Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Radio Series - The Divine Connection

Alhamdulillah, today was the first episode of my new six-part radio series "The Divine Connection - Understanding the Qur'an" every Wednesday 9am-10am (GMT +2) on Radio Al-Ansaar.

Here is my notes of today's episode:


You listening to Radio Al-Ansaar 90.4 FM, my name is Ismail Kamdar and I will be your host every Wednesday Morning 9am-10am with an exciting new program “The Divine Connection – Understanding the Qur’an”

With this being the first episode, I’d like to mention a bit about myself and why I chose this topic for our program. I am a tutor at the Islamic Online University and one of the subjects I teach is called Uloom Al-Qur’an which means “sciences of the Qur’an” This subject is a study of the various sciences of the Qur’an which are essential for a student of knowledge to know when making Tafseer of the Qur’an. Personally, this is one of my favorite subjects to teach and I even though it is very academic and intense in nature. There are various aspects of it which I feel every Muslim should know and which can help us all understand the Quran better.

Furthermore, with the month of Ramadan being around the corner and it being the month of the Qur’an about which Allah has states “The month of Ramadan is the one in which Allah revealed the Quran as a guidance for mankind, and a proof of guidance and a criterion between right and wrong,” (Surah Baqara 2:185) and so most of us are trying to get closer to the Qur’an every Ramadan but we all have different methods of doing so, and many times we have questions about the Qur’an and understanding it and don’t know who to ask. Inshaa Allah, I hope that in this program, I can assist you in gaining a stronger understanding and closer relationship with the Quran.

So just to give you a taster and a glimpse of what’s to come during this six part series, here is the lineup:

a)      In today’s opening episode, it being the final Wednesday before Ramadan, inshaa Allah, we will discuss some practical tips on how to maximize your benefit from the Quran this Ramadan!
b)      Next week inshaa Allah, we will discuss how understanding the Qur’an can transform your life and in doing so we will discuss the basic steps in reading a translation of the Quran or a Tafseer as well as discuss which are the best Tafseers and translations to read.
c)       In our third episode, we will look at the commonly recited Surahs in Salah and study the Tafseer of such Surahs including Surah Fatiha, Al-Asr and the Three Quls so that we can inshaa Allah, pray Salah with understanding
d)      The fourth show will be dedicated to the concept of stories in the Qur’an and we will discuss how to read the stories in the Qur’an in order to gain maximum benefit from them, as well as discuss common questions like why are the stories scattered and not told in details, and why is Surah Yusuf told in one Surah.
e)      Towards the end of Ramadan, in our fifth episode we will discuss the areas which many readers find difficult in understanding the Quran, mainly the concepts of abrogation, reasons for revelations as well as the objections raised by others against the Quran’s content
f)       Finally, we will end our sixth episode by discussing practical steps on how we can all make the Quran a constant in our lives which we live, read and follow every day.

So inshaa Allah, that is the line up for this program over the next six weeks and I hope you all are an excited as I am about it!

Getting into today’s topic. I pray that we all have an intention to make this upcoming Ramadan special, unique and a life-changer. One of the ways to receive a life-changing experience in Ramadan is to change our approach to reciting the Quran in it.

Segment Two:

Let’s begin by discussing what the Quran is and why we should be reading it with understanding.
The Quran is part of the last revelation sent by God/Allah to mankind to his final prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) 1400 years ago. Previously, Allah would send different scriptures to different nations, but with the prophet Muhammad being the final messenger to all of mankind, a final revelation was sent.

The revelation sent to the prophet Muhammad was of two types, the Quran and the Sunnah, with the key differences between the two being that the Quran is God’s word while the Sunnah (or Hadith) are the prophet’s words, and the Quran is a miracle in of itself and proof of the truth of Islam.

As Muslims, we all accept and believe that the Quran is the final revelation, God’s word and a miracle thus we should make extra effort to understand and practice the teachings it contains. As the Quran itself testifies that we were created in this world as a test, to see who will follow and submit to Allah and who will not, and we know as Muslims, that whatever Allah has revealed and chosen for us is best for us so we will eagerly read it, understand it and follow it with all our hearts.

