Carachi

I remember to have been formally introduced to the city of Karachi in a Sindhi textbook lesson ‘Karachi’ in 2nd or 3rd grade. Few things that inscribed on my mind forever about Karachi were; Karachi is the biggest city of Pakistan, its old name was Kolachi, the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was born here and his mazaar is also here, and that Karachi is also called the ‘City of Lights’.

 

City of Lights...

 

Then again we were introduced with Karachi in the old story of ‘Moriro-The Fisherman’, a brave fisherman who went into the sea to bring back his brothers who had reportedly been eaten up by a big fish, perhaps whale. That Karachi used to be a small village by the great mighty sea, and the only people living there were fishermen. Now it’s the only port in Pakistan.

Before coming here to live and do job, I used to visit my cousins in Karachi as often as twice a year. I always loved the city whenever I came here. On June 26, 2009 I came to Karachi to appear for group discussion followed by panel interview for job in State Bank of Pakistan. “I ain’t gonna do job here,” I told my friend Zahid Morio while returning home in the evening. Zahid was already doing job in SBP. The thing that made me utter these words was the traffic on I.I Chundrigarh Road, in fact for the first time I witnessed such fast & furious life of Karachi. I have spent almost 26 years of my life in countryside, and despite all the glitz ‘n’ glamour of the big city like Karachi, I still prefer to live in close-to-nature piece of land on earth. I loved spending short period of time in Islamabad while on training. That’s sort of city I prefer to live in.

 

Karachi

 

For better and not for worse I came to Karachi in March this year to start my new job, and live here as its citizen, perhaps. Since that day I have loved and disloved the city, but that’s just the beginning and the story goes on. . .

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bholreya…the inspiration

Bholreya is a word having no meaning indeed. The word was coined coincidently by my friend Umar Khan who hails from KP during our unforgettable stay at NIBAF Islamabad. The original word-phrase is ‘bholree ja’ which literally means ‘of/from monkey’. No, this phrase has no connection with Darwin’s stupid theory of Evolution, but its kind of slang which can figuratively mean ‘son of monkey’ :-). bholri

Umar is very much eager to learn Sindhi language, especially when it comes to discovering a few good & ethical words. No, I’m not kidding, not really :D. He is so sharp at learning new language that it’s only once he hears a word and crams it for lifetime. Wish him best of luck in learning and collecting all the healthy words & phrases of different languages around the world.

Khuda Jaane Kahaan Se …

Khuda Jaane Kahaan Se – Kalaam Hazrat Bedam Shah Warsi

Khuda jane kahan se jalwaye jana kahan tak hai
Wahin tak dekh sakta hai nazar jiski jahan tak hai

Only God knows the limits of inifinte His Kingdom
Humans know to the confines of their finite mind

Hum itni bhi na samjhe aql khoi dil gawan baithe
Ke husn o ishq ki duniya kahan se hai kahan tak hai

I lost my mind and heart I could not figure out
Where the world of beauty and love begins- and where it ends

Zameen se aasman tak ek sannate ka aalam hai
Naheen maalum mere dil ki viraani kahaan tak hai

From earth to sky stretches an eerie wilderness
I kow not the extent of the ruinsthe desolation of my heart

Zameen se aasman tak aasman se la makan tak hai
Khuda jane hamare ishq ki duniya kahan tak hai

From the earth to the empyreanfrom the sky to placelessness
Only He knows the expanse of the hearts universe

Niyaz o naaz ki rudad husn o ishq ka qissa
Ye jo kuchh bhi hai sab unki hamari dastan tak hai

The stories of beauty of love
Whatever there is in the world, is the storyof our love

Khayal e yaar ne to aate hi gum kar diya mujhko
Yahi hai ibteda to inteha iski kahan tak hai

With the very first thought of the BelovedI was lost to the world
If this be the beginning whatwould be its finale

Suna hai sufiyon se hamne aksar khanaqahon mein
Ki yeh rangeen bayani Bedam rangeen bayan tak hai

Once have I heard Sufis say in their retreats
These colourful words, Bedam, these soulful verses,ends here

Rules of Men!

