MQSP: Field Notes #2

According to Muhammad Asad, Al Sayuti claimed that these seven verses from Qalam came after the first five verses of revelation in Al-Alaq. Yet, there is a bit of a disconnect in scholarship on this. The authentic tradition holds that Surah Mudatthir was the second revelation. Which view can one take when reading the Quran in the order of revelation?

I originally read the order with Surah Mudathir being the second revelation, however, I was a bit distracted. The contents of that chapter display a degree of opposition to the Prophet that indicated significant revelation and propagation of the message had taken place. Yet, how can that be, given that the contents of the first revelation, verses one through five of Al-Alaq, gives scant information on a mission and purpose of Prophethood? To me, reading Mudathir after revelation from Qalam and Muzzammil, made more sense, that is why I present it in the order I do here.

First Impressions

The Pen, or Surah al Qalam, came down after the exhortation from God to “Read!” According to Asad. A casual observation of the title of this chapter and the contents from the first revelation would suggest a clear connection between Reading, Writing, and Knowledge. All three were from the deep ocean that is Divine Wisdom. What a magnificent foundation for religious belief!

  • One of the first times that a single Arabic letter, in this case “Noon”, begins the chapter. There is this whole Sufi, numerology, mysticism that takes root with this. What does the letter represent? No clue, nor do I indulge in that type of specculative scholarship. I leave it to Allah to let me in on the big secret.
  • Allah gives strong support for the Prophet, who is apparently being referred to by the Quraysh as a “madman.” Allah tells the Prophet that there is “no compromise in faith, be steadfast” and then reiterates that the Prophet should not “bargain with what faith is and is not” in an apparent nod to the fact that people at the time were offering to practice certain aspects of Islam and to reject other parts in favor for their religious practices. To that end, Allah flat out tells the Prophet that propagating the religion of Islam requires a “High and Noble” character, not some madman fancies for self approval from those around him.
  • Its interesting that there is a verse referencing the fact that Allah knows those who “go astray and those Rightly Guided” which makes me wonder if this verse were general and/or specific to someone. But what is clear is that those who go astray have an “ugly character” because to have good character means one has high faith and such  a person does not yield to those with ugly characteristics.

Maududi Notes

  • Maududi points out the connection between the claim of the Prophet being a “Madman”, made by the Quryash, and that of compromising- Basically the Quryash were saying that if the Prophet would compromise on the message of Islam, they would in turn stop referring to him as a madman.  To this Allah sent the stern message that there is no compromise on this issue of what the core message of Islam is, to propagate the message the Prophet, i.e. Muslims to come, need to maintain a “High and Noble” character.
  • When it came to what this “High and Noble” character looked like, the Arabic word being khuluq, Maududi introduces a statement made by Aisha RA*, the wife of the Prophet, some years after his death to illustrate this characteristic- “The Quran was his (SAW^) character; what the Quran enjoined SAW was first to practice in his life, what was forbidden, SAW first to shun and avoid it.”

Asad Notes

  • Asad’s prose is much more meaningful, and moving, then Maududi, whose work was translated from Urdu to English. I fear that the translation was not altogether well done. I decided to pull two notes word for word as they elaborated on the two points I gleaned from Maududi but could not quote extensively because of the length of passages required to get them across.
  • “[…]the above passage relates – as is so often the case with the Quran – not merely to the Prophet SAW but also to all who followed or will follow him: In this particular instance, to all who base their moral valuations on their belief in God and in life after death.”
  • expanding on khuluq Asad writes “rendered ‘way of life’ is based on the explanation of the above verse by Abd Allah ibn Abbas (as quoted by Tabari) stating that the term is here synonymous with din (faith): and we must remember that one of the primary significances of the latter term is ‘a way [or manner] of behavior or ‘of acting'” which was followed by the same quote by Aisha RA about the Quran being the character of the Prophet.

* RA refers to the honorary blessing that is given to the companions of the Prophet.

^ SAW refers to the Arabic honorary blessing rendered in English as “May Gods Peace be upon him”

The accompanying picture is from the talented calligrapher and nomad Josh Berer. He has extensive travel adventures pursuing Arabic, calligraphy, and craftmanship. Josh blogs about his adventures and projects at Nomad Out of Time and was gracious enough to let me use his photographs for my post. He posted a video made for Holstee Hamsa where he described the pursuit of an “impossible perfection” that calligraphers chase after, a Divine Beauty. Its definitely worthwhile video to watch if you are interested in calligraphy.


