbal says:

“Write your destiny with your own pen. Allah has given you a clean forehead.”

How this concept of taqdir providing a dynamic and lively outlook on life was transformed into a lifeless and static concept of predetermination is a very sad story indeed. The concept of predetermination and its insertion as the sixth component of Islamic faith (while the Quran requires only five) has damaged the muslim psyche, possibly beyond repair. Muslim kings and dictators have used it to establish their absolute authority in order to maintain their iron grip over the minds of the muslim masses. Muslim institutions of priesthood have constantly used it to maintain their psychological grip over the hearts of Muslims. Muslim capitalists have used their capital to provide the sustenance and to champion the cause of muslim priesthood. This three pronged attack on the minds, hearts, and the stomachs of the muslim masses leaves them virtually helpless prey to these resurrected Pharos, Hamans and Qaroons. According to these so called Islamic scholars, it is predetermined who will get what, when and where. Therefore, if a rich person’s dogs and cats enjoy gourmet food and a poor person’s children die of hunger, it’s okay, because everything is predetermined and that is what is written in their fate. Some would argue that Zakat would take care of it if every muslim practices this pillar of Islam. But if someone accepts a principle (such as predetermination), he/she has to accept it as such. A principle guides people and not the other way around. The very fact that I am endowed with Free Will (which I exercise every day to make a choice) is sufficient to disprove the principle of predetermination.

We will venture to discover how taqdir happened to acquire its present meaning of predetermination or fate in part II of this article. Suffice it to mention for now, this idea of predetermination is thoroughly Magian in its origin and has penetrated almost every religion on earth including Judaism, Christianity and (unfortunately for Muslims) Islam.


The Quranic verses which were presented before clearly state that:

  1. The universe works precisely according to the laws decreed by Allah
  2. Human beings are endowed with Free Will and, therefore, are responsible for their own actions. Every time I am confronted with a choice, I exercise my free will. But once I have made my choice, the result is no longer in my hands. The result is governed by the laws of Allah which Iqbal calls the “law of Mukafat-e-A’mal.” The operation of this law is immutable and does not change for anyone. Whatever I sow, that is what I am going to reap. This is the fundamental principle of life – according to the Quran and Iqbal.

Keeping these facts in mind, one is perplexed at the current situation when one hears sermons such as the following:

Whatever is to happen in one’s life is already written before birth. No matter what, one can not change this writing in one’s taqdir. Allah gives wealth or poverty to whomsoever He wills. He gives dignity or indignity to whomsoever He wills. If He wills, He can turn a beggar into a king and a king into a beggar. One should simply accept the condition one is in and should not complain.

These types of sermons are constantly heard from every pulpit. They are presented as universal truths and fundamental principles of Islam. No one is supposed to challenge this belief in the idea of predetermination or “taqdir.” One is supposed to accept this as (blind) faith.

Quran, on the other hand, emphasizes action. Allama Iqbal in his work Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam starts the preface with the very first sentence: “The Quran is a book which emphasizes ‘deed’ rather than ‘idea.’ “

How right he is. An idea must lead to action. An idea without an action results in mysticism which produces its own virtual universe which has nothing to do with the real universe or with real people and facing the real problems of real life. Iqbal says:

“If you are not able to handle the problems of the world, it is useless to be absorbed in the expectations about heaven.”

Now, one wonders how this idea of predetermination so alien to Islam became an integral part of Islamic faith and immobilized an essentially mobile people. The same Quran, which invigorated and energized the Prophet’s companions and their followers (may Allah be pleased with them) into perpetual motion and constant struggle, is with us but not producing the same fruits as it did fourteen centuries ago.

“Although there is no difference between words and meaning, the Azan of a Mulla is quite different than the Azan of a Mujahid.”

It is worthwhile to investigate how this concept of predetermination became the sixth component of Islamic faith. It is also instructive to find out when it happened and why.

Let us begin our journey.

At the time when the Quran was being revealed, there were people who believed in predetermination. The Quran says:

“Mushriks will say that if Allah wished neither we nor our ancestors would have done shirk and neither would we have declared anything haraam. . .” (6:149)

Therefore, according to this verse the people who were mushriks at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) used to say that if we are mushriks, that is because Allah has written it in our fate. And if we have declared something forbidden (haraam) it is because Allah has preordained everything. Who are we to go against what God has already preordained or predetermined? The Quran addresses such people as i.e., these people are lying and practicing falsehood. (6:149)

In surah Yasin (36) Allah says:

“When they are told to spend (to feed the hungry) what Allah has provided them with, the kafirs say to the momins, ‘Shall we then feed those whom if Allah has so willed, He would have fed?’ How openly deviated these people are.” (36:47)

It is clear from these verses that there were people at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) who believed in predetermination. Quran says that these people were mushriks and kafirs and Allah refutes their belief in predetermination or preordination. As long as the Quran was the foundation and source of Islam, the concept of predetermination would not find any support among the Muslims. How could Muslims tolerate an idea which the Quran calls kufr and shirk? But when the Quran lost its place from being the central authority for enforcing the unity of and regulating the lives of Muslims to a mere peripheral position in their lives, the door was opened for non-Quranic concepts and beliefs to enter Islam – the earliest among them being the concept of predetermination.

At the advent of Islam, the Arabian peninsula was surrounded by the two great empires – superpowers of those days – on the west by the Roman empire and on the east by the Persian empire. The Arabs, mostly bedouins, were nomads. They were divided into various tribes. The Romans and the Persians did not think much of them. They were no threat to their empires. These bedouin Arabs were mostly engaged in tribal warfare amongst themselves. They were ignorant and illiterate. This was the period which historically is called the period of Jahiliya.

Now, after the advent of Islam, within a very short span of time, these bedouin Arabs defeated both these empires and became their ruler. People talk about the miracles of the Prophet (PBUH). This is the greatest miracle which the world has ever seen of this magnitude. How could it be explained otherwise – that a group of mostly illiterate and bedouin Arabs (may Allah be pleased with all of them) could accomplish this miraculous feat in such a short time [it is as if, let us say, a country like Ethiopia now will defeat both Europe and America and become their ruler in a span of thirty to forty years. Sounds unbelievable? It must have sounded unbelievable to the Romans and the Persians of the time regarding the Arabs’ conquest of their empires].

People of Persia accepted Islam en masse after the fall of the Persian empire but their leaders (both political and military) felt humiliated and shocked. They could not forget the emotional and psychological humiliation they had suffered by being defeated by a people with far less military power than their own. A sense of revenge was smoldering in their hearts – their military power was shattered and they had become a ruled people rather than the ruler. The Persians never liked the Arabs anyway but their defeat on the battlefield at the hands of the Arabs was like putting salt on their wounded pride. They were bent on finding out the root cause of the Arab’s newly found strength. It didn’t take them long to figure out that it must be the Quran which has completely transformed their lives. And the power of these Arabs must be due to the transformation which had taken place in their ideology of life (Iman) because of the Quranic message.

When the governor of Persia, Harmuzan, was brought to Medina (after the arrest), Caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) asked him the reason for their defeat. Harmuzan replied that before, when Arabs and Persians used to fight, it was no problem to defeat the Arabs; but now the Persians cannot fight both the Arabs and their God.

Jews and Christians had suffered similar fate at the hands of the Arabs. Jews were driven out of Arabia and the (Christian) Romans had to surrender Jerusalem to the Arabs.

We see, therefore, that the Jews, Christians, and the Zorostrian Persians all had their own axes to grind against these (in their eyes) lowly Arabs. Thus began the greatest conspiracy in the history of mankind, in terms of its universal impact. Jews and Christian (religious as well as temporal) leaders were already fuming inside their hearts and minds because of the humiliation they had suffered at the hands of the Arabs, and now the Persian intellectuals joined their rank. They combined their forces together (in conspiracy) against Islam which Iqbal calls the conspiracy of A’jm. Iqbal uses the term “A’jm” to describe this combined force and the term “A’jmi Islam” to mean the (corrupted) form of Islam due to the infiltration of unQuranic concepts and ideologies from other religions (such as Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, etc.) into Islam [Iqbal uses the term “A’rabi Islam” to represent the pure and the pristine, (i.e., uncorrupted) Islam with its ideas and ideologies coming solely from the Quran]. The first of the concepts in this long chain of non-Quranic concepts which entered Islam is the concept of predetermination.

There used to be a group of intellectuals and political experts in Persia who were very close advisors of the king. They were offered golden bangles as a sign of the status they used to enjoy in the inner circles of the government. They were called “Osawera”

After the fall of the Persian empire, the general population accepted Islam (as mentioned before) but the members of “Osawera,” although outwardly professing Islam, never really had accepted their defeat at the hands of the Arabs. Since they had figured out that the strength of these Arabs now lies in their new faith, they tried to corrupt the very essence of the Arabs’ strengths, i.e., the pure message of Quran.

History tells us that the first person to introduce the idea of predestination in Islam was Maabad bin Khalid Jhanni who learned it from Abu Yunus, a member of Osawera. Ghilan Damishki transmitted this idea further after learning it from Maabad. According to this idea, the destiny of human beings is considered to be predetermined and the followers of this idea were known as Jabriya.

This idea was also the cornerstone of Christianity. The idea that every child is born a sinner and no action of his can erase the stain of the original sin is pure Jabr (force). The dualism of good and evil was also present among the Jews. This idea may have come into the Jews from the Zoroastrian influence during the period of their captivity in Babylon which was under the control of the Persians. History also tells us that during the early period of the Abbasid Dynasty, Jaham bin Safwan (who was originally from Khurasan) propagated this idea of predetermination (or Jabr) with so much fanfare that the followers of this idea became known as Jahamiya. There is confusion in history as to who was finally responsible for this idea and what were the names of the groups (sometimes they were called Jabriya, and sometimes Qadriya). Whosoever might have been the originator of this idea (Maabad or Jaham) and whatever source it may have come from (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, or Christianity), one thing is absolutely certain; that this idea of predetermination is against the Quran and it came to Islam from non-Islamic sources.

This idea of preordination perfectly suited the Muslim kings and dictators – so they made sure it became one of the fundamental components of Islamic faith. Once it was inserted as the sixth component of Iman (although the Quran only mentions five-2:177), no one could question these rulers and they were accountable to no one. This is because their oppression was guised as taqdir, part of religion, and unquestionable. This concept of predetermination gave them a free reign and absolute authority to exploit the Muslim masses as much as they could – all in the name of religion. Since the Muslim masses were (and still are) very religious, they accepted (and most still accept) every fatwa given by the religious scholars at the behest of their Royal highnesses. Just as the Pharaoh could not have ruled without the support of Haman and Qaroon, muslim kings could not rule without them either. So they invented their own versions of Hamans and Qaroons to entrench their own absolute authority over the muslim masses. People who challenged them were ruthlessly crushed by declaring them “Murtad” [This is another topic and requires separate discussion. Suffice it to say that a lot of muslim blood has been spilled using this concept of Murtad, again, an un-Quranic concept]. These kings were even called (shadow of god on earth).

The three institutions symbolized by the Pharaohs (dictators), the Hamans (religious priesthood), and the Qaroons (capitalists) operate within their own spheres but always cooperate with each other because they know that they cannot survive alone. Royal highnesses took control of the political arena but they needed the blessings of the religious priesthood for their survival. The capital to sustain these two forces was provided by the capitalists. The muslim masses accepted (or were forced to accept) their fate according to their belief in predetermination.

Thus became a concept totally alien to Islam one of the cornerstones of Islamic faith.

And in the words of Iqbal:

“What to say of earth, even the sky (heaven) is crying on your crooked vision (thinking). It is unbelievable that you have crucified the verses of Quran (with unQuranic concepts).”

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Iqbal, Quran and Muslim Unity (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

Muslims are supposed to work together towards a common goal set by the Quran and shown by the Prophet (PBUH) through his Sunnah. They are brothers and sisters because they are bonded by the common ideology of the unity of God and the unity of humankind.

These are the foundational principles of Islam. The Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) require Muslims to work for the unity of the Ummah. Muslims are required to be merciful towards each other (The Quran (48:29)) and be like the body where if any part hurts the whole body should feel the pain (Hadith). But, are Muslims practicing this injunction of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH)? Muslims and various Islamic organizations are working hard but it is frustratingly obvious that the above goals are ever so illusive. Instead of Muslims being united in mercy towards each other, they are, on the whole, far from it. Instead of feeling the pain and misery of other Muslims (Chechens, Palestinians, Kashmiris, for example), most of us are happily enjoying our material comforts of life. Is Muslim unity only a dream that cannot be fulfilled? Many argue that all this talk of Muslim unity is out of date. Islam may have once united Muslims but present reality makes it impossible. They say it is nice talk, which makes Muslims feel good but an unrealistic goal that cannot be achieved. Muslims spend (and have spent) a lot of their time and emotional energy debating this issue.

We will come back to this fundamental question- is Muslim unity possible, and if it is, then how to achieve it? But first, let us find out the present state of Muslims and compare it with the Iqbal’s visionary diagnosis of their problems.