At last a guy has taken the time to write this all down. Finally, the guys’ side of the story.

These are our rules!
Please note.. these are all numbered “1 ”
ON PURPOSE!

1.   Men are NOT mind readers.
( FIRST & FOREMOST RULE)

1… Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want.
Let us be clear on this one:
Subtle hints do not work!
Strong hints do not work!
Obvious hints do not work!
Just say it!

1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That’s what we do.
Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument.
In fact, all comments become Null and void after 7 Days.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the   other one

1. You can either ask us to do something
Or tell us how you want it done.
Not both.
If you already know best how to do it , just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible, Please say whatever you have to say during commercials..

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings.
Peach, for example, is a fruit, not A color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say “nothing,” We will act like nothing’s wrong.
We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle..

1. If you ask a question you don’t want an answer to, Expect an answer you don’t want to hear.

1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine… Really .

1. Don’t ask us what we’re thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as Football
or Hockey OR FOOTBALL.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. Thank you for reading this.

Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight; But did you know men really don’t mind that? It’s like camping.

Poor for the Money.

AWARDING the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank in 2006 was an acknowledgement of how world peace is only possible when the most severe forms of poverty and deprivation are adequately addressed.

We live in a world where the winners and losers are identified by their financial worth. In Dr Yunus’ view this is because the orthodoxy of economics has given shape to the existing world where all investment is locked in only one category — profit maximisation. However, there’s another aspect of doing business that is more concerned with the promotion of some social objectives than with merely earning bucks. Grameen Bank is the best example of such a business model. It has taught millions of poor people, a majority of them women, how to fish. But in order to fish, these poor people need the net, the boat and off course the opportunities to fish.

Banking for the Poor

Here in our part of the world there is an extreme need to turn around the basic axioms of micro-credit policies practiced by the conventional banks which are based on the collateral offered by the borrowers; the higher the collateral the more chances of getting a loan. There is no room for the poor to get any kind of loan from any of the larger commercial banks on the face of the earth. The world witnessed 1st greatest financial crisis in the first decade of the 21st century. And this seems to be just the beginning if no proper measures are taken. The biggest banks collapsed, but they were saved. No government seems to bailout the deprived class of the global village. Despite heavy developments in S&T, R&D the poverty statistics are getting disturbing each day.

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of global income. The richest 20% accounts for three-quarters of world income.

According to UNICEF, 24,000 children die each day due to poverty. and they die quietly in come of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.

Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.

If accepted as a basic human right, the access to credit can play a pivotal role in bringing about an individual’s creativity.

In Pakistan the most widely spread microfinance bank is Khushhali Bank, The First Microfinance Bank comes second. They provide small loans without collateral. There is still space for the banks to improve upon their policies and practices in order to achieve the core objectives. Appraisal techniques should be used to evaluate potential clients and there should be plans to expand microfinance programs over a period of time so that more people can benefit from small loans. Another major shortfall of the MFIs is that they don’t help the debtors in identifying the avenues of investment for whatever little amount they are extended. Normal practice is that the MFIs give away money and sit back and wait for its return along with interest margin, and in microfinance case interest rate happens to be very high, the reason for this may be the ‘cleanliness’ (no-collateral) of the loans.

Microfinance policies should be very well-designed and properly managed. By redesigning our existing institutions and carving out more suitable institutions and policies, a poverty-free world is possible.

