A Refreshing Introduction To Islam




by Sanjiv Bhatla

330 pages

Crabwise Press; First edition (2017)

Rs  395.00

It may appear an irony that non Muslims have harnessed their scholarship to discover some of the unique features of Islam. Muslims owe a great debt to so many of these researchers and writers for unraveling vast and amazing facets of Islamic religion, philosophy and culture. Two of the greatest translators of the Qur’an, Muhammad Asad and Marmaduke Pickthall were not native Muslims .Another great translator, A J Arberry whose work has been acclaimed as the most universally brilliant was an Englishman.

When we come to the cultural history of Islam, Philip Hitti, R a Nicholson and Stanley Lane Poole who were all non Muslim have been candle lights of the glorious legacy of Islamic civilization for English readers

While there have been several biographical accounts of Prophet Muhammad, Martin Lings’ book remains the most outstanding work .He too was not a native Muslim.

islam-is-goodModern Islamic scholarship has attracted a huge number of non Muslim intellectuals .In fact Islamic literature in English is clearly dominated by them. Several of them are obviously biased, yet many of them are faithful.

I recently came across a wonderful introduction to Islam titled Islam Is Good: Muslims Should Follow It by Sanjiv Bhatla that compresses encyclopedic insights in a small volume. His study of the Prophet is primarily based on Martin Lings’ book. For the Quran’s interpretation, he relies on the translation by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and supplements it with that of Abdullah Yusuf li.

The author also delves into various Islamic scriptures .Most non-Muslims are unaware that Islamic religion is more than the Quran. It includes a vast collection of words and deeds attributed to Muhammad by later authors. These compilations are sort of like the Gospels  and comprise the deeds and sayings of the Prophet .They are called as hadith and sunnah .  Muslim scholars fight over their authenticity to put a kindred ancient religion like Islam in perspective .Bhatla has veered of this sensitive territory and has very judiciously selected those hadiths that are universally accepted as sound. There is a very enlightening discussion on Islamic thinkers, both classical as well as those of mystical schools or Sufis.

The underlying message of the book is that Islam is a very practical religion and the life of the Prophet is a living proof of it the author takes pains to emphasize repeatedly the principles of social justice, compassion, gender justice, kindness, non-violence which are the bedrock of Islam as envisioned by the Qur’an and exemplified in the life of the Prophet. He appeals to Muslims to revive the  Prophet’s traditions of peace, love, gentleness and compassion which alone can restore Islam to its pristine glory.

The author describes how the reforms that took place in the early years of Islam are clearly progressive, changing with the needs of the society. However, the more detailed rules that were laid out by the classical jurists allowed many pre-Islamic customs to continue.  . The trajectory of reform begun at the time of the Prophet was thus halted in the medieval period through the further elaboration of fiqh (Islamic law), which was then selectively codified in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Islam

The Prophet eschewed extremism and, contrary to genera beliefs,   emphasized moderation. His advice emanates from the   Qur’an: “And God has not laid upon you any hardship in matters of religion” (Q22:78).The Qur’an further says: “God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” (Q2:185) The Qur’an reinforces this message again: “God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity” (Q 2:286).

The theme of moderation has been the leitmotif in Islamic scriptures from the time of Prophet Muhammad., Muslim women and men are called upon to exercise moderation in all aspects of their religious life.  The Prophet confirms the essence of Qur’an’s message: “Make things easy, do not make them difficult.”

The author dwells at length  on gender welfare and justice , the two areas where rigid mindsets have made the rules and codes extremely harsh .The overall approach of the Qur’an is of mercy and compassion and jurists  seem  trapped in a colonial mindset not allowing the winds of modernity and liberal ideas touch them n Islam, men and women are moral equals in God’s sight and are expected to fulfill the same duties of worship, prayer, faith, alms giving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. The triumph of Islam in the seventh century basically codified the position of women with its laws of spiritual and civic conduct. It banned female infanticide, limited polygamy to four wives, forbade sexual relations outside marriage and spelled out women’s rights in marriage and inheritance..

As the author rightly observes the Qur’an a coherent book where every verse is amplified by the other verses .Thus the Qur’an has to be read as a whole and the verses cannot be interpreted in isolation .There is an organic unity in the Quran and in interpreting individual verses we must be guided by compassion, mercy and justness which are the pillars of Islam.

The author reminds Muslims of the extraordinary emphasis Qur’an lays on reason and intellect. Islam’s scripture contains three times as many passages urging Muslims to think and rethink than verses promoting blind worship.

The author rightly alludes to the advice of Prophet to his companion, Muadh ibn Jabal. Sometime after the Prophet had returned to Madinah, messengers of the kings of Yemen came to him announcing that they and the people of Yemen had become Muslims. They requested that some teachers should be with them to teach Islam to the people. For this task the Prophet commissioned a group of competent du’at (missionaries) and made Muadh ibn Jabal their leader. He then put the following question to Muadh:

“According to what will you judge?”

“According to the Book of God,” replied Muadh.

“And if you find nothing therein?”

“According to the Sunnah of the Prophet of God.”

“And if you find nothing therein?”

“Then I will exert myself (exercise ijtihad) to form my own judgement.” The Prophet was pleased with this reply and said:

“Praise be to God Who has guided the messenger of the Prophet to that which pleases the Prophet.”

The fact is that Islam does not need any reformation .It needs to be rediscovered.. s the Muslim world, a new generation of Muslims is pushing the boundaries and combing through centuries of Islamic jurisprudence to highlight the more progressive aspects of their religion.. In growing numbers, they are speaking out truths to self-appointed authorities, be they their parents or their imams. Books like this are reinforcing this new thinking .

It is an extremely remarkable book and a must read for both non Muslims and Muslims including   specialist and general readers it provides a very wholesome perspective of Islam ..it can help non Muslims to clear their misconceptions and allay their misapprehensions . For Muslims it will reinforce in their minds some of the fundamental truths of the f Qur’an and its message which have been waylaid in the storm of controversies and crisis surrounding Islam in modern times.

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at [email protected]


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