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The Quran, to Muslims, is a living miracle
March 17, 2009
EMINENT columnist and former diplomat M. Zamir is of that rare breed --- an individual whose knowledge is broad, whose interests are diverse, whose ideas are advanced, whose conversation sparkles and beckons, and who can present complex issues in simple distillation. His latest book, Ayats from Al-Quran and Hadith from Sahih Al-Bukhari, is a labour of love, the outcome of painstaking research and much effort.

To Muslims, the religion of Islam is coeval with humanity, not a new faith preached by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century AD. Divinely inspired prophets and messengers of God, starting from Adam have, over countless millennia, preached its eternal message in different ages and to different peoples. The religion was perfected with the revelation of the Quran to the final prophet and messenger of God, Hazrat Muhammad. The Quran, to Muslims, is of divine orgin, the immutable word of God. The Hadith comprise the teachings and traditions of the Prophet, and are a supplement to the Quran. As the name suggests, M. Zamir's book consists of two parts. The first part relates to the Quran and the second to selected Hadith from Sahih Al-Bukhari.

Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, distinguished historians both, relate a singular incident in their Pocket History of the United States. During the American Civil War, many churches, educational institutions and libraries in the Confederate States were damaged and even burnt down. The librarian of the University of Alabama could save only one volume from fire, the Quran. Nevins and Commager were surely sufficiently intrigued by this fact. There is no other reason for them to mention it in a compact volume of history, more so as it had at best a tenuous link with the scope of their work.

To Muslims, the Quran is a living miracle. The first part of M. Zamir's book is a flexibly knit, concise commentary of the Quran. The Suras are treated serially. A brief introduction to a Sura is followed by a gist of the verses. The author's observations on selected verses of the Sura are given after that. The observations or comments, based on deep study, are persuasive. A few verses are given in Arabic and also in transliteration and translation.

Many would find interest in the Doas or supplications that have been cited; the occasions where they should especially be recited have also been given. The verses chosen by the author for his observations cover a wide range, from the philosophical and mystical to the allegorical and also to those that bear upon everyday life. There are virtues that are lauded, and character traits or tendencies that are deprecated. There is an impressive bibliography at the end of the book. In the preface, the author expresses thanks to, among others, eminent scholars whose published works have helped in his research. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, whose annotated English translation of the Quran is familiar to many, is among those mentioned.

The six compilations of Sahih Hadith that are considered the most exhaustive, the most authoritative, and are cited most often are by Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Ibn Maja and Nasai. Of these, scholars have accorded primacy to Bukhari. The second part of M. Zamir's book contains selected Hadith from Sahih Bukhari. Hadith afford explanations, exegesis and insights. They serve to translate the high principles and great abstractions of the Quran into norms and guidelines for everyday life, at the personal and community levels. The author's selection covers various aspects of life and human behaviour, including faith, food, good manners, knowledge and revelation.

The book includes a good number of Doas and suggests the occasions most appropriate for their recital. There are striking similarities between some of the selected Hadith and scriptures of other faiths. On page 250 there is a Hadith that guests should be treated generously; similar to the Upanishadic dictum Athithi devo bhava Another Hadith on page 239 states that the majority of people entering the gates of Paradise ?were the poor, while the wealthy were stopped at the gate?; comparable to the Gospel of Matthew (xix, 24): ?It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.? The point underscored perhaps relates to social responsibility that goes with wealth and thus the higher standards of conduct expected of the wealthy. Incidentally, at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5 this year, President Obama quoted the following Hadith: ?None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.?

A few improvements are suggested for any future edition. An index would make the book more reader friendly. The English titles of some of the Suras have not been given. There are also some misprints and errors in editing. On page 155, it is suggested that the words ?This day have I perfected your religion for you? are from Sura An-Nasr. They are from Sura Madia, Verse lll. On page 178 there is a very brief account of the Hadith relating to the prescription of five daily prayers. During Miraj, fifty prayers a day were enjoined initially, but later ?reduced to five after entreaties of the Prophet on the advice of Abraham.? The reference is to Hadith no. 345 in volume I of Sahih Bukhari. The obligation of fifty daily prayers was reduced progressively to five, after the Prophet, at the instance of Moses, went back repeatedly to God to plead for reduction. Moses was concerned that a heavy obligation would be difficult to bear for Muslims.

A few editorial errors do not, of course, detract from the purpose and value of the book, which, in fact, should be of interest to many people. It is more than a primer or introduction to those who are not knowledgeable about Islam but wish to learn. To well-informed people, it should be a work of ready reference. At a secular level it gives a sense of the Muslim ethos and social values. Certainly it is a useful addition to the literature on religion. M. Zamir has probably touched more lives in the last half a dozen years than he did in a distinguished career of nearly thirty five years as a diplomat prior to that.

Jamil Majid is a former Bangladesh diplomat.
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Source: The Daily Star

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