The Divine, Prophet's Letters, Patriarchal Custom

Issue 933 » February 10, 2017 - Jumada al-Awwal 13, 1438

Living The Quran

The Divine
Al-Baqara (The Cow) - Chapter 2: Verse 255

"God. There is no God but He, the Living, the Everlasting. Neither slumber seizes Him nor sleep. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth. Who is there shall intercede with Him, save by His leave? He knows all that lies before them and what is after them. Nor can they grasp aught of His knowledge, except as He wills. His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and upholding them wearies Him not. He is the Most High, the Sublime."

This passage is the heart and soul of the Quran. It begins with the verse that is second only to al-Fatiha in familiarity to Muslims. Known as Ayat al Kursi, the Throne verse, it was considered by classical commentators to be the most excellent verse in the Quran. It is a popular subject for calligraphy, and in a great diversity of calligraphic forms finds a place on display in millions of Muslim homes around the world.

Ayat al Kursi is the most beautiful statement of the power and majesty of the Almighty. It reveals God as the creative and sustaining force behind all existence, the Divine who is all-knowing and always aware, a ceaseless, unwearying presence conscious of each individual in all their activities: what we show as well as what we conceal, what has happened to us and what awaits us. Such power and majesty can only be made evident to human beings by God alone. It is only by God's will that we can come to know the Divine that is far beyond human consciousness or capability.

Knowledge is a crucial aspect of the Divine. And the emphasis throughout the Quran on God's knowledge is reflected again and again in the impetus this gives to the exercise of human intellect to understand and appreciate better both God's creation and the meaning and operation of God's guidance to humankind. The use of reason is essential to making the right decisions, making the right qualitative judgements on how to act in this world and how to distinguish right from wrong. The word Kursi means throne, but in Muslim thought and parlance it has become inseparable from the concept of knowledge. Knowledgeable and learned people are referred to as 'People of the Chair', and this is the origin of the professorial 'chair'. Many of the terms we associate with universities derive from Arabic, a legacy of the institution's origin in Muslim civilisation, from which it was borrowed wholesale by European society during the Middle Ages.

Compiled From:
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 179-180

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Prophet's Letters

"In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever-Merciful. From Muhammad, God's Messenger to Heracules, the Byzantine ruler. Peace be to those who follow right guidance. I call on you to believe in Islam. Adopt Islam and you will be safe, and God will give you a double reward. If you decline, you shall bear responsibility for the Arians." [Bukhari]

When we look at the Prophet's letters to the various rulers, including the two most powerful leaders in the world, we can identify several features that are common to all of them:

1. The Prophet's address is powerful and decisive, and it does not seek to appease anyone or to defer to any authority.

2. The Prophet puts his purpose in very clear terms: he wanted to deliver a message from God Almighty, and explained the consequences of the addressee's response, particularly if it is a negative one. Specifically, he highlighted that a ruler who denies the people a chance to learn of God's message bears responsibility for their continued unbelief.

3. The Prophet also made it clear that he was a Messenger to all mankind. He dispelled any thought that might be entertained by the addressee that he could be looking beyond the area assigned to him.

4. The Prophet further clarified that he had no ambition to extend his rule over the addressee's land. He had no interest in extending his political role.

5. Everyone was addressed in the language they understood. When the Prophet spoke to Christian rulers, his address took into consideration the fact that they believed in God, even though their concept of Him was at variance with that of Islam.

6. The Prophet further explained that no one would be coerced or pressured into accepting Islam. Emperors, kings and rulers may try to force their populations to follow a certain line, but the Prophet made it clear that neither Jews nor Magians would be forced to accept Islam; they would only be required to pay a tax in return for being protected by the Islamic state.

Compiled From:
"Muhammad: His Character and Conduct" - Muhammad Adil Salahi


Patriarchal Custom

Women's rights in Islam is an issue that will not be explained away by reference to the fact that Islam honoured women in the Arabia of the seventh century, that women's rights are enshrined in the Quran, or that women dominate the private space in Islamic life. All of these are true, but they bear little relation to the real condition of women in Muslim societies and the raw deal they receive under the camouflage of the Shariah. Seeking a balance in the male-female relationship in Islam requires not only a reexamination of the roots of inequality but also a redefinition of the role of men according to the Quran and the Shariah. Balance is not a compromise between equality and inequality, but a separate state that strives for a harmonious, just, and stable outcome. Womens rights in Islam cannot be enhanced without a parallel insistence that men must also adhere to Quranic injunctions concerning their behaviour and conduct. Not only the women are to observe modesty and courtesy in their outer behaviour and inner disposition; men are also obliged to do the same. But Muslim societies are mainly patriarchal, often reflecting historical, tribal values that privilege males over females. These attitudes have persisted into modern times, so that the Quranic standards of conduct demanded of men, especially in terms of fairness to women, are often ignored or flouted in practice.

The textual data of Quran and hadith can accommodate different understandings of gender equality, if one is open to attempting such and willing to moderate one's views and approaches to issues. The textual guidelines of Shariah should not be read so rigidly as to insist on closing the door to healthy adjustment and ijtihad as well as to reasonable acceptance of the often inevitable influences of science and civilization. The decline of ijtihad and the decidedly damaging prevalence of blind imitation and taqlid, the influence of entrenched patriarchal custom, as well as the prevailing demands of modern society and secularist culture are among the factors responsible for the present state of imbalances in gender justice and Islamic family laws of many Muslim societies. It is now widely recognized that certain aspects of the fiqh rulings that bear the vestiges of medieval society values call for revision and systematic reform in the true spirits of tajdid (renewal), Islah (reform), and ijtihad that resonate to the spirit of Quranic guidelines on promoting and accepting that which is beneficial and good, and rejecting that which is harmful, excessive, oppressive, and unjust.

Compiled From:
"The Middle Path of Moderation in Islam: The Qur'anic Principle of Wasatiyyah" - Mohammad Hashim Kamali, p. 193