Field Notes for the Millennial Quran Study Project

Field Notes are the posts that have my running notes on what I am gleaning, unfiltered to an extent, from the project. It serves as the first order of learning from this project for me. As such, I hope you view these particular blog posts as “Cliff’s Notes” to the project and can draw from them your own inferences and gems.

Thanks for stumbling onto this blogpost. The purpose of this Quran Year Project is laid out here, however, if you are looking for more, try the content guide which you can check out here.

QYP -Field Notes #1


Surah Al Alaq – What’s in a name?

Surah Al Alaq contains the earliest revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, therefore its the beginning point of my Millennial Quran Study Project (MQSP), formally the Quran Year Project (QYP). I realized, while I was in Pakistan, that there was no way I was going to read the Quran, the way I was going through it, in a year. Reflection is a funny thing in that sense, I just couldn’t do much of it during my two months of wedding festivities and illness that left me bedridden for several days at a time while in Karachi. Moving forward with the project required a name change to accommodate this new reality and a coarse correction when it came to blogging.

Not being able to regularly blog about the spiritual and intellectual processing I am experiencing as I move forward with the project, I designed these “Field Notes” posts as my running notes on what I am gleaning, unfiltered to an extent, from the project. It serves as the first order of learning from this project for me. As such, I hope you view these particular blog posts as “Cliff’s Notes” to the project.

Also a quick note on the name change. I consciously chose to incorporate “Millennial” into the name because I felt that my project was as much motivated by the environment I am in as much as the internal factors I have already shared in previous posts. Most people approach the Quran for study as a private affair. Here I am doing the most Millennial thing possible, publicly studying the Quran on my blog for all to read. I also took out the whole deadline aspect, a year was an unrealistic self imposed timeline and if I have learned anything from my failure with the 105 Book Reading Challenge from last year, its that sometimes when things require savoring and marinating over a longer period of time, it does not make sense to hurry it along.

Surah Al Alaq -The Chapter on The Clot (Part 1)

The beginning verses mark the period in which the Prophets old life of searching for the truth and Oneness of God instantly transformed to become a mission of sharing revelation over the next 23 years of his remaining life. In that sense, all Muslims going to Sunday school as kids, have this story drilled into them.

Thats also the point of departure for me on this #OccupyQuran journey. To begin to experience the Prophets life is to breath in the essence of the Quranic revelation as they came down. The first five verses of revelation were from what is the first five verses of the Chapter on The Clot, or in Arabic, Surah Al Alaq. The rest of the verses for this chapter came down at a later point according to the order of revelation or tanzil that I am following [here]; you can read more about MQSP here, other logistical information can be found [here].

First Impressions:

  • I didn’t realize that the chapter was not revealed in one go. I, for some odd reason, was under the impression that the entirety of the chapter was revealed during that first moment of revelation. The first five verses of this chapter are all that were revealed to the Prophet, who then went home shaking from the experience.
  • There is no explanation of who God is in these initial verses. Rather, the Prophet is told that these verses are from God, and that God created him. This implies to me that the Prophet already had an understanding of God and the Unity of God, making these verses more an acknowledgement to the Prophet that his belief was right. Which in itself says a lot about the Prophet and his journey to this point.
  • These first few verses basically establish the idea that religion and knowledge go hand in hand, and that without God there is no capacity for humans to advance themselves.
  • Finally, its fascinating that the first revelation is about the human embryo. The embryo basically is the point of biological evolution that a human physically experiences, but this has its spiritual significance in that this point is the place where a Muslims spiritual birth begins. Recognizing their dependence on God, just as God is telling the Prophet that “knowledge sets man apart from all other creation” and that humans are inherently deficient in knowledge, dependent on God, a Muslim begins to grow closer to God.

