Introducing Prof. Kidwai’s The Quran: Essential Teachings
By Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray
~'The Qur'an: Essential Teachings' attempts to engage readers of all intellectual levels to focus on the major, vital and recurring themes of the Qur'an in a coherent and lucid style~
PROFESSOR ABDUR RAHEEM KIDWAI is currently (Honorary) Director of K. A. Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), India. He has two PhDs in English, one from AMU and the other from University of Leicester (UK). In October 2021, he attained superannuation as professor of English and Director UGC-HRDC, AMU. His major areas of research interest include (i) English and Urdu Literature and Literary Orientalism; (ii) Higher Education and Indian Muslims; and (iii) Islam, Qur’anic Studies, and English Translations of the Qur’an. For his vast academic contribution, he is described by Abdul Kader Choughley (of South Africa) as a “vversatile scholar in academia”, whose prolific writings cover “fields as diverse as Literary Orientalism, education and Qur’anic Studies. His academic credentials and familial tradition have immensely enriched emerging trends of Islamic scholarship.” Some of his major works in the field of Quranic Studies include The Qur’an: Essential Teachings (2005/2006); Bibliography of the Translations of the Meaning of the Glorious Quran into English, 1649-2002 (2007); Daily Wisdom: Selections from the Holy Quran (2011); Translating the Untranslatable: A Critical Guide to 60 English Translations of the Quran (2011); What is in the Quran? Message of the Quran in Simple English (2013/ 2019); 365 Selections from the Holy Quran (2014); God's Word, Man's Interpretations (2019); and The Quran Speaks to You (2021).
Having a look on these titles it becomes evident, as rightly observed by Dr Choughley, that “Qu’ranic studies dominates Kidwai’s multi-dimensional career”. His The Quran: Essential Teachings (published in 2005 from UK and in 2006 from Mumbai) is one of his early major works in the field of the Qur’anic Studies in general and a significant work in the genre of “thematic studies of the Qur’an” in particular. In this context, below is presented a summary of this book so that to get clues of its contents and coverage, style and structure, methodology and approach, and the contribution it makes in the genre of 21st century literature on ‘thematic studies of the Qur’an’.
First published in 2005 by the Islamic Foundation, UK, it mainly deals, in a lucid and coherent manner, with the concepts of God, Messenger-ship, Hereafter, and on themes like modes of worship and social and family relations. The concepts and themes it covers are: Almighty Allah, Allah’s Messengers, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Life and Afterlife, the Qur’an, Al-Ghayb (The Unseen), Creation, Mankind, Prayer, Fasting, Charity (Sadaqah and Zakat), Pilgrimage, Believers, The Straight Way, Man’s Obligations towards his fellow human beings, Treating Parents, Children, Husbands-Wives well, Good Social Behavior, and making Supplications to Allah (Dua’). It, thus, brings together, very coherently, some of the major themes of the Quran, and also highlights some vital themes recurring throughout the pages of the Sacred Text. And one of the major features and significant contribution of this work is that on many instances, it makes comparison with major world faiths (like from the Bible and other Christian and other sources) to give a comparative look on some major beliefs, which are common in all religions, and, in Kidwai’s words, to give readers a clear idea of the Quranic guidance on some major issues faced by them” (p. vi).
The author highlights, in a chronological order, the concepts of Tawhid, Risalah, and Aakhirah in its opening chapters, viz., Almighty Allah, Allah’s Messengers, The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The third chapter is full of remarkable observations about the Prophet’s blessed life and his role as a perfect role model for humanity. In the fourth chapter, Life and Afterlife are presented very comprehensively as two stages of man’s life cycle. Then it highlights, in a simple but insightful manner, the terms, concepts and themes like the Qur’an, Al-Ghayb (The Unseen), Creation, Mankind, Prayer (Salah), Fasting, Charity (Sadaqah and Zakah), Pilgrimage (Hajj), Believers, and the Straight Way. This is followed by a number of themes which actually are aspects of ‘social ethics in Islam’. These include man’s obligations towards his fellow human beings; treating parents and children, and the rights and duties of a husband-wife, and good social behavior. This is followed, in the end, by a chapter on the ‘Making Supplications to Allah (Dua). All in all, this book is, as its contents reveal, a precious gift which helps in understanding the guidelines and instructions of the Sacred Text for different aspects of life.
Kidwai, in its Preface, highlights that in this work “some basic Qur’anic terms, concepts, and themes are explained in a simple language. The work is intended to help readers get an idea of the Qur’anic worldview, the articles of faith, God-man relationship in Islam, Religious duties in Islam, [and] the Qur’anic code of conduct governing social relations” (pp. v-vi). And in its Foreword’, M. Manazir Ahsan writes: Kidwai’s work contains a fairly elaborate explanation of twenty Qur’anic terms and concepts with a view to highlighting the Qur’anic viewpoint on some major issues of faith, religious obligations and social life … [with an] aim of conveying effectively the message of the Qur’an to those who are unable to study the Qur’an in its Arabic original” (p. vii). To grasp an impression of Kidwai’s work, and these claims, below are presented few statements from this book which are related to the Qur’an, Life-Afterlife connection, and on good social behaviour; these will prove helpful in justifying the author’s claim.
