By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
17 March 2017
If the Ocean Were Ink—An Unlikely
Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran
Author: Carla Power
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co., New
There is probably no more effective way to
demolish walls and build bridges between people than close personal
friendships, as this wonderful book poignantly illustrates. It is the story of
what many might think to be a very unlikely friendship, between an American
woman writer (Jewish on her mother’s side, Quaker on her father’s, and who
identifies herself as a ‘secular feminist’) and a traditional male Muslim
Islamic scholar of Indian origin, as narrated by the former.
Power, who writes for the Time magazine and
was correspondent for Newsweek, was introduced to Islam and Muslims as a child,
when her father took up a job in Egypt. She renewed her interest in the subject
after 9/11, in the face of shrill rhetoric about the alleged ‘clash of
civilisations’ and the wars that ensued. She began to study the Quran,
reflecting on the diverse ways in which Muslims interpret it and the different
political stances that flow from these interpretations. In this journey, she
turned for assistance to her friend of many years, Muhammad Akram Nadwi, a traditional
Sunni Muslim Alim or scholar, who had trained at one of India’s most well-known
Islamic seminaries, the Nadwat ul-Ulema, in Lucknow, and later joined the
Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, in the UK, where Power, too, worked. At that
time (this was in the 1990s), Nadwi was engaged in a project that would win him
wide acclaim—a collection of biographies of
Muslim women religious scholars, bringing to light a little-known
history of Muslim women as religious authorities.
When they first met, Power, as she puts it,
was “a miniskirted twenty-four-year-old, unsure of herself except for her own
importance.” Nadwi was just a few years older than her. The two worked together
on a study on Islam in South Asia at Oxford, and soon, despite their
differences of background and belief, they discovered considerable common
ground—“in the commonplace”, as Power puts it, even in such things as “sipping
tea, grumbling about our boss and sodden English winters”.
Over time, Power and Nadwi grew from being
colleagues into friends as they grew to realise how misleading generalisations
about entire communities can be and how dangerous the rhetoric of elements bent
on fuelling conflict between communities (Power specifically refers here to
Muslim extremists and American neocons) is.
Their friendship, as Power beautifully portrays it, exposed the complete
falsity of the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis that insists that Muslims and
others simply cannot live together in peace and harmony.
Power went on to spend around a year studying
the Quran with Nadwi, attending some of his lectures and having occasional
lessons with him. She wanted to learn how the Quran shaped Muslim worldviews
and discern where Western and Muslim worldviews overlapped and where they did
not. Over that year, Power did scores of interviews with Nadwi and dropped in
at his home numerous times, meeting his wife and children, too. She even
travelled with him to India, where she visited his ancestral village and the
madrasa where he had studied.
“We made an odd little caravan, the Sheikh
[Nadwi] and I, a pious believer and a sceptical secularist”, Power narrates.
Her year of study helped Power appreciate ample goodness in Nadwi, as well as
in the faith that he sought to follow, which was the source of his virtues. She
talks of Nadwi’s “humane and educated manner” and notes that he “enjoyed the
peace of a man who observed his duty as a Muslim: being a ‘slave of God’”,
which brought him “considerable calm”. She appreciates his “cultural scope”,
that “spans continents”, and suggests that his “near-seamless transition from a
village prodigy to a global scholar” is a “stunning example of Muslim
cosmopolitanism”. She refers to Nadwi’s kindness, reserve, politeness and
patience, and his open-mindedness and respect for differences while being
deeply-rooted in his faith. She exults in the fact while being a traditional
Muslim religious scholar, he is also committed to women’s rights. She writes of
his deep spirituality, his insistence on the reform of the self, and his opposition
to extremism and violence in the name of Islam, to politics-centric
misinterpretations of the faith and to narrowly-inscribed Muslim identity
politics. She notes how he regularly counsels his fellow Muslims to ignore
provocation, to be patient in the face of adversity, to desist from blindly
following religious authorities, to abstain from confrontation, to change
themselves rather than seeking to change political systems, and to reach out to
people of other faiths in a spirit of goodwill.
Clearly, as Power suggests, Nadwi just does
not conform to widely-held stereotypical ideas about Muslim clerics, or even
about Muslims generally.
Power does not conceal the fact that on
some issues Nadwi and she think differently. This, however, did not come in the
way of their friendship. Studying Islam with Nadwi did not lead her to convert
to the faith, but it did help Power gain a more appreciative understanding of
it and those who seek to live by it. Learning about Islam provided her, she
says, “many moments of grace”. “Even as a nonbeliever”, she explains, “I still
found myself taking refuge in the Quran classes as a calm inlet from daily
life.” Studying with Nadwi, Power was led to appreciate the beauty of his firm
conviction, rooted in his faith, that many of the ups and downs of this world
that people get so worked up about “all were nothing next to the fact that from
God we come and to God we return.”