Doin’ it Li’l

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

Two poems that left an unforgettable imprint on my mind during school days were, W. Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ and anonymous ‘Little Things’ . The former made me fall in love with Nature and take note of things around me, while the latter helped me live a little happier life, everyday. Since then I have tried to make it my habit to do small acts that contribute towards making somebody feel special. It feels good to do something nice for someone. Likewise, it feels good when someone does something kind for us. It’s a win/win situation either way you look at it. I feel so much better when I have made some small gesture that day that makes me feel GLAD – in this way I have made today count. In making today count all the other mundane stuff that didn’t get accomplished doesn’t seem so important anymore.
I used to live in a small village 7 KM past Larkana city. Everyday I took same route to work on my motorcycle. I would see the same places and familiar faces. I would cross by the bus stop where I find a couple of folksmen waiting for the bus. I would stop there & ask them if anyone would like to accompany me to the town. Almost everyday I had a new companion, and during the short journey of almost 10 minutes we exchange few things/experiences with each other. I felt elated to have been of any help each day, and that morning became the best part of the day.

 

 

Being nice costs nothing

 

At my workplace there was a security guard stationed at the main gate, dressed in the standard uniform, navy blue pants & shirt, black shoes, & a gun. He was a retired police officer in his 60’s, tall, slender, attractive with a mustache, bear and dimples. The security guard greets everyone that walks by. No one is left-out. “Asalam Alaikum”, “How are you”, he makes small talk with many of the visitors, customers of our office, complimenting their outfits, and wishing them well. Everyday he has a specified number of toffees that he distributes among the staff, and the remnants among the visitors. He’s more than a security guard; he’s a staple of the morning rush. I admire how he knows so many people by their first name. His simple hello makes people feel special.

In the busyness of life, we often forget how easy it is to wish someone hello, and how great and lasting a difference it can make. When we say hello, to someone we know/or don’t know, and share from the heart, we become a pebble in the pond. With each ripple we create, we spread love that continues to give, long after it feels like it has disappeared. A small “Hi” or a simple “hello” from us would go a long way in bringing a smile on the person to whom it is directed. Sometimes starting out with a hello to a stranger can turn into everlasting friendship.

 

Kind hands

 

We should develop a habit of deriving joy from doing a small gesture of kindness in any form to strangers and the people we know. To strangers, it can be vacating our seat in the bus for someone older & also helping her/him get down, helping somebody carry heavy luggage, mediating in if two people are at the verge of fighting, saying ‘thank you’ to servant, waiter/waitress, buying something to eat to someone hungry etc. We should take note of the people we know in our life. What makes them smile? What stresses them out? When might they be in need of extra encouragement? A specific act of kindness doesn’t have to be a sweeping gesture. Sometimes it may be something very simple — a well-timed word or a well-chosen gift. If an affirming thought comes into your mind, say it. If you wonder if someone is in need, offer to help. If you find yourself thinking of a person, go a step further and act.

The question as to why we are unable to be a little considerate to people is answered with one adjective ‘busy’. The fact is that we haven’t yet realized the power & importance of doing small acts, and the sheer delight they bring to others & to us. A small act on our part can make a big impact on someone. Some actions might be less dramatic than others, but each one has the potential to make a big impact on someone.

I often think of doing small things that make people feel better. I make a list, and write out whatever the tasks that I wish to accomplish. At the end of the day when I look at my list of items and see that I’ve only crossed off a few of them I choose to be satisfied. It has become apparent to many individuals that by choosing to shift their energies toward a more altruistic mindset, their own troubles seem to melt away. They discover that our planet seemed more like an expanded playground when they played a part in pleasing others in small ways.

I’m sure you can think of one if not many small gestures to make. I will suggest a few here to get you started thinking about it. Opportunities like these arise everyday.

  • Donate A Pint of Blood
  • Read a story to a child
  • Phone a friend (don’t complain – keep the conversation upbeat)
  • Volunteer to help weed the public park flower garden
  • Offer your mail carrier a refreshing drink
  • Buy an extra cup of coffee at the coffee shop and give it away to someone
  • Skip a meal – Give your sack lunch to a homeless person
  • Offer to press your mom’s head
  • Visit the sick in your neighbor
  • Offer a prayer to someone in need
  • Wish a distant friend/relative birthday
  • Buy some poor shoes, clothes, books etc.

Start being considerate to someone whom you come across in your day to day life…..it may be your parents, it may be your spouse, it may be your son/daughter or it may be your driver too.