Muadudi Notes:

  • Muadudi points out that the Prophet was asked to physically read the verses. Which makes sense, however, I never had that imagined that way. I assumed it was a matter of “reciting” rather then “reading.” Therefore, the Prophets response that he couldn’t read was appropriate, and totally makes sense as he was shown a script to read by the Angel Gabriel and was unable to read it. (Asad also agrees with this interpretation.)
  • It seems that the Prophet had no pretensions to Prophethood, rather he was a seeker for personal salvation from what he saw happening around him in Mecca at the time. He understood that the reality of Mecca was not spiritually clean, striking the wrong chord as Maududi refers to it, so he sought a break from all of it by going up into the mountains around Mecca to meditate and pray- to seek. To do so, he withdrew himself not only from Mecca’s social environment, but from his family life, forgoing everything in order to seek (Asad explains this a bit better).
  • Muadudi goes at length to point out that these five verses of the chapter give no mission or purpose to the Prophet. In fact, rather they establish the point of origin in transforming thought and life.
  • According to the Muadudi, there is a break in revelation after these five verses (something I didn’t know, or might have forgotten from Sunday school?).

Asad Notes:

  • For all the recorded tradition that is handed down over the centuries, one important aspect not properly recorded but usually guesstimated are dates. Asad states that “the exact date cannot be established with certainty, all authorities agree in that these fie verses were revealed in the last third of Ramadan, thirteen years before Hijra (migration from Mecca to the city of Medina by the Muslim population of Mecca).” This puts the Christian date to revelation around July-August of the year 610.
  • The Prophet was forty years of age when revelation occurred. Asad points out this gem “[a]t that period of his life ‘solitude became dear unto him, and he used to withdraw into seclusion in a cave of Mt. Hire and there apply himself to ardent devotions consisting of vigils and prayers'(Bukhari).”
  • Going back to my misunderstanding of the mechanics of the situation: Being in the cave and having been in his devotions, the Angel Gabriel came to him and showed him written script, speaking to him to “Read!” Asad states that “Muhammad understood, in sudden illumination, that he was called upon to ‘read’, that is to receive and understand, God’s message to man.” Which suggests the true nature of reading- you just don’t ‘read’ something and toss it, reading is an active action not passive. It revolves around the idea of getting knowledge and then digesting it in order to make sense of it. The difference in reading and reciting is significant, therefore, it makes sense that the Prophet was shown something to read and had the response he had, that he couldn’t read what he was shown by Gabriel. I don’t know why I never saw these events in this light up until now!

I want to thank Qashif Masud for allowing me the use of his picture above. He creates these amazing wood pieces for custom orders and he kindly let me use the picture from his site of a Quran box with the first verse from Surah Al Alaq on the lid. The brother is an amazing designer and craftsman, he epitomizes what the maker movement is all about. He even states on his site that that is “all about the love for all things handmade.” In a way this is a reflection of the continuing engagement Muslims have with the Quran, as all works – from writing to architecture to this humble Quran box- are a ‘tafsir’ of the Word of God. This philosophy is visible in the special care put in to the pieces he creates, do check him out at his site here.

Controlled Failure

I had an ambitious goal for 2015: To read a 105 books during the year. But I failed at it. I didn’t give up. I just realized that while it was an ambitious and “good” goal, it was worth allowing myself to fail, rather then make a mockery of the the intention behind setting the goal. The lesson I learned from the oscillations of guilt and can-do-must-do attitude was simple: remember the bigger picture, the intentions, then failure isn’t such a negative thing if the context justifies it.

I got really close, for the first quarter of the year I kept ahead of the book rate necessary to read 105 books in one year. Then the second quarter came in and I found myself struggling to keep up. Towards the end of the second quarter, I saw the first deficit develop between the number of books I should have read and what I was reading.

At first, during the third quarter, I tried to keep it under a three book deficit. But very quickly that deficit grew exponentially as I needed to read two and half books a week and I just could not digest that amount of literature. By the start of the last quarter of the year I was behind 34 books and that number was growing fast.

I thought, somewhere around the ten book deficit that I should just read really short books and ditch the lengthy ones, until I caught up. But that wouldn’t live up to the intention for the challenge. I wanted to read substantive books on subjects that I was interested in or saw the need to know more about. If I were to ditch that and just read any books, then I might as well just watch the movies and read spark notes. So I embraced the idea that I was going to fail at this challenge.

