Notes from Institute of Islamic Education Alumni Reunion 2014
(for more information about IIE, please visit: http://iieonline.org/)
kr’s note: I was very fortunate to have attended the annual IIE Alumni Reunion earlier today. It was great to see old friends; it was even better for this wayward student to meet his old teachers. What follows are some notes I took from the talk. May God allow us to benefit from this. Any mistakes in translation and transcription are undoubtedly mine.
Topic: Concerning Ramadan and the Qur’an
–The relationship between the Qur’an and Ramadan is an inseparable one, Allah establishes this in 2:185 by showing how this month is defined by the sending down of the Qur’an. The greatness of both these entities is linked to one another. Whenever we read the Qur’an, we should be reminded of Ramadan, and whenever we think of Ramadan, we should be reminded of the Qur’an. Both honor one another. The month is like a vessel that contains a precious commodity (the Qur’an).
–Previous nations were also given fasting, and this was also given to them in Ramadan. Previous nations were also given Books, and these were also always revealed in Ramadan.
–So fasting is prescribed in Ramadan because it is a “preparation” in order to receive the Words of Allah. Hence, when Allah called Musa (A) (7:142) to Him, he spent 30 days fasting (which was the month of Ramadan) as preparation to receive Wahy. So when the 30 days were complete, he cleaned and groomed himself, including washing his mouth. Allah asked Prophet Musa (A) why he did this, and he (A) replied that he did this as preparation to recite the coming Revelation. Allah told him that He wanted him to be in this state, “bad breath” and all, to receive the revelation, so He told him to fast 10 more days to “re-prepare” (hence making the 40 days on Mt. Sinai) to receive revelation. So from this, we understand that fasting is basically a preparation to receive and recite the Words of Allah.
–This is also why the Prophet (S) would go for long periods of time, 10-20 days, in the Cave of Hira when he was in Makkah. His wife, Khadijah (R), would pack for him a small amount of food because he was fasting. He was in a state of fasting, in Ramadan, when Wahy came to him as well. Allah wanted to prepare His Messenger (S) for the task of reciting the Qur’an.
–The Qur’an was the first speech of the Lawhe-Mahfuz (Well-Preserved Tablet). When there was nothingness, Allah created the Pen and told it to write the Lawhe-Mahfuz. The Qur’an was the first part of it. It came down to Bayt al-Ma’mur initially. Bayt al-Ma’mur is the House of Allah in the Highest Heaven. The Prophet (S) saw Ibrahim (A) during the Mi’raj seated with his back rested on this House with hordes of children playing around him. Abdullah b. `Abbas (R) said that if a bucket were lowered from Bayt al-Ma’mur, it would fall directly onto the roof of the Ka’bah. And then on Laylat al-Qadr when the Prophet (S) first received revelation, it came to the Lowest Heaven, and then was revealed over a period of 23 years.
–Allah sent down this Qur’an, starting in Ramadan, to be a guidance for people. The Qur’an is meant for us down in this world. It is not meant for us to raise it back up by wrapping it in cloth and putting it in a high place. Allah sent it down and we “send it back up”. We should be weary because Allah said that He will raise the Qur’an before the mass destruction of the Day of Judgment, so when we raise the Qur’an like this (ie, not use it and simply keep it for display), we are asking for destruction. Allah will remove the Qur’an before this destruction, just as a nation protects its assets before a war and resulting destruction.
–We should be weary because Allah can do away with us (4:133) and bring another people who will value this Qur’an.
–The analogy of reading the whole Qur’an is like praying all the rak’ahs of a prayer. When we read only one part, it’s like praying only the obligatory portion of the prayer. So reading one part of the Qur’an is like only praying 4 rak’ahs of fard for Zuhr. Yes, your obligation is fulfilled, but you should feel incomplete that you’ve missed out on the perks of the Sunnah and Nafl of Zuhr; this is how we should feel when we miss out on parts of the Qur’an in recitation, especially if we miss parts during Taraweeh.