However, even though this is what Islam teaches and Muslims are suppose to do, we find that today in many homes, the Quran is rarely read, even rarer is it understood and sadly we find many of us don’t follow it. The prophet warned us about this as a sign of Qiyama. He said that knowledge will disappear and when the companions asked how that can happen when they recite the Quran, he replied that just like followers of some other religions read their books without understanding, many Muslims will do so too.

Allah also prophesized this in the Quran when He warns us of a statement the prophet will make on the Last Day. Allah says, “The prophet will say, ‘Oh my Lord, indeed my people have deserted this Quran,” (Surah Furqaan 25:30) We need to ask ourselves, are we from those who the prophet is sadden that we deserted the Quran or are we from those who the prophet will be proud of as his followers on the Last Day. It is our choice as to whether we choose to follow the Quran or not, but know well that this choice has consequences. Choose wisely, as one choice leads to the pleasure or Allah and the other does not!

Indeed during Ramadan itself, many of us try to reconnect with the Quran by reciting it in and out of Taraweh, but when this recitation is at lightning speed without any understanding, pondering or learning then what would be its impact on our hearts and lives? In order to change, we need to change how we approach the Quran in Ramadan, and that is what we will discuss next

Segment Three:

We have established that we want to understand the Qur’an better and follow its teachings to the best of our abilities, now let us discuss some practical steps on how to accomplish that this Ramadan.
The first step, as in any act of worship, is to make the correct intention. Right now, each of us should make a firm intention that this Ramadan I WILL become a better Muslim, and I will do so for the sake of Allah and I WILL begin understanding and following the Quran and Sunnah to the best of my ability, and I will not allow my mistakes and sins to stop me from repenting and trying again.

With such an intention in our hearts, we then make dua to Allah to assist in fulfilling our intentions.
Intentions, noble as they are, however, can’t be fulfilled without a plan thus I advice everybody to write down a list of life changing goals for this Ramadan and to draw up a plan for accomplishing those goals. For example, I have set the goal of completing two Islamic courses through IOU and I have made a plan of how many modules I will study a day and set specific times of the day just for studying for those courses. Likewise I have set a goal to post a verse of the Qur’an with Tafseer a day on Facebook and set a specific time and system for that as well, by writing down these goals and drawing a plan, accomplishing them becomes much easier. So each of us needs to take time to write down our goals and how we plan to accomplish them, including our goal of understanding the Quran and how we plan to do that.

As an example of fulfilling this specific goal, I’d like to mention a personal story of how my relationship with the Quran changed. As a teenager, I use to recite the Quran every Ramadan as quickly as possible and as many times as possible but it didn’t really impact me much until one year, thanks to the influence of the late Ahmed Deedat (RA), I decided to read the Qur’an with understanding instead. That year, I made it a goal to recite a quarter juz of the Qur’an four times a day with the Yusuf Ali translation, i.e. one juz a day and the entire Qur’an with understanding by Eid, and Alhamdulillah I was able to complete this goal. Reading the Quran with understanding that year completely transformed me in so many ways, and for the next two Ramadans I did the same thing with two other translations until I had learned Arabic well enough to understand the Quran without translation and since then I try to read as much Tafseer as possible every Ramadan.

I hope this story gives you some ideas on how you too can accomplish this goal of reciting the entire Quran with understanding this Ramadan.

Segment Four:

Now that we have established the importance of understanding the Quran and set our goals to do so this Ramadan, another question which arises is which translation should I use?

Firstly, let’s understand what Islam teaches us about translations. The scholars of Islam agree that translating the message of the Quran is permissible but in doing so, it no longer remains the Quran. This is because the Arabic Quran is God’s Word while a translation is a human effort. As a result, a translation loses some of the meaning and miracles of the Arabic will have human errors but will maintain the main messages of the Quran.

At the same time, translations are necessary for getting the message of Islam across to non-Arabs, and he find the earliest translations taking place during the prophet’s time when the companions in Abyssinia recited Surah Maryam to the king which had to be translated for him to understand it, as well as when the prophet sent a message to the emperor of Byzantine which included Quranic verses, which too had to be translated for him to understand it.

So translations are permissible and recommended for those who don’t understand Arabic yet, but we should approach them knowing that they are human efforts and will have mistakes and miss part of the message.
With that in mind, I would recommend the following translations for a new reader, either the Saheeh International Translation, done by three revert sisters, the translation known as Al-Qur’an: A guidance for mankind by Farooq Azam Malik, or if neither of these two are available then Marmaduke Pikchtall’s translation or the Darus Salaam Translation “Noble Quran” by Dr Muhsin Khan and Taqi Ud-Deen Al-Hilali. These are among the best translations available in English, even though they all have their mistakes.

