by Siraj Islam
Abdur Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding” is, in my opinion, one of the most enlightening books of our time on original, true Islam.
It is an independent, in-depth study of the Quran by a freelance researcher, a truth-seeker who is not prejudiced – neither by any of all those spurious, stereotyped, traditional Muslim interpretations nor by any so-called ‘pro-modern’ or ‘pro-western’ bias.
This book provides many invaluable insights and explores and shares some serious wisdom underlying the divine writ, often ignored or unnoticed by many.
Unfortunately, the current so-called Islam is a distorted religion severely polluted by medieval ignorance, irrational human interference, and misinterpretations by hadiths and traditions. This pseudo-Islam has little to do with the simple rational monotheism of original, genuine Islam, preached by all messengers and freshly delivered by Muhammad through the Quran. No doubt, rediscovering the genuine Islam as incorporated in the Quran is important for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and for people of various backgrounds, particularly in this time of great turmoil.
Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam” deals with some of the most important debates about Islam in modern time. The rich plethora of its contents becomes immediately obvious when we go through the headings of its chapters: The Latest Book of God: How Does It Read?; The Central Message of the Quran: The Road to Spiritual Progress; Spiritual Evolution and Conceptions of Heaven and Hell; The Real Meaning of Prayer in the Quranic Light; The Scope of Socioeconomic Welfare Spending in the Quranic Light; The Place of Tolerance, Pluralism, and Human Rights in Islam; What Makes Us Righteous?; Marriage, Divorce , the Status of Women, and the Treatment of Slaves; Implications of the Quran’s Message for the Economic System; The Hadith is Unreliable: Earlier Hadith Criticism and Theological and Historical Tests of Hadith Authority and Authenticity 197 Annex to Chapter X: Criteria for Hadith Evaluation; The Hadith is Unreliable: The Objective Test; Epilogue: The Rise of Religious Fanaticism and The Direction For True Islamic Revival.
The central focus of this work, however, is the spiritual message of the Quran that promotes faith in God’s oneness and high moral standards as it stands for kindness, tolerance, peaceful co-existence, equality, mutual cooperation, deterring from wrong doing, honesty, and service to all humanity.
If one wants to get the whole book in a nutshell, one needs to ponder on Rab’s answer to the vital question: ‘What makes the Quran’s core message spiritual?’ Here is his answer: “What makes the Quran’s core message spiritual? … when we come across verses in the Quran such as those that say, for example, that the Quran’s inherent purpose is to purify or civilize humankind and make it wise (62:2), or that it is not the eyes that are blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that are blind (22:46), or that turning to the East or the West is not righteousness (2:177), or that it is not the flesh or blood of sacrificed animals that reaches God (22:37), or that they think that they are deceiving God and believers; nay, they are deceiving none but themselves, but they do not realize (2:9), we cannot but conclude that the Quran’s central message for us is spiritual. We need to care about the inner meanings, the kernel and essence of things, not the outward and superficial structures and forms. We need to ask about the deeper, more fundamental, questions: Why are we here, what is the meaning and significance of our life’s existence, how can we make our life worth living, how can we make it more enriched and blissful? And so on. We need to concentrate on things that make for our real progress on earth in terms of piety, knowledge, creativity, benevolence, and real contentment and happiness.” pp. 25-26.
Many Muslims place excessive emphasis on certain rules and rituals. But they often fail to realize that these traditionally accepted forms of religious practice, even when not distorted, are only a small, superficial aspect of Islam. As a complete way of life in accordance with the natural laws, Islam is much more than that. Rab notes that the Quran prescribes several simple, relatively structured forms of worship that include salat (regular contact prayers with purpose to commemorate God), siam (fasting, abstinence programme), zakat/ sadaqa (spending in God’s way for social betterment) and hajj (pilgrimage). However, while going through a deeper interpretation of these practices, he argues that the Quran persistently lays stress on the rationality and simplicity about religion, while it calls to concentrate on the true, profound meaning of faith, which is more than mere rituals like formal prayers or fasting. Moreover, the Quran insists that the true religion, which should be based on knowledge and reasoning, is not actually rituals but submission to one God alone, expressed by all thoughts and actions in all aspects of life. It thus instructs its readers to make spirituality an essential, integral part of religion and to keep religious practice simple and free of any dogma or mystical proposition, of all self-mortification and exaggerated asceticism, and free from burden of complicated, extra rituals.
Rab notes that “It is misleading to limit the main obligatory religious duties only to five things and omit altogether so many other things of right conduct or righteousness, which have been mentioned and emphasized in the Quran. One cannot be a good Muslim without strictly observing such prescriptions of righteousness.”