–The Prophet (S) loved the Qur’an so much; oftentimes, he would recite from Surah al-Baqarah to Surah al-Ma’idah in one rak’ah(!), and this was outside of Ramadan, so imagine how much more he loved to recite during Ramadan, especially his recitation to Jibril (A) during this month.
–The Companions (R) therefore also loved the Qur’an. It was for this reason that `Umar(R) established the Taraweeh, putting forth Ubay b. Ka’b (R) as the first Imam of Taraweeh.
–Those who claim knowledge of hadith and say that Taraweeh was not done during the time of the Prophet and Companions should not even use the term hadith, they have no right to even use it! They should know that the Prophet (S) led this prayer for two nights in congregation, each night there were more Companions (R) than the previous night. On the third night, the entire masjid was filled with Companions (R) who were eagerly awaiting him (S) to come out and lead them. But he did not lead them because he feared Taraweeh might become fard upon the Ummah. So appreciate the Adab (respect) of the Companions that they patiently waited until sahur time for him to come out. No one left or began asking where he was. Today, we get nervous and upset if the Khateeb is even 2 minutes late. None of them left, and then when he came out and told them why, they understood. But those who claim to know hadith, they should know that our Mother, Aisha (R), said that the Prophet (S) never started a prayer and then stopped it. So he would not have stopped the Taraweeh on that third night, he merely prayed it in his home.
–How can they say Taraweeh is not Sunnah when the Prophet (S) said, “Hold fast to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of Rightly-Guided and Rightly-Guiding Caliphs”. So when `Umar established this, none of the Companions (R) objected. If this was against the Sunnah, wouldn’t they have raised an objection?
–We should appreciate that Taraweeh is a vessel that is inside another vessel (Ramadan) for the honoring of the Qur’an. All of this is to make it easier for us to build and strengthen a relationship with Qur’an.
–Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi (RA) commented on the verse, “Indeed, the Qur’an of Fajr is witnessed.” Usually, we read longer portions in Fajr, and if this longer portion is so honored, imagine how honored the longer portions that we recite in Taraweeh must be?
–Memorizing the Qur’an is mustahabb (recommended and praiseworthy), but forgetting what one has memorized is haram.
–Revise what you have memorized in preparation for Ramadan, not in preparation for Taraweeh
–All the great scholars of the past would leave all other subjects (Fiqh, etc) in Ramadan and immerse themselves with the Qur’an, especially with recitation, but also with anything to do with the Qur’an. The great Tafseer al-Jalalayn was written by two authors; Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti started his half on the 1st of Ramadan and finished it on the 10th of Shawwal, so it took him 40 days to write a tafseer on 15 juz, imagine the barakah that was in his time. This was because of his love for the Qur’an and also because of the month of Ramadan.
–The reward for reciting the Qur’an is tremendous. We know the famous hadith that says for every letter one recites, one will receive 10 rewards, and that alif is a letter, laam is a letter and meem is a letter. The scholars of the past were so enamored with this that they counted the verses, words, letters, dots, vowel marks, diacritical marks, etc., to catalog how many rewards the reciter will receive. One can find these exact numbers in books such as Itqan of al-Suyuti and Mawlana Na’eem’s (RA) Tafseer al-Kamalayn
–Advice to huffaz: you must recite the entire Qur’an in Taraweeh, you cannot lead with 4-5 people and think you have led Taraweeh. Ramadan is a time for you to make up for any deficiency in revision you may have had in the other 11 months. Even if you have to take time off from school/work to do this, you must do your revision. You don’t have to lead in a large masjid, just get 2-3 people and read in your home.
–The month of Ramadan is a time for being involved with the Qur’an. Recitation of the Qur’an is a priority, but you may wish to supplement it, if you have time, with reading any Qur’an-related materials, such as Tafseer, etc. But most of us need to prioritize recitation this month over all else.