This book is a beautiful testimony to the
power of personal friendships in bringing together people of different faiths
and cultures and helping them realise that goodness is something that is truly
universal, intrinsic to our common humanness, and is to be found in every
community and individual. The friendship that this book celebrates will
powerfully resonate with just about everyone concerned about healing our world
that is being torn apart by divisive ideologies.
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Muslim News, Arab
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Muslim News, World
Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic
In Arab, Islamophobia
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Women and Feminism
Koster, Vitz, Lepp, Hood, Hill, Soilka, Granqvist, Kirkpatrick, Hagekull, Brinkerhoff, Mackie, Hunsberger, Altemeyer, Exline, Rose, Murken, Pargament, Koenig. Perez, Novotni, Peterson and Mahoney.
Hats Off asked for sources to support what has been said about his
probable motivations for turning out to be such a die-hard hostile apostate.
The sources are the research publications of the following behavioral scientists,
psychologists and psychiatrists whose works have been cited.
Koster, Vitz, Lepp, Hood, Hill, Soilka, Granqvist, Kirkpatrick, Hagekull, Brinkerhoff, Mackie, Hunsberger,
Altemeyer, Exline, Rose, Murken, Pargament, Koenig. Perez, Novotni, Peterson
He got what he asked for which apparently he didn’t expect. His
response ob being exposed is therefore understandably gibberish nonsense.
The following is for Hats Off to understand, accept and to come to terms with the roots of his neurotic hatred of his father's religion.
Extract from: Atheists,
Agnostics, and Apostates by Prof. Heinz Streib, Ph.D. Faculty for History,
Philosophy, and Theology University of Bielefeld/Germany & Constantin Klein
“….. the relationship between children and their parents in
general may be of relevance to atheism, agnosticism, and apostasy. In their
psycho-historical studies of the impact of “defective fathering”, Koster (1989)
and Vitz (2000) argued that, in their childhood, many famous atheists (like
Darwin, Nietzsche, or Freud) suffered under the demands of their dominant and
bigoted fathers who failed to express feelings of love and esteem to their sons.
The sons became apathetic, unhappy, and melancholic and tried to flee from
their family situation. In later life, they rebelled against the demanding
beliefs of their fathers calling the complete worldview they were raised in
into question. The denial of their own roots, however, caused
psychopathological symptoms including depression or self-hatred, so that their
fight for autonomy resulted in what Lepp (1963) called a “neurotic denial of
Hood, Hill, and Spilka (2009) have criticized the theories of
neurotic atheism because of their exclusive focus on males and their fathers,
and the lack of broader empirical support. More solid empirical data come from
research on religion and attachment (Granqvist & Kirkpatrick, 2008; see
Granqvist & Kirkpatrick, Volume 1 for overview) which shows that, in
religious families, closer parent-child attachments in childhood correspond
with closer attachment to God and more positive images of God in adulthood.
Secure parent-child attachments can thus lead to more stable religiosity,
whereas distant or avoidant relationships between parent and child increase the
likelihood of sudden conversions and religious switching or of secular exits
(Granqvist & Hagekull, 2003; Granqvist & Kirkpatrick, 2004;
Kirkpatrick, 1997; 1998).
Motives and developmental factors. A body of research has
focused on motives and biographical factors associated with the development of
atheism, agnosticism, and apostasy. This research includes studies about
religious doubts (Brinkerhoff & Mackie, 1993; Hunsberger &Altemeyer,
2006) and personal experiences of disappointment with religious professionals,
communities, or with God, or anger against God (Exline, 2002; Exline &
Rose, 2005). In a comprehensive content analysis of 1226 statements which atheistic/agnostic
internet users had posted on a Catholic webpage “www.ohne-gott.de” (“without
God)”, Murken (2008) identified five clusters of statements which articulated
doubts, disappointments and frustrations with respect to religious beliefs and
institutions: (1) an opposition against Christianity because of faults of the
Catholic Church (e.g. the crusades or witch-hunting, clergy sexual abuse) and
its rigid sexual morals regarding contraception, premarital sex, and
homosexuality, (2) experiences of religious hurt and disappointment, in
particular the feeling of being abandoned by God in times of burden and loss,
(3) negative and critical images of God (e.g. the feeling of incapacity to meet
God’s demands and of being supervised and punished by God), (4) the question of
theodicy (if God is just, loving, and all-powerful, why does he allow evil and
suffering to exist?), and (5) the yearning for God and for faith to find
meaning and comfort. These factors may support the emergence of skepticism
against religious beliefs, groups and institutions and, as a consequence, raise
serious questions about religion in general. In particular, experiences of
personal suffering can throw an individual’s fundamental system of religious
beliefs into question, producing religious/ spiritual struggles marked by
feelings of abandonment and punishment by God as well as questions about
whether God really exists and is truly loving and almighty (Exline, Volume1;