For Kidwai, the Qur’an is essentially Book of Guidance, a universal and a perfect moral code which urges humanity to profess and practice good [activities] and shun evil [deeds]; it cautions humanity against all that is injurious to its moral, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being; and its moral percepts infuse into man self-restraint, God-consciousness and purity in both word and deed. Being timeless, the Quran as a Book of guidance turned and transformed the 7th century Arabs into timeless role models of excellent conduct and enviable morals and manners. It has continued, and will continue till Doomsday, to provide the same guidance to millions of people in every age. The Quran prescribes the role model of exemplary behavior in both theory and practice, and is a miracle, the like of which cannot be imitated (pp. 40-41, 44, 46).
Almighty Allah has bestowed and blessed the human beings with several blessings, gifts, skills, etc. and conferred him the title Ashraf al-Makhluqat (the Supreme Creature or the crown of the creation). Among many gifts granted to mankind are the Worldly Life (Hayat al-Dunya) and the Life Hereafter/ Afterlife (Aakhirah). Life is one of the most precious gifts, which God has made sacred and sacrosanct (as in Q. 6: 151 and 17: 33), and has made human beings most sanctified and sacrosanct. Life is a cycle (Q. 2: 156). Each life is an integral part of the humanity as a whole, as becomes clear from Q. 5: 32: “if one kills a (an innocent) person, ... it is as if he had killed all mankind. And if one saves the life of a person, it is as if he saved all mankind.”
There is inter-connection between this life and life next to come; and while linking Worldly life with Afterlife, the Qur’an, in Kidwai’s opinion, does not reject life in this world and man’s concomitant obligations both towards God and towards his fellow human beings. Yet the Qur’an asks man not to let his mind and heart swerve even momentarily from the thought of the Afterlife, for the Qur’an condemns materialism. And in this respect, the Qur’an alone holds the distinction of maintaining a fine balance between this life and the concerns of the Next. It is beyond the human mind to strike such a perfect amalgam (pp. 43-44). Thus, Life and the Afterlife are not some unfathomable mysteries. The former culminates in the latter. Life is thus a continuum; death is the line of demarcation between the two. Death does not represent the total end. Rather, man’s deeds in this life will determine his reward or punishment in the Next Life. Notwithstanding its ephemeral nature, this life is a part of the ultimate reality and has its lasting impact on man’s fate in the Afterlife (p. 35).
Similarly, in the light of the Q. 49: 10-13, Kidwai is of the opinion that in these verses the emphasis is on building cordial, happy social relations among men and women, regardless of their affiliations. The directives aim at forging and sustaining a mutually helpful and trustworthy community life, ensuring peaceful coexistence among all members of the society. Social justice is the distinct message of the passage. It seeks to infuse such virtues which guarantee a happy, peaceful life for everyone. It resounds with a strong plea for a tension-free society, without social, emotional and psychological strains (p. 175).
The book has been highly praised both locally and at global levels. For example, (Late) Professor Zafar Ishaq Ansari of Pakistan, in his lengthy review on this book (published in Islamic Studies, 45, 4, 2006: 629-33), writes: “a well-known Indian Muslim scholar [Prof. Kidwai] has attempted to present the Qurans essential teachings [in a] reasonable and efficacious [way] as the most important subjects which the Quran addresses over and again are, by far and large, well-covered. The book not only provides one’s mind with food for thought but is also a treat for the eyes”. Prof. Abdul Rashid Bhat (Kashmir University), in his review (published in Insight Islamicus, 6, 2006: 211-14) summarizes the significance of Kidwai’s book in these lines: “written for the general English readers who want to comprehend the basic teachings and concepts of the Quran, Kidwai’s book is about the basic concepts of the Quran and can be broadly divided into four sections. All these sections treat the Quranic teachings about beliefs, status of man, ritual worship (ibadat) and social dealings among human beings respectively. The use of simple and lucid language in the book appropriately befits the objective of the author. By this clarity of the concepts the book becomes more useful for the reader. On the whole, the book is highly commendable work as a systematic, minute and simple treatment of the major teachings of the Quran”.
Similarly, Dr Syed Asim Ali, in its critical review (published in AJISS, USA, 25,2, 2008: 133-35), writes that Kidwai’s book is a brilliant work, which is designed to equip readers with the necessary tools to grasp better advanced works on the Quran. It presents some major themes, concepts, and teachings of the Sacred Text in a very lucid, fluent, and persuasive manner. For Ali, this book has a great instructional value for those who are predisposed to accept things as they are told to them. It is a highly useful manual for the lay believer.
Thus, on the basis of the above assessment it may be fairly concluded that Kidwai’s The Qur’an: Essential Teachings attempts to engage readers of all intellectual levels to focus on the major and vital (recurring) themes of the Qur’an, including perfect code of conduct, ethical values, social behavior, moral precepts and sanctity of human life in a coherent and lucid style. The book not only provides one’s mind with food for thought but it acts as treat for the eyes as well. It is a must read for every Muslim to grasp the message of the Sacred Text on some major and vital concepts and themes recurring time and again in the Qur’an—the Last Message from the Creator towards humanity.
- The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Sogam, Kupwara (J&K). Email: [email protected]
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