Notes from Mawlana Arshad Madani (hafizahullah) Talk at IIE, June 16, 2014
kr’s note: I recently came across this poem that’s a wonderful example of the richness and depth of the Arabic language. It’s certainly a tongue twister, but it’s also filled with useful wisdom and advice that is still relevant to us in these times. Also, you probably should not read this out loud because many people will think you’re using bad language =). A special thanks to two very close mentors who helped me refine this translation.
kr’s note: The previous post regarding a balaghah(rhetoric) question I asked one of my teachers about the Qur’an was quite well received, so I figure another post on a similar topic might be of interest to my readers.
For two reasons, “Inna” is not mentioned the second time:
1) It was already mentioned in Ayah 105…as you mentioned…
2) In the other stories, the “Inna Kadhalika”…usually comes at the tail end of the story. It usually comes in the second to last verse in each sequence, but in this story of Ibrahim (A), after verse #110. There is still a bit more of the story left with mention of Ishaq (A) so no “Inna” mentioned here otherwise one might think the story has ended.
Now the question arises: why is that type of verse (ie, كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ) mentioned two times and for other prophets, it is only mentioned once? Well, because Ibrahim (A) is Ibrahim (A), he deserves the extra mention to distinguish him exclusively among all the other Prophets.
So the next question is, OK fine, the above points are understood, so why wasn’t the “Inna Kadhalika” mentioned at the tail end of the Surah as the other stories? Well…Ibrahim (A) is special and deserves to be treated differently from others. His whole family made tremendous sacrifices in submitting to Allah, He was ready to sacrifice his son just because it was the order of Allah — that’s what you call submission! And that submission was so beloved that his story had to be distinguished accordingly, so the language had to reflect that Divine Acceptance.
kr’s note: I recently asked one of my teachers a question that I had been thinking about for a while. He gave such a fantastic response that I asked him permission to share it with everyone and he agreed. I personally was blown away by his excellent answer, and perhaps you all may find some benefit in this explanation as well.
My Question: Quick question for you: usually we see the word “fitrah” (فطرة) is written with a ta-marbuta. But in Surah al-Rum, verse 30 (see below), it’s written with a ta rather than ta-marbutah. Any significance for this? I’ve read that certain Arab tribes would write it like this so the Qur’an uses this as well, but any specific reason that why within this particular ayah (which is a pretty powerful ayah) this spelling is used?
Then set your face upright for religion in the right state– the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know–
My teacher’s reply:
ok..coming to your Fitrah question… a really really interesting question… a wonderful question… ok words of praise out of the way…
Next point…there are a few words which are written in a similar manner: words like ni’mat, rahmat, masiyat, lanat, etc. So yes, there are many words which are written like fitrat (فِطْرَتَ) , where the Taa is muftoohah or mabsootah, and they are not marbutah or maqboodah.
why have they been written as mubsootah? well…that’s how it was in the Rasm Uthmani (script) or there were tribes who wrote those words that way.
Also, a person can use their own logic to come up with reasons why those words have been written in every single place of its mention or only in certain places why it is mabsootah…so use your logic and do Qiyas….
So why was the word fitrah here written with an open taa in this ayah (فِطْرَتَ) ? The word Fitrah (فطرة) denotes the innate nature present in every human to be inclined towards the worship of one creator if they make an effort to seek the
truth, i.e. worship of Allah. So every human should be open to accepting the truth because the pathways have been opened for him.
So the Taa in fitrah in this ayah (فِطْرَتَ) is open and spread out because the soul is open to accepting the truth. That is how the soul has been created. That open acceptance is innate. If the soul was not created in such a manner, then the disbelievers would say that we never had the ability to accept the truth because our hearts and souls were sealed and we were created in this locked up chained up marbootah fashion. But in this verse, it is being pointed out that…no…your souls and your hearts and your minds were created in a manner that they would openly accept the truth because that is how they were created. You had the ability within you to cast away those shackles and chains of kufr and you didn’t need to stay locked up and closed up because the fitrah of Allah is open to every single human.