Muslim misery and suffering is as common today as it was in the days of Iqbal. Every day that passes brings more death and destruction to Muslims, only at a much wider scale. It is sad to see Muslim governments collaborating with non-Muslims to inflict damage and suffering against fellow Muslims. Many Muslim groups are also engaged in fighting against each other in many parts of the Muslim world. And in some countries where Muslims are in minority, their condition is even worse. As a minority they are systematically being subjected to discrimination, humiliation, persecution, torture, and rape. One wonders: is it ever going to end?

When Greeks attacked Turkey in 1923 (at the behest of the British) Iqbal’s heart started crying. He knew that it was not just an attack on Turkey, but it was an attack on Islam itself. He tried to free the Muslim mind from the prevailing colonial mentality and from Muslims’ own narrow self-interests. He wrote the poem “Tolu-e-Islam” which later became one of his classic works. [Copies of this poem were sold and all proceeds were sent to Turkey.] He said:

“Hawas ne tukre tukre kar diya hay na’u insan ko
ukhuwwat ka bayan ho ja mohabbat ki zaban ho ja
ye Hindi, wo Khurasani, ye Afghani, wo Turani
tu ay sharmindayeh sahil uchhal kar bekaraan ho ja”

“Greed has torn apart humankind. You (Muslims), become role models of love and brotherhood. Get beyond the narrow boundaries of nationalities (like Indian, Khurasani, Afghani, and Turkish) and jump into the limitless ocean (of Islam).”

Observing the present situation in which Muslims find themselves today, Iqbal’s soul must be feeling extremely restless. Alas! There is no Iqbal today among Muslims who can guide the Muslim Ummah against the forces that are bent on its destruction. But the Muslim Ummah can also be torn apart due to internal conflicts.

In fact, this is what is happening to Muslim Ummah today. Probably, there are no people in the world today who have been as divided as Muslims. They are divided along religious, political, ethnic, cultural, racial, linguistic, and sectarian lines. These divisions extend further into subdivisions. Status, wealth, fame, and fortune have also created social differences among Muslims.

Muslims are divided at the root into Sunnis and Shias. Sunnis are further divided into Hanafi, Maliki, Shaafai, and Hanbali. Shias too are divided into Kesania, Zaidia, Imamia or Ithna ‘Ashari, Ismalia, etc. Sunnis are also divided into Ahle-hadith and Ahle-fiqha. In the Indian subcontinent (at least) Ahle-fiqha are further divided into Deobandis and Barelwis. Similar differences exist in other places as well. Are all these divisions and differences schools of thought as many Muslims claim? Whether or not we admit it, these differences and divisions do create physical, emotional, and psychological barriers amongst us. Iqbal says that these differences create prejudice in human beings:

“Shajar hay firqa arayee, ta’assub hay samar iska
ye wo phal hay jo jannat se nikalwata hay adam ko”

“These divisions are the branches of a tree; its fruit is prejudice. This is the fruit which gets Adam (man) expelled from Jannah (peaceful life).”

Although in North America we do try to work together (despite our religious differences) in a civilized manner, but our brothers and sisters back home are not that fortunate. There, these differences sometimes lead to violence and killings. Why is that despite clear warnings of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) against it? Is it due to the prejudices that are the inevitable results of our divisions, as Iqbal mentions in the above poem?

With all these divisions and differences, can we progress in the world? Iqbal does not think so:

“Firqa bandi hay kaheen aur kaheen zatein hain
kya zamane mein panapne ki yahee batein hain”

“Somewhere are religious divisions and somewhere are differences based on caste. Is this the way to prosper in the world?”

He further says:

“Tum syed bhi ho Mirza bhi ho Afghan bhi ho
tum sabhi kuchh ho batao ki musalman bhi ho”

“You are Syed; you are Mirza; you are Afghan. You are everything. Tell me, are you Muslim too?”

Here Iqbal uses the word “Syed” to represent the caste system that has penetrated Muslims (especially in the Indian subcontinent because of Hindu influence). He uses the word “Mirza” to represent the ruling elite and the word “Afghan” to represent the differences in Muslims based on region, language, and race.

All these differences are anti-Qur’anic. When Iqbal poses the question, “Tell me, are you Muslim too?” he implies that those who feel proud and superior compared to other fellow Muslims because of these labels attached to their names (and not because of Taqwa), they are not entitled to be called true Muslims.

Qur’an says that those who create differences in the Deen (Islam) are among the Mushrikun:

“Be not among the Mushrikun i.e., those who create differences in Deen (Isalm) and become sects. Each (sectarian) party quite content with itself (that it is following the correct path).” (30:32)

“And those who create division in Deen (Islam) and become divided into sects, O Prophet (PBUH)! You have no part in them in the least.” (6:159)

The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said:

“Anyone who gets even one feet away from the Ummah has taken out the Islamic yoke from his neck, even if he prays and fasts.”

That is why Qur’an calls upon all Muslims to be united and hold on steadfastly to the rope of Allah (i.e. Qur’an) and gives a stern warning to them not to create any divisions (3:103) amongst themselves.

If we look at the global picture as a whole, we find that the number of Muslims has grown steadily to more than a billion today. Muslims possess the richest resources of the world and the most fertile lands of the earth. In spite of this, how ironic that the most vulnerable and the most dependent people on earth are also Muslims.

Coming to the religious level, we find that the number of mosques is growing everywhere. The number of Muslims going to mosques is also increasing. The number of Muslims performing the annual pilgrimage increases every year, and in fact, has to be controlled to restrict the number. The number of Muslim organizations has been growing steadily. Whenever some differences arise among Muslims in one organization, they create another one and build another mosque. Noticing such an abundance of religious fervor among Muslims, Iqbal was led to say:

“Masjid to banadi shab bhar mein imaan ke hararat walon ne
man apna purana papi hay barson mein namazi ban na saka”

“Those with fervor in their faith built the mosque in a night, but the heart is sinful and did not prostrate in years.”

Now, let us come to the real question. In spite of all the speeches and the sermons exhorting Muslims to unite, we see that the result is disappointing, to say the least. Why is that? The only way to diagnose this problem is to find the root cause according to Iqbal.

We will have to go deeper into our hearts to find out the root cause of our problems. If we look only at the outside, then just like a tree, we will see its trunk, the branches, and the leaves. And if the roots have become infected with a disease, no matter how strong the rest of the tree is, sooner or later it is going to die. Actually, its demise may be hastened even by a moderate wind. No amount of nourishment given to the branches and leaves will help prevent its final demise.

Obviously, the source to which we must turn to find out the root cause of the problem must provide the necessary guidance to diagnose it. According to Iqbal, the necessary guidance to diagnose all our (not just Muslims’ but entire humanity’s) ills is contained in the Qur’an:

“Wahi derina bimari wahi namuhkami dil ki
‘ilaj iska wahi aabe nishat angez hay saaqi”

“It is the same old disease, the same psychological problem of the heart. The cure is also the same, ‘Aab-e-Nishat’ i.e., the Qur’an.”

Qur’an says:

“O mankind! There has come to you a guidance from your Lord and a cure for the disease in your hearts.” (10:57)

Thus according to Qur’an and Iqbal, the disease of all our problems lies in our hearts and therefore, the cure should also begin there. Iqbal says:

“Zaban se kah bhi diya la ilaha illah to kya hasil
Dil-o-nigah Musalman naheen to kuchh bhi naheen”

“What can you accomplish by saying la ilaha with your tongue? If your heart is not a Muslim, then it is nothing.”

That is, the Iman should enter the depths of the heart. Simply saying that I believe is not enough, according to the Quran (49:14).

The Qur’an says:

“Among human beings are those who say ‘We believe in Allah and the Last day;’ but they are not among the Momins.” (2:8)

Those born in Muslim families cannot claim to be Momins (just like the bedouoins of Arabia) unless Iman has entered their hearts.

“The bedouins say, ‘We believe,’ (O Rasool) Say to them that you don’t believe, but you have accepted to surrender (to Islam) and Iman has not yet entered the depths of your hearts.” (49:14)

Also, Iman is not blind faith. The Qur’an clearly says that Iman becomes strong only with knowledge,

“And that those on whom knowledge has been bestowed may know that (Qur’an) is the Truth from your Lord, so that they may believe in it and their hearts may be made humbly (open) to it.” (22:54)

Therefore, the heart must be kept humble and open, so that Iman acquired by the mind (knowledge) may enter the heart. Iman cannot enter those whose hearts have disease and those who have sealed and hardened their hearts (22:53).

Qur’an says the Momins have dignity and power over others:

“If you are Momins, then you will have dominance and power.” (3:139)

And unbelievers will never be able to subdue and dominate Momins:

“And never will We grant to the unbelievers victory and domination over Momins.” (4:141)

Obviously, if we as Muslims compare ourselves with these very clear verses of Qur’an, then we have to come to only one conclusion that we are not among the Momins which the Qur’an talks about. Majority of our hearts are not open and humble. In fact, Qur’an tells us that instead of making the heart open and humble, there are some who let their emotions and ego control them. It says:

“Have you seen the one who has taken his own emotions as his god.” (25:43)

Iqbal says regarding this type of person:

“Zabaan se gar kiya tauheed ka da’wa to kya hasil
banaya hay bute pindaar ko apna khuda tu ne”

“What is the benefit if you claim with your tongue in oneness of God? You have made your emotion an idol and taken it as your god.”

How many of us (besides practicing the five pillars) are willing to go deep down in our hearts and honestly admit that we follow our emotions more often than we follow Allah (i.e. Book of Allah)? Allah demands total and complete surrender of our wills:

“O you who believe! Enter in Islam completely.” (2:208)

Therefore, the problems which we Muslims are facing today are the outward symptoms of the root cause, i.e., the internal friction in our hearts between obedience to Allah and obedience to our own emotions and egos. And it is this internal conflict that is referred to as the disease of the heart by the Qur’an. Iqbal too espouses this same theme of the Qur’an when he says:

Batil du-ee pasand hay haq la sharik hay
shirkat miyan-e haq-o-batil na kar qubool”

“Batil (as opposed to Haq; the Truth) likes to compromise but Haq is uncompromising. Do not accept the middle ground between Haq and Batil.”

Therefore, as long as we Muslims keep compromising the TRUTH contained in the Quran, there is no hope for a cure of our collective mental, psychological, and emotional ills. We do not know how many psychological, emotional, and mental forms of idols we carry all the time in our hearts and minds. Qur’an demands us to cleanse and purify our hearts from all kinds of Ilah. These subtle forms of shirk are addictive and like a slow poison have a deadening effect on our hearts and minds. Iqbal in his unique God given style says:

“Dile murda dil naheen hay ise zida kar dobara
ki yahee hay ummaton ke marge kuhan ka chara”

“The deadened heart is not a heart. Make it alive again. This is the only way to cure the age old diseases of nations.”

How to revive and resuscitate the dead heart; Iqbal says it is only possible through Qur’an:

“Gar tu mi khahi Musalman zeestan – neest mumkin juz ba Quran zeestan”
“If you wish to live the life a Muslim, then it is not possible except by the Quran.”

‘Aisha (R) said: “The Prophet (PBUH) was a walking Quran.” Thus the Sunnah is to live by the Quran and not just read it for earning reward for the hereafter.

Iqbal says about our Sahaba (R):

“Wo mu’azziz they zamane mein Musalman hokar
aur tum khwar huey tarike Quran hokar”

“They had dignity and power in the world because of Islam. And you are suffering humiliation and defeat because you have left the Qur’an.”

Quran says that our Prophet (PBUH) will complain to Allah:

“And the Prophet (PBUH) will say: “O my Lord! Truly my people took the Quran for just foolish nonsense (i.e., they left the message of the Quran).” (25:30)

But Iqbal also emphasizes that there are plenty of roadblocks in the path of the Quran. No less is the roadblock presented by some religious scholars in the name of Islam. Iqbal says:

“Khud badalte naheen Quran ko badal dete hain
huwey kis darja faqeehane haram be taufiq”

“These people don’t change themselves but they change the Qur’an (by their interpretations). How unfortunate are these custodians of haram (Islam).”

He further says:

“Ahkam tere haq hain magar apne mufassir
taaweel se Quran ko bana sakte hain Pazhand”

“O Allah! Your guidance is no doubt The Truth. But our interpreters can turn Qur’an into Pazhand by their interpretations.”

[Pazhand is the book compiled by the followers of Zoroaster which according to them is the interpretation of Avesta, the book of Zoroaster in which his followers inserted their own thoughts.]

And finally, Muslims should always keep in front of them the following verse, which describes the law for change:

“It is a fact that Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they bring about change in their own selves.” (13:11)

Iqbal echoes exactly the same message of the Quran in his own God given style when he says:

“Khuda ne aaj tak us qaum ki haalat naheen badlee
na ho jisko khyal aap apni haalat ke badalne ka”

Let us conclude with the folowing message of Iqbal:

“Manf-e-at ek hai is qaum ki nuqsaan bhi ek
ek hi sab ka nabi deen bhi iman bhi ek
harame paak bhi Allah bhi Quran bhi ek
kuchh bari baat thi hote jo Musalman bhi ek”

“There is one common gain and one common loss for all Muslims. (Remember the Prophet’s hadith that all Muslims are like a body.) One Prophet (PBUH) for all and one Iman for all. One Ka’aba, one Allah and one Qur’an for all. How great it would be if Muslims also were one!”

