Reflections: Eid Al-Adha 2016

Eid al-adha has begun and will last until Thursday. The most holy of our two holidays in which we remember one of the main trials of Ibrahim’s life — to obey Allah by the sacrifice of his son, Ismail.

Every year this holiday comes and every year I find it very difficult to relate to that level of iman. It’s too incredible for my little brain. The fact is that I just don’t hear about things like that happening nowadays.

If you take a moment and really imagine the story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice as more than just a story you read about, but as what it is — a real historical event — you’ll know what I mean.

What if you heard about an incident with a neighbor who was a good man. A man who was very pious and God-fearing and you hear about what happened with his son who was also very pious and good. You hear that one day he had a dream in which God told him to sacrifice his son to show his faith. Right when he’s about to slit his son’s throat, at the eleventh hour, a miracle happens and he sees that his son has been replaced by a dead ram and that his son is unharmed.

It’s different when you hear it like that, isn’t it? That kind of faith doesn’t exist in everyone or everywhere. I wish I could say that I would do the same if I was in his position. But honestly, I most likely won’t. I don’t know anyone who would either. But that’s why we remember it every year since about 1700 BC.

It was an incredible leap of faith that continues to baffle, awe, and inspire generations of people. It never gets old and it never gets topped.

It makes me look at all of the things I’ve wanted to improve in myself in order to get closer to Allah. One of the most difficult and enduring of which is to memorize the Qur’an. Ever since I converted I’ve had the thought of memorizing this great book gnawing at my brain. Is it the voice of God telling me to do it? I’m guessing not. Most likely it’s just my habit of setting high expectations for myself that is making me want to do this, but still, maybe those thoughts that challenge us to improve and test our strength are the ones we need to listen to.

Just like Ibrahim who listened to a dream he had, maybe we need to listen to our dreams and have some faith in God for everything to work out for us.

signature

Advertisements

Book Review: Approaching the Qur’an

It has been a while hasn’t it?

Between Ramadan, the new house, the new job, I haven’t been able to find much time to read, let alone write about what I’ve read. I’ve just settled into my a routine so I should be able to return to my usual antics. Then again, I am going to Korea in two weeks so I guess maybe not. We shall see.

Anyway, last night I finished reading “Approaching the Qur’an” by Michael Sells. You may have heard about it before as this book was at the crux of a contentious lawsuit brought forward in 2002 by three students at the University of North Carolina, whose incoming students were assigned it as a summer reading assignment. But never mind all of that. If you haven’t read it before — like me — and you are non-Arabic speaking Muslim — like me, this book will let you experience first-hand the poetry of the Qur’an.

One of my greatest goals is to be able to one day understand the Qur’an as Arabic speakers do. To listen to a recitation and be moved by the rich literature and poetry of the Qur’an is something that I so dearly want to experience. Until my understanding of Arabic and Qur’anic grammar reaches that level, I will have to settle for the English translations. While the translations may help me know what is being said, they are useless in conveying the same poetic impact that it brought upon those who heard it when it was first revealed.

This book does not cover the entire Qur’an. Sells translates Al-Fatiha, a portion of sura 53 (The Star), and then suras 81 through 114. Sells attempts translate not only the meaning of the words, but also the poetic devices of the original text. Reading Sells’ translations makes me feel as though I am reading the Qur’an for the first time. I felt moved in a way that I wasn’t before and I could understand how impactful the text could be especially in a recited format. Nevertheless, this is a translation and there is always something of meaning lost when a text a translated, so of course this will be the case with the Qur’an. However, to give you a taste of what I mean, here is a comparison of Sells’ translation and the Sahih International translation of sura 104, “The Slanderer”:

Sahih International

Woe to every scorner and mocker

Who collects wealth and [continuously] counts it.

He thinks that his wealth will make him immortal.

No! He will surely be thrown into the Crusher.

And what can make you know what is the Crusher?

It is the fire of Allah , [eternally] fueled,

Which mounts directed at the hearts.

Indeed, Hellfire will be closed down upon them

In extended columns.

Sells’

Woe to every backbiting slanderer

Who gather his wealth and counts it

thinking with his wealth he will never die

Nay, let him be thrown into the HĂștama

And what can tell you of the HĂștama

The fire of God, stoked for blazing

rising up over the heart

covering them in vaults of flame

stretching out its pillars

There’s a fundamental difference between those two translations. The meaning is the same, but the impact lies in not only what is said but also what is not said in Sells’ version. I so wish that Sells could come out with a complete translation of the entire Qur’an. If there are any non-Muslims out there reading this review who would like to read a translation of the Qur’an, I urge you to start with this book. It doesn’t have the whole entire Qur’an, but it gives you a hint of the power that the original text brings to its readers and listeners in Arabic. The book also contains a CD in the back that allows to you listen to the Qur’an since the Qur’an is truly intended to be recited and listened to — not read. Even the Muslims out there who depend on the English translations to understand what is being said, read this! It will bring a whole new dimension to the suras you’ve read before and possibly some new meaning to you as well.