Video interview in three parts: Link:
AR: Salam to everyone. My daughter-in-law Rani Rab is going to take my interview about my book.
RR: Welcome everyone. This is to introduce my father-in-law’s book – Dr. Abdur Rab’s book – Exploring Islam in a New Light.
You have written a book on Islam and its length and content suggest that you have put a lot of effort into it. Also I see the book has received acclaim from several noted Islamic scholars. I read some of these reviews:
Khaled Abou El Fadl, Chair of Islamic Studies, Alfi Distinguished Professor of Islamic Law, UCLA School of Law writes:
“This is a surprising, inspiring, and ultimately, refreshing book. It is simultaneously a solid introduction to Islam, an ecstatic spiritual journey, and an analytical call for reform. Abdur Rab is not only a reliable and authoritative voice on modern Islam but he is an original and thrilling thinker. This is one book that is definitely well-worth the time investment and indeed it should be read widely by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
Reza Aslan, Professor of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside; author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam notes;
“At a time when misconceptions about Islam are on the rise, even among Muslims, Abdur Rab has provided a compelling argument for returning to the Qur'an for a deeper, more complete, more original understanding of the meaning and message of Islam. The result is a book that posits not a NEW interpretation of Islam, but a more authentic one.”
Another scholar, Edip Yuksel, author of Manifesto for Islamic Reform, a champion of Quran-only movement in modern Islam writes:
This is “Another valuable addition to a list of books that question the sectarian teachings […] [It is] A scholarly contribution to the message of Quran alone or rational monotheism movement.”
Yet another scholar, Khaleel Mohammed, Professor of Religious Studies at San Diego State University notes:
This is "[...] a thoughtful, wonderful book that is constructively revolutionary.
Dr. Rab, What is the title of your book and its major subject matter and what prompted you to write this book?
AR: The title of the book is Exploring Islam in a New Light: A View from the Quranic Perspective. Actually this is the second revised edition published by the Brainbow Press through the courtesy of my friend Edip Yuksel. You may note two expressions in the title: “Quranic perspective” and “new light.” Both are indicative of the content of the book. “Quranic perspective” because the book provides a comprehensive introduction to Islam, solely based on the Quran. And “new light” because it gives a meaning of Islam that differs significantly from the conventional, traditional interpretation of Islam. Also, it tries to respond to social and economic challenges of modern time. A second major part of the book contains a close scrutiny of the Hadith. The contention of my book in a nutshell is that we should understand genuine Islam through the lens of the Quran itself. The Quran provides a complete guidance for humankind. Islam came with the Quran and was perfected by the Quran (5:3). It does not leave untouched for us anything of religious significance. It gives us even minutest details of etiquette, decency, and decorum with which we should conduct ourselves with others. The Quran states Our Prophet’s duty was only to deliver the Quran (5:92, 99; 13:40; etc.). He was urged by God not to explain it, as God Himself took the burden of explaining (75:18-19). Our Prophet and we have been urged to follow it alone (6:155; 45:6; see also 7:3) and to judge by it alone (6:114; 4:105; 5:48-49). The Hadith, instead of being a complement to the Quran, is a major source of misguidance in Islam.
What prompted me to write this book? My inspiration for this book comes from my teacher Shah Aksaruddin Ahmad who struggled during his lifetime to present Quran-based ideas, discarding and denouncing the Hadith as a major distraction from the path of the Quran. My book represents a modest effort to carry forward his unfinished mission of spreading the message that Muslims should depend on the Quran alone for religious guidance and avoid the Hadith.
RR: In a nutshell, what are the major themes of your book?
AR: As I said, I try to present a detailed account of Islam through the lens of the Quran itself. This is a unique effort, since there is no such detailed work currently available in the market. I focus mainly on the moral, humane, and spiritual teachings of Islam. It shows that Islam, seen through the perspective of the Quran itself, is a peaceful, tolerant, humane, egalitarian, and progressive religion, far removed from a fanatic, misogynistic, and militant image it carries in the West.
