by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 1, Sha'ban, 1444)
This article is being reproduced to encourage people to get a copy of the new translation by Imam al-Asi, especially in the month of Ramadan when most Muslims are deeply engaged with the noble Book.
For man to be able to don the mantle of protection, prevention, and precaution, i.e., have taqwa, he must learn to live the Qur’an. Being part of the Qur’anic culture is an “acquired taste”: it requires effort, commitment, and ultimately full confidence and reliance on Allah’s guidance and the methodology of His final Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh).
The Qur’an is our guide from the womb to the tomb. Guidance, however, is conditional upon understanding and the escalating self-assurance that comes from implementing that guidance. Ideally, this can only be done if Muslims learn the language of the Qur’an (which is different from the numerous dialects spoken in various countries). There was a time when standard Arabic was the dominant language of the world. Unfortunately, this is not the case today. Muslims have lost touch with the Arabic language and, therefore, the noble Qur’an.
There is emphasis on reading or memorization without understanding. Further, since Islam is a global deen, there are many more non-Arabic speaking than there are Arabic-speaking Muslims in the world today. Even those whose mother-tongue is Arabic fail to understand the message of the Qur’an. The sad state of the Arab world clearly reflects this grim reality.
The solution to this dilemma is to learn Qur’anic Arabic. Barring that, we are left with presenting the message of the Qur’an in a language that is widely spoken and understood worldwide: English. This is not as simple as it sounds.
First, the Qur’an cannot be accurately translated into any other language. The Qur’anic language is highly poetic and stylistic and imbued with multiple layers of meanings. Further, English has been secularized and cannot render many words accurately. The Qur’anic words taqwa, birr, ihsan, ‘ibadah, mu’min, mushrik, kafir, munafiq etc, for instance, have no English equivalents.
Finally, and this cannot be underscored enough, modern English is the medium used by a thoroughly corrupt power culture — which seems to think that it can rival God’s power — to rationalize and justify injustice, oppression, dispossession, endless wars, censorship, and exploitation without limits. Translating the Qur’an into the English language thus presents a rather sizable challenge, one that previous translators may not have been fully cognizant of.
Based on this reality, the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) has for many years been engaged in presenting Islamic literature to Muslims. In addition to the tafsir (exegesis) of the noble Qur’an by Imam Muhammad al-Asi, the ICIT has now also produced his new translation.
This new translation will provide the average Muslim a basic understanding of the essential message of the Qur’an. Before we highlight some of its distinctive features, it is important to be clear about a fundamental point: Allah’s power and authority. He is our Creator as well as Lawgiver. His power and authority are absolute. Only He determines what is right and wrong. We are commanded to obey His laws.
Thus, there cannot be two power centers in our lives. We must either self-surrender completely to the power and authority of Allah, or we risk getting subsumed into the power of taghut (excessive and concentrated power in the hands of man). In the latter case, we cannot call ourselves muslim even if we practice all of the prescribed rituals.
The Makkan mushriks did not persecute, torture, and kill the early Muslims because they prayed or fasted. Such practices were not part of Islamic ritual discipline in those early days around the Prophet (pbuh). It was the early Muslims’ emphasis on Allah’s power and authority — and the responsibility attending such recognition to the end that all of Allah’s temporal rivals need to be identified, prevented, and finally stayed from running their destructive program of human degradation and abuse — that so riled up the Makkan mushriks. They were not dumb: they immediately realized that their privileges and hereditary advantages were at stake in the presence of this new, enduring, and final dispensation from Allah.
Most Muslims today seem to have missed this crucial point that is central to the message of the Qur’an. However, now as then, the dominant power culture is acutely aware of what can be unleashed by attendance to Allah’s words. Hence its ferocity and vicious bloodlust when it comes to turning back the clock on the majority Muslim world. It has laid to waste their societies and murdered and displaced uncharted tens of millions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Mali, Yemen, etc.