Its okay though, like I said, it was a “controlled failure” and I took it in stride. I realized that reading that many books was a challenge in the first place, but to read the sorts of books I was reading made the challenge incredibly difficult. I was reading five hundred page books on philosophy, politics, science, psychological topics, history, not the three hundred page turner novels. The reason to read these books was to spend a year becoming well rounded on issues and topics of contemporary concern.

And it wasn’t that I was lazy. No, contrary, I was traveling and experiences were immersive. I lived on a coffee plantation in Chiapas, Mexico; I walked the migrant trail in Guatemala; I visited communities devastated by ecological conservation work; and, I was collecting stories of 1947 Partition survival, celebrating a cousins wedding, spending time with family I hadn’t seen in half a decade. The year was packed full of life affirming experiences, and books were simply one aspect of learning.

Though I couldn’t shake the feeling of failure. Failure is such a dirty word. My family, society, we don’t talk about failure, nor do we see failure beyond the negative. So it was natural to be deeply disappointed with myself. I hate the idea of failing, yet, lately in my life I have been grappling a lot with failure. Watching this aspect of a personal goal failure unfold has helped me analyze my own response to failure and how I cope with it. It also provided a neutral topic of conversation to discuss failure with family and friends.

What I learned was that everybody focuses on celebrating success, and the failure that is wrapped up in achieving success is barely a footnote. I wish we had a society that appreciated failure, that taught positive responses to failure. I know it would have benefited me immensely. I know that for 2016, and moving forward, I need to grapple with failure in my life and truly turn it into a positive learning experience, because this reading challenge failure has taught me how powerful positively managing failure can be a win-win outcome.

30 Years an [North] American

Its a bit disconcerting to be in Karachi celebrating 30 years of immigrating to the United States. Yes, you read that right. I was a little under three years old when my mom and I migrated to the United States. I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. Thirty years later, here I am celebrating my cousins wedding and my having left Pakistan 30 years ago, in Pakistan.


If you don’t know, then it helps to understand that my path to the United States started with something the Federal government rolled out after the Immigration Reform act of 1968. This legislative genius struck down the xenophobic barriers- policies really- that prevented non-Western Europeans from getting access to migration status to the US.




Its disconcerting because the feelings I have are of irony, comedy, and reflection. That I find myself “celebrating” this as a milestone when I can’t even recall ever recognizing that my 20 year “anniversary” had passed, and most definitely not my 10 years of being in the States. The dislocation seemed more real back then, but now its not like that. Being back in Karachi, I feel more out of place then I have in my life. Things are familiar in an odd way, yet completely strange.


At 30, it feels like a celebration of sorts. To quote The Life of an American Teenager, “[life in America] is like a drive by, you’re happy to have survived.” And I think at 30 years of immigrant life, I feel like I know how to survive as an [North] American, that I am an [North] American regardless of how others question that identity or my patriotism.


Being in Pakistan also helps solidify this feeling of belonging to [North] America. Pakistan is not my home, and it never was. Too much of my life had been spent in the States, that the very fiber of my character is molded by that experience. I have such a hard time with things I see in Pakistan, the attitude and culture, while presenting itself as “familiar” on the surface, it is incredibly foreign to me.


If Donald Trump has his way (denunciation from the Economist, no less), deporting the nearly 6 million Muslims that call the US their home, then I would end up here in Karachi, Pakistan. Yet, the irony is that while possessing a birth certificate of my Pakistani birth, I can not get even the simplest of government documents, an ID card for entry into a private community, made here.




At the local NADRA office, where I presented my birth certificate, my witness forms with my Grandparents identity card numbers and signatures, along with a copy of my US citizenship papers that state my country of birth as Pakistan, I was unceremoniously told that the documents were not sufficient and that they could be forged. Further, to rub salt deeply into my wound, I was told that my father and mother would have to be present, that they would have to have valid national identity cards, and that I would need my fathers male sibling to attest to my identity.


Maybe its a suspicion of Pakistani Americans, where do their loyalties lie? Maybe the CIA is paying them to infiltrate Pakistan and spy? A thousand what if’s roll through my head. Yet, where I find myself concluding is that I am neither welcome in the US nor in Pakistan, that I am truly stuck between continents, a transoceanic refugee.


If Trump wins and puts forward his masterplan, I don’t think he’s considered the idea that these receiving countries, like Pakistan and Egypt, would take in all these [North] Americans. In Trumps world, he’s always winning, and in that Canada seems to be the solution for us poor homeless [North] Americans, until Trump et al decide to annex it.

