November 8, 2004

From: Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia
To: My Fellow Muslims
Subject: THE NIGHT OF POWER

My Fellow Muslims,

Asalaam-u-Alaikum

“We are very near to greatness: one step and we are safe: can we not take the leap?” demanded a great American scholar, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lo and behold! “That’s one small step for a man; a giant leap for mankind,” spoken when Neil Alden Armstrong stepped on the moon at 10.56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, is a testimony that the nation having pious scholars and poets preaching the goodness of Almighty Allah made the United States of America achieve its greatness. Mind you, it was due to Holy Literature and not Holy Terror that made it possible.

Indeed, we the respective and honorable members of the Islamic Ummah, without doubt, can take a giant leap to restore the image of Islam provided we ponder over the commentary of an eminent Islamic scholar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in his – Magnum Opus – “Tarjuman al-Quran. A small percentage of our fellow Muslims appreciates the serious thought and research that went into one of his brilliant literary masterpieces which commands us to develop our minds to cherish and cultivate the true spirit of universal humanism. Does any Muslim care to take one step away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives to read Maulana Saheb’s translation of Surah Al-Fatiha? Does any Muslim dare to take one step forward to question as to why our Islamic institutions are out of touch with the letter and spirit of the Holy Quran?

Maulana Azad was a distinguished journalist, a brilliant writer and a secular theologian. Writing the preface to the first edition of “Tarjuman al-Quran, on December 16, 1930, while confined to the District Jail in Meerut, India, Maulana Saheb opined, “The first generation of people among whom the Quran was delivered were not a sophisticated race ….. No one at the time felt it difficult to catch its meaning. The moment the companions of the Prophet heard a verse recited to them, they forthwith caught its significance.” Oh well, fourteen hundred years have lapsed thus far, and we now find that both Salafis and Wahhabis have distorted the meaning of the very first chapter of our Holy Quran, “Surah Al-Fatiha. A recent article “Rewriting The Koran – A bigoted Saudi translation,” as published by The Weekly Standard on September 27, 2004, will confirm this fact. Yes, we Muslims can either try to spin the story or to play the blame game, but remember that truth will always prevail in the end.

My father, Noor Mohammed Lodhia (May Almighty Allah rest his soul in peace) taught me to hold firm to the translation of “Surah al-Fatiha” of none other than Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Years passed by, and on reading scholarly works of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a Christian humanitarian and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian, I came to realize that these great scholars hailing from three Abrahimic faiths were contemporaries, and incidentally, all three of them spent their literally lives translating the meaning of “Divine Providence” in their respective languages.

I, Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia, do not profess to be a learned man, nonetheless, I developed a habit of reading. I do not confess to be strictly a practicing Muslim, however, like ordinary Muslim, I deeply respect and honor the tenets of our Islamic faith. I do not possess a scholarly head, nevertheless, the yearn to cling to the wisdom of humankind has always been ingrained in my personal life. There is an anonymous saying, “When Almighty Allah measures a person, He puts a tape around the heart not the head.” I do quite know how I will measure up at The Judgement Day, except that, as a witness to this turbulent era, I can at least raise up my arm and confidently state that “I spoke up, and did my moral duty by following the footsteps of the Prophet of Islam, that is, “Be persistent in good actions.

Wisdom lingers in the Islamic Ummah and we alone are collectively responsible to have allowed the humanist tradition of our peaceful religion of Islam to be taken over by the fundamentalist tradition. These so-called “fundamentalists” are the ones who have steered far away from the very basic and fundamental message of our Holy Quran by instilling their own version of either Salafism or Wahhabism into Islam. A testimony of one Stephen Schwartz, a Sufi Muslim, and an author of the “Two Faces Of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror, on June 26, 2003 to United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary will make us all, that is, “Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, to confront the truth, and is most likely to trigger the mainstream American Muslims to take back our communities from the religious extremists residing in our midst. Enough is enough.

Merely turning away from addressing this grave issue will not reinstate the already torn image of Islam. My earnest appeal to all of my brothers and sisters is to catch up with the missionary zeal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as aptly described in his renowned Al-Hilal, an Urdu weekly religious journal launched in the year 1921 from the city of Calcutta, wherein, he wrote as follows:

“My resolve is not to seek a task, but to seek first men to do it. In this world,
there never was any lack of tasks. But there has always been a dearth of men
to undertake them. The present age is an age of wars. All around us are hosts
of enemies, and there is not a single corner where armours do not ring. So,
there is no lack of fields for action. Those who possess the spirit of a soldier
and the courage of a hero must come out to face life as they find it and face
its trials. I assert once again that there is no lack of tasks. What we really lack
among us are patriots and fighters.”

