Tainted Lenses

Changing our Approach to the Quran and Islamic Knowledge Table of Contents: I. Introduction II. Sources of Knowledge—Who do we trust? III.How to Seek Knowledge IV. Desires vs. Quran

I. Introduction
In today’s day and age we’ve reached an era where technology has made knowledge more readily available and at a far faster rate than previous times. The ease of access of information has both pros and cons. Anyone and everyone can post their own opinions, thoughts, etc. online, on CDs, mp3s, and other media. In a sense this has empowered the voiceless and the oppressed, but on the other side of the spectrum it has given those seeking to spread evil and misinformation the power to do so at a faster pace and to a wider audience. Now how does this relate to Islamic knowledge? With the advent of online Islamic websites, online fatwas, and with the rise of popular speakers it becomes difficult on who to trust for religious knowledge. To further complicate things we have popular speakers who have no formal religious training in Islamic studies and speak on various religious topics that they have no knowledge about and thus confuse the masses of Muslims. Along with this the sectarian splits in the ummah as well as the misinformation, mislabeling of individuals, politics of sectarianism, culture and ethnicity have
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caused many problems on who to trust as a source for religious knowledge. Another phenomenon that must be noted is the complete disregard for legitimate scholars by Muslims. Many Muslims have become disillusioned by the corruption of religious scholars that they have completely whitewashed all scholars as being corrupt and biased. This is not to say there are particular scholars out there and fake scholars who seek to corrupt the teachings of Islam and misguide people for their own political and personal agendas. Finally, we will discuss the phenomenon of approaching religious knowledge with our own ego. We often times think that we may somehow know more or disagree with an Islamic concept, yet we think we know better and decide not to adhere to that concept or injunction in the Quran or Sunnah. It is with these many tainted lenses of our own ego, limited understanding and other issues that we approach the Quran and Sunnah and must be changed in order to truly understand our religion better.

II.

Sources of Knowledge—Who do we trust?
It certainly has become hard to know who to trust as a valid religious source in the West. However, we should be able to use our own intellect to figure out who is a legitimate source based on our knowledge of Islam. If we do not feel comfortable with a particular scholar then we do not have to learn from him. However, we must remember that if that level of comfortability is due to our ego disagreeing with the words of that particular scholar then we should think twice. For the most part most of us have a firm foundation of Islamic principles and basics and should be able to make an educated decision on which scholars are legitimate and which ones are not.

It’s certainly better to seek out scholarship that are reputable and well known rather than self-proclaimed scholars, famous speakers,
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and online sources. In fact as a rule of thumb it’s best not to trust online sources of any kind. We should also always check the backgrounds of the scholars we seek our knowledge from. We should check their formal education, their biographies and ensure their expertise is in the particular field you have a question about.

Alhamdullilah, we have many institutions today established in the West. We have Al-Maghrib, Bayyinah, and the Zaytuna Institute and others. With a simple search we can find many programs in which we can formally seek knowledge. There are many reputable universities with excellent Islamic studies programs in the US and also abroad.

III. How to Seek Knowledge
Now that we’ve discussed on how we figure out who to trust for our sources of knowledge, we turn to how to seek religious knowledge. There are correct ways to pursue religious knowledge and incorrect ways. As was said before the information age has allowed for Islamic knowledge (and also misinformation) to be more readily available for Muslims. While this is beneficial for Muslims to have more ease to Islamic knowledge—there is often less quality, yet more quantity. Also, the decrease in the value of religious knowledge can be attributed to this. Just as inflation works in economics, the more religious knowledge available the less value is placed on it. Many Muslims have access to this knowledge and feel that reading a few websites makes them experts on any particular topic. The arrogance that arises from this will be covered later on in this paper. In addition to this we have the advent of weekend, week-long seminars and summer programs that seek to educate Muslims about various Islamic topics, such as AMIN, Al-Maghrib Institute, etc. These institutions are doing amazing work, however, some students or participants in these programs leave these programs believing they reached a level of expertise on a particular Islamic issue and
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can begin to issue legal verdicts (fatwas) and can be asked their opinion on various Islamic topics. Again, this leads to issue of the ego and arrogance when pursuing religious knowledge. The first thing we must do when we first make the intention to seek religious knowledge is to purify our intention on why we want to pursue religious knowledge. This can both be an informal or formal study of religious knowledge—regardless, we need pure intentions for either/or. If we’re seeking to gain some sort of authority or status when we seek knowledge then we need to recheck and purify our intentions. Also, when we do gain knowledge we often become caught up with thinking we are more qualified, better suited to answer a question, or are always correct when it comes to a particular Islamic issue. No matter what level of Islamic knowledge we may have, we must always be humble. If we look at the sunnah of the Prophet SAW, he only spoke when it was needed and never over spoke or spoke too much. When we speak too much we cheapen our words. Thus, when we gain knowledge we should be more humbled by the little knowledge we have and the knowledge that we need to gain. As was said in the story of Khidr and Musa AS---both their knowledge was but a drop in the sea. We should listen more than we speak when we seek knowledge. When we’re asked about our opinion about a particular Islamic concept or issue it’s ok to give your opinion, but it’s best to say at the end of your statement---“And Allah knows best,” for we don’t know if our words are right, wrong or If we may be misinforming the person asking for our opinion. We should be careful of our words:
36. And follow not (O man i.e., say not, or do not or witness not, etc.) that of which you have no knowledge (e.g. one's saying: "I have seen," while in fact he has not seen, or "I have heard," while he has not heard). Verily! The hearing, and the sight, and the heart, of each of those you will be questioned (by Allah).37. And walk not on the earth with conceit and arrogance. Verily, you can neither rend nor penetrate the earth, nor can you attain a stature like the mountains in height.(17:36-37) Giving religious opinions with no or limited knowledge can lead someone astray and in turn lead other astray too. We must remember our limitations and be careful of our words. 4