Let us pray to Allah to unite our hearts in the path of Islam. It is Allah’s promise that if we do that, then we will regain our dignity, power, and glory (24:55). And Allah does not break His promise (2:80).

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The Immutable Shariah (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَى شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاء الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

And now have We set thee (O Muhammad) on a clear road (Shariah) of (Our) commandment; so follow it, and follow not the whimsof those who know not  [45:18]   (As translated by M. Pickthall)

The above verse leaves no doubt that the Shariah the Prophet (PBUH) was commanded to follow – and hence Muslims in turn are supposed to follow – must provide a clear road (or code) for leading our individual as well as collective lives.Since Islam is universal in scope, its laws must reflect that universality. Therefore it is wrong to refer to a Shariah that applies only to a  particular group or sect as Islamic. In fact, attaching the Islamic label to a sectarian Shariah negates its very universality. Similarly, imposing the Shariah of a particular sect (or Madhab) on all Muslims is also wrong because there is no compulsion in Islam.  

So why the apparent contradiction where everyone wants to impose his or her interpretation on everyone else? And is there a way out of this conundrum?

Yes, there is and that involves re-opening the closed door of ijtihad that has remained shut tight for centuries. The self-appointed custodians of the religion guard it passionately, and even issue fatwas against those who do not step in line with their sectarian shariah and even declare them as heretics or kafirs. These custodians waged war to get rid of M‘utazilah. Their Crime? Belief in human free will (what you sow is what you reap), fairness in justice, and utilizing reason to understand the Qur’an. The stigma remains, so much so that even today anyone advocating to uphold these Qur’anic ideals is branded with this label by the proponents of man-made sectarian Shariah.

But time is the ultimate arbiter. There has been recent debate on the issue of opening the door to Ijtihad, not because they want to do it, but because they have been forced into it by the challenges that confront Muslims today.

The Prophet (PBUH) first planted the seed of Ijtihad and nourished it as commanded by Allah (SWT) – [Qur’an 4:135]. This he did as an integral part of the Islamic way of life (Shariah). The Rightly-Guided Caliphs continued the Prophet’s tradition by their continuous implementation of Ijtihad, resulting in the phenomenal flowering of the Islamic civilization.

In accordance with the universal nature of Islam, the world was offered the fruits of these efforts in areas of science, art, philosophy, architecture, jurisprudence and medicine. Yet, while the West enjoyed these fruits of the tree of Ijtihad planted by early Muslims and continued on with the process of inquiry and scholarship the Muslims stopped nourishing the tree of Ijtihad that had proved so vital to their vigorous development. As a consequence, this robbed the Ummah of its ability to carry on with the intellectual inquiry so integral to the early Islamic tradition.

This single act may have contributed to the downfall of Muslims more than anything else. We are limited now to recycling and regurgitating old commentaries. Any discussion of progress evokes fear of innovation and must automatically be labeled as haraam (forbidden) according to this sectarian Shariah.

There is a definitely a way to get out of our present abyss, but that would require opening the door of Ijtihad to the present Ummah so that it may debate and discuss and do ijtihad on all issues in the light of the Qur’an as our predecessors did.  Life, according to the Qur’an, is nothing but Ijtihad or struggle – persistent struggle, continuous exertion (29:69). This is the only way we can reclaim Allah’s universal Shariah(22:78). Only then will we be able to realize the true and full potential of Islam. It was done before and it can be done again. This is the promise of Allah and Allah does not break his promise (30:6).

According to Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of the East and one of the greatest scholars of Islam:

Persistent struggle gives maturity to the elixir of lifeO ignorant ones! This is the secret of immortal life.

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Early Division in Islam (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

What does the history of the early period of Islam have to say about the early divisions in Islam? Who was Abdullah bin Saba? Very few Islamic scholars nowadays write or talk about him. Yet history tells us that he was the main figure in sowing the seeds of early division in Islam. He was the first person who promulgated the idea of Imamate and propagated it with so much passion that it ultimately became the foundation of Shiite Islam.

From a historical perspective then, it is important to talk about him. No matter how sensitive this topic, we cannot ignore the fact that it was his role in the early history of Islam that was mostly responsible for laying the foundation of Islam’s permanent division into Sunni and Shiite sects. But before we address that, it is important to provide some backdrop about the Iran of those times as it came into the fold of Islam. (This has nothing to do with the present Iran and Iranian people. The present Iranian people are not responsible for what happened then.)

The Prophet (PBUH) of Islam first started preaching the Divine message of the Quran among the Meccans and those around them. He then enlarged his sphere to include the people ofMedina and its surroundings. His companions understood this divine message and true Iman entered their hearts. Consequently, the depth of their conviction and the presence of the Prophet (PBUH) among them transformed their character (48:29). Later, when all of Arabia came under the fold of Islam, fresh converts (especially Bedouin) merely ‘surrendered’ to it without internalizing its Divine message so much so that they had to be reminded (according to the Quran) that true Iman had not entered their hearts (49:14).

The earlier Muslims were fortunate compared to the later ones as these later Muslims missed the Prophet’s personal attention and training. They were scattered far and wide, their number was very large, and the Prophet’s early demise had cut short the opportunity for them to benefit from his personal attention. Moreover, during the time of Caliph Abu Bakr (R) and Caliph Umar (R), the Islamic State expanded far and wide and covered an area of almost two and a half million square miles, embracing practically the whole of the Persian Empire and the greater part of the Roman Empire.

People inhabiting these vast areas could have maintained their old religion (if they so wished) by having treaties with the Islamic State, but most of them preferred to become Muslims. As converts to a new religion they were in an even less fortunate position than the later “Bedouin” converts. The Arab converts had the advantage of having true Muslims around them and being exposed through them to Islamic concepts and principles on a daily basis. The new converts had none of this facility. Their number was large, the area that they inhabited was immense, and the means of communication were extremely limited. All these factors made it almost impossible for their education and training to be on the same level as those of the earliest Muslims.

This problem greatly worried Caliph Umar (R) and he gave serious thought to it as dictated by the Quran: When comes the Help of Allah, and Victory, and thou dost see the people enter Allah’s Religion in crowds,let not complacency overcome you (that your purpose has been achieved and your program is over); instead you should redouble your efforts with greater vigor and “Celebrate the praises of thy Lord, and pray for His Forgiveness: For He is Oft-Returning (in Grace and Mercy).” (110/1-3).

According to Ibn-e-Hazm, Caliph Umar (R) distributed a hundred thousand copies of the Holy Quran throughout the new State. He had further plans to educate and train the new converts to Islam, but he was assassinated unexpectedly before he could realize his dream. A mass conversion of the type that had occurred (especially as in Iran) could be no more than political surrender to the new State without an attending change in people’s old beliefs and customs. Proper education and training alone could have brought about that change.

The masses are usually quick to accept a new system of life if it guarantees their freedom and dignity and meets their basic needs. And that is what Islam offered them at the time. So people quickly accepted Islam en masse.  (This may now sound strange especially because of the prevailing misconceptions about Islam – thanks to our corrupt Muslim rulers – but the period of Caliph Umar (R) is legendary for both men’s and women’s rights and freedoms.)

However, those who had lost their power and authority could not as easily accept their loss. They were sore at having been defeated by the Arabs, whom they considered uncivilized and even barbarous, and now they found that these same lowly Arabs had dismantled their empire and destroyed their ancient culture and civilization. No doubt the defeat made them surrender to the Islamic State, but they continued to harbor feelings of revenge against the conquering Arabs.

Since they could not take on the Arabs in the battlefield, they used political intrigues and religious corruption to avenge their defeat. It was not hard for them to realize that the secret of the over-whelming power of the Arabs lay in their belief in Islamic principles. When the defeated Persian governor and military commander Harmuzan was brought before Umar(R) in Medina, Umar(R) asked him how it was that the Arabs, who until recently had dared not come near the Persian borders, had now inflicted heavy defeat on them on all fronts? Harmuzan answered: “Before, it was force against force, of which we had more. Then God was neither with you nor with us. Now in our new encounters there is God with you and no God with us”. Harmuzan had confirmed the words of the Quran: That is because Allah is the Protector of those who believe, but those who reject Allah have no protector”(47/11).

Since the aristocrats and the intellectuals among the Iranians – Iran was a superpower having the most advanced civilization in the world at the time – had recognized that it was the adoption of the eternal principles of the Quran that had brought about such a tremendous change among the Arabs, they based their scheme of revenge on a plan designed to wean the Arabs away from those principles.

The plan consisted in gradually introducing into the body politic of Islam such un-Islamic beliefs and concepts which would, in the end, cause the eternal divine principles to be lost to man­made laws and concepts. But first they had to get rid of the biggest obstacle in their way – the person who was responsible for their defeat – Caliph Umar (R). Therefore, it is no accident that the person (Abu Lulu Firoze) who assassinated Caliph Umar (R) while he was leading the morning prayer in the Prophet’s mosque was a Persian.

As a result of the scheming and machinations that ensued, what we have now as Islam is composed mostly of the stuff introduced by this Ajami (Persian) scheme of revenge. The Egyptian historian Muhammad Husain Haikal has described the situation aptly in his book The Great Umar. He first quotes from the Historians’ History of the World by Henry SmithWilliams, followed by his own comments.

“The reaction went still further, and the principles of political theology which had ruled ancient Persia returned to affirm their empire almost the day after the national ruin. According to Persian theory, the power belonged to the King, the son of God, invested with divine glory by his super-terrestrian origin. Owing to political revolutions, Persia united on the head of Muhammad’s legitimate successor, the Arabian Ali, who had been excluded from the caliphate, all the splendor and sanctity of the old national royalty. The one she had once called in her protocols “the divine King son of heaven”, and in her sacred books the “lord and guide” — lord in a worldly sense, guide in an intellectual — she now called by the Arabic word imam, “the Chief’. This was the simplest title imaginable and at the same time the most august, for in it was included all the sovereignty of the world and of the mind. In regard to the Caliphs, who were raised to power by the blind clamour of the masses, by crime and intrigues, she upheld the hereditary rights of the imam Ali, the infallible and sacred of God.

“At his death she gathered about his two sons, Hassan and Husein, and afterwards about their descendants. Husein had married a daughter of the last Sassanid king, so that the imamate was fixed in his blood by a doubly divine right; and the union of ancient Persia and Islam was sealed in the blood of Husein on the plains of Kerbela.

“The revolution which overturned the Omayyad usurpers in favour of the Abbasides, the nephews of the Prophet, was the work of Persia. If she did not bring into power the favourite family for which she thought she was fighting, she at least caused her principle to triumph.” (Historians’ History of the World by Henry Smith Williams, pp. 489-90, Vol. 24, 1907 edition)

Haikal comments on the above quotation as follows:

“The events recorded by the Historians’ History of the World, which are corroborated by all other historians, occurred after Umar. We have referred to them with a view to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that the Iranians never reconciled themselves to Arab domination and in fact resisted it from the very beginning. At first they revolted openly: but failure in the attempt turned their efforts to arrest power by other means. They succeeded here and obtained considerable power in the various spheres of life’s activities. They were so sore against Muslim domination that they decided to kill Umar. It has been said that the assassination of Umar coming soon after the conquest of Khorasan was the result of Iranian conspiracy” (The Great Umar, 420).

Iranians believed that their emperors were not normal human beings but superhuman and bearers of Divine virtues and rights; that they were not elected or selected by people but were commissioned by God. They were the only ones entitled to rule in the land, that nobody could seize this right, that their right to rule was automatically transferred to their progeny, that they were shadows of God and His representatives on earth, and that they were not prone to any mistakes. Therefore submission to their command was incumbent on everyone. During the reign of the Sassanid emperors, these beliefs had reached their apex, and, at this time, too, the Quran was revealed. The Quran declared false all such beliefs.

During the time of Caliph Othman (R), a strange and astonishing person appeared on the stage of history, named Ahdullah bin Saba, who became commonly known as Ibn-al-Sauda. Some historians, like Dr. Taha Hussain of Egypt, hold him as a pseudo personality, but those who accept him as a real person say he was a Yemeni Jew, who came to Medina and converted to Islam. During his stay in Medina, he learnt the intricacies of statecraft and then shifted to Kufa and made this city a center of his scheming.   Some   historical narrations say that he stayed in Madain (Iran) for sometime and then went to Egypt and, from there, further extended his sphere of influence.

His plan was aimed at forcing Caliph Othman (R) to relinquish Caliphate in favor of Ali(R). Consequently in the year 35 A.H., an army composed of soldiers from Egypt, Basrah and Kufa reached Medina, laid siege, eventually murdered Caliph Othman (R) in broad day-light, and pronounced Ali(R) as Caliph. After the martyrdom of Othman (R), when factions under the separate commands of Ali (R) and Ayesha (R) clashed against each other (named as Battle of Jamal), Abdullah-bin-Saba was present amongst the forces under Ali’s command. It was Abdullah-bin-Saba and his troops, who on observing the signs of truce, attacked Ayesha’s contingents and inflamed the battle further. Later, it was the same Abdullah-bin-Saba and his group that joined Ali’s forces during his confrontation with Muawiyya in the battle of Safeen.