Islamic Patriots! Where have they been till now? As respective members of the Islamic Ummah, it is our first and foremost duty to take a hard look into “A Wahhabi Koran,” printed in the city of Riyadh and distributed by the American branch of Saudi Arabia’s Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. Whether we like it or not, enemies of Islam are living in our very own neighborhoods. The need of the hour is to bravely face up to the threat they pose and take suitable action without any further delay.

Quite frankly, one need not look any further for the meaning of the word, “Enemies, as according to the sayings of our beloved Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him), “The greatest enemies of Allah are those who entered into Islam, and do acts of infidelity, and who without cause, shed the blood of man.” Come to think of it, haven’t we all seen enough bloodshed in the name of Allah?” Henceforth, we need to quit dwelling on conspiracy theories, and in turn, take a swift leap to start the investigation process at the earliest.

An appropriate quip, “Prayer gives strength to the weak, faith to the faint-hearted and courage to the fearful,” must be taken into account during our prayers this Holy Month of Ramadhan. We Muslims will be passing through “Laylatul Qadr” during this week in which the first revelation came down to our most esteemed Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) through Angel Gabriel. Most of us will be busy praying and reciting a Meccan Surah, that is, Surah Al-Qadr (THE NIGHT OF POWER) as follows:

Verily,
We sent it down
on the
Glorious Night !

And what
will make thee know
what
the Glorious Night is? !

The Glorious Night
is the benediction of
a thousand months:

Therein do Angels
and revelations
waft down
by the grace of their Lord:
In every way

‘Tis full of peace
until . . .
the rising of . . .
the . . . Dawn!

Surah: Al-Qadr or The Night of Power
Chapter: 97

My fellow Muslims, I have taken liberty to jot down the English translation of Surah Al-Qadr from “The Student’s Quran” by Hashim Amir Ali owing to one single pressing question, “What an Euclidean impossibility is expressed in the second Verse?” and raises doubt as follows:

“Oh, what can make you comprehend how blessed the night of illumination is?”

“Yes, how is it possible for others, ordinary men and women, bound by their
plodding, reasoning minds, involved in the little problems of their small egos,
how is it possible for them to comprehend that which the illuminated
consciousness of the deserving alone can experience at the zenith of their
enlightenment?”

Surely, being an incorrigible optimist, I do firmly believe that enlightenment is possible if we stir our responsive minds to differentiate between right and wrong; enlightenment is possible if we set aside our egos, be it small or big; enlightenment is possible if we care to extract the wisdom from our secular Islamic scholars most of whom have already departed from this planet Earth. Responsibility for failing to illuminate consciousness in the minds of Muslims lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Muslim Kings, Sultans, and the so-called Islamic philanthropists who never bothered to contribute even a small portion of their vastly accumulated wealth to enable learned people to compile “Anthologies” of the writings of our true scholars and humble poets who persistently preached nothing but secular and humane spirit of the Holy Qur’an. Simply put, such reading would bring forth the much needed “Enlightenment” in the Islamic Ummah.

Finally, may I humbly ask, “What better time to take a colossus leap in order to bring back the spiritual greatness of Islam?” It is only after rendering our prayers in humility during “The Night of Illumination, will make those amongst us who possess the spirit of a soldier and the courage of a hero to come out to help reform our Islamic civilization back to an age of enlightenment and spiritual glory. Insha-Allah.

May Almighty Allah guide us all to “The Straight Path. “Sirat al-Mustaqim. Ameen.

Very sincerely yours,

Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia

___________________________________________________________________________

MAGNUM OPUS – A GREAT WORK OF LITERATURE

If a person believes sincerely in the letter and spirit of this prayer (Surah Al-Fatiha), whose most striking character is its universality, what is the type of mind that he will cherish and cultivate? This is how he (Maulana Abul Kalam Azad) sums it up:

