2 Extremely Valuable Lessons Everybody Ought To Learn From The People of Musa!

Very early in the Quran (2:49 onwards), we encounter the narrative of Musa and his people. In my view, his people demonstrate some of the most fundamental errors religionists commit when approaching religion. Reflecting upon these short-comings, and thereby gaining wisdom and inspiration from them is the purpose of this blog.

If you’ve read the Quran, you would be well aware that it delves extensively on the narratives of previous communities. The purpose of this is not to provide history for the sake of it, but so that we, as readers of the Quran, benefit by not making the same mistakes people have been making for centuries. As the prime focus of the Quran is the evolution of humankind, these narratives encourage us to reflect upon the actions of historic people, thereby transcending their paradigms.

However, reflecting upon the condition of the contemporary Muslim Ummah, it comes as no surprise that we have horribly failed in that task, and are in actuality, no different from them. Naturally, until there is an active effort to acknowledge our mistakes, change seems like a distant possibility.

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Musa (Salutes and respect) was no ordinary man. He was a revolutionary figure, and a very holistic example of taking a stand against oppression, no matter the resistance at hand. Such was the caliber of the man, that not only was he a spiritual activist, he was a political activist too; a role model for all of us to emulate and draw inspiration from. Yet, his people — the children of Israel — come off as extremely hypocritical and ungrateful for his service; constantly nagging him by making unreasonable demands (Quran 33:69) against the moral code (Deen) he brought forward.

So, here are the 2 lessons that I would encourage you to reflect upon.

 

Lesson No. 1: Giving preference to secondary sources over the primary source

“You said, “O Moses! We are weary of the same kind of food, so ask your Lord on our behalf to bring forth for us plant food such as herbs, cucumbers, garlic, lentils and onions.” He said, “Would you exchange something superior for something inferior? Go back in shame to Egypt and you will get what you demand…” (Part – Quran, 2:61)

Let me start off by announcing that I disagree with the traditional interpretation here. It certainly goes against reason that God would condemn somebody just because they asked for some vegetables. Clearly, the matter at hand seems to be of a greater significance. Alas, when you interpret metaphors literally, it’s always bound to come off as somewhat absurd.

In my humble opinion and rendering of the Quran, food, here, symbolizes nourishment. Even in English, we use idioms like “food for thought”, “chew on that”, “meaty discussions” and so forth. Therefore, one must be observant of the style of language that is being used, and not interpret everything literally. Even God warns against a completely literalistic interpretation in 2:26 and 3:7.

Now, what is obvious from the verse is that they were not satisfied with one food, and that Musa was quite annoyed with this demand of theirs. There can be multiple interpretations drawn from this, but the way I see it is that they were trying to substitute the primary source of nourishment (one food) that Musa brought (Scripture) with other ideologies. This was not a unique occurring, mind you. Even Mohammad was asked to “alter the Quran” or bring a new book altogether (Quran 10:16). Viewing it in this light, of course, justifies the anger and disappointment of Musa, considering how much he had done for his people.

Quite ironically, Muslims have done the same thing. Instead of sticking to the Quran as the sole source of guidance and nourishment pertinent to Islam, we have opted for the herbs, cucumbers, garlic, lentils and onions – these being the in-numerous teachings taken from secondary sources that have no basis in the Quran whatsoever! Now don’t get me wrong, my problem is not with literature and diversity in thought! Rather, the problem obviously lies in giving preference to these secondary sources over and above the Quran, thereby attributing teachings like blasphemy & apostasy laws, child marriage and death by stoning to Islam.

Yes, in Musa’s words, exchanging the superior for the inferior. 

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The verse continues:
So, humiliation and misery were stamped upon them and they had to face God’s requital. That was because they kept rejecting God’s messages. And they persisted in opposing and even killing some Prophets against all right. They did all this, because they chose to rebel and went on transgressing.” (Quran 2:61)

Can there be any truer reflection of the condition of the “Muslim Ummah” today? Quite incredibly, the verse portrays its timelessness. Without a doubt, we have incurred humiliation and misery because Islam, like any other ideology, has been grossly misused and turned into a political tool to manipulate people in the name of God, all the while denying God’s words in the Quran.

And instead of reforming, we persist in defending these barbaric laws in the name of Islam and consciously assassinate the characters of our Prophets by attributing downright disgraceful stuff to them. The problem, to a large extent, is internal. And God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves! (Quran 13:11)

 

Lesson No. 2: Substituting substance for form.

And remember, Moses said to his people, “Indeed, God commands you to sacrifice a cow.” They said, “Do you mock us?” He replied, “I seek shelter with God from being among the ignorant who mock people.”

(Now, they started making excuses.) They said, “Ask your Sustainer on our behalf to enlighten us as to what kind of a cow she is.” He answered, “Indeed, He says that she is a cow neither too old nor too young. She is between the two conditions. Do, then, as commanded.”

