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Ramadan 2010: MM Poetry Contest | Semifinalists, Day 2

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Day 1 | Day 2  | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | The Finals


Welcome to day two! Now that we’ve started publishing the semifinalists, please do check out each day’s poems and cast your vote.

Update 1/9/10:  Voting for poems published on Day 2 closes today! Cast your vote if you haven’t yet!

Update 2/9/10: Voting on poems published on Day 2 has now closed.

A quick recap on how it’s going to be:

1) We’re going to publish four shortlisted poems a day, for five days.
2) Each day, you, the public, vote for the poem that you like best out of the four published.
3) The poems with the most votes from each day will go on to the final round, where a second poll will decide the winner and runners up.

Simple, eh?

As beautiful as the poems all are, and we are indeed experiencing the Holy month of Ramadan, the spirit of the competition can be pretty overwhelming. That’s why here’s a simple reminder to keep it clean, and wholesome, healthy competitiveness that adds to the fun but does not hurt anyone in anyway. :)

Without further ado, here’s the second group of semifinalists for your pleasurable reading.

Please don’t forget to vote!

____________________________________________________

A Mother’s Last Words
By: Hadiyah Stephens


Compare, if you will, two flowers the same
Except one is vibrant and fresh, the other crumpled and plain
They lay in my hand, one in each palm
And looking at them, I experience a strange calm

My mind goes back in time, I begin to reflect
And I realise I have a lot to correct
I ask myself, ‘when was the last time you prayed?’
‘And when was the last time you freely gave aid?’

I sit down then, right there on the grass
I start crying, the tears come fast
I don’t know what made me feel this way
So sad, so helpless, so full of dismay

I stare down bleakly at my balled-up fist
I feel confused, surely there’s something I’ve missed
Something is wrong, there’s something I should know
I struggle to remember, my confusion grows

I grow frustrated, I clutch at the flowers
Then breaking through my rage, a sound that empowers
I hear my mother’s gentle voice, so near, so treasured
And my tears run freely as her last words, I remember

She died in the month of Ramadan, the very last night
And even though she was in pain, her face was lit with light
She clasped my hand and brought me near
And whispered to me, her voice frail, yet clear

She told me of Ramadan, her favourite month of the year
And of how everyday she would spread hope and cheer
I remembered vaguely of her always being away from home
Always in Ramadan, she would go out alone

She told me of what Ramadan brings
Peace, Forgiveness, Happiness, Blessings
She told me to make sure others know
She grasped my hand tight and begged me to go

She told me to continue on after her death
She was staring at me as she drew her last breath
Then she died with the Shahadah echoing on her pale lips
And in her features I could see the toll of many hardships

I didn’t carry on her work
I refused to acknowledge her last words
I closed myself off from the whole of Islam
I had left the straight path for the path of harm

And as I stood there with the flowers in my hands
I recalled a story my mother had taught me from our homeland
Three dates she gave me after Iftar
She asked me to identify their differences, I thought it bizarre

I did as she asked, I examined all three
And when I was finished she asked for my decree
I told her the truth, one was fresh, one dried
And the last was cracked, brittle and split down the side

She smiled as if pleased and gathered me close
She then asked me how the rest of the lesson goes
I look up at her, uncomprehending, confused
She smiled again, picked up some dates, just two

One was the fresh one, the other was the dried
I gave no response to my mothers wide questioning eyes
The fresh date represents a true Muslim’
‘The dry one is a disbeliever, instead’

She pauses before picking up the last date; she waited for a reaction
Then she holds up the last date, the one which was hardened
She waits for a little longer then she slowly tells me
This one represents a Kuffar and a hypocrite, do you see?