I first provide an introduction to the Quran itself – why is it so important for us to read and follow it, what are its characteristic features, and what factors especially lend support to its divine status, and what is the nature of its message. The Quran excels in eloquence, profundity, internal coherence, stress on reason, and scientific orientation – in simplicity and clarity, and above all its uniquely equal appeal to people of all strata.
My book describes Islam in a way that makes spirituality an essential, integral part of religion. Most Muslims, excluding those who believe in Sufism or its like, and also spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra rule out spirituality as part of religion. I think, on the other hand, that spirituality is the essence or heart and soul of religion. Religion is barren without spirituality. One Quranic verse states that the Quran has been revealed to purify or civilize humankind and teach it knowledge (62:2). This is a spiritual message. The spiritual journey begins by recognizing that God is the embodiment and perfection of all good qualities or attributes and by striving to emulate God in one’s all thoughts and deeds. In one chapter, I borrow an idea of my spiritual teacher and suggest that the development of four key faculties such as Ego, Love, Will, and Knowledge lie at the root of one’s progress with spiritual endeavor. Ego here is meant as directive energy that can perceive, judge, and act. It is not egotism. Love is a major propelling factor in spiritual development. God says in the Quran He endows those people with love who believe and are righteous (19:96). Then we need also to develop our will and knowledge to go forward spiritually. The Quran speaks highly of people who are endowed with knowledge (2:267; 58:11). He urged our Prophet to seek knowledge (20:114).
I try to provide in the book more meaningful and deeper meanings of such ritual practices such as salat or prayer and zakat/sadaqa or charity or spending in God’s way. The essence of Salat lies in observing its true spirit, not in in its nominal performance. Salat is for remembering God to seek His mercy and help in all of our work and for everything we need and, above all, to seek our spiritual development. The Quran says: innas salata tanha a’nil fahshai wal munkari wa la zikrul lahi akbar – salat or prayer keeps one away from indecency and evil and remembrance of God is the best (29:45). It follows that if salat or zikr of God does not drive one to become fully righteous, that salat or zikr has little meaning and significance.
Zakat or sadaqa i.e., spending in God’s way also needs to be understood in a much broader sense in light of the Quran and the functions of a modern state. Such spending needs to embrace in a significant way the government taxation and expenditure system. It needs to guarantee an adequate safety net for the poor and disadvantaged segments of society as well as provide for other welfare needs of society. The purpose of such a system should be to alleviate poverty, help people become self-reliant, and bring about other social and economic developments.
I also discuss in detail what makes us righteous in all respects – mindset attitudes and other actions. I also discuss social and economic issues such as marriage, divorce, and the moral guidelines under which an economy should be run. Finally, I provide in two chapters a detailed critique of the Hadith. I find that on close scrutiny the Hadith is untenable and unreliable on theological, historical, and objective grounds. The criteria that are used to authenticate the Hadith are found to be inherently flawed and awfully inadequate.
RR: In what ways your book could be considered as making some significant contribution to the current discourse on Islam?
AR: A good question. My book might be considered as making some significant contribution in several ways:
1. I think the book’s most important contribution is that it provides a much-needed, meaningful, and analytical basis for a comprehensive reform of the conventionally accepted Islamic faith that is beset with many problematic features and misconceptions.
2. It is a powerful voice against “Radical Islam” or "Islamic Fundamentalism," with which much of today's religious fanaticism, misogyny, violence, strife, and terrorism is associated. It provides an image of Islam that countenances neither intolerance nor violence nor harsh punishments.
3. It describes Islam in a way that makes spirituality an essential, integral part of the religion.
4. It presents a crystalized idea that development of some key qualities or faculties are critical to attainment of spiritual progress.
5. It provides a distinctive notion of Heaven and Hell, different from the commonly held view. In a vital sense God does not really create any Heaven or Hell for us. It is we who create them by our good or bad deeds.