But all this pertained to Abdullah-bin-Saba’s political role. His conspiracy that caused irreversible damage to Islam is even greater. He questioned the simplicity of Muslims’ belief about the Prophet (PBUH) saying the Muslims believed in the return of Christ but not in the return of Muhammad (PBUH)!

This idea of the return of Muhammad (PBUH) could not gain much ground among the majority of Muslims, but it flourished among some in relation to his idea about Imams. History tells us that Abdullah-bin-Saba then started propagating the idea that each Prophet carried a Caliph and a Wasee. The Wasee of the Prophet (PBUH) was Ali (R) who should have been appointed the Caliph after the Prophet (PBUH). Those who opposed his appointment usurped Ali’s right. Muslims, therefore, should either dismiss Othman (R) or kill him, and appoint Ali (R) as the Caliph and thus make an atonement of their past mistakes.

Propagation of such a belief was in accordance with the Iranians’ belief about their emperors (as mentioned before) and therefore it soon started having effect among some Muslims, especially of Iranian descent. According to this belief, Caliphate (the term now adopted for it was Imamate which is more comprehensive than Caliphate) is not one of those common issues that can be left to be decided by humans but that it is a basic pillar and foundation of Islam. This must be decided by the Prophet (PBUH) (through Allah’s command) before his departure from this world. And Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did leave his decision in favor of Ali’s imamate. Therefore, Ali (R) was the Wasee of the Prophet (PBUH).

Likewise, according to this belief, every Imam leaves a bequest for a future Imam and this bequest is made under Allah’s command. The Imam is free from any faults since he is appointed by Allah. And, appointment of anybody other than the nominated Imam as successor of the Prophet (PBUH) is usurpation of Imamate. Thus the Imamate was the right of Ali and must remain in his progeny.

Thus it was that the idea of Wasee, propagated by Abdullah bin Saba, became the foundation of Shiite Islam and took practical shape in the form of Imamate.

Should today’s Muslims accept this permanent classification into Sunnis or Shiites based on the past? What about those who do not want to be classified in either category? Should the fear of stirring age-old controversy prevent us from talking about this issue? Or, should we just forget about this issue, noting that nothing can be gained by talking about it now except bad feelings among fellow Muslims?  Or, should we face the reality anyway, and examine this issue in the light of history – and the Quran? The choice is ours but so are the consequences. There are consequences for doing nothing. Just like cancer cells, human divisions also have the tendency to multiply further if left alone.

The enemies of Islam have taken full advantage of this division throughout history and do so now.  When all else fails, the Sunni-Shiite card is played. But it is Muslims who allow it to happen.  Muslims are their own worst enemies.

Who was Abu Muslim Khorasani? We will talk about him in the next article.


We discussed above that Iran’s ruling elite and intellectuals of the time were shocked at the loss of their empire. They were seething with a deep feeling of anger and revenge against the Arabs who had dismantled their empire. Caliph Umar’s killing was part of that revenge. However, that was only the beginning.

Next came Abdullah bin Saba’s purported promulgation of the concept of Wasi and Imamate and that they both must exist only in Ali (R) or in his progeny. Being alien to the Quran, this idealogy could not gain much ground among Muslims – not until Abbasids appeared on the scene turning this ideology into a mass movement for their own political end against the Umayyads.

Although this movement originally started in Kufa and where it could not gain much strength initially, but thanks to Abbasids, it soon spread to Khorasan and started gaining wide-spread support among people of mainly Persian descent who, although had accepted Islam but, nevertheless, carried an affection in their hearts for their pre-Islamic belief of divine right of kings and, who, now readily transferred it to the divine right of Imam and Wasi; thus creating the first permanent wedge in the then one Muslim Ummah. The foundation laid by Abdullah bin Saba was thus realized in the form of a permanent Shiite faith.

To understand how it happened we need to start from the period just after Caliph Ali (R) when the Umayyads gained the upper hand in the power struggle for the Islamic Caliphate and made Damascus the Capital of their empire. Seeing that Umayyads had overpowered the rebellious Kufis, their leader Imam Hasan, the eldest son of Caliph Ali (R), made a peace offer. According to Ibn Khaldun:

Imam Hasan wrote to Ameer Mu’awiya that he (Imam Hasan) would step down from the Caliphate of Kufa if all the wealth in its treasury (Bayt-ul-maal) was given to him and if the tax of Darul Jabaru (part of the then Persia) was continued to be paid to him. [Ibn Khaldun, Vol.2, page 456]

After this agreement Umayyads had good relation with Imam Hasan:

The relationship between Ameer Mu’awiya and Imam Hasan was pleasant. Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain used to visit Ameer Mu’awiya and he used to give them gifts and cash (as much as up to two hundred thousand Dirhams). [Al-Bidaya Wan-Nihaya, Vol. 8]

This cordial relationship continued with Imam Hussain after the death of Imam Hasan:

Ameer Mu’awiya granted one million Dirhams, and his son Yazid doubled this grant. These grants were conferred every year on both sons of Ali (R) Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain. [Commentary on Nahj-al-Balagha by Ibn Abi-al-Hadeed]

Umayyads and Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain also had family relationships. The niece of Imam Hussain, i.e., the daughter of Abdullah-bin-Jafar Tayyar, Sayyida-Umm Muhammad was married to Yazid and the wife of Imam Hussain, the revered mother of Ali Akbar, was the niece (sister’s daughter) of Ameer Mu’awiya.

But when the Caliphate of the entire Islamic empire (including Egypt, Iraq, and Hijaz) came under the Umayyads’ control during the period of Abdul Malik bin Marwaan, a serious power struggle started between them and the Abbasids.

Abbasids were descendents from the same lineage as Umayyads. Therefore, they could not accept Umayyads’ exclusive grip on power. This family rivalry between the Umayyads and the Abbasids gave the Iranians the perfect opportunity they were looking for – for taking far greater revenge against the Arabs who had dismantled their empire. So, they supported the Abbasids in their power struggle against the Umayyads. (After all Abbas (R), the uncle of the Prophet (PBUH) was a great supporter of Ali (R) and his confidant.) It was the Iranian support of the Abbasids that eventually led to the dismantling of the Umayyad Caliphate, and in which Abu Muslim Khorasani played a central role.

Who was Abu Muslim Khorasani and how did he turn out to be such a powerful central figure in Abbasids’ battle against the Umayyads? This is somewhat a long and intricate story.

Umayyads had granted the ownership of taxes of Hamima, a town situated on the road between Medina and Damascus, to Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas (i.e., the grandson of Abbas (R). His name Ali was chosen because he was born on the same day that Caliph Ali (R) died). He had settled in Hamima and died there in 117 A.H. Among his sons, Muhammad bin Ali became the most influential and laid the foundation of the Abbasid dynasty. He was the father of the first Abbasid Caliph Abul Abbas Saffah and the second more popular one Abu Jaafar Mansour.

Since Kufa was the hotbed of rebellion against the Umayyads, they kept a strict eye on it. Most Kufis, however, stuck to their belief in Imams and continued to support one Imam or the other from among the progeny of Caliph Ali (R) – Muhammad bin Al-hanfiyyah (the eldest son) and his son Abu Hashim; Ali bin Hussain bin Ali (aka Zainul Abedeen) and his sons Muhammad Baqar and Zaid; Jaafar Sadiq bin Muhammad Baqar, and Yahya bin Zaid. (All of the different Shiite sects derive from these Imams.) Umayyads could not tolerate anyone of them. Muhammad bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas had seen that Umayyad Caliphs killed anyone who openly challenged their rule. So, he embarked on a secret scheme.

By now Imam Abu Hashim of the Kesaniyah sect of Shiites had settled in Hamima. (Remember, Hamima was under financial jurisdiction of Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas granted to him by the Umayyads.) Imam Abu Hashim did not have any son. So, when he died in Hamima, Abbasids proclaimed that Imam Abu Hashim had appointed Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas as his Wasi and Imam. Muhammad bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas wanted to take full advantage of this situation in his battle against the Umayyads. But he also knew that Umayyads would eliminate his family if they came to know about the Imamate of his father. So he asked Imam Abu Hashim’s followers – who, by now, had turned into his father’s followers and supporters – to keep it secret.

Muhammad bin Ali chose Kufa and Khorasan as centers of his secret activities. Kufa, because it was the seat of Shiite faith; and Khorasan, because it had overwhelming Persian population. Muhammad bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas gained further support and loyalty of the followers of Imam Abu Hashim by emphasizing that his own connection with the Prophet’s family (Ahl-ul-Bayt) was somewhat closer than Caliph Ali’s as his (Muhammad bin Ali’s) family was descendent from the uncle of the Prophet (PBUH) whom he loved very much.

Having thus gained the loyalty of Imam Abu Hashim’s Shiite followers, Muhammad bin Ali then embarked on building a powerful underground movement against the Umayyads. He planned a two-phase long-term strategy to overthrow the Umayyads: 1) Preaching secretly the concept of Ahl-ul-Bayt among the mainly Persian population of Khorasan, and 2) Challenging the Umayyads when this movement had gathered considerable political strength and popular support.

To achieve the first goal Muhammad bin Ali bin Abdullah dispatched his most loyal supporters to Khorasan with strict instructions. They were to pretend to be businessmen and under no circumstances they were supposed to reveal their true connection to Muhammad bin Ali. For this purpose, he created a powerful and intricate organization. He chose two men (Muhammad bin Khunis and Abu Akramah Siraj) to head this secret organization. Under their control, he appointed twelve men to direct the effort in different regions of Khorasan. Then he appointed seventy men to carry out this secret activity under the direction of each of these twelve regional leaders. To oversee the operation in Kufa, he appointed his family’s trusted slave Maisarah.

This period of secret preaching lasted for almost 29 long years (from 100 A.H. to 128 A.H). There were episodes in which several of its members were killed including the top two leaders Muhammad bin Khunis and Abu Akramah Siraj on the orders of the Umayyad governor of Khorasan (Asad bin Abdullah Qusri) when he became suspicious of their activities. Yet this underground movement continued to grow.

This mission got a tremendous boost when Bakir bin Mahaan, a great supporter of the Abbasids who also happened to be very wealthy, joined this movement in 105 A.H. In the mean time Maisarah, the leader of this movement in Kufa died, and Imam Muhammad (the title “Imam” now shifting to him from his father) then appointed Bakir bin Mahaan as his point man in Kufa.

Throughout this phase of the movement Imam Muhammad bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas was in constant touch with his followers thus keeping a close tab on the progress of his mission in Khorasan. He used to meet with his followers during each Hajj season and give them advice and guidance to carry out their activities in Khorasan. (He did not want to give any inkling of his secret mission to Umayyads by traveling to Khorasan.)

As for those who were killed in his movement Imam Muhammad thanked God for having accepted their sacrifice for the sake of truth. When the Umayyad governor of Khorasan Asad died Imam Muhammad’s movement in Khorasan caught further speed and momentum.

But before he could realize his dream Imam Muhammad died in Hamima in 126 A.H. and his son Imam Ibrahim (the title “Imam” shifting once again from his father to him) took over his mission. Shortly thereafter, Bakir bin Mahaan also died in Kufa and Imam Ibrahim appointed Mahaan’s son-in-law Abu Salmah Khalal Hafs in his place.

Imam Ibrahim gave his father’s movement (against the Umayyads) even greater impetus than his father. The stage was now set for this movement to enter its next phase as it had gathered enough strength and power to challenge the Umayyads, who, by now had been weakened by constant bickering and rivalry within their own ranks. (For example, when Walid (the second) became the Umayyad Caliph his cousin Yazid (not to be confused with Yazid bin Mu’awiyaa) got him killed and declared himself the Caliph.)

While all these internal family strives were going on within the ranks of the Umayyads dynasty Imam Ibrahim plotted his next move. There was a slave in the service of Imam Ibrahim whose name was Abu Muslim Khorasani. He was given to his father Imam Muhammad in 125 A.H. by Bakir bin Mahaan who had bought him from Isa bin Mu’aqqil and who had educated and trained him in Shiite faith. Abu Muslim Khorasani was extremely brave and courageous person. Seeing that Umayyads have become weak Imam Ibrahim selected Abu Muslim Khorasani to lead the next phase of his father’s movement in Khorasan against the Umayyads. Imam Ibrahim wrote his followers in Khorasan to obey the orders of Abu Muslim Khorasani. And Imam Ibrahim gave following instructions to Abu Muslim Khorasani while dispatching him to Khorasan:

Remember that you have a special place in our family! Try to get the loyalty of the Yemenites because of their opposition to the Umayyads due to tribal rivalry. You would not be successful in your mission without their support. Never trust anyone from the tribe of Rabiyah (the Kharajites). Eliminate – even kill – as many Arabs as you may think fit to achieve your goal. If you doubt anyone then kill him.

Abu Muslim reached Khorasan in 128 A.H. and took advantage of the differences and enmities among the Arab tribes there. He did this for a year to consolidate his position in Khorasan. Then he wrote a threatening letter to Nasr bin Sayyar, the Umayyad governor of Khorasan at the time. Thinking that it is an isolated incident Nasr sent his men to arrest Abu Muslim Khorasani. But Abu Muslim Khorasani’s men were ready for the encounter and they quickly overpowered and defeated the Nasr’s men. Since Abu Muslim Khorasani was instructed by Imam Ibrahim to always fight in the name of Ahlul Bayt (the foundation of Shiite faith) people of Khorasan started flocking to Abu Muslim’s side in droves.