I didn’t get it then but I sure get it now
I finally understand and will now make a vow
I called myself a Muslim while doing nothing at all
And now I will save myself from this head-long fall

Because that lesson my mum taught me so long ago
Was not just a lesson but a life echo
What she showed me using just three dates
Is really what we are all trying to create

With this simple lesson we can learn
What is the key we are all trying to earn
The key to Paradise is simple to get
Just try to be the fresh date in each set

I cradled the flowers as I ducked indoors
I have to apply what I learnt to my life and more
I filled up a vase and placed the flowers inside
And ran to make wudo with Allah as my guide

That prayer was a first for a very long time
I had just started my prayer when the clock began to chime
I was full of thankfulness, cheer and more too
I’d realised I was free of the wrong I’d been going through

When I sat and studied Islam that night
I felt like a new person, full of radiant light
I looked out of the window out of pure chance
And when I saw what I saw I felt like doing a dance

For hanging up there in the heavens, was an inspiring sight
Glimmering softly against the blackness of night
Moving slowly across the sky, slim and new
Was the brand new beautiful Ramadan Moon

Since my mother had died I hadn’t fasted a day
But the present was different, before I had been astray
But now I didn’t fear Ramadan like I had in the past
Now I gladly went around preparing for my fast

That night long ago, when my mother breathed her last
She had told me the secret to the blessed month of the fast
I had nodded, pretending to comprehend
I hadn’t, and now I must make my amends

I am proud to be a Muslim, let everyone know
The lesson taught to me by my Mum so long ago
Stay away from harms way, try to do right
Especially in Ramadan, the blessed month of light

A mother’s last words everyone should heed
Often a little advice is all that you need
Follow my mother’s lesson and pave your way clear
Build your Iman and make it sincere

Ramadan is not to be dreaded and feared
As many different things its not what it appears
Sure it’s about fasting all day
But it’s also about who you obey

Do good in Ramadan, be your best
As we all know, life’s only a test
Be a good Muslim, keep up the good deeds
And maybe one day, we shall all succeed

Peace, Sincerity, Forgiveness and more
This is what Ramadan brings to every Muslim’s door
Do what my Mum told me all those years past
“Treat every Ramadan as if it’s your last”
_____________________________________________________________

Untitled
By: Hira Amin


The most special month of the year has arrived

Where we all plan to struggle and strive

To attain the sweetest thing; Piety and His pleasure

Good deeds multiplied on end without measure

With a burst of joy we all start with zeal

Thinking one year has already passed is so surreal

Vowing to our selves to do better than last year

Planning and preparing yet having that fear

The Masjids are filled; the night is bright

With all the lights in the houses past midnight

Melodious sounds of the Quran is sung

Peace and tranquility in the atmosphere hung

We make dua, tears down our cheek

The best in this world and the next we seek

The samosas, pakoras and dips on the side

Chicken- baked, battered and fried

The middle approaches where we all start to slouch

From the prayer mat we migrate to the couch

Our minds wander through the long summer day

We think of the time when black hair goes grey

This could be our last, let’s make it the best

Insha Allah in Jannah we all can rest

Allah in His infinite wisdom knows His creation

He created the Night of Power to reignite our concentration

Fighting our sleep we stay awake and anticipate

To catch that Night before it is too late

Eid is here the majority shriek with delight

The uncles in the corner have the moonsighting fight

Spiritually pumped and ready to begin

Resolutions to increase our good deeds and decrease the sin

Between the laughter, the salaams and the toddlers wail

We whisper, O Allah accept this Ramadhan and make it heavy on our scale!

_____________________________________________________________

Qiyam Poem

By: Emad Hamdeh

In the day I struggle and sin while You watch me
Forgetting what I promised Thee
That I won’t do it again
I have come to realize that being far from You is disgrace
Now being near to You is the only place
I wish to be, please grant me my wish by Your Grace
All others closed their doors
You are The Most Generous, please open up Yours
Allah allow me to wake up at night
I have sinned much in the daylight
Please my heart needs to come to you in flight
My desire of sleep I shall fight
To prostrate to You in the nights peak
Complaining about my heart being so weak
Bless me and let that tear leak
Down this sinful mans cheek
Let my tongue ask for forgiveness, for all the evil it did speak
Let my arrogant nose
Go on the floor where peoples feet and toes
Walk, where it belongs my forehead goes
Let my prostration be lengthy and my tears plenty
My back is getting weak, as the sins on my shoulders are so hefty
Please Oh Allah let me be among those who are awake while others sleep