Pargament et al., 1998; Pargament, Koenig & Perez, 2000). Research shows
that experiences such as severe illness, the loss of a loved person, physical,
emotional, and sexual abuse, and other traumata can provoke spiritual struggle
which can transform former beliefs and lead to spiritual disengagement,
apostasy, atheism/agnosticism, but potentially, spiritual growth, too
(Pargament, 2007). Pargament andMahoney (Pargament, 2007; Pargament &
Mahoney, 2005) argue that the experience of a desecration, the perception that
things which have been perceived as sacred (e.g. my body, my integrity, my
beliefs, my relationships etc.) have been violated, is particularly likely to
shake the individual to the core. In a similar way, Novotni and Peterson (2001)
describe “emotional atheism” as the result of a process of repression and emotional
distancing from God. They view the conflict between the need to blame God in
difficult situations and the recognition that God must not be blamed as a
trigger for the onset of emotional distancing. Thus, “emotional atheism”
emerges from the stepwise loss of an unsatisfying faith. In short, experiences
of spiritual struggles (Exline & Rose, 2005; McConnell, Pargament, Ellison,
& Flannelly, 2006; Pargament, 2007) represent important developmental
factors that may generate atheism/agnosticism”
It is not just the meaning of kafir that has undergone change since the revelation of the Quran, but also the meaning of Shuhuda as I have brought out in my article:
The Politics of Religion and the Changing Concept of Shuhuda over the Years
Many of the Arabic words are part of my mother tongue Urdu and these have the same wrong meanings that they have acquired in Islamic theology which is common across the world.
The correct meanings of the keywords used in the Quran have to be understood from the Quran itself (ignoring meanings ascribed to the words outside of the Quran) in the same manner a baby learns a language since the Quran makes the meaning amply clear - both what it means and what it does not mean.
It is easy to see how and why the bigots have distorted the meaning. They apparently judge non-Muslims as deliberate and willful rejecters of Islam out of sheer perversity and therefore call them kafir. Non-Muslim is not the meaning of kafir but non-Muslims are simply judged by the Muslims as kafir. They are just unable to see why anyone would reject Islam. However the Quran does not judge all the polytheists of Mecca as kafir even at the end of the Prophetic mission of Muhammad (pbuh). While the distortion started with judgment, today people simply take it as the meaning forgetting that it is not the meaning but their judgment of non-Muslims as kafir.
Moderate scholars such as Javed Ghamidi, Saleem Shehzad and Muhammad Yunus do not consider/judge all non-Muslims today as kafir, but they nevertheless argue that all the polytheists of Mecca were kafir as they had no excuse for disbelief after the Prophet had lived among them and preached for 13 years before being driven out of Mecca. They also ignore the plain text of the Quran according to which it does not consider all of them as kafir in any verse and always refers to the kafir among them. Apart from the text of the Quran, if at any point of time Allah had judged all of them as kafir, none would have believed after that and He would have destroyed all of them after the Prophet migrated to Medina, just as He destroyed the people of Noah, Hud, Saleh, Lut and Shoeb.
The people of Noah are judged by God as kafir after which none believe and all perish in the flood
(11:36) It was revealed to Noah: "None of thy people will believe except those who have believed already! So grieve no longer over their (evil) deeds.
Such judgment was never passed on the polytheists of Mecca and they were expected to eventually accept Islam which they did which is clear not only from the events as they unfolded, but also from the following verses.
(8:32) Remember how they said: "O Allah if this is indeed the Truth from Thee, rain down on us a shower of stones form the sky, or send us a grievous penalty." (33) But Allah was not going to send them a penalty whilst thou wast amongst them; nor was He going to send it whilst they could ask for pardon.
Contrast the judgment on the people of Noah “No more of them will believe.”
The judgment of the polytheists of Mecca “they could yet ask for pardon”
All except a few who perished in the battles (or otherwise), eventually accepted Islam including Abu Sufian, the commander of the polytheists after their leader Abu Jahl perished in the battle of Badar. And as we learn from the very last verses revealed, those who sought refuge and were not defiant, were treated as people without knowledge and not as kafir, and escorted to safe places where they could hear the word of God and make up their minds.
The Quran is a Book that is to be understood and not interpreted and there is only one meaning which leads to a holistic understanding of the message without a single contradiction. The problem however is that everyone interprets without bothering to find its meaning. Finding the meaning is also through the process of interpretation and the correct meaning is that interpretation that leads to no contradictions. What makes Quran a Book that makes things clear is precisely this quality where it provides a check on our understanding. This rigour in the study of the Quran is completely lacking and the rigour that is followed is to interpret it in the light of the ahadith!
of kafir in the Quran is derived logically from how the Quran uses this word.