(Then) they said, “Ask for us your Sustainer that He enlighten us as to what color she is.” He answered, “He says that she is a yellow cow. Bright is her color, pleasing to beholders.”

(Again) they said, “Call upon your Sustainer that He make it clear to us what exactly she is. To us all cows are much alike. If God so wills, we shall be rightly guided.”

He answered, “Indeed, He says it is to be a cow that has not toiled in tilling the land nor in watering the crops and it is whole and healthy, unblemished.” They said, “Finally, you bring out a concrete description!” So they sacrificed her, although they would rather not have done it. (Quran 2:67-71)

This passage, quite remarkably, covers the phenomenon of being obsessed with meaningless and irrelevant details on part of religionists – painfully failing to observe the bigger picture.

Let’s take the example of prayer. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some pretty horrible experiences in mosques. There’s always that guy who wants to correct others on “the right way” to pray. The right way to stand, the right way to bow, the right way to prostrate, the right way to fold your hands and so forth. I mean, it’s absolutely ridiculous to think that God wants us all to be robots! By focusing all your attention on these ridiculously useless and minute details, the fundamental purpose of Salat (read: connection) is often overlooked; unfortunately becoming a mundane, mechanical way of fulfilling your obligations.

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I, at least, wouldn’t look forward to such an autonomous prayer where every move of yours had to be calculated. Prayer should be a natural extension of ourselves, not an obligation to get done within 5 minutes. That, after all, defeats the whole purpose of Salat; for if there is no spiritual connection, how would it contribute to our betterment?

Sometimes, I’m just amazed at the irony.

Final Thoughts

I have always marveled at these two teachings of the Quran, and how simply they outline some of the major errors people fall prey to, when it comes to religion. It would be an understatement to say that these two passages have had an enormous affect on me. But you’ve got to give the book a chance for that to happen! It wouldn’t happen magically, while your Quran rests on your cupboard.

They say, “History repeats itself.” Well, of course! And it will not cease to repeat until we change the way we approach religion: perhaps it is time we stop being penny wise, and pound foolish.

 

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Mosques: They Are Not What They Should Be

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A mosque is supposed to be a spiritual retreat – a community centre which encourages spiritual growth and makes people feel welcomed. You could think of it as a gym, except that it’s for the soul and not the physical body. Yet, unfortunately, mosques have lost their appeal. I think this is largely due to the fact that they tend to be male-dominated with a strict dress code focusing on very minute details of how to worship God. Inhospitable to women and non-Muslims, most people have stopped going to the mosques altogether.

What would I do if I was in charge of a mosque?

• Instead of stocking Arabic Qurans only, I would include translations. Muslims who do not understand Arabic stand in prayer not having the slightest idea about what the Imam is reciting. Tell me, what is the point? Salat means to connect with God. If you have no idea about what is being recited from God’s message, how can you connect with Him? Salat is a practice initiated to review the commandments of God, so that we keep ourselves aligned with them. A renewal of what we profess to believe in; to act as a constant reminder. Hence, before starting prayer, the Imam would announce what he would be reciting, so that the people could open up the relevant passage in the translations. While he recites in Arabic, they would read it in a language they understand. This would not only educate them about the Quran, but it would also fulfill the purpose of Salat – to connect and strengthen their relationship with God.

• Every Friday, Muslims go to pray the Jummah – even those that usually don’t pray. So, you have a great platform in the form of Friday prayers to educate people about the contents of the Quran. The Khutbah (sermon) does not even come close to this. Often, it is in Arabic, so people have no idea what is being said. Even if it is in their language, the substance is usually worthless. Hence, what I would do is I would choose a certain topic – say, modesty. Compile the relevant verses on it, and then give a sermon based on this. Not only would this clear a lot of misconceptions, it would also attract a loyal following of Muslims and non-Muslims who actually want to know about the Islam proposed by the Quran!

• Apart from these two fundamental changes, I would set up sessions where people would come together to discuss their interpretations of the Quran. In addition, they could also talk about relevant issues that need to be addressed in their community and elsewhere. So, it’s not all a preach preach preach sort of thing, it would also encourage people to share their own views. This would teach people tolerance. That, it’s never “my way or the highway”. This practice is crucial to being broad-minded and is bound to reduce zealots and religious extremism.

• Lastly, I would try to keep the environment of the mosque friendly. No one would be harassed based on their clothing, ideas, or gender. Yes, gender! The mosque would welcome both men and women. Women would not be considered inferiors, and would be encouraged to actively participate in all the activities. To facilitate children, the mosque would have a play area where they could play under the supervision of a nanny while their parents perform their duties. It is ironic how Islam liberates women, but certain Muslims want to keep them caged in homes.

So, there we have it: A mosque that is actually beneficial to the society. A mosque not built on sectarianism, but to promote unity. You could say that it’s wishful thinking, but all actions stem from thought.