Have a wonderful everyday.

Who is entitled to Interpret the Qur’an? Traditionalist vs Modernist

Abdullah al-Hasan to Ziauddin Sardar:

I have been following your efforts in discovering the meanings of verses and words of the Qur’an. A wonderful and much-needed venture which promises immense reward and blessings from God if undertaken within the set principles that Islam has prescribed. However, I am deeply concerned regarding your qualifications or credentials. I am not fully acquainted with your educational background but – correct me if I am wrong – you have no formal traditional scholarly education in Islam. As you are very much aware, there are certain requirements that a person must attain before indulging in interpretation of the Qur’an.

Being aware – as you are – of the requisite qualifications, why undertake this mammoth task ill-equipped? By your own admission, you have not reached the required status of an interpreter when you say: “I have no qualms in admitting I am not the most qualified person to talk about the Qur’an, let alone venture into the thorny territory of interpretation. I am not a Hafiz, or an Imam, or an Alim – a religious scholar – though on certain bad days, I do imagine myself as a Muslim thinker of some repute. Worse: I don’t even speak Arabic.”

I commend your desire to convey the message and spirit of the Qur’an. However, I am afraid that a person ill-equipped in exegesis will be prone to making mistakes. In an age where Islam is being attacked from all angles, we need to disseminate the true colours of Islam as authorised by the Qur’an. This requires qualified individuals. There are many scholars who are far more nuanced in this field; have you approached them or requested their assistance?

As you are all too aware, many people commit grave atrocities in the name of Islam – some are violent and some more covert and subtle. The number of people post 9/11 claiming to be experts on Islam has astoundingly escalated; it seems that people are becoming experts on Islam overnight. I intend no offence when I say that your venture here is quite similar to the attitudes of some that I have just elucidated.

I ask you, would anyone after some rudimentary reading on medicine and surgery without attending medical college and years of training assume the task of performing delicate surgical procedures on patients? I do not know of any hospital that would accept such a person; he or she will be deemed a charlatan. In addition, would our just and equitable judicial system allow a person without the proper knowledge of the British legal system to arbitrate and adjudicate between people? I would anticipate your reply would be a resounding no. Likewise, exegesis will not allow for a person who does not posses the certifications to undertake this task. If you do possess the qualifications, please present them to the readers so all are aware that they are taking knowledge from a credible source.

I do not say you are not eligible to read and benefit from the Qur’an. No one is required to hold a diploma or a PhD in Islam to derive lessons from the various passages in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is guidance for all people; it gives clear directions to all who read and ponder over its verses, whether they are scholars or otherwise. This was eloquently expressed by an author in his remarks about the relationship that people have with the Qur’an when he said: “The Qur’an speaks to each in his language, accessibly, as if to match his intelligence, his heart, his questions, his joy as well as his pain. This is what the ulema [scholars] have termed reading or listening as adoration. As Muslims read or hear the text, they strive to suffuse themselves with the spiritual dimension of its message: beyond time, beyond history and the millions of beings who populate the earth, God is speaking to each of them, calling and reminding each of them, inviting, guiding, counseling and commanding. God responds, to her, to him, to the heart of each: with no intermediary, in the deepest intimacy.”

However, he says that the message of the Qur’an can be quite complex, since Islam is a comprehensive religion which seeks to govern all spheres of human life. The Qur’an is the constitution of life for the Muslims and then to the rest of humanity. It gives us guidance on the moral, legal and ethical aspects of human life. One is only able to derive these prescriptions if he or she has the appropriate skills. He says: “But there remains a third level, which demands full intellectual and spiritual immersion in the text, and in the revealed message. Here, the task is to derive the Islamic prescriptions that govern matters of faith, of religious practice and of its fundamental precepts. In a broader sense, the task is to determine the laws and rules that will make it possible for all Muslims to have a frame of reference for the obligations, the prohibitions, the essential and secondary matters of religious practice, as well as those of the social sphere.”

