by Haniffah Abdul Gafoor (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 16, Sha'ban, 1423)
The Mind Al-Qur’an Builds by Syed Abdul Latif, new edition. Pub: Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur (www.ibtbooks.com), 2002. Pp: 141; price: RM19.00.
By Haniffah Abdul Gafoor
The outlook and thinking of a person are influenced and shaped by his parents, teachers and society. The education he receives – academic and non-academic – and life’s experiences from childhood onwards etch impressions in his mind and influence his character. In a Muslim’s case, it is ideally the teachings and practice of the Islamic deen which shape his character and temperament. And the authentic sources of these teachings and practices of Islamic deen are the Qur’an and Sunnah (the latter recorded mostly as hadith).
Hence a book that analyses the influence of the Qur’an on our minds, as The Mind Al-Qur’an Buildsdoes, is an exercise in awareness that must not to be missed. For millennia the followers of Ibrahim (as) (Abraham, in the traditions of the Jews and Christians) who have been true believers have, wittingly and unwittingly, had their thought and actions shaped by Allah’s revealed message, presented to man in its final complete form, the Qur’an, through Muhammad, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, 1,400 years ago.
This book, in nine chapters, highlights some important and interesting viewpoints. The book discusses modes of interpreting the Qur’an, monotheism, mankind as one Ummah responsible for his/her brother/sister, the Will of God, accountability in the Hereafter for action in this life, righteous conduct, and a society of moderation.
I found the opening chapter, "The Qur’an in Medieval Bondage", most interesting. It discusses man’s weakness and prejudice in interpreting the Qur’an to suit his personal wants. In some ways it is similar in principle to Muhammad Asad’s assertion in his autobiography when discussing the lack of ‘spiritual order’ in society: he writes, "the cause of all this confusion might lie perhaps in the arbitrariness of the self-righteous guardians of faith who claimed to have the right to ‘define’ God and, by clothing Him with their own garments, separated Him from man and his destiny" (The Road to Mecca, 1996 edition, p.58). It is thought-provoking and indeed worrisome that Syed Abdul Latif writes that "the religion that passes off as Islam today – the Islam of the masses and the ruling classes – in every (so-called) Muslim country is ... not exactly the Islam of the Qur’an and the Prophet (s.a.w.)."
The simple and telling narration of a black shepherd boy’s trustworthiness, in an encounter with Sayyidina Umar al-Khattab (r.a), in which the boy refused to sell his master’s sheep illegally, demonstrates with consummate clarity the impact the teachings of the Qur’an can and should have on an individual.
The second chapter, "The Moorings", stresses the fundamentals that should shape our outlook via conviction in the unity of God and the unity of man (that mankind is but one ummah), and that we shall be held to account for each other’s welfare. Syed Abdul Latif states that to achieve this, "devotion to sunnah-Allah or the ways of Allah" using the Qur’an as the "reference point" and guide, is necessary. He shares his philosophy on the Will of God ("preordained fate") and man’s efforts, and how these two phenomena are not incompatible. He asserts that there must first be faith (or "belief") and that this is then to be complemented by effort (or "work", or right action). "Belief and work" is a recurring theme in this book, with the qualifying statement that the "work" should be "righteous" (al-amal al-salih). The author also incorporates the concept of jihad in his discourse on al-amal al-salih (righteous conduct).
All mortals must die and will be accountable for their worldly deeds and misdeeds in the Hereafter. This realisation should motivate man’s adherence to righteous conduct. As man attains a love for goodness – to please his Lord – this motivation is then less driven by fear of reprisal and more by an affinity for what is right and good. The chapter on "Life Hereafter" explores this in greater detail, quoting from the Qur’an about both pleasurable and painful rewards commensurate with man’s deeds in this life, and the eventual comfort of God’s mercy: "My mercy triumphs over my displeasure" (also sometimes translated as "My mercy prevails over My wrath", hadith al-qudsi) and "Say to my servants who have wronged their souls: Despair not of God’s Mercy, for indeed God forgives all sins; truly He is Most Forgiving and Most Merciful" (Surah al-Zumar, 39:53).
The book concludes by discussing "The Cultural Basis of Civilization" and "ummatun wasat", a balanced community living between two extremes. This is an insight into how the individual mind, if well shaped, can form the nucleus of a righteous community living in balanced moderation. It is not difficult to see that templates and benchmarks which mould fair-mindedness and righteous conduct can result in a virtuous and just community.
Although this book is small, it nevertheless serves as a stimulus to the thinking individual, and reminds him of his true role in human society. Man must fulfill his destiny by appraising for himself the basis of his existence (by his realisation of theism, i.e. the existence of God) and the route to direct "contact" with God (through His Messengers and revealed Messages, i.e. the Prophets and the Holy Book). The awareness of God in all situations, and accountability to Him, highlighted and elaborated upon by the Qur’an, is likely to have an indelible impact on a human being’s thought, emotions and conduct.
The Mind Al-Qur’an Builds, written in 1952 yet still fresh and new, may be just the stimulus that drives Muslims to acquaint themselves better with the Qur’an, first by reading the original Qur’anic text, then by embarking on the task of understanding, which is really only possible and meaningful if the principles of the Qur’an are put into practice, reasonably sincerely and consistently. This may well prove a lifelong task; a worthwhile endeavour rewarded in an immeasurable currency: that ofJannah (the Garden), insha’Allah.