I carry heavy sins and the road to You is steep
They are holding me down and making me slip and fall
But Your name I will always call
Allow me to prostrate to You in the dark
As sins have left on my heart a great black mark
Allah I beg You not to leave me to myself
For clearly I cannot see
My sins have left me roaming blindly
Guide me to Your Light
I miss prostrating to You at night
Now I tear, because I fear
Not tasting the sweetness of being alone with You and so near
Oh Allah I haven’t prayed Qiyam in so long
Since the last time, I have done so much wrong
Oh Allah without You I can’t be strong
Being away from You I can no longer take
From the chains and yokes of my sins I want to break
Oh Allah grant me this request
Though of your servants I am so far from the best
Oh Allah I am so sinful compared to the rest
Please let me pass this test
Oh Allah don’t deprive me of standing between Your Hands
A place a sinner like me never stands
My sins are enough to cover the lands
Let me be pleased with Your decree
Whatever happened was meant to be
Whatever I missed was not meant for me
My only strength and courage is through Thee
Accept from me my prayer
Oh Allah my heart aches
Being alone with You brings back great memories
Remembering those days takes
My heart into different states
Oh Allah my heart misses You so much that it is about to fall and break
The thought of how much I disobeyed You makes me quiver and shake
Oh my Lord, please give me my wish and inspire
Me to do good so I may be saved from the fire
Oh Allah I can no longer speak
My heart misses You so much it has become weak
Oh Allah How Revered You are
You are so near, but I chose to be far
Allow me another chance to be close to You
To drop another tear while prostrating before You
My sins covered my heart with a dark thick layer

Remove it with Your Light
Allow me to come back and stand before You at night
Return to my heart its sight
For it is weak and losing the fight
Help me as You are my only Power and Might
La Hawla wala Quwata illa Billah

______________________________________________________________

Therawi Prayers
By: Ruhana Ali

Here I stand
My heart tight
Eyelids softly closing
Hands resting upon my chest
In a row of obedient servants returning to You

As Your verses are sung, they echo through the walls and vibrate in my heart
Etching away beneath the tight grip
Imprinting on the canvas of a forgetful core
Sailing back to You as a boat returning to shore

A soul desperately humble, remembering ultimately that nothing is created or occurs except by Your Favour
I am nothing.
Thank you
I’m so grateful for All that I have

And so here I am
Tears now flowing into a stream of comprehension
That indescribable feeling when I connect with your words

‘Their similitude is that of a man who kindled a fire; when it lighted all around him, Allah took away their light and left them in utter darkness. So they could not see.
Deaf, Dumb and Blind they return not’ (Qur’an 2:17-18)

Shaken by your warning for those who disbelieve
I relish in the nuances of Your meaning and the beauty of Your articulation
Ever hopeful to be placed in Your Eternal Light
At that moment I’m struck
Our relationship is strengthened
I bear witness
“La ilaha illalah, Muhammad ar Rasul Allah – There is no God but Allah and Muhammad (pbuh) is His Messenger”

My heart melts and my soul is ready to run away
As if like a bird
Whose wings are occupied but whose heart is bleeding out of its chest
At that moment, standing there, I’m flying so content in Your Trust
Hopeful of Your Mercy and fearful of Your Wrath

Your slave, standing before You, Desperate to reach You
In a state of Hearing, Understanding and Seeing
Just yearning to be loved

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Enjoyed Day 2? There’s more! Check out: Day 1 | Day 3 | Day 4| Day 5 | The Finals

Links will activate as each day arrives!