And among mankind is he who disputes concerning Allah, without knowledge, and follows every rebellious (disobedient to Allah) Shaitan (devil) (devoid of each and every kind of good).(22:3) And among men is he who disputes about Allah, without knowledge or guidance, or a Book giving light (from Allah),9. Bending his neck in pride (far astray from the Path of Allah), and leading (others) too (far) astray from the Path of Allah. For him there is disgrace in this worldly life, and on the Day of Resurrection We shall make him taste the torment of burning (Fire). (22:8-9) Also, when we do seek knowledge and gain it we must abide by it. Allah compares those who have knowledge, but do not abide by it to donkey’s with books on their backs. The likeness of those who were entrusted with the (obligation of the) Taurat (Torah) (i.e. to obey its commandments and to practise its legal laws), but who subsequently failed in those (obligations), is as the likeness of a donkey who carries huge burdens of books (but understands nothing from them). How bad is the example (or the likeness) of people who deny the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah. And Allah guides not the people who are Zalimun (polytheists, wrongdoers, disbelievers, etc.). (62:5)

IV.

Desires Vs. Quran
One of the biggest problems we have when we seek knowledge in the Quran is approaching the Quran with our own egos and desires. We often arrogantly read (with our limited knowledge) some ayahs from the Quran and think that it makes no sense or is illogical. This is pretty blasphemous when we come to think of it. This Quran is clear and has no blemishes in it, because it is Allah’s word. We are ordered to live our lives by it:
And We have sent down to you (O Muhammad) the Book (this Qur'an) in truth, confirming the Scripture that came before it and Mohayminan (trustworthy in highness and a witness) over it (old Scriptures) . So judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging away from the truth that has come to you. To each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way. (5:48) 5

Sadly, what most Muslims have fallen into is when we begin to fall into the secular, Islamaphobic, and anti-Islamic rhetoric and begin to confuse our beliefs with the rhetoric being pushed forward by secular and Islamaphobic groups and individuals. Recently, we’ve seen the criticism of the concept of jihad, women’s rights/hijab, antiSemitism, “sharia law”, honor killings, forced marriages, etc. For the most part the criticisms leveled by Islamaphobes are for political and personal agendas and unfortunately Muslims fall into the same thought and mindset when approaching the Quran and Islamic knowledge. This is not to say that Muslims don’t have problems and should not address them and we should turn a blind eye. But if we were to look to any other religious, ethnic, or cultural group in the world we would see the same if not worse issues in their communities. We as Muslims need to remember that criticisms of Islam by Islamaphobes and secularists are not meant to be constructive, but rather destructive. 145. And even if you were to bring to the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) all the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), they would not follow your Qiblah (prayer direction), nor are you going to follow their Qiblah (prayer direction). And they will not follow each other's Qiblah (prayer direction). Verily, if you follow their desires after that which you have received of knowledge (from Allah), then indeed you will be one of the Zalimun (polytheists, wrong-doers, etc.). (2:145) Also, this is not to say we should not critically think about Islamic concepts and issues. Yes, we should study the Quran and Sunnah in depth and ask questions in order to learn our religion better. But the problem comes when we seek to push forward Islamaphobic and secularist views and seek to interpret the Quran with that same mindset. We must remember that the Quran is a complete message devoid of any blemishes or weaknesses. There is nothing to feel embarrassed about in the Quran. We must remember when the Islamaphobes and secularists criticize Islam that they often judge Islam based on the followers. Islam is perfect, Muslims are not.