The genuine Islam, according to Rab’s understanding, outlines a socio-economic order that is consistent with “the capitalist system with a socialistic overtone, i.e., with a safety-net system that adequately cares for the genuine needs of the poor and the dispossessed.” This Islam demands a socio-economic order with proper, obligatory taxation system (much more than the traditional fixed ‘zakat’) for fair distribution of wealth and social welfare, while stressing on the social responsibility of voluntary charity and caring for the deprived and the weak. While protecting conditional right to inheritance as well as conditional right to private ownership and enterprise and economic freedom, it discourages non-productive economy and asks humankind to be in harmony with nature in order to prevent wastage and environmental pollution.
Rab’s study also sheds light on the traditional Muslim confusion about the Quranic concept of ‘usury’ (riba). He observes that the Quran makes a clear distinction between ‘usury’ (riba) and ‘interest’, which are basically two very different concepts. Usury (riba) is forbidden because it exploits the needy. Interest (commercial or bank interest), on the other hand, is allowed because it is not exploitative as it is based on mutual profits, changing value of money and inflation. His observation is similar to Edip-Layth-Martha’s note on Quran 2:275: “The interest that the Quran prohibits is not the interest collected from money lent for businesses, but rather the money lent for consumption of necessities. When considered with its context, this prohibition is about usury. The Quran does not treat this subject in the context of business or trade, but in the context of the charity to the needy.” Rab argues that interest plays such a vital role in the modern trade and banking system that it is difficult to conceive a modern economy without interest in some form or other.
Rab makes some real contribution to the on-going debate ‘Islamic state or secularism?’. He notes that, while rejecting all sorts of monarchy, oligarchy and dictatorship, the Quran promotes a political system, translatable in modern terms as parliamentary democracy, with consultation and representation in public affairs, where participation of all citizens is encouraged and facilitated. In this regard a state can get the best guidance to the right direction if it simply follows the general Quranic principle of inductive reasoning: ‘listen to all statements, and then follow the best of it’. 39:18. Thus, for decision making in political matters, a state should listen to every citizen in order to reach the best consensus out of all various opinions. Obviously, this full representation of all the members of a society – irrespective of race, religion, age, gender and socio-economic status – will then tend to spontaneously generate a fair political system: a parliamentary democracy with secularism, pluralism, equal human rights and justice for all.
Analysing various aspects of the issue, Rab puts strong emphasis on secularism. He observes: “One important requirement to safeguard and guarantee peaceful interreligious tolerance, pluralism, and basic human rights is that the state should be faith-neutral or secular. Emory University Professor and human rights activist Abdullahi An-Naim makes a powerful, ingenious case for a secular state by arguing that religious freedom itself, as mandated by the Quran, subsumes voluntary compliance on the part of individuals and rules out use of any coercive religious edict by the state. He also points out the abuses and dangers of religious edicts used by the state. … Secularism does not mean absence of, or animosity to, any religion. It simply works as a guarantor of freedom of religion to all faith followers. The same reasons why Muslim minorities in non-Muslim majority countries require full freedom to practice their religion are also applicable to non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority countries.”
The Quran constantly declares a most clear message: Emancipate yourself and others from all forms of subjugation and exploitation – social, economic and political – and from all bondage – physical, mental and moral. This genuine, Quranic Islam, as perceived by Rab, upholds impartiality, justice and human rights. It unifies humanity by promoting gender and race equality; and stands against slavery, misogyny, patriarchy and all socio-economic inequality and injustice in a view to abolish them eventually. While standing for the oppressed, it pursues the golden-plated brazen rule of equivalence, i.e. right of retaliation within its limits, balanced with responsibility and forgiveness; and prescribes a legal Code – apparently in response to the specific needs of the time and place of its revelation – including a criminal justice system, which is flexible and which can transcend according to the guidance of reason. This genuine Islam promotes peace, while deterring the aggressive parties; insists that the entire world belongs to God and thus to all humanity; and offers far-reaching peace and co-operation among nations.
As expected from the name of the research itself, “Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding”, Rab derives his inferences by using the Quran as the only religious source of Islam. While rejecting Hadith as a religious authority, he argues that Islam has been misinterpreted and distorted throughout the ages by hadiths and various other man-made so-called secondary and tertiary sources.
As a major contribution to the correct understanding of the Quran, this should be a must-read book for all who are interested in gaining a short-cut access to the introduction of genuine Islam.