Learning How To Say Allah In Chinese

When you ask people what language they speak in China, the majority of folks say its Chinese. In the US we seem to think that in categorizing nations the simple rule to follow is that everything is derived from its name. So in China the Chinese speak Chinese. People do that with me as well. The other day a real estate agent asked me if I spoke Pakistanian. That was a first, but I regularly experience people asking if I speak “Pakistani.” They get perturbed when I tell them that there is no language called “Pakistani.”


This makes me wonder why people here think that we can speak “English” and not “American.”

There is no language called “Americanese” or “Americani” or “American.” Even the  Tea Party folks know that we here in America don’t speak “American.”

Yet people still make the mistake out of ignorance, or arrogance, in that they want to appear “worldly” so assume to go with what they think is the right reference.


Similarly that is probably why you don’t say “Allah” in Chinese since there is no language called “Chinese.”

Its what folks unfamiliar with China refer to as the language, when in fact there are many dialects the comprise what people term as “Chinese”, Mandarin being one of the generally accepted standardized dialects. Cantonese, Min Xiang, Hakka, Gan, and Wu are other dialects spoken in different regions of China. Sadly, because of the monolith perception we apply towards regions and peoples and cultures of the world, we don’t recognize the inherent diversity present.

Here’s a little video on the differences between Cantonese and Mandarin, which to foreign ears probably just sounds all the same, but thats like saying Spanish and English is all a bunch of gibberish.

On Fabricated Hadith, In Pursuit of Knowledge, and On Parental Advice Gone Wild

These dialects, however, share some things. One is their non-Abrahamic conception of the world. But whats even more fascinating is how do you talk about a Creator when the culture and the language derived from it don’t necessarily have the same concept of the Creator, Allah, or in English God.

Over the years I have had a growing fascination with Islam in China because of the fascinating turn of culture, history and politics there. I guess you might say that it started with the oft recited hadith that “a Muslim must pursue knowledge, even if its all the way in China.”

The hadith actually is not real. The Prophet never said that, but it didn’t stop my parents from using it to encourage and cultivate their attitude toward education. What they hadn’t anticipated was that it might lead me to actually follow through on this Chinese adventure.

Its this curiosity of Islam in China that I picked up from the fabricated Hadith, that I picked up “The Sage Learning of Liu Zhi: Islamic Thought in Confucian Terms” by Sachiko Murata and Weiming Tu. 

The book is not for the leisurely reader, in fact, its especially academic as it specializes in a very narrow scope of discussion on Sino-Islamic interactions. However, the introduction is immensely useful at untangling some of the complexity that surrounds Islam’s encounter with China, and its unique development as a cultural phenomenon from which we Muslims in the West can learn from.

What was particularly interesting was that in China, Muslims had to function within a cultural and linguistic framework that was incredibly (if not radically) different than anywhere else. To do so they had to take Islamic concepts and translate them into Mandarin, not just from Arabic to Mandarin, but from Islam to Confucian thought, because so much of Mandarin was influenced by Confucian framework. In that way, Muslims in China brought Mandarin into the fold of Islamized languages. When thinking about this, consider Bengali, a language from South Asia spoken by a majority Hindu population and expressing ideas (born from potentially) from Hinduism, but also spoken by and used to form Islamic ideals, by millions of Muslims.

Talking about God when God Doesn’t Exist as a Concept


My questions about the Chinese word for Allah, is a good example of the tangle of complexity that wraps up something that is on the face quite simple. Yet identity, ethnicity, language, culture and nationality are complicated topics that we often try to simplify in the framework of modern nation states, or modernity. In a secularizing, liberal, globalized world, the existence and survival of the Muslim communities in China seem to provide an example of [things] Muslims in the West need to draw on.

Chinese Muslims faced this idea of identity very differently then say South Asian ethnicities or Farsi speaking converts to Islam in Central Asia. Sage Learning does not delve into the history of Islam in China in that sort of complexity, so if you are expecting that you will be sorely disappointed, as I was to an extent. Where it picks up is how Muslims in China had to manage the complexity of their communal existence, especially being cut off from the larger Ummah and existing in a society that was not rooted in the Abrahamic tradition, therefore, its reality and explanation of existence (creation) was greatly different, but not foreign from Islam.