Ameera is a final-year medical student and blogger based in Karachi, Pakistan. Having been born and raised in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, her approach towards her Deen has always been rooted in a basic understanding from authentic sources, which was further polished during a three-year weekend course at Al Huda Institute. Her interests, though, seem to know no bounds and range from a passion for the culinary arts and travelling, as well as following current affairs and global happenings. She feels being able to be part of MuslimMatters is one of the major blessings of Allah(swt) upon her, for it has given her a chance to learn and grow. She also maintains her personal blog at http://duskanddawn.wordpress.com.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rafa

    August 30, 2010 at 5:31 AM

    “The uncles in the corner have the moonsighting fight”
    That line gave me a good laugh. :)

    Masha Allah, such incredibly beautiful poems. May Allah bless these writers with everything they’re poems ask and beg for. Ameen!

  2. Avatar

    iMuslim

    August 30, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    I made sure to spend a good, slow time reading today’s poems… and subhanAllah, it was so worth it! I really enjoyed each one, masha’Allah.

    I read the first, and thought: “This has my vote”.
    I read the second, “No, wait, maybe this one”.
    The third, “Umm, I like this too!”.
    The fourth: “Agh! They’re all great, masha’Allah!”.

    :D

  3. Pingback: Ramadan 2010: MM Poetry Contest | Semifinalists, Day 1 | MuslimMatters.org

  4. Avatar

    shiney

    August 30, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    Beautiful poems once again masha’allah! I had to go back and forth about a gazillion times before i could choose. May Allah (SWT) reward you all for your efforts. Ameen.

  5. Pingback: Ramadan 2010: MM Poetry Contest | Semifinalists, Day 3 | MuslimMatters.org

  6. Avatar

    Mansoor Ansari

    August 31, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    I didn’t know whr to post this but here it is

    Pics of Muslims celebrating from around the world, they r absolutely beautiful… some will bring a smile & some will bring tears

    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/08/ramadan_2010.html

  7. Pingback: Ramadan 2010: MM Poetry Contest | Semifinalists, Day 4 | MuslimMatters.org

  8. Hena Zuberi

    Hena Zuberi

    September 2, 2010 at 2:27 AM

    Sister Hadiyah is 14 years old- so deep for someone that young and to put her pain of losing her mother into words of shukr to Allah.
    They are all so moving-SubhanAllah

  9. Pingback: Ramadan 2010: MM Poetry Contest | Semifinalists, Day 5 | MuslimMatters.org

  10. Pingback: MM Ramadan 2010 Poetry Contest: The Finals | MuslimMatters.org

  11. Pingback: Ramadhan Package « Bintsultan

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Featured Home

Stats not Stories: Problems with our Islamic History

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Admit it. You’re bored by Islamic History. Sure, you might say that you find it fascinating, but the likelihood is that you are far more likely to be enamoured by the idea of what Islamic history should be like rather than the history itself.

How can I justify saying this? Well, lets take any other aspect of life that you are definitely not bored by. The latest Star Wars movie perhaps, Super Bowl 50 or all 7 Harry Potter books. Anything at all. Odds are that you can remember a lot about them in vivid detail. But if you’re asked the same thing about pretty much any aspect of Islamic history, the details are likely to be nowhere near as clear or captivating.

islamic history book

Outsold by the story of a wizard kid by a factor of a Million to 1

Relax. For once, it is not your fault.

Islamic history is the poor cousin of the Islamic sciences. It can often be poorly taught, poorly understood and even more poorly preserved. The blame for this partly falls on the shoulders of the Islamic historians themselves. Apart from some notable exceptions, many Islamic history books are dreary affairs over-filled with numbers, dates and exceptionally long names of individuals who sound very similar.

history quote

It is not that Islamic history itself is boring. On the contrary, I would make the case that no other history is as palpitation inducing, full of giddy highs and dramatic – seemingly bottomless – lows. However, even the most amazing thriller can go from awe to yawn if the main focus is on the factual details rather than the story itself.

explainafilmplotbadly

If the Dark Knight was described like your average text on Islamic history

In 2007 Deborah Small at the Wharton School of Business conducted an experiment to see how people would react to a charity campaign that was presented primarily using facts and figures as compared to the same campaign presented as a story. The outcome wasn’t even close. Stories trump stats every time. Or, as Stalin would say “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” He should know. He was kind of an expert on the subject.

stalin

Hipster Stalin – now he’s taken things too far.