Thus the Abbasids who had patiently built their underground network of supporters for 29 years, were now fully prepared and waiting to take on the once mighty Umayyads who, by now, had become weak due to internal fighting but, nevertheless, were still drunk with arrogance of imperial power. The secret scheme having been hatched against them by Imam Muhammad was now being given final touches by Imam Ibrahim. Slowly but surely the noose had been tightening secretly around their neck for all these years, and the Umayyads were not even aware of it. Further, to the delight of Imam Ibrahim, Abu Muslim Khorasani turned out to be a savvy military commander and a shrewd political strategist. Imam Ibrahim could not have asked for a better person than Abu Muslim Khorasani to lead the military phase of his father’s campaign against the Umayyads.

Now, Nasr bin Sayyar, the Umayyad governor of Khorasan thinking that Abu Muslim Khorasani was a lone ranger (and was not part of a larger network controlled by Imam Ibrahim of the Abbasids), and finding that Abu Muslim’s greatest support came from people of Persian descent, tried to unite different Arab tribes who had settled in Khorasan but were beset by their own tribal rivalries and infighting. Nasr (who was from Bani Kananah tribe) wrote to Sheiban, the leader of the Rabiyah tribe that we should forget our differences and unite our efforts to deal with our common enemy: Abu Muslim Khorasani and his people, the non-Arabs. Nasr also invited the Yemenite leader Jadi’y bin Shabib (aka Kermani) to join hands in this common Arab cause.

But, Kermani did not agree to join hands with Nasr. So, Nasr got him killed. Now, Kermani’s son Ali rose up in anger and started organizing his Yemenite tribe to take revenge against Nasr for his (Ali’s) father’s killing.

Here was a perfect opportunity for Abu Muslim Khorasani to exploit for his Master’s (i.e., Imam Ibrahim’s) political end. And he did. He wrote to Ali that if you want to take revenge for your father’s murder then have a meeting with Sheiban and try to persuade him not to join hands with Nasr. What happened next? And how was Abu Muslim Khrasani able to defeat the Umayyads and finally extinguish the flame of their Caliphate? We will discuss these in the next issue.

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Reclaiming Our Knowledge Base and Beyond (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

No matter how many Islamic conferences and workshops we organize and attend—and proclaim Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great!); no matter how many Hajj pilgrimages we perform and chant Allahumma Labbaik (O Allah! Here I am); no matter how much we pray and fast and recite the holy Quran; no matter how much we praise our Prophet (PBUH) and his companions; no matter how much we ask Allah to improve our condition; things will not improve for the Muslim Ummah— although all of the above are important—if we continue to tread the same path we have been on for the past thousand years, ever since we lost our preeminent position in the world of knowledge.

Our actions speak louder than our words. Our past actions have brought misery and consequent collapse of our knowledge base.  If all we do is repeat our mistakes, how can we expect to recapture the glory of our historic achievements? How can simply repeating words (even if they are Quranic words) and performing religious rituals (even if done with sincerity) uplift us intellectually in this world? Intellectual advancement of any community requires hard work, dedication, conviction, commitment, organization, discipline, perseverance, creativity, innovation, and, above of all, unity of purpose and harmony in efforts. Are we as a Muslim Ummah doing these things or simply claiming to be ‘practicing’ Muslims by performing the five pillars as a ritual while all the time trying—individually—to move up the business or political ladder? Why would Allah change our condition when we treat Islam as a ritual and are mostly interested in personal advancement? This is simply not the way of Allah. As noted before (in the previous article) we need to make some fundamental changes in our outlook and psychology if we are serious about reclaiming our knowledge base (13:11).

Reverence of the past is one thing, but blindly following it is quite another. Opening Internet universities and teaching Muslim youth one thousand year old Fiqh and Shariah(developed under Abbasi kings most of which may not have any relevance in 21st century) in the name of Islam is certainly not the way to reclaim our knowledge base. The Muslim Ummah must be willing to take some bold steps in its approach to modern knowledge. Allama Iqbal says:

“The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us (page 78). …The teaching of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems (Page 134). …False reverence to past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedies for a people’s decay. ‘The verdict of history’, as a modern writer has happily put it, ‘is that worn-out ideas have never risen to power among a people who have worn them out.’ The only effective power, therefore, that counteracts the forces of decay in a people is the rearing of self-concentrated individuals. Such individuals alone reveal the depth of life. They disclose new standards in the light of which we begin to see that our environment is not wholly inviolable and requires revision (page 120).” [The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, page 120]

This poses a real challenge for the Ummah because the established religious hierarchy has historically opposed any such revision. Notwithstanding this opposition, the present tumultuous time is forcing us now in that direction, especially in the Muslim world. But the revision which Allama Iqbal is talking about cannot be undertaken without a Muslim intellectual revolution based on proper knowledge.

But what is knowledge? This question is not as obvious as we may think.  The Prophet (PBUH) used to constantly pray: “O Allah! Advance me in knowledge (20:114).” This means that knowledge is something special and sacred in its own right and that advancing in knowledge is a challenge in which even our Prophet (PBUH) sought Allah’s help.

It is the duty of every Muslim therefore to acquire knowledge throughout life—so much so that on the Day of Judgment we will be held accountable for it. The Quran says:

“And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be inquired into (on the Day of Reckoning).” (17:36)  [Yusuf Ali]

The words hearing and seeing refer to human senses and the Arabic word qalb (heart) refers to our mind. An example may illustrate the point of this verse:  you hear an explosion. When you go to see what happened, you hear screams. You then discover that many people have been injured and some have died. You start analyzing in your mind how and why the explosion happened. If it was a bomb that caused the death and destruction you feel angry. In this situation your feelings are supported by your first hand knowledge of the events.  On the other hand, if you lived far away from the scene of the explosion and did not hear it, nor did you see the dead and injured, but you become consumed with anger anyway for some person you think may have committed this crime, you are acting on hearsay and not knowledge because your senses and mind were not involved in arriving at the conclusion.  Plato said that knowledge gained through the senses is not reliable, whereas the Quran is saying that anything not verified by the senses and mind cannot be regarded as knowledge. This shows how valuable sense perception is in Islam.

The Quran puts extraordinary emphasis on objective knowledge.  The revelation of the Quran may be thought of as marking the birth of inductive intellect. Inductive reasoning allows human beings to master the forces of the natural world. The Quran created and fostered a spirit of critical observation of the forces of nature:

“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for men of understanding,- Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (With the thought): “Our Lord! Not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this!” (3:190-191) [Yusuf Ali]

It is also clear (as noted in the previous article as well) that the birth of observation and experimental science in Islam was due not to a compromise with Greek thought but to a prolonged intellectual fight with it.

Again, according to Allama Iqbal:

“Socrates concentrated his attention on the human world alone. To him the proper study of man was man and not the world of plants, insects, and stars. How unlike the spirit of the Quran, which sees in the humble bee a recipient of Divine inspiration and constantly calls upon the reader to observe the perpetual change of the winds, the alternation of day and night, the clouds, the starry heavens, and the planets swimming through infinite space! As a true disciple of Socrates, Plato despised sense- perception which, in his view, yielded mere opinion and no real knowledge. How unlike the Quran, which regards ‘hearing’ and ‘sight’ as the most valuable Divine giftsand declares them to be accountable to God for their activity in this world.” [The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, page3]

The importance of inductive reasoning is so great in the eyes of the Quran that at numerous places it calls those who do not use it animals—and even worse than animals:

“For the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and the dumb, those who understand not.” (8:22) “Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell: They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning).” (7:179) “Or thinkest thou that most of them listen or understand? They are only like cattle; nay, they are worse astray in Path.” (25:44)  “Ah! Ye are those who fell to disputing (Even) in matters of which ye had some knowledge! But why dispute ye in matters of which ye have no knowledge?” (3:66) [Yusuf Ali]

A beautiful hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) may also shed important light on this issue. The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said: “O Allah! Grant me knowledge of the ultimate nature of things!” [Allahumma arina haaqa’iq al-ashya kamaa hiya.”] Are we, as followers of the Prophet (PBUH), practicing this hadith in our daily lives? Are we trying to acquire the knowledge of the ultimate nature of things and then teaching its importance in Islam to our youth? Who are the real Ulema in Islam: the religious scholars, or those who have knowledge of the ultimate nature of things?

The Quran says:

“Seest thou not that Allah sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring out produce of various colors. And in the mountains are tracts white and red, of various shades of color, and black intense in hue. And so amongst men and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colors. Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, [Ulema] who have knowledge: for Allah is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.”  (35: 27-28) [Yusuf Ali]

That is, the Quran calls those who have knowledge of fields such as hydrology, botany, geology, zoology, physiology, or anthropology as Ulema. Allah asks believers to acquire knowledge of His signs throughout the Universe, which practically includes almost every imaginable field of science such as chemistry, physics, astronomy, cosmology, neurology, medicine, psychology, geography, oceanography, etc. (e.g., 3:189-191, 16:48, 21-30-33, 23:18, 26:7-8, and many other verses). In other words, Ulema according to the above verses are scientists and thinkers, not religious scholars. Allah clearly warns us in the Quran that those who have knowledge and those who do not cannot be deemed equal (39:9). How are we justified then in calling our traditional religious scholars Ulema who have no knowledge of Allah’s signs in the Universe, especially when more than 750 verses in the Qur’an deal with such knowledge, while only some 130 verses deal with prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and laws governing personal affairs?

In fact, the current bifurcation of knowledge into Islamic and non-Islamic is alien to Islam itself. When the Prophet (PBUH) exhorted his followers to acquire knowledge—even if they had to travel to China—he did not distinguish between Islamic knowledge (represented by religious scholars) and non-Islamic knowledge (represented by scientists and secular scholars). This division of knowledge is rather a later creation in Islam. Striving for knowledge without creating any contradistinction between outer and inner worlds is an Islamic duty of all Muslims. In the ultimate nature of things these two worlds reside in perfect harmony. When the Prophet (PBUH) said that those who travel to seek knowledge get ten rewards for every step, he meant that seeking knowledge is a divine act in itself. We should therefore teach our children that when they learn any subject in school or college they are, first and foremost, engaged in a divine act and prayer. All other career benefits that eventually accrue from learning should be considered side benefits.

We need to go back to the way of the Prophet (PBUH) and use this integrated or holistic approach to knowledge which, apart from giving us power over the natural world, also deepens our faith in the non-physical world. The Quran emphasizes that signs of Allah in the Universe are meant to strengthen the faith of believers:

“Verily in the heavens and the earth, are Signs for those who believe. And in the creation of yourselves and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are Signs for those of assured Faith.” (45: 3-4) [Yusuf Ali]

“Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) Allah. Verily in this are signs for those who believe.”(16:79) [Yusuf Ali]


“Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?” (21:30) [Yusuf Ali]


“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah Sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they Trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth;- (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise.” (2:164) [Yusuf Ali]

Our ancestors read these verses and laid the foundations of science, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, geography, sociology, anthropology and science of history among other things. Every sign of Allah in the Universe inspired them to deliberate and ponder, which deepened their faith in Allah. We, on the other hand, read these same verses and move on. At most we think that we have earned the mercy of Allah in the other World by reciting these verses while simultaneously living in this World at the mercy of others. Our ancestors dedicated their lives to discover the signs of Allah (i.e., forces of nature) and proved to humanity the Truthfulness of the message contained in these verses (according to verse 41:53). As a result, they became leaders and torchbearers of knowledge in the World. We, on other hand, abandoned that tradition and consequently are groping in darkness – and trying, if at all, to illuminate our way with borrowed light.

According to another hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) the whole World is a Mosque. This does not only mean that we can pray anywhere on Earth as most of us think; it also means what we do in Mosques and what we do outside must be solely for Allah (72:18). Thus, to a Muslim there should be no bifurcation of life into secular and religious. Whether teaching or learning, working or resting, praying or playing, eating or drinking, standing or sitting—in short, every moment of our lives should be lived in the context of Islam. This is how we become God-conscious. This is how we should practice Islam: by total submission to the Will of Allah in every aspect of our lives. It does not just mean that we should keep doing what we are doing sincerely and honestly and give charity, pray, fast and perform the pilgrimage and feel that we have discharged our obligation to Islam. That is the easy part. Doing all those things is only a starting point for a much larger obligation: to keep advancing in knowledge of the ultimate nature of things. This larger goal should never be overlooked. If the Prophet (PBUH) was doing this his entire life, we must try as well. This is the difficult as well as challenging part: how to keep advancing in knowledge, each and every one of us, until we breathe our last breath. That is where we constantly need to seek help from Allah as, indeed, the Prophet (PBUH) did.

This is the essence of the relationship of Islam and Science: opening the door of the Other World by using the Key of this World. And the Key is knowledge of the Universe. The goal of Muslims should always be to gain knowledge of the forces of nature and spend it without any discrimination for the benefit of the whole world. (The world being a Mosque thereshould be no discrimination.)

In summary, the holistic or integrated approach of the Quran is: 1) To acquire knowledge of the forces of the Universe and 2) to use its power for the benefit of all humankind. This is how we can create long-term balance between the outer and inner worlds. This is how we can create Heaven on Earth.

