Zafar Bangash, director of the ICIT, reviews Saeed Malik’s A Perspective on the Signs of Al-Qur’an: Through the Prism of the Heart, 278 pages, Pbk: $18.99, (published in 2009 and available at www.amazon.com and www.booksurge.com).
In numerous ayaat of the noble Qur’an, Allah (SWT) makes clear that only He provides guidance to whomever He wills. This point is stressed in the context of the anguish felt by the Messenger of Allah (saws) when the mushriks of Makkah rejected his message despite their accepting him as al-Amin (the trustworthy one). While they left their possessions in his care secure in the knowledge that he would faithfully guard them, they rejected his message. In Surah al-Ra‘ad, Allah (SWT) says, “Say, Behold! Allah lets go astray him who wills [to go astray because he refuses to heed the call], just as He guides unto Himself who turns unto Him — those who make a firm commitment to Allah and whose hearts find contentment in the dhikr [conscientizing] of Allah. For, verily, in the dhikr of Allah, the hearts do find contentment” (13:27–28).
There is also the example of Abu Dharr of the Banu Ghifar tribe, a seeker of truth who came to Makkah to make bay‘ah to the noble Messenger of Allah (s). Upon the Prophet’s (s) inquiry about his people, when Abu Dharr said most of them were highwaymen, the noble Messenger exclaimed, “Verily, Allah guides whom He wills.” There are numerous examples of people involved in crime being guided to the truth even in our own age. Both El-Haj Malik Shabazz (better known as Malcolm X) and Imam Abdul Alim Musa were involved in crime and drugs before Allah (SWT) showed them the light of Islam. Both became exemplary Muslims although Malcolm X, may Allah (SWT) bless his soul, was gunned down in the prime of his life.
It is difficult not to reach a similar conclusion about Saeed Malik, author of the book, A Perspective on the Signs of Al-Quran: Through the Prism of the Heart. To understand this, a brief look at his background may help. No, he is neither a former criminal nor a drug dealer but he is the product of a very secular upbringing and education yet Allah (SWT) guided him to study the Qur’an and produce this highly readable and inspiring book. Educated at Lawrence College, Ghora Gali in Pakistan, Malik obtained his Masters’ degree in physics from Karachi University before arriving in the US in 1973, following in the footsteps of many ambitious young Pakistanis. He obtained an MS in political science from San Jose State University, followed by post-graduate work in computer science. He worked in the semiconductor industry and made a tidy fortune. Presently, he is chairman of the board of Silicon Turnkey Solutions, a privately held semiconductor company in Milpitas, California.
Given this background and the fact that he has no formal religious education or knowledge of Arabic and could still produce this engaging book is quite remarkable. He says, “I believe that the Qur’an is aimed at the heart and it will not fail the earnest and sincere seeker.” Sincerity is the essence of iman (the inner faith-commitment to Allah – SWT) that Allah (SWT) distinguishes from one’s islam (outer submission) as explained in Surah al-Hujarat, ayah 14. In a well-known hadith, the noble Messenger of Allah (s) has said, “Actions are judged by intention.” It is evident that Malik has understood the import of the divine message well. His thoughts and style are influenced by both Martin Lings and Lex Hixon. Rumi, too, has influenced his thinking as is evident from quotes in his book although he is quick to point out that he is no Sufi. Just as well. There are, regrettably, many pseudo-Sufis these days that have sold their souls to serve US imperialism.
The book’s chapters — Reflection, This is my Lord, The Message, The Messenger, The Scales of Justice,Relationship with God, and The Most Beautiful Rosary — are so arranged (quite accidentally, according to the author) as to enable one to start and exit at any point without feeling lost. Chapters are further subdivided into short essays making it easier to read, understand and reflect. The essence of the book is sincerity and sincerity is linked to the heart, not the intellect. The chapter entitled Reflection starts with the subheading, “The heart is the seat of ‘knowing’” (p.21), followed by “Spirituality is internal, Religion tends to be external” (p.22). He has also understood that din is not dogma and that it is different from religion, a point lost on many Wahhabi literalists steeped in religious chauvinism. It is such humility, lacking in many otherwise well-meaning Muslims that are led astray, that is necessary to gain a proper insight into the divine Book.
Malik quotes extensively from the Qur’an, not shying away from dealing with such issues as inner and outer Jihad, and war and peace that have been made so controversial today because of imperial greed and hubris. “A conflict, to which a Muslim is drawn, can therefore be rooted only in injustice. In a world where self-interest is often the overriding motivation behind people’s actions, peace and justice are the first casualties. Raw, unbridled human envy is strong. A Muslim must not be a party to a system of oppression and must struggle against oppression in the framework of his moral and contractual obligations and capacity. Herein lies the concept of Jihad. Jihad is the struggle to resist injustice and oppression together with the struggle to resist justly” (emphasis in the original; p.241).
While he refers to numerous translations of the Qur’an, Malik has relied most heavily on Muhammad Asad’s The Message of the Qur’an that perhaps comes closest to reflecting most accurately the meanings of the noble Book. This is a wise choice. The most widely used translation of the Qur’an is that of AbdullahYusufali’s but one is pained to note that in several instances, ayaat are translated imprecisely. Only one example will suffice. In Surah al-Ma’ida, Allah (SWT) warns the committed Muslims not to take the Jews and Christians as their awliya’. Regrettably, both Yusufali and Marmaduke Pickthall have translated the word awliya’ to mean friends; Yusufali has also added the word protectors (the two translators have divided verses differently so Pickthall numbers it as 5:51 while Yusufali’s says 5:54). The word awliya’ (from the singular wali) in Engligh could be rendered as sponsors, allies, facilitators or protectors. It does not and cannot mean friends. Malik has grasped this point well. If Allah (SWT) permits marriage between Muslim men and Christian or Jewish women, “how could it then prohibit friendship?” he asks (p.5). It is such inaccurate translations that are used by Islam’s detractors to brand it “intolerant” and “exclusivist.”
A Perspectives on the Signs of Al-Qur’an is a highly readable book and a good introduction to understanding the message of the divine Book for those unfamiliar with Islam or even total strangers. Muslims will find in it much to reflect on and ponder over the love and mercy of Allah (SWT) while non-Muslims will find it a gateway to the mysteries of the divine message.
A word of caution, however, is in order. No book can reflect the totality of the divine Word, whether a translation or a commentary. The Qur’an is our guide from the womb to the tomb. It encompasses the complete set of principles and related behaviors that allow man to fulfill his mission on earth and lead him on a course to Allah (SWT), his ultimate destination. Thus, Malik’s book is one attempt among many others to get us closer to understanding the message of the Qur’an, offering one particular perspective. There are many others that must be considered in order to increase our understanding of the divine Book that cannot be encompassed even if all the oceans were ink and all the trees were made into pens. Allah (SWT) is limitless, so is His divine Word.
One final word about book publishing is also due. Normally, a book has a publisher, even if an author plans to publish it himself. This perhaps reflects Malik’s unfamiliarity with the publishing business. One presumes he was anxious to get this book into the hands of readers as soon as possible thereby overlooking the technical side of publishing. This aside, the book makes for interesting reading. Muslims in North America can make a gift of it to non-Muslim friends with confidence, secure in the knowledge that the recipient will find it both informative and enjoyable. One cannot say this about too many books on Islam.