«Source: 1 HOW I DISCOV ERED THE HOLY QUR AN AND IT’S IMPACT U PON MY LIFE My discovery of Holy Quran was tortuous and led me ...»
Source: www.al-islamforall.org 1
HOW I DISCOV ERED THE HOLY QUR AN
IT’S IMPACT U PON MY LIFE
My discovery of Holy Quran was tortuous and led me through strange by-ways
but since the end of the road was supremely worthwhile, I have never
regretted my experiences.
As a small child I possessed a keen ear for music and was particularly fond of the classical operas and symphonies considered the high culture in the West.
Music was my favorite subject in school in which I always earned the highest grades. By sheer chance, when I was about eleven years old, I happened to hear Arabic music over the radio which so much pleased me that I was determined to hear more. As soon as I heard Arabic music, Western music at once lost of all its appeal for me. I would not leave my parents in peace until my father finally took me to the Syrian section in New York City where I brought a stack of Arabic recordings for my gramophone. The one I liked best was a rendition of the Surah Maryam of the Holy Quran chanted by Um Kulthum. Then in 1946, I could not foresee what an evil woman she was to become in her later years; I admired her for her beautiful voice which rendered those passages of Holy Quran with such intense feeling and devotion. It was by listening to these recordings by the hour that I came to love the sound of Arabic even though I could not understand it. Without this basic appreciation of the Arabic musical idiom, which sounds so utterly strange to the Westerner, I could not possibly have grown to love Tilawat (Recitation). My parents, relatives and neighbors thought Arabic and its music dreadfully weird and so distressing to their ears that whenever I put on my recordings, they demanded that I close all the doors and windows of my room lest they be disturbed! After I embraced Islam in 1961, I used to sit enthralled by the hour at the mosque in New York, listening to tape-recordings of Tilawat (Recitation) chanted by the celebrated Egyptian Qari, Abdul Basit. But one Fuma Salat, the Imam did not play the tapes. We had a special guest ---- a short, very thin and poorly-dressed black youth who introduced himself to us as a student from Zanzibar; buy when he opened his mouth to recite Surah ar-Rahman, I never heard such glorious Tilawat (Recitation) even from Abdul Basit! This obscure African adolescent possessed such a voice of gold; surely Hazrat Bilal must have sounded much like him!
From the age of ten I had developed a passion for reading all the books about the Arabs I could lay my hands on at school or at the public libraries in my community, especially those dealing with the historical relationship between the Jews and Arabs, but it was not until more than nine years later that it ever occurred to me to satisfy my curiosity about the Holy Quran. Gradually, however, as I neared the end of the Arabs who had made Islam great but Islam
In the summer of 1953 I overstrained myself at college by taking an accelerated course of too many subjects. That August I fell ill and had to discontinue all work for the remainder of the season. One evening when my mother was about to go to the public library, she asked me if there was any book I wanted. I asked her for a copy of Holy Quran. An hour later she returned with one-a translation by the eighteenth century Christian missionary and scholarGeorge Sale. Because of the extremely archaic language and the copious footnotes quoting from al-Baidawi and Zamakhshari out of context in order to refute them from the Christian viewpoint, I understood very little. At that time, my immature mind regarded Quran as nothing more than distorted and garbled versions of the familiar stories from the Bible! Although my first impression of Holy Quran was unfavorable, I could not tear myself away from it. I read it almost continuously for three days and nights and when I had finished, all my strength had been drained away! Although I was only nineteen, I felt as weak as a woman of eighty. I never recovered my fully strength or energy afterwards.
I continued to nurse this poor opinion of Holy Quran until one day I found in a bookshop a cheap paper-back edition of Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall’s translation. As soon as I opened that book, it proved a revelation! The powerful eloquence literally swept me off my feet. In the first paragraph of his preface,
Pickthall wrote :
The aim of this work is to present to English readers what Muslims the world over hold to be the meaning of the words of the Quran and the nature of that Book in not unworthy language and concisely with a view to the requirements of English – speaking Muslims. It may reasonably be claimed that no Holy Scripture can be fairly presented by one who disbelievers its inspiration and its message and this is the first English at once recognize as unworthy. The Quran cannot be translated. That is the conviction of the old-fashioned Shaikhs and the view of the present writer. The Book here is rendered almost literally and every effort is made to choose befitting language, but the result it not the Glorious Quran, that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy. It is only an attempt to present the meaning of the Quran—and, peradventure, something of the charm-in English. It can never take the place of the Quran in Arabic nor is it meant to do so.