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Reclaiming Our Knowledge Base (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

It is now known that the old theory of a static Universe is no longer tenable. Modern science has revealed that there is nothing fixed or static in the Universe, and it has been expanding ever since it came into existence.

“AND IT IS We who have built the Universe with [Our creative] power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it.” (The Quran 51:47, Translation: Mohammad Asad)

Thus, by nature of its creation, our Universe is dynamic and everything in it is perpetually changing.

Our Earth has been changing as well. Scientists say that it has taken millions of years and several eons of adaptation for it to become suitable to support life.

Our mountains, oceans, deserts, and forests have traded places on Earth through the shifting sands of time; so has the life that it supports. Some species have come and gone and others have adapted to change. These natural changes have occurred everywhere on Earth: in its air, on its land, and under its seas. Here also, there is nothing fixed or static.

The Quran supports the above facts of modern science. (For details see Maurice Bucaille’s The Bible, The Quran, and Science.)

Our Earth has existed far longer than human beings. So have all other living species. Therefore, they are well adapted to natural change. The same may not be said of us humans, though. Endowed with the power of rational thinking, we also have the ability and willingness to destroy ourselves. According to Einstein:

“By painful experience we have learnt that rational thinking does not suffice to solve the problems of our social life. Penetrating research and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind, producing, on the one hand, inventions which liberated man from exhausting physical labor, making his life easier and richer; but on the other hand, introducing a grave restlessness into his life, making him a slave to his technological environment, and—most catastrophic of all—creating the means for his own mass destruction.” [Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, p. 152]

The main motivation of powerful nations pursuing this course is to dominate weaker ones – by hook or by crook. Initially, the self-destructive forces produced by following such a course remain relatively imperceptible, thus producing a false sense that their power will last forever. But as time goes on, these nations meet their eventual destruction despite their power (68:44, 28:58-59, 26:128-135). History is full of such stories: ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Rome and even some parts of the New World are now graveyards of powerful civilizations. The Quran says that this destruction is not a random act of God but is the result of their wrong actions (4:82, 15:4, 18:59), based on the Quranic law of requital (for rise and fall of nations).

Since there is no exception to this law, the Muslim nation (or Ummah) is also subject to the working of this inexorable and immutable law. Whatever events might have been responsible for the downfall of the Muslim nation, it went down, in the final analysis, because it violated this law and ran out of its period of respite. And, now, it is only by patiently following this law that it can ever hope to recover its past dignity and glory. There is no other way.

Actually, there are two aspects of this law i.e., two sides of the same coin. Both are essential according to the Quran, for the rise, growth, and the moral and intellectual advancement of a nation: i) knowledge of the forces of the outer world, and ii) knowledge of the forces of the inner world within human beings. One without the other is bound to lead to ultimate destruction of any civilization. With proper balance between these two forces, human societal advancement will know no bounds, both intellectually and spiritually.

This article will focus on ways to achieve this proper balance and to highlight some steps to reclaiming the lost Islamic glory.

But first of all, let us be clear that a nation cannot hope to recover from its abyss unless it changes its inner self (called Nafs by the Quran). This may be called Allah’s law of change. Stopgap measures or doing patch up work only to treat the symptoms (as many Muslim leaders seem to be advocating) would only prolong suffering and would not cure the disease. A nation needs a fundamental change in its outlook, its psychology, and its attitude if it truly wants to change its destiny. The Quran says:

“Verily, God does not change men’s [nation’s] condition unless they change their inner selves.” (13:11)[Translation: Muhammad Asad]

This is because a people going through a period of downfall suffer from slavish mentality:

“They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, – nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning).” (7:179)[Translation: Yusuf Ali]

A nation suffering from the mental maladies mentioned in the above verse cannot hope to recover its power of original thinking without changing its inner self. And without the power of original thinking, a nation that is down and being pushed around, as we are, cannot acquire power over its own land let alone acquiring power over the forces of the outer world.

Our individual scientific achievements, although worthy of appreciation, are without a central cohesive organization and really do not count much as far as recapturing the Muslim nation’s lost glory is concerned. These individual Muslim achievements are part of the grand scheme of whatever organization (for example, NASA) they may happen to be working for. For Muslim scientific achievements to be effective (like producing their own space shuttle), there needs to be an organizational structure that is organically related to the body of the Muslim Ummah, which possesses unique life of its own.

One way to achieve glory in science is through the philosophy of secularism being practiced by the West. The West achieved its scientific prowess only after giving God and Caesar their separate dues, and by assigning them two separate arenas of human thought: one for scientific thinking – done by people of science, and the other for religious thinking – done by people of religion. One was not allowed to interfere with the other. Religious people took charge of the Church and its hierarchy, and the science people took charge of Science and its hierarchy.

After Galileo was sentenced to death by the Church for his scientific thinking that was in conflict with the Church, it made perfect sense to the West to create these two mutually exclusive compartments of human thought. This separation has apparently enabled the West to gain mastery over the forces of the outer world as never before.

Since at the present time we are in the grips of this Western approach, we Muslims tend to believe that this is the way to glory in science. But let us see what modern Western thinkers have to say about this approach.

“For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary…. Representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect of values and ends on the basis of scientific methods and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors. . . For the scientist, there is only “being,” but not wishing, no valuing, no good, no evil, no goal.” [Albert Einstein,Out of My Later Years, p. 152]

 “We began our era of scientific efficiency confident that materialistic triumphs would solve life’s problems. We are finding we were wrong. Life is not as simple as that.” [J.W.T. Mason, Creative Freedom, pp 183-4.]

“ Man has created a new world with its own laws and destiny. Looking at his creation, he can say, truly, it is good. But looking at himself what can he say? … While we have created wonderful things we have failed to make of ourselves beings for whom this tremendous effort would seem worthwhile.”  [Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis & Religion, pages 1-2]

Why does the West fail to deal with the complex problems of humankind? After all, the West came to their current methodology after a long, hard fought battle with the Church resulting in the constitutional separation of the Church and the State. The answer may actually lie in the very principle of the separation of Church and State which essentially created a dualistic self: one private, the other public; one related to the Church, the other related to the State; one subjective, the other objective; one devoted to Sunday, the other devoted to the rest of the days.

Thus, God became associated with the private life of citizens while the State took control of their public life. Forces within the inner world of human beings thus became disassociated with the forces of their outer world. This created tension in people’s inner and outer worlds. All the power the West has mustered through the control and mastery over the outer world seems unable to control the destructive forces of its inner world. One has become bright and shiny while the other has remained dark and gloomy. The fullness of body and emptiness of the soul are the obvious manifestations of practicing this Western approach to life. In the words of Erich Fromm:

“Ours is a life not of brotherliness, happiness, contentment but of spiritual chaos and bewilderment dangerously close to state of madness — not the hysterical kind of madness which existed in the Middle Ages but a madness akin to schizophrenia in which the contact with reality is lost and thought is split from affect.”

“Those who try to find a solution by returning to traditional religion are influenced by a view which is often proposed by religionists, that we have to choose between religion and a way of life which is concerned only with the satisfaction of our instinctual needs and material comfort…Priests and ministers appear to be the only professional groups concerned with the soul, the only spokesmen for the ideals of love, truth, and justice.”  [Psychoanalysis & Religion, pages 1-2.]

Contrary to the approach practiced by the West, the past glory of Muslims in Science was not the result of separation of science and religion. Those revolutionary Muslim scientists were truly devoted to religion while carrying out their scientific studies. There were no contradictions between their scientific thinking and their religious thinking. In fact, the driving force behind their scientific discoveries was the Quranic command to observe the signs of Allah spread throughout the Universe (3:189-191, 16:48, 21-30-32, 23:18, 26:7-8, etc.).

As we have seen in the first part of this article, the achievements of these Muslim scientists were truly astounding—maybe more than the Western scientific achievements—because they were pioneers in creating and advancing so many branches of new knowledge (without the modern facilities enjoyed by later scientists). It may even be fair to say that there would not have been a Western renaissance in such a short time without Muslim achievements in science. Western historians of science generally recognize the fact (as we have also seen in the first part of this article) that the West actually built its scientific superstructure on the giant shoulders of these great Muslim scientists of the past.

So, there we have it: two distinct approaches to science. One may be called the isolationistic approach, the other holistic or integrated approach. These two approaches create their own distinctive social, cultural, and moral environments. This is where the second aspect of the law of the rise and fall of nations comes into play. The inner soul of the Western society is suffering from its isolationist approach even though it has acquired unprecedented power over the forces of nature through science. Allama Iqbal has beautifully captured this dilemma of the West thus:

He, who seeks the path of stars in the outer worldCouldn’t travel the world of his own thoughts He, who has captured the rays of the shining SunCouldn’t find the morning of his life’s own dark night

In other words, human reason can subdue the forces of nature but cannot by itself find a satisfactory solution to the complexity of the problems of humankind. The holistic or integrated approach provided by the Quran is the only way by which we can achieve success in balancing both aspects of human existence: material (the outer world) as well as spiritual (the inner world). How can we achieve that balance? We will discuss it in the next article. Wa maa taufeeqi illa billahil a‘liyil a‘dheem.

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Islam and Science (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

If one looks at the general picture of the Muslim world today it is hard to find something positive on the horizon. There is political chaos and regional turmoil all over the Muslim world. Muslims seem to have lost control of their affairs. They feel frustrated and helpless. Many Muslim governments are persecuting their people – in the name of Islam. Can Muslims hope for a better future under these circumstances?

Allah has blessed Muslims with plenty of natural resources. Yet, they are dependent for most of their basic needs – not to speak of their dependence in the field of science and technology, and on knowledge, in general – on non-Muslims. Their resources are being plundered and wasted on an unprecedented scale, while the majority population suffers extreme hardships.

Muslims generally tend to blame others for their problems. Some blame their rulers. Others blame one another. There may be truth in all of this. But what is lacking from Muslim discourse is an honest and intelligent diagnosis of problems facing the Muslim ummah.

Representing almost a billion Muslims, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) – the official organ of the Muslim countries for discussing such problems – has become no more than a platform for passing resolutions upon resolutions of empty words with no teeth. No wonder it has been dubbed “Oh! I see!” Most other Islamic organizations, more or less, suffer from a similar fate.

In the present environment, Muslims mostly live individual lives (in their own little islands) while using the term Ummah in their discussions. Some seem to cooperate on issues affecting Muslim lives, but that is limited mostly to charity work. Muslims do not have a unifying plan (or, rather, are not interested) to chart out the future course of action for the ummah.  Muslims appear to behave like millions of individual atoms without any strong bonds.

Is there a silver lining in this dark cloud? Will this long, dark chapter in Muslim history ever end?

When we read the history of Muslim contribution to world civilization, it seems very recent that Muslims were on top of the world. They were pioneers and leaders in all areas of human endeavor. They invented new branches of science and mathematics.  They not only laid the foundation of modern knowledge, but propelled it to new heights. In particular, their contribution to the world of medicine is legendary.

So what happened? How did Muslims lose this crowning position of power in the world? And how did they lose leadership in science, mathematics and medicine?

The history of how this loss occurred is heart-wrenching. One way to tell this history is to describe the extraordinary achievements of past Muslims. This makes Muslims feel proud of their past glory – as, indeed, it should; we try to re-live, mentally, at least, the stages of that glory when we talk or write about the history of Islam and science. And this is what we will also do in this article – with one difference. We will not treat this as an end in itself, but with an eye to figure out how to reclaim that past glory.

We begin with a brief description of the achievements of some of the Muslim scientists, as stated, not by Muslim, but by non-Muslim scholars, to avoid any impression of a Muslim bias. The quotations below may seem extensive but they serve an important purpose to highlight the depth and breadth of the new knowledge that past Muslims created and developed, and which, according to Western historians of science, formed the backbone on which the Western renaissance in science began. This shows that Muslims may have forgotten the lesson of their own past intellectual giants in making science history, but the West has not. It continues to build its scientific superstructure for modern science on the foundations laid by our ancestors.

While reading these quotations, it would be beneficial to reflect and ponder on where we are, and whither we are going.

George Sarton pays tribute to Muslim scientists in Introduction to the History of Science:

“It will suffice here to evoke a few glorious names without contemporary equivalents in the West: Jabir ibn Haiyan, al-Kindi, al-Khwarizmi, al-Fargani, al-Razi, Thabit ibn Qurra, al-Battani, Hunain ibn Ishaq, al-Farabi, Ibrahim ibn Sinan, al-Masudi, al-Tabari, Abul Wafa, ‘Ali ibn Abbas, Abul Qasim, Ibn al-Jazzar, al-Biruni, Ibn Sina, Ibn Yunus, al-Kashi, Ibn al-Haitham, ‘Ali Ibn ‘Isa al-Ghazali, al-zarqab, Omar Khayyam – a magnificent array of names which would not be difficult to extend. If anyone tells you that the Middle Ages were scientifically sterile, just quote these men to him, all of whom flourished within a short period, 750 to 1100 A.D.”