So that’s that…fascinating eh?
The next part…interesting stuff here…the letters FAA TAA RAA (فطر) give the meaning of opening up something after a prolonged closure. That is why we have IFTAR (افطار) in Ramadhan. We open up our fast because we have been fasting so Fatoor/futoor (فطور) means to open our fast after fasting all day. So the amazing point here is that the Taa is open (ie, فِطْرَتَ) and not closed and the word fitrah itself denotes and gives that meaning of being open! So the word fitrah with the open taa (فِطْرَتَ) here…is giving the meaning of “open” twice: once with the word fitrah with the three root letters and then secondly with the open taa.
The message here is simple: “Mankind! Humanity! Accept the “open” invitation from your creator and humble yourselves and submit!”
so carrying on… the root letters of fitrah giving the meaning of being opened after being closed. So we can say that the person’s soul is really closed till it opens up with the acceptance of Islam, and once the person returns to the fitrah state, it is only then that the soul and the heart are truly open. Otherwise, a person out of his own choice has sealed the mind/soul/heart by not opening up to the fitrah. So when a person accepts Islam, he has finally came out of that closed state and opened up and did iftar and maximized his fitrah.
Finally, the openness of the letter taa and the root meaning of fitrah conveying the meaning of “open”, both also hint towards this point that the religion of Allah (Islam) is open for everybody. It is not restricted like some religions and cults are.
kr’s note: This post was inspired by several talks I recently heard wherein I found the popular translation to be problematic. I think that most people hear these translations and don’t make much of it, and consider to be a part of the normative dialogue. And it is true that while words have multiple interpretations and going between two complex languages such as Arabic (far more complex) and modern day English (filled with peculiarities) is a difficult task, it is important to understand how we come to understand seemingly unassuming ideas as well. Finally, this is not referring to academic translations but rather to refer to our everyday conversations, including our weekly Friday sermons.
The abundance of translation resources has opened new doors of accessibility in understanding sacred texts, especially the Qur’an. This is a useful thing, in most cases, given the seeker has an understanding a priori of what he is trying to find, and that accessing a particular resource is more a confirmation of what was already known, rather than an effort to inductively learn. The popular translation that results from this, especially in the discourses of those without knowledge of Arabic, can become problematic under certain conditions. Foremost among these problems is if a translation or understanding of sacred text violates theology, either implicitly or explicitly, and this spreads among the popular discussions as a result.
This is not a matter of semantics, I believe, for Arabic is the most precise and scientific of languages. In the study of sacred texts, especially the Qur’an, one must understand that each word has a role in the overall understanding, that there is no randomness as to why a certain word was used in a given verse when perhaps several other words would have indicated the same thought. There is an academic as well as spiritual implication for these words, which is beyond the scope of this essay, but the larger point is to ask ourselves that in our efforts to understand divine texts in non-Arabic languages, not only must we ensure accuracy in translation, we must ensure our theology is preserved in the process.
For the sake of brevity, I will illustrate two examples of where the popular translation may undermine theology.
The first example is the popular translation of Surah al-Duha, Verse 7. The verse ( وَوَجَدَكَ ضَآلاًّ۬ فَهَدَىٰ ) is often translated as “And He found you (O Prophet(S)) lost (wandering) and He guided you” or some variation of the sort.  Indeed, looking at even the popular written translations (eg, Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, etc), there is a preponderance of using the word “found”. In Arabic, the verb (وَجَدَ) indeed means to find, which implies that the one finding has lost something. This works well for humans, for we lose things all the time and then find them. But it doesn’t work so well for God, because He doesn’t “find” in the way we find things because that would imply He has lost something in the first place, which we all know would be completely antithetical to Allah’s All-Knowingness. Now, there is room for nuance in English as well because we use the word “find” in non-literal senses as well, for example, “I found Assassin’s Creed 3 to be ridiculously awesome” or something similar, so one can make the argument that the translation implies this sense of the word “found”, and if so, then that’s OK, because then (وَجَدَ) would be understood as “He knew” (عَلِمَ). This is similarly how we should view this word in this verse.