In fact, we don’t need to look to modern research to prove this. The Quran itself is full of stories and lessons, but short on details. How many animals made it on to the Ark? Where exactly did Khidr live? What was the name of the Pharoah that was the arch-nemesis of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)? The lack of facts and figures detracts nothing from the power of these stories and their ability to inspire and transform those hearing them.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was explicit on this point when it came to the stories of the Companions of the Cave. Allah admonishes those who debate on the exact number of those in the cave saying “Now some say they were three and the fourth one is their dog and some will say they were five and the sixth one is their dog, guessing randomly at the unseen.” It is unfortunate that we don’t heed this lesson when it comes to how we teach our own Islamic history.

stat-stories-vs-statistics

From “Made to stick” by Chip and Dan Heath

Maya Angelou said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ If we want our Islamic history to be relevant and life-changing, we need to put away the facts and figures and bring out the monsters and legends.

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#Current Affairs

Five Courageous Ways To Respond To Anti-Muslim Hatred

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By Fatima Barkatulla

It was the day after the second Paris attack. Our local Muslim school sent parents a text-message telling them that security guards would flank the school gates the next day. Messages were flying around, complete with fuzzy CCTV footage of Muslim women who had been verbally or physically attacked in public places, in the climate of hatred and fear that seemed to hang like a cloud over us.

My sons, proudly wear traditional garments (thobe and white skullcap) when going to certain classes at the Mosque. It is the uniform for their Qur’an class. It’s of course not obligatory for them to wear it but they normally do. They were about to set out and catch a bus when a sense of dread came over me as I realised how vulnerable they looked and how so visibly ‘Muslim’. People had been fed a drip diet of negativity surrounding Islam and Muslims. The heinous crimes of some of our co-religionists, playing on 24-hour news channels had contributed to that climate. It would only take one angry person…

 

Muslim boys

 

In that moment I considered telling my sons to pop their jeans on instead, reserving their traditional garb for when they were safely inside the mosque. In that moment I was terrified at the power I wielded as a parent to influence their mindset with a word I might utter. And in that moment, I bit my tongue and decided to choose Tawakkul and empowerment and banish victimhood and fear.

There was no real danger. Most of our fellow citizens are not full of hatred. Most of them do know a Muslim well enough to know better. I believe much of the fear-mongering that goes on in Muslim circles, is manufactured and perpetuated by people continuously forwarding unconfirmed scare stories to one another (or perhaps people infiltrating our lists and groups, maliciously intending to spread panic).

In the aftermath of these attacks it’s important to continue living as you normally live day to day as much as possible and since my sons usually do wear these clothes to the mosque without issue, I didn’t want to introduce the idea of hiding being a Muslim to them.

It’s not about fanatically holding onto garments. Indeed if there is real and present danger we should take the precautions necessary and should not put our children at high risk. However, this was about the attitude we seek to instil in the next generation of Believers.

Over the Channel in France, with its aggressive secularism, it has become commonplace for many Muslims to hide their Islam. Britain’s Muslims, including my sons, are confident and very comfortable expressing our faith and culture, Alhamdulillah. This is home and we aren’t guests here. The vast majority of our compatriots are respectful towards us and, especially in the vibrant melting-pot that is London, we have grown up together, laughed, cried, learned and played together. We grew up being told to express our culture and be ourselves.

British Muslims

In the 80s racists used to abuse us for having a different skin colour – which we couldn’t hide. They would hurl insults at my mother for observing hijab. That overt racism is largely gone. But the point is this: Our parents didn’t persevere through the tough times that they faced, only for our generation to lie down as soon as we face some pressure!

