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How to be true to the Quran

It's a book that constantly invites you to think.

I met a friend for coffee the other day. He brought along two friends – a Canadian who serves as a senior professor at one of Thailand’s most esteemed universities and a professor at a Malaysian university.

In the middle of our conversation, the Canadian told of a recent lecture during which he bantered with his students about science and religion in a humble attempt to mould the minds of future scientists. A student stood up and said: “Just because God created us with a brain, it does not mean we are meant to use it to question Him. Just accept everything you are told and stop thinking so much.”

The student was a Muslim.

The entire class fell silent upon hearing this. The professor said he too was dumbfounded. He told us that in all his 35 years as a lecturer, he had never heard such an absurd statement from a research student of all people.

The local professor seated with us laughed out loud when I remarked that this kind of mentality was growing fast among members of Malaysian society. Apparently, she faces an even bigger crowd of students who were quite satisfied to not question but follow blindly.

On my way home from this meeting, it struck me how wrong I was earlier for thinking it was the less educated who succumbed to the herd mentality. It never occurred to me that our well-educated young were also on the verge of sacrificing their God-given mental capabilities in order to satisfy Him, thinking that is what God expects of them.

I remember having religious discussions with some highly educated friends and every time I quoted a certain verse from the Holy Book to prove a point, I was gently reminded against trying to fully understand the content of the Quran on my own. I was told that I might deviate from its true meaning. Instead, I was advised to read the explanations provided by the ulamas in order to get a correct understanding of God’s words.

But the Quran is meant for all mankind, not just a privileged class. If we’re not supposed to try to understand it on our own, why is it replete with verses such as these:

Verily, in this is indeed a sign for people who think. (16:69)
Do they not think deeply (in their own selves) about themselves (how God created them from nothing, and similarly He will resurrect them)? (30:08)
Have they not journeyed upon the earth, that they might have hearts by which to understand or ears by which to hear? (22:46)
These are the parables We set forth for mankind, that haply they may reflect. (59:21)

This brings to mind how our education system has failed in aiding the intellectual growth of our young. After 12 years of school, our students’ intellect and spirituality should be somewhat highly developed, thus giving them the ability to apply critical thinking. Sadly, this is not the case, as the Malaysian professor pointed out.

Students and Muslims at large can better themselves and their capacity to think critically only by engaging in discussions and debate, without fearing that the religious authorities would label them as infidels. This should be the true Islamic way.

The truth is, through the Quran, God repeatedly challenges us to think critically. He tells us to observe, seek knowledge, ponder and ask questions. Sadly, a superficial study of the Quran and a reliance on the explanations provided by our ulamas alone have made us mentally sluggish besides carrying the risk of having the divine message misunderstood and misrepresented.

We must, like the early Muslims, challenge ourselves intellectually because God knows that we are capable of it.

In the words of a fellow Muslim: “To be a Muslim is to have Islam. It is to have peace, and that comes from being free. To be free you need to have knowledge, and to gain knowledge you need to be able to think properly, and to think properly you need to learn to be critical. To be a real Muslim, you cannot but be a critical thinker.”

How to be true to the Quran
by Mikha Chan, freemalaysiatoday.com

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