A few more points to note about translations before we conclude:
1. Be sincere and read the Quran to see what it is telling you, even if it goes against your own opinions, do not try to read your own opinions into the Qur’an as then you will just be deceiving yourself.
2. There are many verses of the Qur’an which are Fiqh in nature, or difficult to understand, don’t try to invent your own understanding of them, rather consult the scholars and ask them to explain difficult verses to you. You can even use this program as an opportunity to ask questions about such verses.


With that, we have reached the end of episode one of this exciting new series and I hope you all have enjoyed it and benefitted from what was presented. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to join the conversation by following me on Twitter @IsmailKamdar or liking my Facebook Page “Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar”, on both Facebook and Twitter we will be having many conversations about this topic and the Qur’an and Tafseer in general throughout Ramadan, so please feel free to join.

Don’t forget to tune in next week for our second episode in which we will discuss how the Qur’an can transform your life, how it transformed the lives of others and what we can do to benefit from the Quran, the way they did.

Until then, I would like to wish you all an early Ramadan Mubarak and I look forward to speaking to you all again next week, same place, same time on Radio Al-Ansaar.

Wa Akhiru Da’wana Alhamdulillahi Rabbil Alameen
Was Salaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barkatuh!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ramadan - Month of Mercy

From among Allah’s greatest blessings to this ummah is the beloved month of Ramadan. The one month in the year in which Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset and reap the spiritual rewards. Regarding this month, it is mentioned in the Qur’an that, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop Taqwa” (Surah Baqara 2:183)

The above verse indicates that the purpose of fasting is to grow spiritually and increase in Taqwa. Taqwa literally means a shield or protection, and in Islam it refers to the quality of God-consciousness. It means to be aware of God at all times and to strive to live such a life in which one does not do anything to displease Him. This quality of Taqwa is highly praised in the Qur’an and is regarded as the primary quality which God looks at for judging who are the best of His Creation, “Indeed the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one with the most Taqwa” (Surah Hujaraat 49:13)

Thus the gaining of Taqwa is no small feat and a great achievement in of itself, at the same time being a means of achieving the pleasure of Allah. This leads to the question then as to why many of us don’t feel this rise in Taqwa during Ramadan. One of the main reasons for this is that very often we do not approach Ramadan with the right mindset. We need to reflect and ask ourselves the following questions, “What do I want to accomplish this Ramadan?” “How can I increase my Taqwa this Ramadan?” and “What can I do to make this Ramadan special?”

Without such internal questioning and reflection, we end up treating Ramadan and fasting as just another ritual. When ritualized, fasting becomes a series of habits without much spiritual benefit. Many Muslims overeat for both the pre-dawn meal and the breaking of the fast, while sleeping much of the day away. Habits like these can seriously jeopardize the spiritual benefits of fasting. Now that we know the goal of fasting and the importance of planning to achieve it, let us look at some practical tips to make this

Ramadan more spiritual and beneficial:

1. Purify your intention: The prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Every deed is judged by its intentions,” (Saheeh Bukhari, 1:1: 1) If we want to benefit from Ramadan then we first need to make a strong intention that we will fast this Ramadan for the sake of Allah seeking an increase in Taqwa, doing whatever we can to become closer to Him. With this intention, it will be easier to keep our eye on our goals and work towards them.

2. Set specific goals and work towards them:

Just saying we want more Taqwa won’t help us get it unless we have a specific plan on how we can achieve it. Set some goals this Ramadan and work on achieving them. Examples of such goals which can assist in increasing our Taqwa include: Reciting the entire Quran with understanding, reading beneficial books, not overeating, giving up bad habits among others. Each person knows their own areas which need improvement and should set their goals accordingly.

3. Ask Allah for His Assistance and do your best:

Finally, we should realize that without Allah’s assistance, nothing is possible. Make dua, ask Allah to help you accomplish your goals this Ramadan then go out there and do your best, knowing that Allah is there to assist you every step of the way.

 I pray these few points assist in making this a memorable and life-changing Ramadan for us all.