Such a person passionately chants the glory and praise of God – not a God claimed exclusively as their own by different races and nations and creeds but the beneficent Creator of the entire universe, whose mercy and compassion encompass the whole human race. When he wishes to involve His attributes, only two come to mind irresistibly – His compassion and His justice, which comprise for him the essence of His being. The he bows his head in obeisance to Him, in implicit, undivided allegiance. “Before Thee alone, O Lord, can I bow my head and from Thee alone do I seek help in all my needs and tribulations.” Thus focusing his devotion and his prayer for help and guidance on Him alone, he becomes indifferent to, and fearless of, all citadels of power and prestige built by man. He will not bow his head now at any other threshold, nor be afraid at any other power, nor extend a beggar’s hand at any other door. Then, he prays for God’s grace to follow the right path – the only favor that his tongue is prepared to ask. And what is this right, this straight path? It is the path of some particular nation or race? Of some particular religious group? No, it is the common path which all the great religious leaders of mankind, all the truth-loving, truth-seeking men and women of the world have trodden, whatever the age or race to which they belonged. Likewise, he prays to be shielded from the path of transgression and wrong. But here, too, there is no reference to any particular race or creed or nation but to the way of all those who have fallen from grace and been led astray. Thus what he passionately desires is the universal good of all mankind and what he passionately rejects is that which is evil for all mankind. Differences of race, nation, community or creed – discrimination of any kind based on such considerations – do not throw their faintest shadow on his heart and mind. What then is the kind of mould in which the mind of such a person will be cast? He will worship the God of universal compassion and grace and will, in no sense, whatever, be fettered by prejudices of race or nation or other exclusive groupings. He will be a man endowed with the spirit of universal humanism.

If such is the vision of man, as Azad sees it, education cannot possibly be limited to academic instruction or physical and social training; it must tap the deeper recesses of the heart and the spirit where man is not merely a creature of his geographical or economic background but touches the roots of his meaning.

In another context, he has defined these significant human qualities in somewhat different words but they build up same beautiful pattern in their totality. They include a resolute will to honor the implications of one’s allegiance to God, a sincere respect for all human beings and human relationships, an avoidance of every form of injustice, a belief that one is eventually accountable for all one’s deeds – that is, there is no running away from the implacable “day of reckoning,” – a willingness to spend one’s material, intellectual and spiritual resources not on oneself alone but for one’s fellow men and women in need or distress and, above all, the moral strength to return good for evil, rather than pay evil back in its own coin. In the everyday transactions of life, the rules of right and wrong are the same for all – they cannot be adjusted, by sophistry, to suit “our” people, or “our” community, versus “other” peoples and communities. “O ye who believe,” enjoins the Quran, “be steadfast in the service of God’s truth and bear witness for justice and let not hatred of any people seduce you so that you deal with them unjustly. Act justly, for that is what piety demands.”

Excerpts from a book titled: The Humanist Tradition
Author: Dr. Khawja Ghulam Saiyidain
Publisher: Asia Publishing House (1966)

___________________________________________________________________________

Rewriting the Koran
By Stephen Schwartz
September 27, 2004

THE UNITED STATES took the bold step last week of formally designating Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” for its lack of religious freedom. In the words of the State Department’s 2004 report on religious freedom worldwide, “basic religious freedoms are denied to all [Saudi citizens] but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam . . . commonly called Wahhabi.” This incontrovertible statement of fact is a breakthrough in the diplomatic dance of many veils. It casts in a new and somewhat hopeful light certain forms of engagement the administration continues to pursue with the Saudi kingdom.

Thus, also last week, the State Department welcomed a group of professors of religion from Saudi Arabia on a three-week tour of the United States. The stated goal of the visit is to show the 15 guests how Americans handle various issues of public policy and civil society, including state and federal responsibilities in education, the accreditation, financing, and curriculum of public and private schools, the academic study of religions including Islam, religious diversity, and interfaith activities.

All this should indeed be strange and informative to visitors whose delegation is led by five professors from the Imam Mohammed Ibn-Saud Islamic University, a seminary for the training of clerics in Wahhabism. Familiarly known as the “terrorist factory,” this institution was the alma mater of three of the 9/11 suicide hijackers. Abd al-Aziz Abd al-Rahman Al-Omari (who was on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center) met and befriended several bin Ladenite clerics while studying at the Ibn-Saud campus in the city of Qaseem. Ahmed Abdullah Al-Nami (who was on the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania) studied at the university’s branch in the city of Abha. And Mohned Mohamed al-Shehri (who was on the plane that struck the South Tower) was recruited, according to Saudi dissident sources, to the bin Laden network directly from the university.

Not only that, but the same seminary ran the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America (IIASA) as an extension campus in Fairfax, Virginia, under the supervision of the Department of Religious Affairs of the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Early this year, the State Department expelled 24 Saudis associated with this network for abusing their diplomatic passports to interfere with American religious life.

