Cafe a la Fikr
Monday, February 19, 2007
History of an idea
With the Name of Allah, the Absolute Source of Mercy and Encompassing Grace
“Ar-rihlah min al-khalq i-lal-Haq”
The journey from the created to the Truth
THE HISTORY OF AN IDEA
This forum owes its origins to some of the earlier group members sitting together one evening and expressing interest in how to effectively and genuinely learn Islam in present times – its knowledge, understanding and values in light of classical teachings and contemporary contexts. So it came to be in the month of February 2004 (end of Dhul-Hijja 1424 AH and beginning of Muharram 1425 AH), a spontaneous decision was taken, as a sincere and earnest attempt or experiment, to come together over a cup of coffee and reflect (fikr) and deliberate on Islam in a learning forum through which we may be able to maximally gain from each others knowledge. Since then, “Café a la Fikr” has been held almost every month with this intention. It was, also, mutually decided to convene and hold this forum at the masjid for reasons of blessing (such that we may be able to pray together), to enliven the masjid with a circle of learning and dhikr (remembrance of Allah), to discuss relevant (perhaps, at times, controversial) Muslim issues of contemporary pertinence, and as a matter of convenience for the participants.
Subsequently, the “Café” has grown and taken a charm of its own such that from this point forward we have structured the program according to the way the group and its ideas have developed and in line with its original intent and vision:
· To learn Islam by contemplating on the Qur’an and Sunnah
· Topical discussion in a collegial, respectful and ethical manner addressing classical Islamic thought and relevant contemporary issues of concern to Muslims
· To encourage spiritual and intellectual enrichment by way of dialogue with acceptance of each others viewpoints, however, different
· To promote, thereby, “ ‘aml salih” (virtuous and righteous work)
The Qur’anic inspiration for the idea behind this forum is overwhelmingly present in the text itself. In the “Sacred Text”, God (Allah) calls upon human beings, and specially the believing people: to reflect, to ponder, to deliberate, to understand His revelation, (His Prophetic liaison to mankind) and to contemplate over His created universal realms including experiences in the unfolding human history in order for them to approximate the “maqasid-al-wujud” (reason and purpose of existence) – to become the true “khalifah” of Allah and to fulfill the purpose of their (human being’s) creation which is to serve and to worship Allah with all their energies and being – and to do this by way of knowledge and wisdom.
“Consider the flight of time!
Verily man is bound to lose himself
Unless he be of those who attain to faith and do good works
And enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth
Khatirah: The Qur’anic Paradigm
S. Saud Ashraf, June 2005
The Qur’an is the “fatihah” of the human intellect and consciousness towards the sublime and the metaphysical - derived from an absolute genuineness and revelatory truth – with, necessarily, a consequential awakening and transformation of one’s being and essence; assuming, but only, one’s inner honesty, sincerity and justified effort in attaining to the “fatihah” with due deliberation, discretion and thought.
Now, for a believer (here, a Muslim), it naturally follows that the learning of the Qur’an must necessarily be of primal importance and of fundamental significance to the journey (or raja’ - return) to God. All the sciences and tools necessary for true appreciation of the Qur’an must be acquired if one is truly committed to the way of God (here, as the revealed way of Muhammad (s) and of Islam). The Qur’an is the only proven and authentic (Divinely Chosen) way of proximity to God for developing our cosmic understanding of the Creator, ourselves and the universe, at large – in essence, our way to understanding life. Empirical science, though necessary for grasping insight into the material world and a portal to such, is incapable of revealing and unraveling the higher dimensions of psychic (but, real) existence; and, nor, is it qualified to inform the human intellect adequately on its own of the purposes of existence and the forward-heading life destiny. Clearly, to understand life one is dependant upon our sensory faculties to some degree, but how to process and understand those impressions is the role of revelation. Hence, the meaning and purpose of life (existence) is the domain of revelation (authentic). The importance of devoting oneself to the Qur’an is as important as to being a Muslim. The “shahadah” is but only the beginning – an oath of commitment to pursue and to follow – it is not the completion of the journey. Here, “shahadah” is being referred to from its simple and exact proclamation necessary for joining the community of those yearning to turn towards God and bearing witness to His revealed truths, in its literal and legal sense (and an equally valid reality). “Shahadah” carries with it, however, a higher dimension of understanding and perception, an existential cognizance and realization, in which one is living – a state or condition of being (an awareness of “wahdat-ush-shuhood” as elucidated by Sheikh Ahmad Sirhind). Ultimately, the Muslim’s purpose of life is akin to Imam al-Ghazali’s assertion: “that the purpose of man is the acquisition of the knowledge of God; man’s love of God is the final end in this life and the vision of God, the summum bonum or complete end, in the hereafter.” (The Ethical Philosophy of al-Ghazzali by Professor M. Umaruddin)
It is also noteworthy to recognize the methodology of the immediate company of the Prophet (s) in regards to their approach and understanding of the Qur’an. Indeed, they never separated themselves from its learning until death. Slow, but, continued and persistent study of the Qur’an is the intellectual “mi’raj” and the right way. At minimum, one should work to know how to read and recite it correctly (according to the correct Arabic sounds and tajweed) and continuously memorize the Qur’an. No one questions nor denies the merit of the bearer of the Qur’an. Concomitantly (and of equal, and perhaps arguably, greater importance) is to learn as much concerning the Qur’anic sciences – historiography, linguistics, asbab-un-nuzul (circumstance of revelation), related fiqh (jurisprudence), and tafaseer (commentaries). Now, it is very important that one does not get distracted by a single tafsir; for, they are all but human efforts at trying to unfold and understand the Qur’anic message, and hence, as all human products, bound to be limited and finite and potentially prone to error and misgivings; thus, it is important to read and consult as many of them as possible – though a single verified commentary (and/or translation) can be chosen as an initial reference point. The source of the Qur’an emanates from the realm of Infinity – that can not be captured in its absoluteness and completeness nor richness and escapes definition and exactitude by finite dependent beings – and hence, the Qur’an remains an ongoing perpetual revelation that “reveals” its hidden treasures in the mystery of time and history – thus remaining forever valid and relevant. It but requires a yearning soul and mind; a people in continued search and need of the Divine!
Also, it is absolutely critical that one abstains from deriving ahkaam (juristic and legal mandates or commands) without having fully been trained in the sciences pertaining to Islamic law and jurisprudence – for this, either one takes up the field of jurisprudence or consults one qualified in dealing with such; this tendency by the lay to think that each of them is capable of deriving law on their own without needing appropriate education and training in the field is not only absurd but dangerous – for it can become a source of individual and communal fitn (trials). However, having stated the necessary and obvious precautions, from the personal and psycho-spiritual standpoint, one is necessarily encouraged and required to pursue as much of the learning of the Qur’an as feasible.
In all humility, the Qur’an offers the believer intimate moments with the Creator in a way that is indescribable for it appeals to the psyche and not to the sensory; this can be most appreciated when one abides by what is described in the initial verses of Surah Muzammil (73). The Qur’an is man’s only communiqué with God (along with the subsequent personal experience which thereafter follows (individually) by God’s Grace – the feeling of proximity to the Divine and the unveilings of the truth – whether, mystical or intellectual). The Qur’an is the strength of the mu’min (true believer) and her/his only guide through this temporal and transient valley of the present life. Naturally and logically, the learning of the Qur’an needs to be equally matched by ardent ‘ibaadah (worship) and husn-al-khuluq (beautiful and the best ethical character) along with the effort of living up to being a truthful and a genuine Muslim – one who struggles continuously to transform her/his nature according to the dictates of the Divine and practices ‘aml salih (righteous and virtuous actions).