In today’s world, with so much curiosity about Islam and so many misconceptions, Tales from the Quran and Hadith takes a fresh look at the stories based on these traditional texts.
Does Islam deserve to be vilified as a misogynistic and violent religion, or have Muslims, and the world at large, misunderstood its context? Does Islam deserve the xenophobic charge against people of this faith, as seen in the recent travel ban against 7 Muslim majority countries by the US?
The Quran is full of metaphors, rhetoric and factual text, and many end up getting confused by it. Is it a rigid text that should replace rational conscience, or were we made ashraf-ul-makhluqat, the best of God’s creations, so that we could use our intelligence and free will? ‘Islamic laws were only as humane as the Muslims interpreting them,’ says author Carla Powers in If Oceans were Ink. A rote reading of the Quran or the Hadith, without understanding the context, results in Islamic extremists and Islamophobes coming to the same interpretation.
At a time when Islam is being seen as misogynistic, it is important to realize the difference between what Islam says, and what Muslims practice.
In the first story, on the Creation of Man, both Adam and Eve equally share the blame and punishment for having strayed, showing that it was an egalitarian faith that didn’t discriminate against women. Also, the first person to accept Islam was Khadijah, the Prophet’s first wife, for whom he said, ‘She believed in me when no one else did; she accepted Islam when people rejected me; and she helped and comforted me when there was no one else to lend me a helping hand.’ Khadijah was 15 years his elder, twice widowed and his employer when she sent him a proposal of marriage. They went on to have a wonderful marriage based on an equal partnership.
Most people pick up lines of the Quran from the internet and quote them out of context to justify violence in Islam. Yet the truth is that war has never been a first option and has always been fought on honourable terms, as seen in the story about the Sword of Ali. The Prophet as quoted in the Hadith says, ‘The best jihad [struggle] is (by) the one who strives against his own self for Allah, The Mighty and Majestic.’
Any line taken out of context even from a children’s fairy tale book could seem like an incitement to violence, yet it isn’t, because we take the time to understand the story. The Quran is a religious book that affects the lives of millions, so we have to make the effort to understand it in context and spirit. We talk of punishment for sinners as if we are God, jury and executioner all at once, and very often we execute these sentences too. Yet in the story about the dog and the prostitute, based on a Hadith, the prostitute is forgiven all her sins and perhaps a place in heaven in return for an act as small as giving water to a thirsty dog. Who are we to talk of what punishment God may give without first believing in His divine grace?
Can events unfolding in the Middle East be related to what has been prophesied in The Wall of Zul Qarnain, a curious legend about Syria that feels more pertinent than ever. Other stories talk of temptation, and how easy it is to get swayed or how difficult to stand firm.
Ultimately, my aim with these stories is to awaken a curiosity to know more about and understand the Quran better, and learn to differentiate between what the Holy Book says, what the Prophet’s actions as told in the Hadith teach us, and what we Muslims practice. For, as the Quran says, it ‘taught man what he knew not.’ (Qur’an 96:5)