In Intellectual Development of Europe, John William Draper writes:

“I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has continued to put out of sight our obligations to the Muhammadans [British term for Muslims]. Surely they cannot be much longer hidden. Injustice founded on religious rancour and national conceit cannot be perpetuated forever. The Arab has left his intellectual impress on Europe. He has indelibly written it on the heavens as any one may see who reads the names of the stars on a common celestial globe.”

Robert Briffault states in his magnum opus, Making of Humanity:

“It was under the influence of the Arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that a real renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe. After steadily sinking lower and lower into barbarism, it had reached the darkest depths of ignorance and degradation when cities of the Saracenic world, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, and Toledo, were growing centers of civilization and intellectual activity. It was there that a new life arose which was to grow into a new phase of human evolution.  The stirring of new life began when the influence of Muslim culture began to make itself felt.

“It was under their successors at Oxford School (that is, successors to the Muslims of Spain) that Roger Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic Sciences. Neither Roger Bacon, nor his later namesake, has any title to be credited with having introduced the experimental method. Roger Bacon was no more than one of the apostles of Muslim Science and Method to Christian Europe; and he never wearied of declaring that knowledge of Arabic and Arabic Sciences was for his contemporaries the only way to true knowledge. Discussion as to who was the originator of the experimental method… is part of the colossal misinterpretation of the origins of European civilization. The experimental method of Arabs was by Bacon’s time widespread and eagerly cultivated throughout Europe.

“Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab civilization to the modern world; but its fruits were slow in ripening. Not until long after Moorish culture had sunk back into darkness, did the giant, which it had given birth to, rise in his might. It was not science only, which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European life.

“For although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic Culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and momentous as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the permanent distinctive force of the modern world, and the supreme source of its victory, natural science and the scientific spirit.

“The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories; science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The Astronomy and Mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized and theorized, but the patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute method of science, detailed and prolonged observation and experimental inquiry were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. Only in Hellenistic Alexandria was any approach to scientific work conducted in the ancient classical world. What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of enquiry, of new methods of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of mathematics, in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs.

“It is highly probable that, but for the Arabs, modern European civilization would never have arisen at all; it is absolutely certain that but for them, it would not have assumed that character which has enabled it to transcend all previous phases of evolution.”

In Legacy of Islam, Arnold and Guillaume shed light on Islamic science and medicine:

“Looking back, we may say that Islamic medicine and science reflected the light of the Hellenic sun, when its day had fled; they shone like a moon, illuminating the darkest night of the European Middle Ages; some bright stars lent their own light, and moon and stars alike faded at the dawn of a new day – the Renaissance. Since they had their share in the direction and introduction of that great movement, it may reasonably be claimed that they are with us yet.”

Again, George Sarton in the Introduction to the History of Science says:

“During the reign of Caliph Al-Mamun (813-33 A.D.), the new learning reached its climax. The monarch created in Baghdad a regular school for translation. It was equipped with a library, one of the translators there was Hunayn Ibn Ishaq (809-77) a particularly gifted philosopher and physician of wide erudition, the dominating figure of this century of translators. We know from his own recently published Memoir that he translated practically the whole immense corpus of Galenic writings.”

“Besides the translation of Greek works and their extracts, the translators made manuals of which one form, that of the ‘pandects,’ is typical of the period of Arabic learning. These are recapitulations of the whole medicine, discussing the affections of the body, systematically beginning at the head and working down to the feet.”

“The Muslim ideal was, it goes without saying, not visual beauty but God in His plentitude; that is God with all his manifestations, the stars and the heavens, the earth and all nature. The Muslim ideal is thus infinite. But in dealing with the infinite as conceived by the Muslims, we cannot limit ourselves to the space alone, but must equally consider time.

“The first mathematical step from the Greek conception of a static universe to the Islamic one of a dynamic universe was made by Al-Khwarizmi (780-850), the founder of modern Algebra. He enhanced the purely arithmetical character of numbers as finite magnitudes by demonstrating their possibilities as elements of infinite manipulations and investigations of properties and relations.

“In Greek mathematics, the numbers could expand only by the laborious process of addition and multiplication. Khwarizmi’s algebraic symbols for numbers contain within themselves the potentialities of the infinite. So we might say that the advance from arithmetic to algebra implies a step from being to ‘becoming’ from the Greek universe to the living universe of Islam. The importance of Khwarizmi’s algebra was recognized, in the twelfth century, by the West, – when Girard of Cremona translated his theses into Latin. Until the sixteenth century this version was used in European universities as the principal mathematical textbook. But Khwarizmi’s influence reached far beyond the universities. We find it reflected in the mathematical works of Leonardo Fibinacci of Pissa, Master Jacob of Florence, and even of Leonardo da Vinci.”

“Through their medical investigations they not merely widened the horizons of medicine, but enlarged humanistic concepts generally. And once again they brought this about because of their over riding spiritual convictions. Thus it can hardly have been accidental that those researches should have led them beyond the reach of Greek masters. If it is regarded as symbolic that the most spectacular achievement of the mid-twentieth century is atomic fission and the nuclear bomb, likewise it would not seem fortuitous that the early Muslim’s medical endeavor should have led to a discovery that was quite as revolutionary though possibly more beneficent.”

“A philosophy of self-centredness, under whatever disguise, would be both incomprehensible and reprehensible to the Muslim mind. That mind was incapable of viewing man, whether in health or sickness as isolated from God, from fellow men, and from the world around him. It was probably inevitable that the Muslims should have discovered that disease need not be born within the patient himself but may reach from outside, in other words, that they should have been the first to establish clearly the existence of contagion.”

“One of the most famous exponents of Muslim universalism and an eminent figure in Islamic learning was Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna (981-1037). For a thousand years he has retained his original renown as one of the greatest thinkers and medical scholars in history. His most important medical works are the Qanun (Canon) and a treatise on Cardiac drugs. The ‘Qanun fi-l-Tibb’ is an immense encyclopedia of medicine. It contains some of the most illuminating thoughts pertaining to distinction of mediastinitis from pleurisy; contagious nature of phthisis; distribution of diseases by water and soil; careful description of skin troubles; of sexual diseases and perversions; of nervous ailments.”

“We have reason to believe that when, during the Crusades, Europe at last began to establish hospitals, they were inspired by the Arabs of the Near East… the first hospital in Paris, Les Quinze-vingt, was founded by Louis IX after his return from the Crusade 1254-1260.”

“We find in his (Jabir, Geber) writings remarkably sound views on methods of chemical research, a theory on the geologic formation of metals (the six metals differ essentially because of different proportions of sulphur and mercury in them); preparation of various substances (e.g., basic lead carbonatic, arsenic and antimony from their sulphides).”

Ibn Haytham’s writings reveal his fine development of the experimental faculty. His tables of corresponding angles of incidence and refraction of light passing from one medium to another show how closely he had approached discovering the law of constancy of ratio of sines, later attributed to Snell. He accounted correctly for twilight as due to atmospheric refraction, estimating the sun’s depression to be 19 degrees below the horizon, at the commencement of the phenomenon in the mornings or at its termination in the evenings.”

“A great deal of geographical as well as historical and scientific knowledge is contained in the thirty volume meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems by one of the leading Muslim historians, the tenth century al Mas’udi. A more strictly geographical work is the dictionary ‘Mujam al-Buldan’ by al-Hamami (1179-1229). This is a veritable encyclopedia that, in going far beyond the confines of geography, incorporates also a great deal of scientific lore.”

“They studied, collected and described plants that might have some utilitarian purpose, whether in agriculture or in medicine. These excellent tendencies, without equivalent in Christendom, were continued during the first half of the thirteenth century by an admirable group of four botanists. One of these Ibn al-Baitar compiled the most elaborate Arabic work on the subject (Botany), in fact the most important for the whole period extending from Dioscorides down to the sixteenth century. It was a true encyclopedia on the subject, incorporating the whole Greek and Arabic experience.”

“‘Abd al-Malik ibn Quraib al-Asmai (739-831) was a pious Arab who wrote some valuable books on human anatomy. Al-Jawaliqi who flourished in the first half of the twelfth century and ‘Abd al-Mumin who flourished in the second half of the thirteenth century in Egypt, wrote treatises on horses. The greatest zoologist amongst the Arabs was al-Damiri (1405) of Egypt whose book on animal life, ‘Hayat al-Hayawan’ has been translated into English by A.S.G. Jayakar (London 1906, 1908).”

“The weight of venerable authority, for example that of Ptolemy, seldom intimidated them. They were always eager to put a theory to tests, and they never tired of experimentation. Though motivated and permeated by the spirit of their religion, they would not allow dogma as interpreted by the orthodox to stand in the way of their scientific research.”

[All the above quotations are taken from “Quotation from famous historians of science,” Dr. A. Zahoor’s  website There are many excellent Muslim websites describing in detail the achievements and biographies of Muslim scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers: for example or]

This approach of describing past Muslim achievements is effective in making us, Muslims, feel proud. It may even motivate a few of us to excel in science – thanks to the West. But in describing the history of Islam and science, should one stop here? Does this approach provide clues about how past Muslims systematically discovered new knowledge? How they invented so much new scientific knowledge without the modern facilities that we have today? Was this the result of their natural instincts or intellectual aptitude? Were they motivated (like most of us) by wealth, career, or fame? Why did they devote their entire lives seeking knowledge of Allah’s creations even while suffering extreme hardships? Most important of all, what was the driving force behind their constant pursuit in advancing the frontiers of new knowledge?  Unless we probe these questions, we will not be able to fully appreciate the achievements of past Muslims or learn from their stories. This we will strive to do in the next article.


  1. George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, Vol. I-IV, Carnegie Institute of Washington, Baltimore, 1927-31; Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore, 1950-53.
    2. Robert Briffault, The Making of Humanity, London, 1938.
    3. T. Arnold and A. Guillaume, The Legacy of Islam, Oxford University Press, 1931.
    4. E. Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, London, 1900.

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Compilation of the Quran (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

The Quran is the final Book of Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is meant for all human beings and for all times.  After the opening chapter, the Quran states categorically that this is a book in which there is no doubt (2:2).  Therefore, it should  i) be treated as a book and  ii)  as the only book carrying Allah’s stamp of approval of being doubt free. No other book(s) can claim this status.

Since it is a book of guidance for all human beings, the Quran must have been written down and compiled as a book during the Prophet’s lifetime. How else would an unwritten book serve as thecode of guidance for all?  Apart from being doubt-free, this Book also has the unique distinction of having Allah’s seal of approval for its future protection: “We have revealed this Book (Dhikr) and We will protect it” (15:9). Its author, Allah, also categorically states that it is complete and unalterable (6:115).

In light of these verses it should have been enough for Muslims, at least, to accept that the Quran we have today is exactly the same as the one the Prophet (PBUH) gave to his companions. Allah took the responsibility of making sure that it was collected, compiled, and completed as a book. This 100% certainty could not have been possible except if it was done during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH).

Throughout the world, all Muslims have the same Quran (in book form). There are not different versions of the Arabic Quran, since Allah guarantees that it is complete and fully protected.  Why then should we have to find out how it was collected and compiled?  Some historians and Imams – after more than 200 years after the death of the Prophet (PBUH) – started investigating how the Quran was collected and compiled. It was not that they were going to collect and compile the Quran themselves – this had been done already. They also knew that whatever they might find, was not going to change the text of the Quran in anyway – these Imams (including Imam Bukhari and Tabari) had the same Arabic Quran in their hands as we have today.

Was their effort to investigate the history of the compilation of the Quran purely for academic reasons? It probably seems that way. Since their effort could not alter the text of the Quran, the only thing they could do was to produce their own books about it. Their works became popular among Muslim scholars and subsequently turned into a whole new field of knowledge called the ‘Ulum al-Quran or the Sciences of the Quran. There are now experts (scholars and professors) holding academic positions in this area. Allah says to all Muslims to ponder over the meanings of the Quran (4:82, 47:24), but these scholars are more interested in pondering over the compilation of the Quran.

The fact that these investigations were started after more than 200 years after the Prophet (PBUH) is important and should not be overlooked. The only tool available to them for the investigation was to find the chain of narrators going back to the Prophet’s time. No matter how truthful the chain of narrators might have been, the chances of error due to lapses in memory cannot be ruled out – even if we assume that these narrators were completely truthful. So, how much reliability should be placed on these historical accounts based on oral narrations?  Certainly not 100%.

Here is a hadith (Vol. 6 No. 201, pages 162-164, Translated by Dr. Muhsin Khan) from Sahih Bukhari [Imam Bukhari was born in 194 AH (810 CE) and died in 256 AH (870 CE)]:

Narrated Zaid bin Thabit Al-Ansari, one of the scribes of the Revelation: Abu Bakr sent for me after the casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamama (where a great number of Qurra were killed). ‘Umar was present with Abu Bakr who said: “Umar has come to me and said, the People have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) Yamama, and I am afraid that there will be some casualties among the Qurra (those who know the Qur’an by heart) at other places, whereby a large part of the Qur’an may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur’an.’ Abu Bakr added, ‘I said to ‘Umar, “How can I do something which Allah’s Apostle has not done?” ‘Umar said (to me) “By Allah, it is (really) a good thing”. So ‘Umar kept on pressing trying to persuade me to accept his proposal, till Allah opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as ‘Umar’. (Zaid bin Thabit added:) ‘Umar was sitting with him (Abu Bakr) and was not speaking. Abu Bakr said (to me), ‘You are a wise young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of forgetfulness); and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah’s Apostle. Therefore, look for the Qur’an and collect it (in one manuscript)’. By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains (from its place) it would not have been harder for me than what he had ordered me concerning the collection of the Qur’an. I said to both of them, ‘How dare you do a thing which the Prophet has not done?’ Abu Bakr said, ‘By Allah, it is (really) a good thing. So I kept on arguing with him about it till Allah opened my bosom for that which He had opened the bosoms of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. So I started locating the Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). I found with Khuzaima two verses of Suraat-at-Tauba which I had not found with anybody else (and they were):

      ‘Verily there has come to you an Apostle (Muhammad) from

     among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive

     any injury or difficulty. He (Muhammad) is ardently anxious

     over you (to be rightly guided)’ (9:128).