This requires the tools of Qur’anic exegesis which our scholars have explained and which the Qur’an itself alludes to in many instances. The classical Sunni scholar Imam as-Suyuti, in his monumental book al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an (Mastery in the Sciences of the Qur’an), cites 15 or so characteristics of the mufassir [interpreter]. Scholars affirm that any tafsir [commentary], which disregards these principles must be scrutinised with great concern and caution, if not completely rejected. Allow me to, at this point remind you of some of these conditions:

1. Proper intention and sound creed. It seems to me from some of your remarks that you are confused about your creed. In one instance you declare you are a Mutazilite and another you say you’re a Sunni: “Now, I regard Mutazilite scholars such as ibn Sina [Avicenna] and ibn Rushd [Averroes], as my heroes – and regard myself, particularly at certain moments (alas, all too limited) of enlightenment, as a Mutazilite.”

You also say: “I ought to confess that I am a Sunni through and through. But I disagree strongly with those Muslims who have declared the Ahmadis to be ‘non-Muslims’; and I would definitely condemn all those who persecute this small community. I think the Ahmadis add to the richness and diversity of Muslim communities.”

I would be delighted if you would clarify your position in this regard. As far as I know, in Islam whoever believes there is another prophet after our beloved Muhammad will not be considered a Muslim by the consensus of the scholars. Not only that, the Qur’an itself regards those who believe that there will be another prophet after the final Messenger to be out of Islam. Yet, you imply that those who have such a belief are Muslims. I agree with you that it is wrong to persecute the Ahmadis for holding certain views, but in the domain of theology, they would not be considered Muslims by Sunni orthodox standards.

2. Knowledge of the Arabic language. This requires one to master grammar [nahu], morphology [sarf], word etymology [ishtiqaq], Arabic rhetoric [balagha] and poetry amongst other things.

3. Knowledge of the various modes of qira’ats [recitations].

4. Knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence – fiqh [usul al-fiqh] and fiqh.

5. Knowledge of the asbab an-nuzul [reasons for revelation] and related topics.

6. Knowledge of the nasikh and mansukh.

7. Knowledge of hadith, especially those pertaining the explicit commentary made by the Prophet (pbuh).

8. Knowledge of the makki, madani, muhkam, mutashabih and the various types of ‘ijaz of the Qur’an.

9. Referring to the reports of the Companions of the Prophet.

10. Considering the reports of the successors of the Companions.

11. Consulting the opinions of eminent scholars. 12. Following the proper methodology of exegesis of the Qur’an.

These are some very pertinent tools that a Qur’anic scholar needs in order to derive the more complex moral, legal and ethical rules found in the Qur’an.

Finally, there were some comments forwarded by some readers regarding authority. As I have mentioned, in Islam there was and is no church or clerical hierarchy. Islamic history is significantly different from that of Christianity; the traditions of Islam are divinely inspired and were authentically transmitted from one generation to another which originated from God and His Messenger who are the sole authority in Islam. Christian history ,however, is quite different. In Islam only the Prophets and Messengers enjoy the position of official representatives of God. Thus, we believe that the Messenger of God, Muhammad, deserves complete and unadulterated obedience after God Himself; it is a creedal imperative and salvation is sought in following this authority. After the Prophet, the authority does not lie with any particular hierarchy, caste, group or individual but with the corpus of knowledge which has been left behind by the Prophet. Thereafter, the duty of the scholars and experts in exegesis at this instance is to transmit and expound upon that which was left by the Prophet, as he was the first interpreter of the Qur’an – precisely because he embodied the teachings and spirit of the Qur’an in his life, as mentioned by his wife Ayesha.

I hope you may be able to request someone more appropriately qualified in our scriptures to assist you and in guide you.