I then realized why George Sale’s translation was most unfair. From then on, I refused to read his or any other renderings of Holy Quran by nonMuslims. After reading Pickthall’s rendition, I discovered other English translations by Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Ali Lahori and Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi. I found the commentation by Yusuf Ali and Muhammad Ali Lahori Source: www.al-islamforall.org 3 offensive because of their apologetic tone and far-fetched and unconvincing attempts to explain away those passages conflicting with modern philosophies or scientific concepts. Their translation of the Text was also weak. Although Maulana Daryabadi’s attempts to pattern his translation of the Holy Quran on the archaic style of the King Jame’s version of the Bible most annoyed me, I found his commentary excellent, particularly those parts dealing with comparative religion and learned much from it. However, Pickthall’s rendition remained my favorite and to this day, I have never found any other English translation that can equal it. The sweep of eloquence, the virility and dignity of the language is unsurpassed in any other translation. Most other translations commit the mistake of using the word “God” but Pickthall retains “Allah” throughout. This makes the message of Islam strike the Western reader as more authentic and effective. Throughout the darkest days during my years of hospitalization, I kept a paper-back edition of Pickthall’s translation with me as my constant companion which I read over so many times, I must have worn to pieces of half dozen copies. May Allah abundantly reward Pickthall with the choicest blessings for making the knowledge about the Quran so easily and cheaply available to England and America! Were it not for him, I would not have been able to know and appreciate it.
After my discharge in 1959, I spent much of my leisure time reading books about Islam in the Oriental Division of the New York Public Library. It was there I discovered four bulky volumes of an English translation of Mishkat ul Masabih by Al-Haj Maulana Fazlur Rahman of Calcutta. It was then I learned that a proper and detailed understanding of Holy Quran is not possible without some knowledge of the relevant Hadith, for how can the Holy Text correctly be interpreted except by the Prophet to whom it was revealed? Those who disbelieve the Hadith also disbelieve the Quran for its revelation explicity tells us that one cannot follow what God wants us to do without an unquestioning acceptance of the authority of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Once I had studied the Mishkat, I began to accept the Holy Quran as Divine revelation. What persuaded me that the Quran must be from God and not composed by Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was its satisfying and convincing answers to all the most important questions of life which I could not find elsewhere.
As a child, I was so mortally afraid of death, particularly the thought of my own death, that after nightmare about it, sometimes I would awaken my parents crying in the middle of the night. When I asked them why I had to die and what would happen to me after death, all they could say was that I had to accept the inevitable but that was a long way off and because medical science was constantly advancing, perhaps I would live to be a hundred years old! My parents, the remainder of my family and all our friends contemptuously rejected as superstition any thought of Hereafter, regarding Judgment Day, Source: www.al-islamforall.org 4 reward in Paradise or punishment in Hell as outmoded concepts of by-gone ages. In vain I searched all the verbose chapters of the Old Testament for any clear and unambiguous concept of Hereafter. The prophets, patriarchs and sages of the Bible all receive their rewards or punishments in this world.
Typical is the story of Job (Hazrat Ayub). God destroyed all his loved-ones, his possessions and afflicted him with loathsome disease in order to test his faith.
Job plaintively laments to God why He should make a righteous man suffer. At the end of the story, God restores all his earthly losses but nothing is even mentioned about any possible consequences in the Hereafter. Although I did find the Hereafter mentioned in the New Testament, compared with that of Holy Quran, it is vague and ambiguous. I found no answer to the question of death in Orthodox Judaism, for the Talmud preaches that even the worst life is better than the best death. My parents’ philosophy was that one must avoid contemplating the thought of death and just enjoy as best one can, the pleasures life has to offer at the moment. According to them, the purpose of life is enjoyment and pleasure achieved through self-expression of one’s talents, the love of family, the congenial company of friends combined with the comfortable living and indulgence in the variety of amusements that affluent America makes available in such abundance. They deliberately cultivated this superficial approach to life as if it were the guarantee for their continued happiness and good-fortune. Through bitter experience I discovered that self-indulgence leads only to misery and that nothing great or even worthwhile is ever accomplished without struggle through adversity and selfsacrifice. From earliest childhood I have always wanted to accomplish important and significant things. Above all else, before my death I want the assurance that I have not wasted my life in sinful deeds or worthless pursuits.
All my life I have been intensely serious-minded. I have always detested the frivolity which is the dominant characteristic of contemporary culture. My father once disturbed me with his unsettling conviction that there is no hing of permanent value and because everything in this modern age continually changes all the time, the best we can do is accept the present trends as inevitable and adjust ourselves to them. I, however, was thirsty to attain something that would endure forever. It was from the Holy Quran where I learned that this aspiration was possible. No good deed for the sake of seeking the pleasure of God is ever wasted or lost. Even if the person concerned never achieves any worldly recognition, his reward is certain in the Hereafter.