 The manuscript on which the Qur’an was collected, remained with Abu Bakr till Allah took him unto Him, and then with ‘Umar till Allah took him unto Him, and finally it remained with Hafsa, ‘Umar’s daughter.

From this hadith we conclude:

  1. That Prophet (PBUH) did not compile the Quran and did not give it to the Ummah in a book form.
  2. That ‘Umar (R) was the first one to realize that the Quran needed to be collected – and that, too, only after the battle of Yamama when he feared that too many Qurra (i.e., those who had memorized the entire Quran) might die due to future wars. That Abu Bakr (R) initially resisted this suggestion because he did not want to do something that the Prophet (PBUH) himself did not do.
  3. That ‘Umar (R) swore by Allah and told Abu Bakr (R) that it was a good thing to do. And ‘Umar (R) kept pressing Abu Bakr (R) till Allah opened his heart to accept the proposed idea.
  4. That after Abu Bakr (R) was convinced of the idea he asked Zaid bin Thabit (R) to find the revelations of the Quran and to start collecting and compiling them.
  5. That Zaid bin Thabit (R) resisted the idea initially. (Zaid bin Thabit (R) resisting the order of the Khalifa of the Islamic state?) In any case, Abu Bakr (R) kept pressing Zaid bin Thabit (R) till Allah finally opened his heart to accept the proposed idea. But he found the task extremely difficult: collecting the Quran would be harder than moving a mountain, in his opinion.  One is led to think why it would be left undone by the Prophet (PBUH).
  6. That, in any case, Zaid bin Thabit (R) accepted this responsibility and started collecting the Quran.
  7. That the verses of the Quran were scattered on parchments, scapula, and leafstalks of date palms.  
  8. That Zaid bin Thabit (R) found all the verses of the Quran except the last two verses of Surah Al-Tauba which he finally found with Khuzaima bin Thabit (R).
  9. That the material on which Zaid bin Thabit (R) prepared his manuscript of the Quran is not mentioned in this hadith. Did he use paper? If he did, then why didn’t the original scribes use it to record the revelation during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH)? Didn’t our Prophet (PBUH) know that palm leafstalks are not a very reliable way to protect the Quran? (It is reported inSunan ibn Maajah (one of the six authentic Sunni books of ahaadith) that ‘Aisha’s (R) goat ate two of the verses of the Quran that were written on palm leafstalk.)
  10. That Abu Bakr (R) kept the suhuf (the manuscript with loose chapters) prepared by Zaid bin Thabit (R).
  11. That Abu Bakr (R) did not get this suhuf put together in the form of a book during his lifetime. Neither did he distribute copies of this earliest collected manuscript of the Quran to the people.

Keep in mind that Abu Bakr (R) was the Khalifa (the head of the Islamic the State) at the time.  Compiling Quran was certainly not for his private use only. It would have been for public use as well as being a guide for the Islamic state. While accepting the caliphate, Abu Bakr (R) had asked the people to keep a close eye on his actions and point out if any were against Allah and the Prophet (PBUH). If the people did not have the same copy of the Quran that the Khalifa had, how were they to judge if any of his actions were against the word of Allah?

Also, why didn’t he officially order the destruction of any other versions kept by the Companions? To destroy them would have been the proper course of action because there was a long list of Companions who were reported to have had their own written collections that differed from one another. These included the following: Ibn Mas’ud, Ubay bin Ka’b, ‘All, Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Musa, Hafsa, Anas bin Malik, ‘Umar, Zaid bin Thabit, Ibn Al-Zubair, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr, ‘A’isha, Salim, Umm Salama, ‘Ubaid bin ‘Umar. [Abi Dawud: Musahif, p.14, quoted by Ahmad Von Denffer in his book ‘Ulum al-Quran]

It was also known that ‘A’isha and Hafsa had their own scripts written after the Prophet passed away. [M. Rahimuddin (Transl.): Muwatta Imam Malik, Lahore, 1980, No. 307, 308; Malik b. Anas: Al-Muwatta, Cairo,n.d., p.15. (Quoted in ‘Ulum al-Quran)]

The differences in the above collections are listed in the book ‘Ulum al-Quran, pages 47-52. Why did Abu Bakr (R) allow these differences to continue? And why did ‘Umar (R) let them continue during his lifetime?

According to reports in hadith literature, at the time of ‘Uthman, the differences in reading the Qur’an became so obvious that, after consultation with the Companions, ‘Uthman (R) had a standard copy prepared from the suhuf of Abu Bakr (R) which was kept with Hafsa.  He ordered all other copies destroyed.

The following is the report transmitted in Sahih Bukhari [Volume 6, No. 510, pages 478-479]

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to ‘Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to ‘Uthmfin, ‘O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur’an), as Jews and the Christians did before’. So ‘Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, ‘Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you’. Hafsa sent it to ‘Uthman. ‘Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, ‘Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa’id bin Al-‘As and ‘Abdur Rahman bin Hari-bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. ‘Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, ‘In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish as the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue’. They did so, and when they had written many copies, ‘Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. ‘Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Zaid bin Thabit added, ‘A verse from Sura al-Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur’an which I used to hear Allah’s Apostle reciting. So we searched and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari’. (That verse was): ‘Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah’ (33: 23).

Several points are worth pondering here:

  1. Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman was afraid of differences in the recitation of the Quran of the people of Sham (Syria) and Iraq. So he pleaded with Khalifa ‘Uthman (R) to save the Muslim nation from this difference.
  2. Was this difference in the pronunciation of the Arabic words of the Quran? It does not seem so from this hadith. (Even now, there are differences in the recitation of Arabic text by Muslims from different areas of the world although they have the same copy of the Quran.) So, Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman’s fear must have been due to differences in the Arabic text of the Quran between the people of Syria and Iraq.
  3. The committee of four appointed by Khalifa ‘Uthman (R) included Zaid bin Thabit (R) whom Khalifa Abu Bakr (R) had earlier asked to compile the Quran. The committee’s effort was to start with Zaid bin Thabit’s copy which was now in possession of Hafsa, Khalifa ‘Umar’s daughter.
  4. Zaid bin Thabit (R) missed copying a verse from Surah Ahzab which he used to hear the Prophet (PBUH) reciting. The other three committee members must have also missed it. Was this verse in Hafsa’s copy that Zaid bin Thabit (R) had originally prepared?

However much we may try to reconcile the contradiction contained in these two ahaadith, we cannot deny the fact that they cause at least some doubt in the Quran’s status of 100% infallibility. One can only wonder what contradictions, if any, may be in the other multitude of ahaadith collected on this subject and that have been put together in the book Kitab al-Musaahif.  

Kitab al-Musaahif was compiled by Abu Bakr Abdullah bin Abi Dawood.  He was born in 230 A.H. and died in 316 A.H. He is the son of Imam Abu Dawood, the collector and compiler ofSunan Abu Dawood, one of the six most authentic Sunni books of hadith.

Here are some excerpts from this book:

  1. Imam Ibn Abi Dawood reports on the authority of ‘Urwah bin Zubair that, when many Qurrahs were martyred, Abu Bakr (R) feared that the Quran might get lost forever this way. So he asked ‘Umar (R) and Zaid bin Thabit (R) to sit at the door of the Prophet’s mosque and write down anything in the Quran if anyone could bring two witnesses regarding the Book of Allah.
  2. Imam Ibn Abu Dawood reports on the authority of ‘Abd Khair that he heard ‘Ali (R) saying that Abu Bakr (R) will get great reward in connection with the Musaahif. May God shower His mercy on him because he is the first person who collected the Quran and put it into a book form.
  3. Imam Ibn Abu Dawood reports on the authority of Salem and Khaarija that Abu Bakr (R) compiled the Quran on paper. He then requested Zaid bin Thabit to have a look at it but he refused. Then Abu Bakr (R) enlisted the help of ‘Umar (R) to persuade Zaid bin Thabit to look at it which he did. These manuscripts remained with Abu Bakr (R) until he died. Then they remained with ‘Umar (R) until he died. Then they remained with Hafsa. When Khalifa ‘Uthman (R) asked for them, Hafsa refused to give them until she got the promise that he would return them. After copying these manuscripts ‘Uthman (R) returned the original to Hafsa. These remained with Hafsa until Marwaan burnt them.
  4. Imam Ibn Abu Dawood reports on the authority of Yahya bin Abd al-Rahman bin Haatib that it was ‘Umar (R) who decided to compile the Quran.  He gave a sermon asking the people to bring him any papers, wood plates, leafstalks of date palms, on which they might have written any verses of the Quran after listening to the Prophet (PBUH). ‘Umar (R) did not accept anything from anyone unless he obtained confirmation of two witnesses for everything brought to him.  Meantime ‘Umar (R) was martyred. Then ‘Uthman (R) followed the same principle of accepting from people verses of the Quran only with confirmation from two witnesses. Then Khazima bin Thabit came and told ‘Uthman (R) that he (‘Uthman) had left out two verses from his collection which he (Khazima bin Thabit) used to hear from the Prophet (PBUH).  ‘Uthman (R) asked Khazima bin Thabit where he should place these verses. Khazima bin Thabit suggested putting them at the end of the Surah that was revealed last. So, these two verses were put at the end of Surah Baraat (also known as Tauba). [Apparently, there is an error in this hadith. According to Nasai and Muslim (books included in the six most authentic Sunni books of ahaadith), Surah Nasr is the last revealed Surah of the Quran.]

What could be more important than the compilation of the Quran in book form? Yet, we see several contradictions in the ahaadith dealing with this subject.  Indeed, from these ahaadith, it is even questionable as to who originally thought of this idea, Abu Bakr (R) or Umar (R). Then there is an apparent contradiction between hadith 201 and 510 of Bukhari. In hadith no. 201 Zaid bin Thabit does not mention any problem with a verse from Surah Ahzab when he originally compiled the Quran at the request of Abu Bakr (R). In fact, he was concerned with some other verses, the last two verses of Surah Tauba, which he finally found with Khuzaima.

Also, the idea that two witnesses were enough to include verses in the Quran does not seem right. The final Book of Allah could not depend on the authenticity of two witnesses. What if they erred, even if they were honest? And there is always room for distortion of words and verses by the enemies of Islam. There were plenty of enemies of Islam at the time. Who could have prevented their sinister designs against the Book of Allah if all that was necessary was to have two witnesses before including verses in the Quran?  Assuming that the people who gave written input were completely honest (although this cannot be guaranteed 100%), and assuming that the two witnesses were also completely honest and did not make any honest mistakes (although this cannot also be guaranteed 100%), still there remain many unanswered questions. The scattered verses and the chapters had to be arranged in the correct order. How could anyone (or any group) do this in the absence of the Prophet (PBUH)?

We can say (and those scholars who support all these ahaadith do say) that the Arabs then had good memories and that there were people among the Companions who had memorized (Huffaz) the entire Quran. Sure, they could have helped here. But if that was the case, why call on all those who had written down verse(s) of the Quran and why the need for witnesses? Why not bring together all the Huffaz who had committed to memory the entire Quran and let them recite every verse of every Surah, in order?  Why not write the Quran that way?  This would have had the added benefit of these Huffaz corroborating each other like the way it is done nowadays during the Taraawee‘h prayers. Also, these Huffaz must have been truly dedicated to the Quran. Otherwise, they could not have committed the entire Quran to memory.

On the other hand, if these Huffaz had only memorized parts of the Quran, then they could tell the order of the verses within the Surahs they had memorized but they could not tell the order of the Surahs of the entire Quran. Then the only person who could tell with 100% surety about the order of all the Surahs would be the Prophet (PBUH).

It is clear, then, that the complete Quran must have been written down in book form during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH), most probably, on paper. After all, paper just didn’t suddenly appear during Khalifa ‘Uthman’s period. Paper was around during the Prophet’s time. Our Prophet (PBUH) wrote letters to the kings of Abyssinia and of Iran, on paper. So, it is inconceivable that he would not have used paper for the Quran, the most valuable message for humanity.

The fact is no one else except the Prophet (PBUH) could have received any instructions from Allah about the compilation of the Quran in book form. The Prophet (PBUH) must have employed the best scribes to write the revelation and he personally must have checked the written text for accuracy. The Quran itself tells us that these scribes were truthful and most honorable (80: 15-16). As Muslims, we are obliged to believe that our Prophet (PBUH) faithfully discharged his duty of delivering the Quran to humanity in the form of a written book. Its proof is in our hands.

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