MEHRU JAFFER | 24 APRIL, 2017
Ijtihad was once routine practice amongst Muslims. The idea of ijtihad encourages independent decision making and critical thought. This was an important exercise in problem solving in the early years of Islam from the 7th century. Then it was advocated that everyone study the Quran and the hadis to find out what is written between the lines. Dialogue and debate was the order of the day. That is how Islam went from strength to strength as thinking Muslims continuously contributed creatively to the community.
This practice continued for almost 400 years till ijtihad was seen as a challenge to authority and forbidden in the 10th century. Then citizens were criticized for independent thinking and the contribution of individual judgement was declared politically dangerous. Community leaders and scholars felt that too much of learning and too many questions posed by ordinary Muslims was not just unnecessary, but a challenge to the powers of the time. The status quo by now was not interested in new ways of looking at life. All ifs and buts were discouraged. The gates of ijtihad were locked and the key thrown away. The decree was that solutions to all problems that mankind could possibly face have already been recorded in the past.
Ever since, all Muslims who parrot from the past are praised and those who doubt or present a fresh view of life are rebuked. That is why numerous problems thrown up in contemporary times like women issues, marriage and divorce seem frozen in time and still await justice.
The attitude of the learned is harsh and inflexible today. Differing views are not entertained. Individual problems are not given special hearing. There is no gentle, heartfelt way of managing differences, dissent and extreme attitudes. There is an attempt to spread fear amongst Muslims. Many Muslims are afraid to let go of the intellect and imagination and to think afresh and creatively to cope with life today.
The Quran is wrapped up in satin and silk and put on a pedestal. Words like holy and sacred are reduced to synonyms of inaccessible and do not touch.
That is why it is thrilling to hold Tales from The Quran and Hadis by Rana Safvi in the hand at a time when not even many Muslims realise how unique and inimitable the Quran is. I am grateful to the author for having pulled the Quran down from dusty shelves to interpret parts of its narrative in a language that both children and adults can appreciate in this day and age.
To know the Quran is to be faced with the mirror of life layered in mystery, like light upon light. To know the Quran is to know that it deals with practical matters like law, politics and economics but also to enjoy the verses as a beautiful literary form that is a mesmerising blend of prose and poetry. The verses revealed in Mecca are spiritual and poetic while those from the Prophet's days in state building in Medina are a practical guide to organising the community into a group of human beings who are fair, just and equal to each other.
The Quran is a fine piece of literature while the hadis is a guide to its interpretation. The author makes it clear that she is no Islamic scholar or authority on Islam. She is a believer and has chosen about 20 stories from the Quran as she has heard, read and understood them in an easy to follow format.
The result is that barely a few weeks after being launched, the book is now out of print and delighted with the interest it has inspired amongst readers, a second edition is expected to flood the market very soon. What makes the author happy is that many non Muslims are reading her book at a time when religion is blamed for all ills worldwide, and misunderstandings about the Muslim way of life is at its worst.
Like it or not religion seems to be here to stay. It is obvious that even in modern times a large majority refuses to do without religion. In that case the path to happy and healthy cohabitation with other human beings is to appreciate your religion, the stepping stone of which is to first know other religions.
Tales from The Quran and Hadith by Rana Safvi is published by Juggernaut, 2017