The most obvious window into the theology taught at Ibn-Saud Islamic University is the Wahhabi Koran, an edition of the Islamic scripture, with commentary, printed in every major European, Asian, and African language in paperback editions that are distributed free or at low cost throughout the world (and are available on the web at www.kuran.gen.tr/html/english3). The fifteenth revised edition of this work was published as The Noble Qur’ân in the English Language by Darussalam Publishers and Distributors in Riyadh in 1996. The translators are Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, both affiliated with another extremist institution, the Islamic University of Medina, two of whose faculty members are also among the educators being hosted by the State Department.

The Wahhabi Koran is notable in that, while Muslims believe that their sacred text was dictated by God and cannot be altered, the Saudi English version adds to the original so as to change its sense in a radical direction. For example, the opening chapter, or surah, is known as Fatiha, and is recited in Muslim daily prayer and (among non-Wahhabis) as a memorial to the dead. The four final lines of Fatiha read, in a normal rendition of the Arabic original (such as this translation by N.J. Dawood, published by Penguin Books): Guide us to the straight path, / The path of those whom You have favored, / Not of those who have incurred Your wrath, / Nor of those who have gone astray.

The Wahhabi Koran renders these lines: Guide us to the Straight Way. / The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who have earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians). The Wahhabi Koran prints this translation alongside the Arabic text, which contains no reference to either Jews or Christians.
There is nothing to indicate to the uninformed reader that these interpolations, printed in parentheses, are absent from the Arabic. The reader encountering Islam for the first time, as well as the Muslim already indoctrinated in Wahhabism, is led to believe that the Koran denounces all Jews and Christians, which it does not.

There are, of course, many individuals who are unprepared to read this translation with a critical eye. This is especially true wherever Wahhabis conduct the missionary outreach called dawa–above all in prisons in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Indeed, it is to just such readers that this edition is directed. The Wahhabi Koran is also a mainstay of Muslim student groups on campuses throughout the West.

Distortions of the text stating or implying that God has condemned the Jews and Christians are scattered throughout the Wahhabi Koran. Notably, they invert the meaning of the several verses that express respect for the “People of the Book,” the Jews and Christians. Thus, verse 2:62 in its authentic form states: Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans–whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right–shall be rewarded by their Lord. (The Sabaeans were followers of an ancient religion impossible to identify clearly today.) In the Saudi English translation, this passage is footnoted to declare, No other religion except Islam will be accepted from anyone, although no such statement appears in the Arabic.

The standard translation of verse 3:113 reads: There are among the People of the Book some upright men who all night long recite the revelations of God and worship Him, who believe in God and the Last Day, who enjoin justice and forbid evil.

The Saudi translation again inserts verbiage hostile to non-Muslims. In the Wahhabi Koran, the upright Jews and Christians turn out to be those who convert to Islam: those enjoining Islamic Monotheism and following Prophet Muhammad and not opposing Prophet Muhammad. To repeat, where the Arabic text actually praises pious Jews and Christians, the Wahhabi English version praises only Jews and Christians who become Muslims.

The original verse 5:65 says of the Jews and Christians: If they observe the Torah and the Gospel and what is revealed to them from their Lord, they shall enjoy abundance.

The Wahhabi edition adds that, in addition to Jews’ observing the Torah and Christians’ the New Testament, both must accept the Koran–that is, become Muslims–which nowhere appears in the Arabic text and conflicts with traditional Islamic theology. Mainstream Islam treats the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran as different books. Wahhabism, by contrast, treats the Jewish and Christian scriptures as primitive editions of the Islamic text.

And, inevitably, the Wahhabi Koran adds language aggravating Muslim-Jewish controversies. Verse 17:1 refers to the night journey, an out-of-body experience in which the Prophet Muhammad was taken on a magical steed to a site called in the standard text the farther Temple. The Wahhabi translation alters this to stake the Islamic claim to Jerusalem. It refers to Muhammad’s journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Haram (at Makkah) to the farthest mosque (in Jerusalem).

Contempt for non-Muslims suffuses Saudi translations of the Islamic holy book. It is a matter of some urgency, then, that federal and state correctional institutions stop allowing the use of the Wahhabi Koran in Islamic teaching. Every prison warden in America should examine his library and replace this volume with an accurate translation.

The same bigotry is integral to the creed taught at the Imam Mohammed Ibn-Saud Islamic University and spread around the world by preachers and missionaries funded by the Saudi royal family. The spotlight the administration has now fixed on Riyadh’s policy of religious intolerance may have embarrassed our Saudi visitors this week. If so, their discomfort is only fitting, as long as their universities and their government continue to promote the extremist cult in which terrorism breeds.

Stephen Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam.

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