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This is understandable as many Muslims (and other religious and cultural groups) mix culture with Islam most times and claim it to be “Islamic” when in fact it is not. To further complicate the problem, we’ve seen the rise in “Progressive Muslims” who seek to water-down Islam and interpret Islam with little or no knowledge in order to seek to either satisfy their desires or make Islam more pleasing to Islamaphobes and secularists. We must refrain from approaching Islamic knowledge with this mindset, because if we pick, edit and choose what our religion is then we become like Jews and Christians who changed their religious books to satisfy their desires:
So because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard. They change the words from their (right) places and have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them. And you will not cease to discover deceit in them, except a few of them. But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds). Verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (good-doers - see V.2:112). (5:13) And verily, among them is a party who distort the Book with their tongues (as they read), so that you may think it is from the Book, but it is not from the Book, and they say: "This is from Allah," but it is not from Allah; and they speak a lie against Allah while they know it. (3:78) They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah), and (they also took as their Lord) Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary), while they (Jews and Christians) were commanded [in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)) to worship none but One Ilah (God - Allah) La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He) . Praise and glory be to Him, (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)." (9:31) We must also as the Zen proverb goes “empty our cup” and submit ourselves to the Quran and Allah, not submit Allah’s laws to us. We often make the mistake of making our desires our ilah and interpret the Quran with this tainted lens. Have you (O Muhammad) seen him who has taken as his ilah (god) his own desire? Would you then be a Wakil (a disposer of his affairs or a watcher) over him? (25:43)

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Additionally, we lack adaab when we approach the Quran and Sunnah. We often make the mistake of taking Islamic knowledge and religion far too lightly and this can affect the way our approach to how we treat religious knowledge: 70. And leave alone those who take their religion as play and amusement, and are deceived by the life of this world… (6:70) 51. "Who took their religion as an amusement and play, and the life of the world deceived them." So this Day We shall forget them as they forgot their meeting of this Day, and as they used to reject Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.). (7:51) The Quran goes on to mention how we interpret the Quran with our own desires: 119. And why should you not eat of that (meat) on which Allah's Name has been pronounced (at the time of slaughtering the animal), while He has explained to you in detail what is forbidden to you, except under compulsion of necessity? And surely many do lead (mankind) astray by their own desires through lack of knowledge. Certainly your Lord knows best the transgressors. (6:119) Is he who is on a clear proof from his Lord, like those for whom their evil deeds that they do are beautified for them, while they follow their own lusts (evil desires)? (47:14) It is He Who has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book (this Qur'an). In it are Verses that are entirely clear, they are the foundations of the Book [and those are the Verses of Al-Ahkam (commandments, etc.), Al-Fara'id (obligatory duties) and Al-Hudud (legal laws for the punishment of thieves, adulterers, etc.)]; and others not entirely clear. So as for those in whose hearts there is a deviation (from the truth) they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof, seeking Al-Fitnah (polytheism and trials, etc.), and seeking for its hidden meanings, but none knows its hidden meanings save Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in it; the whole of it (clear and unclear Verses) are from our Lord." And none receive admonition except men of understanding. (Tafsir AtTabari). (3:7) Say (to them, O Muhammad): "Then bring a Book from Allah, which is a better guide than these two [the Taurat (Torah) and the Qur'an], that I may follow it, if you are truthful." But if they answer you not , then know that they only follow their own lusts. And who is more astray than one who follows his own lusts, without guidance from 8

Allah? Verily! Allah guides not the people who are Zalimun (wrong-doers, disobedient to Allah, and polytheists). (28:-49-50) Woe to every sinful liar, 8. Who hears the Verses of Allah (being) recited to him, yet persists with pride as if he heard them not. So announce to him a painful torment! And when he learns something of Our Verses (this Qur'an), he makes them a jest. For such there will be a humiliating torment. (40:7-9) They belied (the Verses of Allah, this Qur'an), and followed their own lusts. And every matter will be settled [according to the kind of deeds (for the doer of good deeds, his deeds will take him to Paradise, and similarly evil deeds will take their doers to Hell)]. (54:3) Sometimes we act with this arrogance when we approach the Quran and Sunnah and say “this doesn’t make sense so and is so backwards”: And among them are some who listen to you (O Muhammad) till, when they go out from you, they say to those who have received knowledge: "What has he said just now? Such are men whose hearts Allah has sealed, and they follow their lusts (evil desires). (4:16) 34. And it will be said: "This Day We will forget you as you forgot the Meeting of this Day of yours. And your abode is the Fire, and there is none to help you." 35. This, because you took the revelations of Allah (this Qur'an) in mockery, and the life of the world deceived you. So this Day, they shall not be taken out from there (Hell), nor shall they be Yusta'tabun (i.e. they shall not return to the worldly life, so that they repent to Allah, and beg His Pardon for their sins). (45:34-35) Finally, if we pick and choose our religion then we become of those mentioned in this ayah (May Allah saves us from it and make us those who follow Allah and His Messenger SAW in the best of manners. Ameen): And the Messenger (Muhammad) will say: "O my Lord! Verily, my people deserted this Qur'an (neither listened to it, nor acted on its laws and orders). (25:30)

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