6. The book provides deeper or broader conceptions of religious rituals than are generally understood.
7. The book emphasizes moral uprightness to go in sync with ritualistic practices. The rituals are barren without moral uprightness.
8. It recommends abolition of the current practice of making remarriage of a divorced wife with her former husband conditional on her first marrying a third person and her divorce from that third person.
9. The book shows that Islam promotes social and economic egalitarianism, while encouraging human initiative, enterprise, and freedom. It views Islam as embracing an exploitation-free free-market, competitive, capitalist economy with socialistic overtones to ensure proper and adequate care of the poor and disadvantaged segments of society. It passes interest as a genuine economic charge that is not disapproved of by the Quran. The Quran disapproves of interest charged only to people or entities that deserve humanitarian consideration.
10. The book promotes human freedom, human rights, gender equality, non-discrimination by race, religion, nationality, and like factors.
11. And importantly, the book provides a succinct, well-argued case for rejecting the authority, authenticity, and reliability of the Hadith as a source of religious law and guidance.
RR: Muslims widely revere the Hadith as a second source of Islam. Isn’t your book going to give them a big shock and create a sharp reaction among them? Why can’t you reconcile to the idea that they accept the good reports of Hadith and reject the bad ones?
AR: Yes, I realize that it will create a big shock and sharp reaction. But then all new reformist ideas have a shock effect for the followers of the old ideas. In fact, Hadith rejection is not a new story to tell. Our Prophet himself banned Hadith recording and commanded the erasure of all recorded Hadith. The four pious and close companions of the Prophet – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali – who became caliphs after him all upheld this position. Even Imam Abu Hanifa who is recognized as the leader of the largest Hanafi Sunnis considered Hadith unreliable. In early Islam, Hadith criticism was led by Ahl al-Kalam and Mutazilites, and such criticism was widespread. It is the Umayyad and Abbasid regimes that promoted Hadith collection and compilation for their ulterior political motives. The Hadith critics were marginalized. Hadith criticism re-emerged in the 14th century and again in the 19th century in Egypt and Indian sub-continent and since then it continues to date worldwde with a growing number of modern and contemporary scholars overtly taking part in this anti-Hadith, Quran-Only movement. So it’s not new.
Most of my Muslim brothers may not be aware that there are two stark facts about the Hadith that raise legitimate questions about their authenticity and reliability. One is that the compilations that have come to be respected by Muslims such as Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, etc. date more than two hundred years after the Prophet’s death. Second, the reports that have been included in the compilations form only a tiny fraction of those that have been collected. Bukhari, for example, chose about 7,000 out of 600,000 in circulation he considered. That means that he discarded some 99% of the collection as reports falsely or dubiously attributed to the Prophet. If the 99% is false or dubious, what’s the guarantee that the picked one percent is sahih or true? I have shown in the book how this one percent also fails miserably in terms of credibility. Aside from these two facts about the Hadith, additional factors that contributed to their fabrication include state patronization of particular Hadith reports and interference in their circulation, and rivalries among theologians to promote their respective favorite reports.
You have raised the question of why not choose the good Hadith reports and reject only the bad ones. My answer to this question is that the issue is not about choosing between good and bad traditions; the issue is really about whether we can continue with traditions that often misguide us. I have shown in my book that the so-called Sahih Bukhari contains numerous reports that contradict the Quran, reason, or science, or send conflicting, confusing messages. My book details how the Hadith has perpetuated the harsh, extremist version of Islam, and created the fanaticism, violence, strife, and inequality seen so often in western portrayals of Islam. I have shown in my book how the Bukhari and other Hadith corrupts our conceptions of religious beliefs and practices, insults and at the same time idolizes the Prophet of Islam, creates misogyny and inequality, creates fanaticism and fatalism, encourages intolerance, violence, and terror, encourages cruel, archaic, or medieval punishments, and encourages aggressive jihad against other communities.
SR: I think, your book has a lot to offer both Muslim and non-Muslim readers. I wish you success in getting enough audience for your book.
RR: Thank you, Rani. Thank you very much for interviewing me.