“We Only Feed You For the Sake of God”

3 Apr

By Sohaib Saeed

As a book of guidance for the individual and society, the Qur’an often elaborates on virtues which qualify people as pious, faithful and righteous,  and worthy of being “servants of the Merciful”. Among these most beautiful of Quranic passages is one found in Chapter 76, known both as “The Human Being” (al-Insān) and “Time” (al-Dahr), which was most likely revealed in Makkah in the early phase of the Prophetic mission.

Our selected verses begin with a glimpse of the reward in store for the righteous, together with some of their most prominent character traits: both towards their fellow man and towards their Lord:

{As to the righteous, they shall drink of a cup mixed with kāfūr;
a fountain where the devotees of God do drink, making it flow in unstinted abundance.
They perform (their) vows, and they fear a day whose evil flies far and wide.}
(Q 76:5-7).

Continue reading

A Word of Peace

31 Mar

By Sohaib Saeed [Originally published by 1st Ethical]

It may have become something of a cliché that Islam means peace, or is a religion of peace. Yet there is no doubt that the pursuit of peace is a central goal of this life, just as we strive to arrive at the Abode of Peace after we die. When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “Spread peace”, it was a sign that his followers should feel that they have this role upon the earth: to be bearers of peace.

The greeting of peace – in Arabic, expressed with the word salām – is one of the great symbols of Islamic ethics and is heard upon the tongues of the Prophets in the Qur’an as well as the Bible. To extend the word of peace to those you know and those you do not, is to put them at ease and engender an atmosphere of trust. It is a covenant extended to all who will accept to live in peace with us, and a precursor to getting to know one another as the Qur’an instructs.

In a verse exemplifying constructive reciprocity, Almighty God says: {And when you are greeted with a greeting, then greet with something better than it, or return it (in kind).} (Qur’an 4:86)

While the scholars have discussed in detail the wordings of such greetings and their replies, the spirit of this verse is to take positivity and build upon it before passing it on. Every society will benefit from this lesson, and it ought to be kept in mind when interacting within our own community as well as engaging with others.

It is also the case that knowing our scripture and its higher purposes – and reflecting on the localised contexts of its application – will enable us to benefit from divine guidance in living among people, inviting them through our words and actions to a life of peace and fulfilment. In particular, I have in mind the reservations Muslims often have when it comes to sharing this greeting of peace with non-Muslims.

Perhaps, were it not for the way the following two Prophetic narrations have been understood, they would not doubt for a moment that it is their duty to greet every human being with a smile and peaceful greeting. It would seem completely natural to promote a shared culture built upon this word of peace. Continue reading

The Golden Rule: An Islamic-Dialogic Perspective (2012)

31 Mar

By Sohaib Saeed

Anyone with an interest in the philosophy of ethics, or in the common ground between different faiths and cultures, is very likely to be familiar with a dictum known as the “Golden Rule”. Worded in various ways, its straightforward message is to treat other people as you would like to be treated; or to refrain from treating them in a way that you would dislike to be treated. In this article, I shall explore the concept as it is expressed within the Islamic tradition, and then outline how the Golden Rule can be applied to great benefit in the broader context of interfaith understanding and dialogue. Before tackling these two subjects, however, the concept and its significance deserve some introductory exploration.

“Whoever shows no mercy is not shown mercy.” Artwork on display at Fanar Center, Doha

Tafsir and Translation

1 Oct

By Sohaib Saeed

I was interested to read a paper by Scott Lucas entitled “Is the Qur’an Wise? Is God the Outward? Two Exegetical Debates Lost in English Translations of the Qur’an“, in which the author illustrates the disconnect between the multiplicity of interpretations offered by the tafsir tradition, and what translators end up selecting for a particular verse. The latter may not reflect the predominant view(s) of the commentators, and may – as a collection – ignore and eliminate legitimate meanings.

I touched on this in my article on translator choice and Divergence in Qur’an Translations, saying:

…it is possible that translators tended to see things the same way, or indeed were influenced by each other. Indeed, there might be more diversity if they were to rely more pronouncedly on the books of iʿrāb and tafsīr, which present obscure interpretations alongside the more obvious

Interestingly, Lucas argues that “the Anglophone world would benefit far more from the partial or complete translation of Qur’anic commentaries than it would from yet another translation of the Qur’an itself” (p. 3).

Speaking as a translator of tafsir (presently completing Vol. 1 of Al-Razi’s), I agree in part. One has to consider what would be of most assistance to a modern reader, and perhaps guide him or her to the various possibilities and the reasoning behind them. If by “partial”, he means summarised, then I would tend to agree, as there are many (e.g. grammatical) discussions that would be lost in translation, or if not, then useless to English readers. This has already been done to the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, although the abridgement process has not kept the author’s points clear and intact in all cases, and requires specialisation in tafsir, not Arabic language alone.

Helpful works along the lines of Lucas’ suggestion are those of Helmut Gatje and Mahmoud Ayoub. A more thematic approach has been taken by Hamza, Rizvi and Mayer. It would be wonderful to see a series of books adopting something like the thematic tafsir methodology which can present Qur’anic approaches and draw out subtleties by means of internal Qur’anic reflection.

Thinking again about the modern reader, alternative modes of presentation must be considered. I had pointed out that the Qur’anic Corpus project would be much richer if it could represent the diversity of grammatical analyses and exegetical interpretations. From a recent conversation with its founder, I understand that this is a hope for the future, and thus it could become a most effective tool for the layman and the specialist (including translators).

“The Qur’an: An Eternal Challenge”

22 Jan

Click on the image to view a playlist of 10 videos recorded in the Al-Azhar Mosque in June 2013. Sohaib Saeed, graduate of Al-Azhar University and editor of this website, has introduced the chapters and themes of a seminal book in Quranic studies by the late Sh. Muhammad Abdullah Draz. Feedback is welcome as always.

Brotherhood in the Qur’an | الأخوة في القرآن الكريم

12 Sep

الأخوة في القرآن الكريم : مفاهيم وموجبات
صهيب سعيد الأزهري

The above paper in Arabic is an extended study of the theme first explored in my English article, Brotherhood in Faith and Humanity. It was originally an assignment for my final-year class on Thematic Tafsir at Al-Azhar University.

Eating Tayyib

4 Apr

By Sohaib Saeed
Originally published by 1st Ethical

O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful (ḥalāl) and wholesome (ṭayyib) and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. (Qur’an 2:168)

And eat of what God has provided for you, lawful and wholesome. And fear God, in Whom you are believers. (Q 5:88)

Then eat of what God has provided for you, lawful and wholesome. And be grateful for the favour of God, if you do worship Him. (16:114)

After quoting these verses from the Qur’an, which – along with similar verses – call upon human beings and believers to eat what is lawful and wholesome, I am moved to share the following reflections: Continue reading

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