November 29, 2008

From: Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia
To: Maulana Wahiddudin Khan

Honorable Maulana Saheb,

As-Salaam Alay-Kum

Ignorance is the mother of all evils, proclaimed our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Well having stated this, kindly allow me to jot down three more quotes from three other wise persons on the very word “Ignorance” as follows:

“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

Johann Wolgang von Goethe

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere
ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of
our own ignorance.”

Benjamin Franklin

Undoubtedly, ever since the tragic day of September 11, 2001, the silent majority in the Muslim Ummah clearly displayed an act of sincere ignorance by continuously dwelling on the so-called Conspiracy Theory, let alone the conscientious stupidity by relentlessly arguing that all the mayhem created by those who hijacked our great religion of Islam are more or less instigated by the invisible hands who are out to hurt the good name of Islam. Believe it or not, as Muslims we have become masters of shifting the blame on others without using our common sense not realizing that we are our own worst enemies for being “Ignorant” to the hilt.

It’s truly mind boggling that in spite of a recent terror attack in once a peaceful city of Bombay/Mumbai, the same conspiratorial theories are again being discussed as if we the Muslims are immune to committing any crimes on humanity. Goethe’s words proved to be so right that the rampant attack upon the innocent civilians is not only frightful, but ignorance blended with extreme hatred in action is ever more dangerous. Small wonder that the Islamic zealots are always out to disrupt the human civilization as these ignorant ones in their own stupid minds believe that they are conducting a holy act in the name of Islam.

Benjamin Franklin’s cautionary words that the knowledge of our own ignorance paves the way to the doorstep of wisdom must be heeded too. We Muslims must come out of our self-imposed “Silence” and sheer “Ignorance, or else, the ruthless fanatics led by the criminal minds who have indoctrinated the young Muslims with nothing but hatred towards humanity will forever ruin the image of Islam. Witnessing the uncalled for death and destruction in India, my heart calls out for a single most powerful question,JINHE NAAZ HAI ISLAM PAR VO KAHAN HAIN?”

Sahir Ludhianvi is no longer with us, however, the famous lyrics of the unforgettable timeless movie “Pyaasa” are forever engraved in my mind. The song “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par” succinctly highlights the decadence in Indian society, especially the streets of brothels. It was none other than Mohammad Rafi who superbly sang the song which was penned by Sahir. Sadly, these two great Muslims died in the same year; Sahir on October 25, 1980, whereas, Rafi on July 31, 1980. (May Almighty Allah rest their souls in peace.)

Sahir Rafi

Mohd Rafi with Sahir Ludhianvi, Jaan Nisar Akhtar, Madan Mohan, Minoo Karthik

Today, Muslim world needs poets and singers to portray the utter corruption of the Islamic world where the streets are being roamed by the murderous young Muslims whose sole mission in life is to destruct anything iconic to prove to the world that they are the followers of Islam. Fiery and hateful sermons given by our religious teachers are much to be blamed for such a chaos that prevails in the world. Listening to the twisted interpretation of our Holy Quran by taking the verses out of context helps elevate the level of ignorance. Unfortunately, most amongst us despise “Reading” even by using the “Blackberry” which brings the world in the palm of their hands. Perhaps, “Listening” might well be one of the avenues to expose the evil nature of Muslim terrorism similar to one of Sahir’s heartfelt verses as follows:

Madad chahati hai ye hawwa ki beti
Yashoda ki ham-jins, radha ki beti
Payambar ki ummat zulai khan ki beti
Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain

That’s right,Kahan Hain.” Spiritual poets are long gone and it is hard to seek spiritual scholars in the Islamic world. You are the only one who I know can give some satisfying answers as to why “Ignorance” and “Inconsideration” plague our Islamic society. Interestingly, the editorial page of Pakistan’s leading newspaper “Dawn” falls short in addressing the root cause of terrorism except for dedicating a first few lines in condemning the despicable attacks. Surprisingly, in the same editorial section was an article by Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer titled, Two Great Modern Thinkers, namely Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (May Almighty Allah rest their souls in peace). For sure these two great Muslims have made rich contributions, but they are all but mostly forgotten as their rational teachings of Islam can never endorse the violent acts unleashed by the Islamic zealots.