Ziauddin Sardar to Abdullah al-Hasan:

And so the moment has arrived. I have been waiting in certain knowledge that some self-righteous Muslim, dripping in pieties and with sense of superiority, somewhere, will say: “You have absolutely no authority to comment, let alone interpret, the Qur’an.” On this occasion that someone is Abdullah al-Hasan, a “Shariah graduate”. Normally, one would dismiss such absurdity, not to mention grotesque elitism, out of hand but there are numerous sincere, humble Muslims out there who actually believe that only certain special people have a right to comment on the Qur’an. So al-Hasan’s claims need a proper response.

Al-Hasan, as is common among such people, begins by questioning my faith. Apparently, my creed is somewhat deficient because I am a supporter of the Mutazilites, the rationalist school of Islamic philosophy, and I stand up for a persecuted minority like the Ahmadis and defend their right to self-description. I am not allowed to be a Sunni and a rationalist! Or to defend the human rights of others!

Then, al-Hasan attacks my intention: another common trait of this sort of chap. At best, according to his website, I am one of the “opportunistic Muslim sell-outs” doing this for “mere five minutes of fame” or – worse – I am a neocon out to subvert Islam.

Having denigrated my beliefs and intention, al-Hasan begins with the conventional Muslim boast that Islam has no priestly hierarchy and, as is usual, fires off pot-shots at other faiths which he judges to be inferior and to have suffered adversely because of their established priesthood. Equally conventionally, he asserts that rather than a priesthood, Islam recognises knowledge, acquired learning, as the only distinguishing characteristic between believers. Yet, he insists that only certain kinds of people, with specialised knowledge, have the right to interpret the Qur’an. What is this if not a clergy? Indeed, these people with the sole and absolute right to comment on the Qur’an, actually dress, behave and perform the functions of a clergy. It is simply deceitful to say that that the ulama, religious scholars, are not a clergy – a deceit Muslims have been perpetuating for centuries.

And here we arrive at a basic problem. The conditions set out are so specialised, followed by such a minority among the world’s Muslims, that in practical terms a hierarchy of adepts who alone claim authority, and whose exercise of this authority over interpretation, meaning and discourse on Islam is tantamount to a priesthood is created to silence debate among Muslims. The majority of Muslims will be told what the Qur’an means. They can present questions to warranted scholars and follow the answers given. To challenge the traditional opinions of this elite body is presumption, the very presumption I am accused of, along with the implications that by daring to read and think for oneself must indicate a weakness of faith, creed and belief and nefarious intentions since without the special educational preparation no sensible thought or understanding is possible.

This is the crux of the most serious problem facing the Muslims today and for the future. It disqualifies concerned, thinking dedicated Muslims from engaging in earnest and reasoned debate while it leaves a stultified, closed system of education producing scholars who have little knowledge of the complexity and problems of the modern world. The late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Bin Baz, was a typical scholar of the school of thought presented by al-Hasan. As “the arbiter of all that is Islamically proper”, he believed that man has not landed on the moon, banned football as evil, and insisted that women should be confined to the four walls of the house. I have met countless such scholars, educated – if one could use this word – in traditional universities such as Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University in Riyadh and Medina University, and some even in al-Azhar, who exist in the mental universe of the eighth century. Unlike the great scholars of the past, who valued criticism, traditionally educated alims – who are the imams of mosques around the world and judges in Shariah courts – lack the tools of contemporary critical scholarship and exposure to its various disciplines. They are used to valuing received outmoded opinion, exist in hermetically-sealed religious and cultural capsules, and spout little more than slogans that are dangerously obsolete. They tell Muslims what to think rather than debate with the community and engage with its day-to-day concerns. The great challenge of contemporary times is for Muslims to be liberated from their clutches.

