About the Author
A good word is like a good tree, firmly rooted and its branches in the sky, it yields its fruit each time with its Lord's permission [Quran, 14:24-25]
I am an independent student of The Quran, born and raised in the United Kingdom. I have no formal education in Arabic/Islamic/Religious studies. I do not consider myself a scholar, nor do I wish to be one. I try to use what I have been given to determine the message to the best of my abilities, and I am simply one of its intended recipients: an imperfect human being.To understand the journey which led me to authoring this study, I will start from the beginning...
I was born into a Traditional Sunni Muslim family (who were of average religiousness), and at the time, where we lived we happened to be the only Muslim family in our hometown. When I was about 6 years old I was introduced to reading Al Quran in Arabic when my family and I went to Pakistan, and I didnt enjoy it. It felt like a chore at such a young age and in the Masjid (religious school) it was common for the Hafiz (teacher) to smack the children (with a hand or cane) if they made mistakes in their recitation of it. I believe this is common practice and still is today. I remember shuddering inside whenever a fellow classmate was hit in front of me and it always made me feel uneasy and somewhat disheartened. I never could understand why God would want people, especially children, to read His book in such a way. I used to ask myself: Is this what God wants? Is this what Islam is? Imagine, a 6 year old thinking that! Of course, I was never hit myself, which I found out later was because I was from the United Kingdom (i.e. the West) and therefore considered special in some way, but at the time I did not realise this was the reason.
When I returned home my mum and aunt continued the practice of Quran recitation (without the hitting I might add!). I remember telling my mum I might as well be reading it in Spanish as I understood as much Spanish as I did Arabic, and that was zero. I always used to pose questions like this to my mum and I don't know whether that was because I wanted to get out of reading it or I was seeking the true goal every reader of a book has: to understand its message, not recited in parrot fashion (i.e. without understanding). I suspect it was a bit of both. My mum just said it pleased God that I was reading it, which was a fair point I supposed at the time, considering reciting it was probably better than not doing anything at all with it.
When I was in the start of my teens, I was taught Religious Education at school. In class we would spend weeks on Christianity topics, then cover other religions, e.g. Islam in less than one period/class, which I always felt unfair. I now realise this is natural, practiced by many institutions and nations across the world. Why would anyone of one faith want to teach about other faiths anymore than they need to? I'm sure this same thing happens in Muslim countries. I often think if it's a deep rooted insecurity/fear that the impressionable children will actually think for themselves and wonder "if there are many religions out there, how can I possibly know mine is the right one?". Such a simple question but how many people who are members of a religion have asked themselves this? I think this question must be asked by all. Luckily for me, I began to ask myself this at a very young age. I asked my mum this but she didn't have a reasonable answer (to be fair to my mum, whom is the gentlest of souls, it was a tough question!). At this age, I started to look at things a little differently to my peers, and became more self-aware. Growing up surrounded by non-Muslims may seem like a disadvantage on the surface, actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I was able to look at things more objectively and critically, from different viewpoints. I started to ask more questions: How do we know The Bible isn't the Word of God? What does The Quran say about dinosaurs or evolution or space travel? I was just generally inquisitive, plus I have always longed to understand things and how they work. I preferred not to memorise information but to understand. I guess I was just being me.
I have always had a strong bond with nature (I find it awe-inspiring), and to my fellow human beings. I've always felt close with both and the oneness of us all just felt right, so the one God concept was pretty solid for me since I can remember. So whilst I questioned Islam, I never really questioned its core belief, unlike Christianity in which I just couldn't grasp the Christian concept of God (Jesus as the son of God, praying to him/God/Mary or the trinity) or worshipping material idols (e.g. Hinduism). In my mid-teens I began to study Islam and found out more about it. One of the main reasons was that I realised that Islam was composed of many different sects and there was simply no way of knowing if my Sunni Islam was the right version. I often thought if I was brought up as a Shia Muslim for example I'm sure I'd think Shia was the right version and Sunni was wrong. I realised early that I had no objective evidence as to which one was right, if any. This again I feel is such a simple question but how many Muslims have asked themselves this? (the same can be said of any sect in any religion) Similarly, even a person brought up in an atheist family is unlikely to have studied its origins, evidence and other options.
One day, my mum recommended I request some Islamic information booklets about the things I was interested in, so I did, and they were very helpful. I read one booklet titled "The Quran, Bible and modern science" by Dr Maurice Bucaille and it was a turning point in my journey of discovery. It opened my eyes by making me discover and reflect upon the amazing scientific information in The Quran. For probably the first time I thought to myself: "this Quran sounds pretty amazing, why dont I study Islam from its source?". I had no idea then, that this simple and subtle shift in direction was to lead me somewhere I never imagined: to a book and system that was beyond Sunni or Shia, in fact, to a book and system that was beyond religion.
About this time, when I was 16, inspired by what I had found I wrote my first article, tackling the biggest question of them all: Does God Exist? (see PDF) It was based on The Quran, and I later published it online and received feedback (mainly positive) from people all over the world, including university professors. This had the side-effect of showing me the power of the internet at a young age. I was amazed by how one person could reach and effect so many people. It gave me a glimpse of feeling connected to something much greater than myself, something universal. It just so happened that my personal awakening had coincided with the rise of the greatest tool for sharing knowledge in human history.