By all means let us teach our children to take the normal precautions any child should. Teaching them the very powerful duas and supplications for going outside as well as the du’a when facing fear, and the du’a for resolve, were my first port of call.[1] But I refuse to instil cowardice in their hearts and will continue to teach them to hold their heads up high as Muslims in a world where their faith is misrepresented.

I see parenting as a calling. Children are the ultimate carriers of our values beyond our own short lives. Most of us still hear our mothers’ voices in our heads, giving us the occasion telling-off or reminding us to do the right thing. Most of us subconsciously ask ourselves what dad would have done. We may of course reassess some of those values, rejecting some and adapting others. However, a parent’s attitude and philosophy of life is no doubt a most powerful factor in setting a child’s direction in the world.

So how will I be teaching my children to respond to anti-Muslim hatred? What do I hope their attitude will be, growing up in 21st Century Britain?

The key messages I will be giving my children are:

First: Have faith in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan. Our tradition teaches us that everything, however difficult it may be for us to understand, happens for a reason and happens by the will of God. It teaches us that through Sabr – patiently persevering upon the straight path, through hard work and prayer, we will see the fruits of our efforts.

Second: Never be afraid to be different. Some of the greatest people in history went against the grain. They were immensely unpopular and often persecuted. In the end, their unwavering, patient, perseverance for justice shone through. We have an example of that in the great messengers of God such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them. And in recent times we have the likes of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X – who fought injustice, were persecuted or killed for their cause, but morally triumphant as eventually the world caught up with them.

Third: Be politically engaged. Outrage at injustices around the world is natural. But how you allow that to manifest itself is pivotal. The Qur’an tells us that we must live up to being “the best people extracted for the sake of humanity.” The conditions for being amongst the best of people are that we must enjoin the good, beginning with ourselves and forbid what is wrong and have faith in God. Loving ones country means sometimes holding a mirror up to it and with wisdom, speaking truth to power.

Fourth: Be socially engaged. Contribute and give to society positively with all your heart and with all of your talents. Serve your neighbours, serve your fellow citizens. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would go the extra mile to reach out to people and fulfil their needs, to feed, to clothe, to share a burden. He never encouraged us to live in ghettos, happy with our own piety. Mixing with people, sharing, caring, giving, getting involved with the issues of society is his example and your duty.

Fifth: Seek deeper knowledge of scripture from traditional scholars who are also forward-thinking. The Qur’an has a context to it. Reading ones own interpretations into it willy nilly gives a warped understanding. We see the catastrophic effects of that in lands where injustice is being justified by ignorant Twitter and Facebook muftis interpreting revelation. Our tradition is rich, it gave birth to one of the greatest civilisations in history. Don’t be rash. Don’t be a hothead. The energy of youth needs to be tempered by the wisdom of scholars and elders. Our faith needs a generation of leaders who have depth of understanding and a wealth of wisdom in order to traverse the murky waters that may lay ahead. Be that generation.

[1] Some of the supplications can be found in du’a books and on the website: http://www.makedua.com/ . A couple of examples are:

بِسْمِ اللهِ ، تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللهِ وَلَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِاللهِ

“In the name of Allah, I place my trust in Allah and there is no might nor power except with Allah.”

The Prophet ﷺ told us, when we say this, an angel will say: “you shall be defended, protected and guided”. (Abu Dawud)

And this wonderful du’a which every one of us should memorise! It is protection from facing ignorance or harm when going out! Make sure your kids have memorised it!

 

اللَّهُمَّ إني أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ ، أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ ، أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ ، أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَيَّ

“O Allah, I seek refuge with You lest I should stray or be led astray, or slip (i.e. to commit a sin unintentionally) or be tripped, or oppress or be oppressed, or behave foolishly or be treated foolishly.” (Abu Dawud)

Fatima Barkatulla is a seminarian and award-winning Islamic lecturer. Follow her on FacebookA version of this article was published in The Times and Times Online on Saturday 9th April 2016

[1] ‘thaub’ is sometimes called a dishdasha (it is a long, dress-like garment worn by men in the Middle-East). ‘Thaub’ is the more commonly used name for it in the Muslim community.