Last but not the least, I am totally at sea, engulfed in a state of deep sadness. Every act of terror brings out the embarrassing headline news all over the world, thereby, the teachings of our great religion of Islam are once again up for critical debate by our fellow humans hailing from different religions. I stand absolutely confused and do earnestly request you to pen another book emphasizing the saying of the Prophet of Islam that Ignorance is the mother of all evils without an iota of doubt.

With warmest personal regards, I, your ardent admirer, beg to remain,

Respectfully yours,

Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia


Two great modern thinkers

By: Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer

Dated: November 28, 2008

The subcontinent produced many great Islamic thinkers throughout the medieval period and even during the decline of the Mughals when Shah Waliullah stands out.

During the British rule two great thinkers came to prominence: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Sir Syed belonged to the 19th century. Maulana Azad, on other hand, lived and worked during the 20th century (died 1958). Both were great Islamic thinkers. Sir Syed though known more for his establishment of the modern educational institution, the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO), which became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920, was also an Islamic thinker in his own right. Sir Syed’s services to the community in the field of education perhaps overshadowed his Islamic scholarship.

His scholarship was original. He wrote books in defence of Islam when some British and western orientalists found faults with it. His book, Essays on the Life of Muhammad, is an important work from the modernist point of view. More than that, his commentary of the Quran, which he could not complete because he was forced by orthodox ulema to abandon it, is quite significant.

Sir Syed was earlier influenced by the puritan Wahabi ideology; he later changed track and came under the influence of the Muttazila school of thought, arguing that it was closer to the rationalist point of view. His commentary on the Quran, published under the title of Tafsir al-Quran wa huwa al-huda wa al-Furqan is, to my mind, a milestone in the 19th century commentary literature which came into existence as a result of countering western, rational challenges.

Sir Syed’s commentary and scholarship could be compared with his Egyptian contemporary, Muhammad Abduh. Abduh was also influenced by western rationalism and adopted a modernist view on many aspects. He, like Sir Syed, devoted himself to spreading education among his people and shunned politics in his later years.

Under pressure from traditional ulema, Sir Syed gave up writing the commentary and began to spread modern education among Muslims, which he thought was more important than insisting on writing the commentary. He argued that if modern education took hold, Muslim could understand the Quran in a rational way. Unfortunately, that did not happen and the orthodox ulema continued to have sway over the Muslim mind.

Sir Syed’s commentary went out of print and no one was interested in reprinting it. Thanks to Khudabakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, it became available in India again about a decade ago.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s commentary on the Qur’an is equally significant. Azad was greatly influenced by Sir Syed in his earlier days though later he charted his own course. He too could not complete his commentary though for a different reason. He had written his commentary during his internment at Ranchi in the 1920s. Unlike Sir Syed, Azad was a freedom fighter and his political activities kept him so busy that he could not complete the commentary.

Azad’s commentary is somewhat different from Sir Syed’s, though similar in spirit. He tends to be more traditional. Unlike Sir Syed, he does not write under the influence of the Muttazila school, though his approach, too, is not orthodox. He claims in the introductory part that he went through all the available tafsir literature before writing his commentary. Thus, Azad was fully conscious of what was written in the past and without significant departure from the traditional line, he made his commentary much more relevant to modern times. Also, his prose style is much simpler than Sir Syed’s.

Azad’s commentary on Surah Fatihah, the very first chapter of the Quran, is unique and remains unbeatable by other commentators. Also, he devotes one volume of his tafsir to what he calls wahdat-i-deen (unity of religion), basing his view on the Quranic text. This is his unique contribution, and leaves one wondering at his knowledge of other religions and philosophies, like Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.

Azad maintains that deen is one, though laws (sharia) differ from religion to religion. Differences in these laws are because of culture, customs and traditions, not because of principles and values. He supports his thesis by quoting extensively from the Quran and other religious texts. Though one finds the doctrine of wahdat-i-deen in tafsir literature before Azad also, like in Shah Waliyullah’s Hujjatillah al-Baligha, but one does not find here a scholarship of other religious texts. Maulana Azad’s tafsir is thus much more inclusive.

Both Sir Syed and Maulana Azad have made rich contributions to the tafsir literature in modern times which needs to be popularised.

The writer is an Islamic scholar and heads the Centre for Study Society and Secularism, Mumbai.

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