Author Archives: Sohaib Saeed

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Release of “Solomon” film

Category : Media

Anyone following this blog and our social media outlets must be well aware that our Quranic storytelling film – Solomon and the Queen – has been on the verge of release for the past few weeks.

It’s now available for free viewing online! A DVD is also available, ideal as a gift. It comes in a double-DVD set together with the first ever Quranica event. Click here for details and to purchase.

YouTube


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Is “Quranic Arabic” a pedagogical mistake?

Category : Language

I would like to make a brief comment on this video featuring Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi:

The learned shaykh has made an important point in this video, but I can only assume that exaggerated words like “Deception” were added to the title by the marketing team!

My comment on the argument is this: it is possible to teach Arabic with the Qur’an at the centre, while making sure to provide examples and materials from outside the Qur’an to help solve the limitations which have been identified in this video, e.g. not knowing how the Quranic usages compare to everyday usages and those which preceded its revelation.

If some people teach Arabic through the Qur’an (bearing in mind that one of the courses in Dr. Akram’s institutes uses a textbook with exactly that title: “Arabic Through the Qur’an”!), then surely there are good reasons for that, and we shouldn’t throw around words like “danger”.

Another observation: I’m not sure how we should approach the Qur’an after knowing Arabic, in the manner of the Sahaba. After all, we are already living fourteen centuries post-revelation, and the codification of the Arabic language and its preservation were profoundly affected by the Qur’an.

Postscript:

Some of people’s objections were raised with Dr. Akram, resulting in this second video by way of clarification. I sent back the points below in response to the brother from the CIC who shared it with me, which contain some repetition only because those points of mine were not addressed.


On the point about teaching methodology: if the point is that we should teach the language completely separate from its Quranic usages, then that would necessitate sticking 100% to the Jahili era. So perhaps we should start marketing courses on “Jahili Arabic” instead of Quranic? Would this convey the intention?

To say that “Muslims were always learning Arabic then the Qur’an” seems to me a misleading statement. As I said above, we do have to recognise that we are living in a later period well after the Arabic language was codified. The very sciences of nahw, sarf, balagha etc. were created after the fact of the Qur’an and in its service.

True, the Sahaba knew (Jahili) Arabic before the Qur’an. But in later eras, people learned the spoken language of their own eras, and they would have memorised the Qur’an at an early stage. So this idealised picture of (Jahili) Arabic then Qur’an doesn’t seem readily applicable or realistic.

The Shaykh was asked whether “danger” is a fair description, and he said yes if the focus is only on the Quranic usages. But must every “Quranic Arabic” course have this fatal flaw? As he pointed out, tafsir books provide information about broader usages, and so can any good Arabic course. This is not to mention the imperative of teaching Arabic as a living language, which is challenging enough as it is.

It should be noted that my objections are not directed at Dr Akram’s dismissal of Quranic Arabic (which strikes me as slightly inconsistent), as that is his prerogative as a leading scholar and educator. I do object to these statements being spread in such a way as to discredit the efforts of others, as I know that is not the speaker’s intention.


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Quick notes on the “pre-Muhammadan Qur’an”

Category : Media

By Sohaib Saeed

How did a story that apparently confirmed the antiquity of the Qur’an as we know it, and the broad accuracy of Muslim traditional accounts, turn into weird headlines claiming that the Qur’an might “predate Muhammad” and that the new discoveries may necessitate a complete rethinking of Islamic history?

Nothing new actually happened since the University of Birmingham’s announcement of the early date arising from their radiocarbon testing of the parchments. There were news stories circulating then (with some jubilation from Muslims), and then there were later articles in which revisionist academics presented an alternative sceptical theory which could make use of this radiocarbon date range – rather than being made utterly untenable thereby.

The best response I have seen so far to these revised revisionist theories is by Dr. Jonathan Brown: How Should Rationalists Deal with Dogmatism? Dr. Brown is by now a renowned scholar in the field of Hadith studies, and has done a great service to the public by clarifying this issue.

The following are some additional factors to bear in mind, which may serve as an introduction or postscript to that article.

1. The nature of academia, in which alternative theories are hypothesised, examined and debated. Yes, there are agendas and biases, but we ought not to be too dramatic about this.

2. The danger of uninformed opinions and pseudo-expertise, whether that is coming from the historians who speak to the media in matters outside their speciality; or Muslim scholars who are learned in some things but don’t follow these fields and contemporary debates on palaeography or radiocarbon science, etc.; or from the hordes of people on social media who simply must express an opinion, and right away!

3. The role of the media in distorting things, even the views of some of the academics quoted. They have their own agenda, and sensationalism is the air they breathe. We must learn to read and think critically, and to identify the real story as well as the gaps which have been filled irresponsibly.

4. Muslims should avoid hasty judgements. The reality of this particular folio in Birmingham is something which we simply don’t know yet, and can’t be sure we will ever know. Science provides fantastic opportunities to find out, but science is built upon certain assumptions and does not provide the certainty that time travel might! Our human techniques are a work in progress. By traditional Islamic accounts and methods of analysis, this copy from the Qur’an appears to be of a slightly later date than the radiocarbon dating suggests. One or the other set of theories may need to be revised. These are all questions that are raised in the context of scholarship, and are not troubling to those who can distinguish the core issues from peripheral ones.


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solomon-snapshot

Features of recitation in “Solomon and the Queen”

Category : Media , Recitation

By Sohaib Saeed

This post serves as an introduction to Solomon and the Queen for people who are less familiar with Qur’an recitation, or with the particular style which is exemplified by the reciter, Qari Hajjaj al-Hindawi.

The first thing to appreciate is that the Qur’an is a vocal and oral phenomenon, as much as – if not more than – it is written and read as a scripture. As I have explained elsewhere, Qur’an recitation can be seen both as a science and and art-form, in that it is governed by certain rules of pronunciation (known as tajweed), while the beauty of vocalisation is also encouraged and emphasised.

Listening to the Qur’an being recited by an expert is a highly spiritual experience, and may be deemed as an act of worship when done with that intention. The believer listens to receive guidance and to move his or her heart into greater submission to the Creator. Yet anyone may listen in on this divine discourse and appreciate the power of the Qur’an’s internal rhythms, as enhanced by the melodies of the reciter’s interpretation. The Egyptian tradition of performative recitation (mujawwad) is of particular note, and Qari Hindawi is a contemporary master of this tradition.

Now I shall mention some key features to bear in mind when watching Solomon and the Queen, and the recitation therein from Surat al-Naml (the Chapter of the Ants), verses 15-44.

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Interpretive Issues in “Solomon and the Queen”

By Sohaib Saeed

Quranica’s feature film Solomon and the Queen is, first and foremost, a showcase of the beauty of the Qur’an’s message and narrative style, through a masterful recitation by the renowned Egyptian qari, Hajjaj Ramadan al-Hindawi. When we gave him the stage on the last day of his Scotland tour in 2006, we did not tell him what to recite. He recited those verses from Surat al-Naml, and the rest is history.

When the time came to edit it to coincide with Quranica’s ten-year anniversary and re-launch, it was clear that the beauty of that original event deserved a fresh approach to editing and production. And so the idea to weave in commentary (as well as providing real-time translation, as we had done in most live events) was born.

Read: The Making of “Solomon and the Queen”

Here I shall provide some insight into the process of research and selection of opinions. I consulted a large number of works of tafsir, as well as a few which fall outside that genre but discussed, for example, female personalities in the Qur’an (including Bilqis). I knew that what we needed in this film was not a full tafsir, but a simple commentary which would aid reflection. Although I needed to answer all the questions in my own mind, I did not wish to impose those answers on the viewers.

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