by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 8, Safar, 1442)
The noble Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah (Qur’anically compatible actions of the noble Messenger) provide the foundational principles to guide Muslims in their journey through this world. As the eternal word of Allah, the Qur’an encapsulates the complete set of principles that allows social beings to fulfill their mission on earth and guide them on a path to Allah, their ultimate destination.
While emphasizing that truth is from Allah, He has given human beings the choice to accept or reject it (18:29). Choices, however, carry consequences. Those that accept divine guidance and act upon it with sincerity are promised great reward in the hereafter (2:05; 61:12); rejectors are warned of severe punishment (2:06; 9:68; 9:73).
The first generation of Muslims fully internalized the message of the Qur’an. It led to spectacular successes despite many years of difficulties and hardships initially. In the 23-year period of revelation, there emerged a generation shaped by the Qur’an for whom no challenge was too great and no price too steep. They became the pace-setters to bring errant humanity out of darkness and into light.
Guided by the noble Messenger (pbuh), this generation struggled not in pursuit of the material comforts of the dunya but the pleasure of Allah in the akhirah (life hereafter). They brought the entire Arabian Peninsula into the fold of Islam in 23 years. It was not by sword but the upright character of early Muslims that won adherents to Islam.
Ending injustice was an important part of their struggle. Imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, the early generation set out to attain social justice in the world. Respect and dignity for human beings based not on race, color or status in life but on taqwa (consciousness of Allah’s power presence) were other qualities they practised. They triumphed on the battlefield as well as excelled in other fields of human endeavor.
Muslim decline began when they abandoned the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). They were eclipsed by what came to be called the ‘European’ or ‘Western civilization’. Decline and defeat, however, are not permanent conditions of life. History moves in cycles; the rise and fall of civilizations is based on many factors including a people’s core values.
Islam’s core values, derived from the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah, have an inbuilt capacity to regenerate the power of Islam and bring it back to its divinely-ordained dominant position (9:33; 61:09). The building blocks of this regenerative process are none other than the message of the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah and Sirah.
For centuries, Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, remained dominant in the world. But when Muslim power declined, so did the pre-eminent position of Arabic. European languages, primarily English supplanted it. Today, for most Muslims, English (or even French) is their primary medium of communication. In recent decades, millions of Muslims have also settled in Europe, North America, Australasia etc. This has necessitated the production and translation of Islamic literature, especially the Qur’an, into English.
As part of our contribution to this effort, the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) is honoured to announce a new contemporary ‘translation’ of the Qur’an by Imam Muhammad al Asi. He has been working on the tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur’an for several decades. True, there are numerous ‘translations’ available in English but the need for this one was felt because many fundamental precepts of the Qur’an needed more accurate translation.
Before highlighting the distinctive features of this ‘translation’, let us first recall that the Makkan mushriks did not torture and murder the Muslims because they indulged in rituals. There were no rituals in the early days of Islam. In Makkah, Islam’s challenge was ideological. It was related to the power and authority of Allah.
Unfortunately, the power dimension is missing from most ‘translations’ and tafasir. They confine the Qur’an’s message to the religious, personal, historical or spiritual domains. Imam al-Asi’s ‘translation’ brings out the dimensions of Allah’s power and authority to enable Muslims to plug into the divine power-grid.
It highlights the principle of social justice in order to confront and overcome widespread injustices in the world today. Proper understanding of words like mumin, kafir and mushrik (to name a few) beyond the commonly-used simplistic terminology are other distinctive features of this ‘translation’.
It is meant to clarify Allah’s role in our lives: He is our Creator and Sustainer but also the law-giver. Thus, as representatives of Allah on earth (2:30), our role is to implement His laws, not institute our own in contradiction to what He has ordained. If there is so much suffering in the world today, it is precisely because oppressors and tyrants have usurped Allah’s power and authority.
Imam al-Asi’s ‘translation’ is also not tainted by any sectarian slant. Further, it has been composed with neither fear nor favor of any worldly power or authority. We recognize no other power and authority except Allah. There is none like unto Him or equal to Him (Surah 112).
Since the Qur’an’s message is applicable for all times, it has to be presented in such a manner that readers can make the connection between what was revealed more than 1400 years ago and their contemporary situation. When the Qur’an refers to tyrannical rulers from early history, these are not merely stories but lessons from history. This translation articulates the common demeanor of tyrannical rulers thereby empowering its readers to identify the modern-day Nimrods and Pharaohs and confront them accordingly.
It is intended to develop a deeper understanding of the Qur’an to help build the new Qur’anic generation. Only such a generation will be able to simultaneously lead humanity out of the abyss of darkness and steer the world of Islam to its dominant position as ordained by Allah in the noble Qur’an. We pray to Allah to accept our humble efforts in His Way.