It was exactly the same mentality that stopped the spread of printing in the Muslim world for centuries. The ulama, religious scholars, prohibited printing because they feared copies of the Qur’an would become commonplace, leading to Muslim masses not just reading them but interpreting them. The damage that inflicted on Islamic culture is still with us today. It was these very traditional scholars who reduced the Qur’anic concept of ilm, which refers to all kinds of knowledge, to mean only religious knowledge; and then went on to suggest, as al-Hasan seem to imply, that those with religious knowledge are morally superior to those who do not have religious knowledge. It was these same ulama who reduced the Islamic concept of ijma, which means consensus of all people, to mean only the consensus of a few privileged religious scholars – the consequences of this for democracy in the Muslim world are all evident. Such techniques have been used to encourage Muslims to shut up rather than stand up and be counted. (All these issues are discussed at some length in my book Islam, Postmodernism and Other Futures.)

What exactly is this specialist knowledge that al-Hasan speaks of? What the classical scholars demanded – such as knowledge of where, when and why verses of the Qur’an were revealed, some 3,000 traditions of the Prophet, and various books of Islamic law – relied heavily on memory. Al-Hasan has added a couple himself: such as “proper intention and sound creed” (so you can easily dismiss those who you disagree with and who deviate from the established, traditional “straight path” as mal-intentioned and not believing in right things – a tactic often used to ban certain commentaries of the Qur’an from Saudi Arabia and other “Islamic states”) and “consulting the opinions of eminent scholars” (that is, contemporary traditionalist scholars so the system can be perpetuated). But the fact is that most of this memory-based material can be easily acquired from a CD like The Alim where you will find all the basics you need. You don’t have to rely on memory – the CD stores the information for you, leaving your mind free to think. Moreover, most of this information can now be obtained from the internet. Beyond that there are libraries, publications and a diversity of resources that are readily available – paradoxically most abundant in western countries – for anyone wanting access to the source material of traditional Islamic scholarship without enrolling in a specialist Islamic religious studies course.

More and more Muslims who take advantage of these resources have questions and the information with which to think and reason with the traditional body of Islamic thought and bring their own experience and ideas to bear on how they read the Qur’an. They do this not to claim, and even in my case, not to usurp the traditional scholars but to engage in a dialogue with them for the betterment and wellbeing of the Muslim communities. It saddens me that the kind of attitudes displayed by al-Hasan appear to regard such dialogue as impossible, presumptuous and unacceptable. In the meantime there are plenty, schooled in religious seminaries and universities, and equipped with traditionalist knowledge, who masquerade as the mouthpieces of Muslims and are busily hijacking Islam for a host of pernicious, violent, murderous, inward-looking and life-denying ideologies. This is neither sensible nor sustainable for the future of Muslim societies.

In the end, the issue of authority comes down to power and territory. For too long, a group of narrow-minded, ill-educated elite have usurped the power to comment on the Qur’an and defended this territory with the rhetoric of fire and brimstone. It is time ordinary Muslims took this power back to where it belongs: with all Muslims, whatever their background, whatever their state of knowledge. As Noor al-Yaqeen points out: “If indeed the human mind is the target of divine texts, if indeed divine texts are for the human and not just the scholarly mind, why will I need 15 qualifications to use my brain?”

She goes on to say: “Yes, there are dangers inherent in the exegetical process but there are dangers in eschewing too. Since we all are fallible beings, ‘unscholarly’ interpretations should serve as a reality check for scholars, for there is less of a chance religious scholars will cross the line (as they sometimes have), if they know we all are watching, thinking and actively participating in religious discourses that affect us all.”

Rather than being told what to think, concerned Muslims everywhere need to get back to the religious duty of actively participating in interpretation – which can only come from lively debate.

Blogging the Qur’an is just one attempt to generate that debate. Similar exercises are also being undertaken in some other Muslim countries – most notably Indonesia where Liberal Islam Network, with its millions of members, is developing a new understanding of what it means to be a Muslim in the 21st century. The reason why such exercises should be undertaken, why the entire Muslim community should be engaged in discussing the meaning, implications and applications the Qur’an according to the circumstances and needs of today’s world, is contained in the very objections al-Hasan raises to the existence of this blog.

To read Zia’s blogs and for further discussions with readers, visit Blogging the Qur’an. If you’d like to contact Zia about the project, email him at blogging.the.quran@guardian.co.uk

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