A more problematic one is how to translate/explain the word ( ضَآلاًّ۬). Here the translations again mainly use a similar word “lost/unguided/wandering”, which is a literal translation of the word. For example, (ضَآلّة) literally refers to a lost camel that wanders in the desert. People get lost all the time, and that’s fine in the sense of traveling and not knowing directions. And people may be lost and wandering religiously before they come into Islam, and that’s fine too. But we can’t use this same word or have a similar understanding–ḥāsha-lillah–for the Prophet (S). He was not “wandering” or “unguided” before the formalization of his Prophethood. Our theological understanding is that Prophets are always Prophets since the time of spiritual creation (in the rūḥ state), and that the Prophet (S) was the first of creation.  It is blasphemous to think that the Prophet (S) was misguided or not aware of Allah before Prophethood. While several of the translations on the above link do a better job  with this verse, our overall understanding must not be one wherein we equate the Prophet’s (S) pre-Prophethood state to a pre-convert state.
A second example is the popular verse (2:152) (فَٱذۡكُرُونِىٓ أَذۡكُرۡكُمۡ وَٱشۡڪُرُواْ لِى وَلَا تَكۡفُرُونِ). The popular translation, including the one often mentioned by our neighborhood khateebs (may Allah bless and preserve them) is along the lines of “So remember me and I shall remember you…”. For humans, we tend to forget , so remembrance for us is necessary. The Qur’an reminds us that in essence, all of Revelation is to remind human beings of the primordial truth of Allah’s Oneness that they already knew and testified to long before they came into this world. The word remembrance therefore includes a prerequisite of forgetting. For Allah, clearly He is All-Knowing and His Knowledge is absolute and He never forgets. So our understanding of “I shall remember you” cannot include a sense of Him “remembering” us because He never forgets about us(20:52), even when we forget about Him. A more holistic understanding of this verb is needed here as well, one that includes ideas such as Allah elevating us when we remember Him; causing us to be remembered by the Angels when we remember Him; etc.
Again, these are beyond semantics because I have heard in both sermons and popular conversation people talk about these ayahs with an understanding that violates theology. For example, I recently heard one well-intentioned khateeb state that if one does not remember Allah, Allah will “forget” that person. He was clearly trying to inspire the audience to make more dhikr, which is great, but the idea that Allah will “forget” was problematic.
I believe we can use the popular translation terms (eg, “found”, “remember” as used in the above examples) but there needs to be an explanation when using these terms to avoid casting doubt or misunderstanding into the minds of the audience. This may require a few more sentences by a speaker to clarify, especially in public settings, but seems to be a necessary addition. Translation allows for people to understand and appreciate sacred texts in their respective languages, but we must ensure that theology is preserved at all costs. There is no benefit to understanding a verse if that leads to misunderstanding God.
For a comparison of 40+ translations of this verse, this webpage is useful
It is related that Jabir ibn `Abd Allah said to the Prophet : “O Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you, tell me of the first thing Allah created before all things.” He said: “O Jabir, the first thing Allah created was the light of your Prophet from His light, and that light remained (lit. “turned”) in the midst of His Power for as long as He wished, and there was not, at that time, a Tablet or a Pen or a Paradise or a Fire or an angel or a heaven or an earth. And when Allah wished to create creation, he divided that Light into four parts and from the first made the Pen, from the second the Tablet, from the third the Throne, [and from the fourth everything else].”
For example, Mufti Taqi’s translation “And He found you unaware of the way (the Shari‘ah ), then He guided you” is better. For a slightly more mystical understanding, this is good: “He found you lost in (His) love (and that of His people), and gave you guidance (so as to enable you help the people reach the goal).” I believe our understanding here must be a holistic one, but more importantly, we cannot think that the Prophet was “not guided”.