We do not learn our mother tongue from dictionaries and books of grammar but
from our interactions as babies. A baby has the capacity to learn all the
world’s languages but what the neurologists call synaptic pruning in the early
years reduces that child’s capacity to the languages around her. We learn the
precise meanings of words and its connotations and the idioms of our language
not through books but from our early interactions. The kind of feel we acquire
for languages learnt informally without books early in life, is never there for
languages learnt formally with the help of books later in our adult life. These
are understood only in translation.
The Quran makes clear the meanings of
keywords used by it. However, if one reads the Quran with the incorrect meaning
of the word learnt elsewhere, then he ends up with several contradictions. If
he remains fixed on the wrong meaning of the word and tries to resolve the
contradictions, then he falls prey to the false theory of abrogation! Can you
show me a scholar who does not invoke the false theory of abrogation if his
understanding is different from mine? So what such scholars may have to say is
falsehood as far as I am concerned. Without doubt, in Islamic theology, kafir
has acquired the meaning of non-Muslim over the centuries through the bigotry
of its scholars, and this development is covered in detail in my article. This
is however not the meaning of the word in the Quran.
My understanding of the Quran is without
a single contradiction. Nothing that I have explained of the Quran in one
article contradicts any other article and I have covered almost the whole of
the Quran. I have taken head on questions from commentators who wanted to point
out “contradictions” in the Quran.
Quran’s way of making sure that we have
understood its message correctly is to put our understanding to the test of
consistency. If we fail this test, we have not understood some part of it
correctly. This is how the Quran is a Book that makes everything clear, is a
Book without contradictions, consistent with itself and its own explanation.
None of the above was necessary to prove
my point. My articles clearly bring out the meaning of Kafir as used in the
Quran in the most logical manner possible which can be understood by any person
whose intention is to understand.
The Misrepresentation of the Quran through Mistranslation
1. How can kafir mean non-Muslim
when there are several verses in different Surahs of the Quran that speak of
the kafir among the Polytheists as well as the Kafir among the Muslims clearly
mentioning the kufr of those called kafir implying that not all are kafir but
only those indulging in the kufr specified in the verse? And how can it mean non-Muslim if there
isn’t a single verse that refers to all the polytheists as kafir?
2. How can kafir mean non-believer
if it is used for Satan and for Moses? Satan is an ingrate rebel against God
and Moses was an ingrate rebel vis-à-vis the Pharaoh. Neither of them are
3. How can kafir mean non-Muslim
if in Surah Taubah, in chronologically the very last verses, it does not mean
all polytheists but only those who fought wars against the Muslims and broke
their treaties and who remained defiant but not even those who although they
did fight or broke their treaties but sought refuge who were to be merely
treated as people without knowledge and taken to places of safety?
In the Quran therefore, “Kafir” as it applies to the
polytheists of Mecca, refers to those who were the enemies of Islam and the
Muslims and practiced religious persecution in its various forms.
As it applies to the Muslims, Christians
and the Jews, it refers to those who willfully disregard the guidance and
injunctions in their respective scriptures, or willfully distort the message.
For the Muslims, the word Munafiq or hypocrite is more often used as outright
kufr was rare in the Prophet’s times when the Quran was revealed.
As far as the spiritual dimension is
concerned in which God alone is the judge because there is no compulsion in
religion, it means those who reject the religion of truth after the truth has
become clear to them and die rejecting. One is not a kafir unless God has
confirmed the verdict of kafir on a person and once God does so, he will die a
kafir no matter how long he lives after that. Example, Abu Lahab lived for ten
years after his place in Hell in the hereafter was confirmed and died without
repenting. The other examples are Abu Jahal referred to in surah Al-Alaq and
WalidibnMughiyrah referred to in
Surah Al-Qalam. Abu Sufiyan on the other hand, who led the polytheists in all
the battles against the Muslims after Badar, accepted Islam. It is not for
Muslims therefore to worry about the non-believers in Islam as who among them
are kafir is known only to Allah and indeed there are many who are kafir among
those who call themselves Muslim. We can judge only by deeds and an oppressor
is indeed a kafir whose oppression must be resisted and fought against no
matter what religion he professes.
To summarise, Kafir does not mean
non-Muslim or even a disbeliever (taking the broad meaning of believer to
include all theists), but it means an ingrate rebel or an oppressor. Those who
reject the religion of truth after the truth becomes known to them are not
disbelievers but rebels like Satan who knowingly reject. Lack of belief is
from lack of knowledge and not kufr. We therefore pray to Allah to
increase our knowledge so that we may correctly understand the Deen of Allah.