So little by little I began to read about philosophy and research Islam with a preference for The Quran, i.e. what it said about this and that. The more I found out, the more I liked it. Quite simply, it resonated with me. During this time I'd often read some Traditional Ahadith (narrations) embedded with the material I was reading and whilst some of it was good, I did find some unsettling/illogical/offensive/contradictory. I very rarely had this experience with Al Quran, so I don't think I ever considered them equal in my mind, but I had no strict objection to them. Like many Muslims, I just took it as granted that they had some authority and were part of Islam, mainly because I didn't know much about them. My studies however were enough to implant a seed of caution and an awareness about them.
I studied intermittently, nothing serious, and when our home finally got our own permanent internet connection, it opened up even more avenues to explore. When I wasn't in chatrooms or downloading music, I'd do a little research on Islam. I stumbled upon an article titled "Hadith: Satanic Innovation" which somewhat shocked but intruiged me at the same time. The host site seemed to be pro-Islam but anti-Hadith which was a new thing for me. Some people might have been put off by this, but I wasn't. I have always firmly believed that truth can withstand any scrutiny so I had nothing to lose by reading this material. Especially so when it came to God's Word. Only those of weak faith are troubled by things that challenge their views. Interestingly, those who think otherwise imply God's truth cannot withstand scrutiny or criticism, or the very notion of questioning is a bad thing, when The Quran is full of evidence to the contrary! I thought The Quran would support the traditional Hadith/Sunna but it didn't. In fact, it was anti-Hadith itself! This hit a nerve with me. Finally, that splinter in my mind, that niggling feeling I had about traditional Hadith made sense. I began to think rejecting Traditional Hadith as binding was a possibility. The more research I did, the more I confirmed it. Namely, the traditional Hadith are a mix of truth and falsehood, littered with traditions/culture/politics/conflict/views of the time and nothing to do with the universal message of The Quran. Hearsay pawning itself of as the direct words of prophet Muhammad when in fact it was compiled generations after (like The Bible!) through arbitrary means and ultimately unverifiable chains of narration. An important point I realised was the authenticity of Traditional Hadith was in question right from the start, bans were in place, hadith scripts were systematically collected and burned by Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, people jailed for spreading them, opposition to them having an obligatory status was significant, no early school of thought used them as an obligatory source of law, conflicts arose etc. Eventually however, this new Hadith-centric position triumphed. Unfortunately, this is the history Muslims are not taught, as the saying goes: "it is the victor's history that goes to school". Just like in the past, history had repeated itself:
Moses delivered God's message, afterwards, most of his followers became misguided.
Jesus delivered God's message, afterwards, most of his followers became misguided.
Muhammad delivered God's message, afterwards, most of his followers became ?
Muslims seem to think we are immune to this pattern in history. Like me they have no idea it has happened to us as well [see 6:112-116, 25:30].
Even though I had effectively accepted The Quran as the only source for Islam, I hadn't realised to what extent tradition/culture had been incorporated into everyday practice/beliefs. This point in the journey is not for the faint-hearted! Many Traditional Muslims will accept that not all Traditional Ahadith can be trusted (hence weak/strong classification etc) and most will state The Quran is the primary source but like many I had no idea that the Islam taught by The Quran was almost unrecogniseable to the Islam practiced today.
This is where many end the journey. This part requires someone to actively study/seek/research/question their own beliefs as well as their family/friends etc. It requires the breaking down of myths, embracing uncertainty, periods of confusion mixed with joy and clarity, rebuilding of ideas... who would want to put themselves through that? Not many. The more I researched, the more dissilusioned, confused, lost I became. It is important to point out it was not because it didn't make sense, it was because it was shaking my beliefs down to the ground. It was just so different and unexpected to what I had been taught. Slowly but surely I began to connect the dots and see the big picture. I now realise it was necessary to break down my beliefs and rebuild on a solid foundation [9:109]. Like most I started with a core starting point (belief in God) but had built upon it a mixture of Islam+tradition+culture+myths+hearsay+bias. This was not a solid strucutre, so I began to dismantle it using the ultimate falsehood smasher: The Quran. Akin to how a sculptor does not keep adding clay to his subject, actually, he strips away the inessentials until its true form is revealed, and the truth is beautiful.
During this time, I was (and still am) active in online discussion forums related to Quran based islam. I sometimes write small articles, some of which can be found here: Learn-About-Islam. This led me to where I am today, as I was asked to write about 4:34 and the subject of wife beating in Islam, so I did.
To end, I consider myself a monotheist who inclines towards The Quran because it resonates with who I am and how I see the world, and I try to live by its principles. My working hypothesis is that it is the Word of God and I am in an ongoing verification process, and I am still learning. I am not religious, nor do I wish to be, for The Quran is a book beyond religion. I do not know if I chose this path, or the path chose me, but I will continue to walk it, because I choose to.
As the saying goes: "there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path". I believe most Traditional Muslims know the path but are unwilling to walk it, or if they do walk it, they prefer to be led down the path by their religious leaders. When one has the guiding light of The Quran, there is no need for another shepherd.
It is ironic to think that the issue of unjustified hitting of another human being first led me to question Traditional Islam at six years of age, eventually led me to return and challenge tradition on this very subject many years later. Back then, I did not know what I was reciting, but I was given time and resources:
And whatever fruit I was able to yield by God's permission, it is with this that I plant the seed for my dear brothers and sisters, with the best of intentions. If God wills, it can take root and grow, for after all, a good word is like a good tree. Please note, I do not claim that my understanding of 4:34 is the truth. I simply believe that out of the options it is the most cogent as per Quran.
Peace be upon you.
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