I started very apprehensively, as I could not gauge my readership. The space allocated for Islam in Perspective was cautiously small. It started with a translation of a couple of verses of the Qur'an and two short articles, one of which highlighted an incident from the Prophetâ€™s lifetime. It soon transpired that the column met very keen demand. It was a boom time in Saudi Arabia, with many foreign companies working in the Kingdom. They were eager to learn about Saudi culture and religion. It was necessary to give the column more space.
Al-Shibani was soon on the phone to me. We discussed how best to develop the column. It was his suggestion that we should invite readers to put their questions. My apprehension was even greater. Soon it was justified. I received a letter with 12 well thought out questions about very different aspects of Islam. It was clear that the letter was from a highly educated, non-Muslim foreigner who felt that Islam represented a challenge to people like him working in a Muslim environment.
It was necessary to give adequate space to these questions. Over the next few weeks the column included answers to one or two of this readerâ€™s questions. This, however, opened a floodgate of readersâ€™ questions. Soon the space allocated to Islam in Perspective covered half a page, and before the year was out, we were covering a full page. We often allocated more than half of it to readersâ€™ questions. Yet it was not enough, as I always had a backlog that often ran for over two months.
It was Khaled Almaeena, the new editor in chief, who decided to extend the column to a full page, but in 1986 he decided to double that, making it two full pages a week, on Mondays and Fridays. This continued to be the case until a couple of years ago, when circumstances required that we go back to one page a week.
Everything needed to be developed as the requirements of the much larger space dictated. Thus, the translation of a couple of verses of the Qur'an gave way to a full article of commentary, elucidating the meaning of these verses and bringing it close to a modern readerâ€™s understanding. Over these years, the commentary covered around 80 percent of Godâ€™s eternal words.
The glimpses from the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) soon developed into a discussion of all main events in his blessed life, in a series of over 200 articles. These were later re-written and published in a full account of his life under the title, Muhammad: Man and Prophet. When this series was over, we continued to highlight the Prophetâ€™s teachings, concentrating on manners and morality. We selected Al-Bukhariâ€™s second collection of Hadiths, entitled Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, which may be translated as â€˜A Unique Code of Behaviorâ€™. We explained every Hadith in this collection in articles devoted to their themes. We still continue to devote space to the Prophetâ€™s teachings as these represent how Muslims should conduct their lives.
We addressed other aspects of Islam, including comments on historical events and on behavior in different situations. However, we needed to address difficult areas where divergent opinions are firmly held and strongly defended. One example is the need to adapt Shariah rulings to the requirements of the present times. Some people insist on sticking to whatever rulings are given by their schools of thought. We offered a platform that takes from all schools of thought and even beyond, to provide an easier way for Muslims to deal with the needs of their present circumstances.
The other area is that of the status of women in Islam. On both these issues, and many others, we have shown that Islam is much more liberal than most Muslims think. Yet at no time did we criticize any scholar, past or contemporary. We hold them all in great respect. Even where we adopt a clear stand on a controversial issue, we give due respect to the other side. In doing so, we are guided by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who tells us that when a scholar makes a ruling based on scholarly effort and discretion, he earns a single reward if he is in error and a double reward if he is right.
We carried a long series of biographical notes on major scholars in most aspects of Islamic scholarship. To a reader who followed our contribution, this provided an insight into the wealth of Islamic scholarship that flourished over the years. Again, we were not limited to any particular school or branch of study. We covered most, including scientists and linguists.
Yet perhaps the contribution that we are most proud of is â€˜Our Dialogueâ€™, the name we gave to our service of answering our readersâ€™ questions. These ranged from very simple questions about various aspects of Islamic worship, to some rather complicated personal problems, and some serious misconceptions about Islamic beliefs and teachings. Two areas where questions were often asked were divorce and its complications, and inheritance. With the volume of questions that we received over the years on both these issues, we became fully aware how lacking most Muslims are in awareness of what their faith requires of them.
Islam upholds fairness in all situations. Everyone must be treated fairly. There is no difference between a man and a woman in their religious status. Both are equal in their standing before God. Yet there are different rules that apply to them in accordance to their respective roles in the family, society and life generally. We have always been at pains to correct misunderstandings. We repeatedly showed that Islamic divorce is not the simple procedure most people think it to be. It is a long process, with different steps that ensure justice for both man and woman. In inheritance, people can easily land themselves in a difficult position, incurring Godâ€™s anger, by trying to take more than their fair shares.
We do not wonder at the great care the Qur'an gives to both these issues, as they can be the fields of much injustice. On inheritance, the Qur'an provides very detailed legislation that leaves little room for controversy. Hence, when people differ, it is because there is greed on one party and injustice on the other. Divorce is perhaps the issue that merits the longest treatment in the Qur'an, with a very long passage in Surah 2, and two thirds of Surah 65 devoted to it.
Most questions and answers published in Our Dialogue have been collected, classified and published in four large volumes, by Apkar pk, a company in Pakistan. They are given a website in the same name www.ourdialogue.com. Furthermore, a large selection has been translated into Urdu and Sindhi and published in two volumes in each of the two languages. We are indebted to them for providing this free service.
Today, as we complete 30 years of Islam in Perspective, we humbly thank God for giving us the strength and the ability to render this service. We pray Him to enable Arab News to continue long in the future. All praise and thanks are due to Him alone.
Reproduced from Arab News