In addition to emphasizing Allah’s tawhid, which all translations do, this translation highlights some important aspects that have been heretofore missing, chiefly Allah’s power and authority so as to integrate those who yield to Allah’s command and counsel into the power-grid of Islam.
The principle of social justice is front and center in the Qur’an. Through this translation, a reader would develop a keenness and sense of responsibility to confront and overcome the widespread injustices in the world today. This statement is not made lightly or rhetorically. It has to do with the fundamental precepts of Islam as ordained in the noble Qur’an. How can we say that Allah (swt) is our Creator, Sustainer and Lawgiver but ignore His laws so casually?
Such lack of clarity has rendered most Muslims incapable of changing their lives, much less the world around them. This translation contributes toward overcoming this general weakness within the collection of translation literature. Equipped with Qur’anic insight, a committed Muslim’s vision is supposed to be piercing, when it comes to assessing the world around him.
Unfortunately, some translations have been tainted by sectarianism. Careful attention has been paid to avoid any such pitfalls so that Muslims can get the message of the Qur’an in its original purity without having to navigate the inbuilt biases of some translators.
It has been composed with neither fear nor favor of any worldly power or authority. We recognize only one power and authority: Allah (swt). There is none like unto Him or equal to Him (112:1–4). “He is the Sovereign Supreme, the All-Powerful, the Almighty and the Truly Wise” (59:22-24).
Since the Qur’an’s message is applicable for all times, it has to be presented in such a manner that a reader is able to make the connection between what was revealed more than 1,400 years ago and our current reality. When the Qur’an highlights tyrannical rulers in early history, these are not merely interesting allegorical narratives but pertinent lessons from history about how human behavior transcends time and place. This translation articulates the common demeanor of these tyrannical rulers thereby empowering its readers to identify the modern-day nimrods and pharaohs and to confront them accordingly.
The early Muslims around the Prophet (pbuh), though small in number, understood this point clearly and internalized it fully. In the 23-year period between the first revelation that the Prophet (pbuh) received and his final moments on earth, there emerged a generation shaped by the Qur’an. It went on to set the pace for the inhabitants of the world who had been mangled by superstitious beliefs and cowed by the promulgations of emperors, kings, popes, and philosophers.
Guided by this final Testament, subsequent generations of Muslims set out to shape the destiny of humanity for nearly 1,000 years. For this Qur’anic generation no challenge was too great and no price too steep. It did not seek the material possessions or comforts of this dunya (life on earth), but the pleasure of Allah (swt) in the akhirah (life hereafter).
Their mission and struggle were directed at saving errant humanity from its deviant beliefs and practices that were leading to its destruction. Ending gross injustice was the most important dimension of their mission. Islam imbued the early generations of Muslims with the spirit of self-sacrifice to Allah so that social justice on earth would be a reflection of absolute justice in the realm of forever. They cultivated a respect for the dignity of human beings that was based not on race, color, or status but on taqwa (consciousness of Allah’s power presence in life).
The Qur’an also inspired a new potency in the quest for knowledge and the evolution of scientific inquiry throughout the expansive landmass under the sway of Islam. It was the knowledge that Europeans acquired in Islamic institutions of learning that led to Europe’s Renaissance.
Today, unfortunately, Muslims are not in the driving seat of history. They have been surpassed and dominated by an exploitative system that has dug its claws deep into the flesh of billions of people. Most of them including many Muslims feel helpless. It need not be. Islam has the regenerative power to enable Muslims to re-emerge in their natural dominant role in the world.
The building blocks of this regenerative process are none other than a proper understanding of the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah and Sirah. This new, contemporary translation of the Qur’an by Imam al ‘Asi has been completed and is now available in beautiful, leather-bound edition. It is our hope and prayer that Muslims would not only acquire a copy for themselves but also get copies as gifts for relatives and friends to comprehend the message of the Qur’an more accurately.
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