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Education

Science Not Art: Problems with our Islamic History

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Let me introduce you to Hassan. He is an artist with an imagination that runs wild with more creativity in his little finger than most of us have in our whole lives. He spends his spare time in art galleries and exhibitions. He enjoys experimenting with different pantones to find the right shade of green for his latest artwork. So far, he’s your typical artist, except for the small fact that he’s a medical student.

Like many children of first generation immigrants, Hassan was prodded towards a stable career in healthcare rather than the decidedly less secure world of being an artist. His innate artistry is out of place in the sterile world of Medicine, but he accepts this trade-off for the security that a career in medicine brings.

The-Art-Science-of-Content-Marketing

Much like Hassan, I contend that Islamic history is art trapped in the world of sciences.

While Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t being busy leading the Rough Riders or being President, he made the same case for history in general. Every civilization and culture views history through a different lens. While the Europeans classically treated History as a category within literature and the Hindus as often indistinguishable from mythology – Muslims took an entirely different approach. When it comes to fields of Islamic studies, we tend to classify the most important as sciences. Tafsir, Ilm al hadeeth, Tajweed and Fiqh are all researched and taught with the same precision and accuracy as physics or maths. There is relatively little room for artistic license or experimentation.

science vs art

This is a strength especially when it comes to the studies that make up the bedrock of the faith and are used to decide the rules and regulations that govern it. However, problems arise when subjects that don’t naturally fit into the scientific category are reclassified as such. One such example is Islamic history. Our history has often been subjected to the same rigorous standards as those applied to other Islamic sciences. Anything that doesn’t meet the highest standards of verification and authentication can potentially be downplayed or treated as suspect.

This view of history was pioneered by none other than the father of historiography Ibn Khaldun, who was frustrated by the “uncritical acceptance of historical data.” It comes as no surprise to find out that Ibn Khaldun was a jurist before he found fame in later life as a historian. However, history is not merely data to be proven or interpreted in a narrow set of ways. History is the art of putting together bits of information from the past and weaving together a narrative that gives us an insight into the motivations and actions of those that preceded us.

quiz art vs science

Translation: Artists tend to see boats first, scientists tend to see arches.

For instance, History as science will tell us that the Moghul Empire finally collapsed due to a range of socio-economic factors afflicting the corrupt Moghul state combined with the overwhelming military superiority of the British. While that may technically be accurate, History as art would explain the fall as a perfect storm of threats compounded by the tragic but unexpected outcome of an aging Emperor’s affections for his ambitious and treacherous young wife Zeenat Mahal. The former view is based on empirical evidence but wholly uninspiring and devoid of the human touch, while the latter is pieced together based on some facts, some extrapolations and based on the characters of the personalities involved.

zeenat mahal

Worth sinking an Empire over?

Skeptics from the scientific school of thought will read the above and fear that this is a call to legitimise superstition and fairytales. It is not. The reality is that the majority of our history, or any history for that matter, will fail to pass the benchmarks that we must necessarily use for our sciences. The result of this is that there are swathes of our history that are simply looked upon as second class and therefore not prominent.

Maria Konnikova argued the same point cogently in Scientific American. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we see and classify Islamic history. Islamic historians should feel comfortable in the freedom to discuss and teach aspects of our history that may not be 100% verifiable, but that fit within the broad construct of our traditions. We need to explore and cultivate the vast fertile expanses between irrefutable evidence based facts and pure fiction. Should we do so, we will reap a rich harvest of engaged and inspired Muslims who can take lessons and inspiration from our past and use it to guide our future. That’s hopefully something that even the most dedicated scientist would find it difficult to argue against.

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