The main problem with Muslims today is a lack of education and miseducation about the Quran. This allows “Imams” to cash in on their ignorance. Hence, you have so many sects all claiming to have the “true and right version of Islam”. Since Muslims are oblivious to the message of the Quran, they find it easier to blindly follow whichever sect or ideology they are “born in”. Once Muslims are exposed to the Quran like how I propose the Mosque would, they would automatically disassociate themselves from dogmatic ideologies. Of course, not all would. But it would be a step in the right direction. A step we so desperately need!

5 Misconceptions about Islam.

Hello & Peace be with you! I want to share some of my thoughts with you on Islam. I’ve really had enough of “my religion/sect is right and yours is false” line of thinking.
  1. Allah (The God) is NOT a man in the sky. God is everywhere and is hence timeless/boundless. None can fathom His form, yet He perceives everything (Apparent or hidden – 6:103). When the Qur’an refers to his “face” (2:272), it refers to His existence as the face is covered when one dies. Beautifully presented, but taken literally by some people unfortunately. In addition, when He refers to His “hands” (36:71), it obviously denotes His strength! And that is a pretty straightforward thing to understand.
  2. Every Prophet came with the same message, and that was Islam (42:13). Islam is NOT a label or a religion of the Arabs. Rather, it is the means to achieve peace (what Islam means) in your inner self, in the society, and eventually in the Hereafter.
  3. Allah is NOT an economist who observes behaviors and patterns, and then passes laws accordingly. He is the Creator and hence knows its Creation perfectly. He knows what will work and what wouldn’t. Hence, his laws do not ever change! To think otherwise would obviously demean His Knowledge (33:62).
  4. Malaika (angels) are NOT endowed with wings! Wings denote power and speed. They are the universal forces, I believe. When Allah says: “Jibrael (Malaika) brings down the revelation to your hearts” (2:97), it is NOT an angel with wings that does so. It is only a natural phenomenon that whenever you study the book with interest and conviction, the force Jibrael brings down the revelation to you. It is automatic! Just like a pen is bound to fall if it is dropped! No “angel brings it down”. Malaika praise Allah by carrying out his commands in the universe, not by humming his Praises. He is FAR above what we attribute to Him. He does not need our Praise. He only wants us to acknowledge His existence, follow his commands (to attain peace) and stay connected with Him (Salat) for our own betterment!
  5. Salat (Prayer) is NOT necessarily a rigid bundle of rituals. It is your connection with God. So, just as there is no “set” method of eating/studying/teaching/conversing, Connection with God is also a thing which should come naturally to you. How that comes to you is none of my or anyone else’s business. If you find it in rituals, please continue to do so (without invoking anyone else of course, including the prophets). If you find it in reading the Qur’an, then that can also be considered as Salat. The prime focus should be on what derives the most connection, not mindless rituals on which people debate even today! The important thing is to establish a connection whereby one can feel His presence at all times. 2:67-71 deals with this beautifully. It is to be noted that I do not condemn rituals, just the overemphasis on them.

See, the Deen (Way of life) by Allah is very easy to implement. In a nutshell, it is to develop your inner self, help other people to the best of your abilities by opposing tyranny in the land, and being at peace with the Hereafter. That’s all! Now the problem is, no money can be made if the Deen of Allah was this simple since there would be absolutely no need of endless priests/imams. That’s where they come in and make the Deen difficult for everyone to implement (by coming out with their own books and laws) and thus making one of the worst crimes by making the Qur’an dependent on THEM (57:27). They divide people into sects and delude them into thinking that only their followers will achieve salvation. Examples are in front of you!

Now some of these concepts might be new to you, but if you’re reading this, I just want to thank you. And I want you to think about it with a clear head. Are we doing justice to the Supreme Creator by dividing into religions, and worse even, sects? And that we fight with each other that our version is the best and others are doomed for fire when we don’t even need any book to teach us about how to spend this life! It’s installed in every single one of us! We already know what is good and what is bad. The Qur’an is a reminder (Dhikr) for a reason. It reminds you of what’s already there! The only reason we might not be at peace is because of the piles of garbage that has been fed to us, unfortunately by our own family, society, and priests (knowingly or unknowingly). Hence the need of Qur’an, only to polish our souls! So break the shackles and set free! Don’t let anyone think for you and dictate YOUR life. Do it yourself! If you disagree with any of my points, fair enough! Your path should be unique since you have to walk on it. I am nobody to tell you to do this or do that. Focus on your spirituality! Walk your own path!

Finally, if you find anything useful out of this, it is only from the Lord of the Universe and I am really humbled to him for making me at peace with His book and Himself. What I condemn today, I was a part of a year ago so I know how it feels like. You can defend your imams all you want but it does not change the fact that they’re one of the biggest problems why the so called “Muslim world” is totally opposite to what its name suggests, and that is to attain peace and security.

Thank you for your time 🙂