I want you to dwell on this idea, a culture and society who’s entire experience was devoid of the Abrahamic concepts of reality. Just let that sink in, because its hard to escape from that reality if you are from any part of the world where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam flourish.

What made the Chinese experience distinct was that its language reflected its non-Abrahamic conception of the world. It also reflected a world without a Central Creator Being (Allah) that interacted with creation (e.g., sending down prophets and holy scripture). This is why we might find it difficult to think in terms of Mandarin, in notions of God wanting to guide his creation by setting an example through the Prophets who were on this mission to help humanity.

Look at the language of Urdu, we use many words for Allah, including the Arabic Allah. We use the word Khudha from Farsi language, or the another Arabic word, Rabh. We talk about heaven and hell, tawheed and shahadah as if they are part of the Urdu language. Yet these are Arabic words for Islamic concepts that have been internalized by the Muslim communities that speak the Urdu language. Because the language represents a diversity of people and a deep history rooted in transnational movement of people and cultures across Asia, it has a significant shared and ordered understanding of Islam. It has internalized Islam, its conception of the world, its metaphors, its stories; and like Turkish and Farsi, it can be considered an “Islamic language.”

Yet, we struggle to take Mandarin words like “Mandate from Heaven” into our English conception, however, we continuously find ourselves having to relate it to our notions of God and Heaven. When we talk about this Mandate, we always imagine that its God. But there is no Chinese central Creator Figure. So the problem faced by English translators, was one that Muslims in China faced, as did the Christian missionaries that went there.

This also has a lot to do with how do we internalize Islam, which has a lot of concepts drawn from Arab culture and society. In the West, I have seen people answer this question primarily in the example set for converts to ethnicize, to take on the appearance of Arabs and adopt Arab names. But Islam in America is no longer the domain of a majority immigrant community. The second and third generation, coupled with indigenous Muslim communities are forming the bulk of the expression of Islam in America. The further removed we become from the cultural trappings of religion, the more we need to realize the authentic principles and values of the religion within our new cultural norms. This is where I got the sense that we have a lot to learn from the Chinese Muslim experience.

Making English an Islamic Language


In China, Muslims had to compete in the ideas marketplace, and to stay relevant they had to express their ideas to outsiders. These Chinese intellectuals, business owners, politicians, had to understand these concepts, which were based on Confucian and Toaist thought. Up until this point, the Chinese Muslim community were “immigrants” and considered outsiders, Arabs. But when Muslims began becoming embedded in Chinese society, things changed.  In this void, Liu Zhu, took center stage. He syntizied an Islamic worldview, in what we have today as The Sage Learnings of Liu Zhu, that would make sense to the predominately Confucian oriented Mandarin speakers of China during the 15th and 16th centuries.

For Muslims in China, he offered an Islamic learning through the Mandarin language, allowing them to be part of the larger Chinese community and also do Dawah to their neighbors, without becoming a closed off community. This would be critical because the Muslim communities of China would be cut off from the Ummah, as Western colonization and the Chinese response of a closed-door policy, followed by civil war and the Opium wars, made Muslims hostage to geography. Yet Muslims in China guarded the sacred character of the Arabic Quran. They did not allow a Mandarin translation of the Quran to be created for twelve centuries, but finally in the nineteenth century such a translation was produced.

I think this is a sort of model for Muslim like me who are contesting Muslim identity in the West. Syed Hossein Nasr sums up in The Study Quran, this process is important for Muslim in the West, by using English to express Islamic ideas and to weave it within the fabric of the language, is “to take a step toward transforming English into ‘an Islamic language,'” so that Muslims in the West can express their experiences through the Islamic lens back onto other Islamic cultures and societies.

It is also probably what the right wing in America fears. This sort of endeavor creates complications and complexity beyond their comprehension if, actually when, more people will speak languages besides English and express an identity not identical to their lived experiences. But when English is incorporated as a means of expressing Islamic ideas, it already is, they speak of Jihad and Sharia without needing to define it, we have achieved a significant shift in culture. In that way, language is a battle for identity, and ultimately power.

How Chinese Muslims approached this engagement and identity creation process is unique to Islamic history. How China interacts with Muslim countries today is going to be significant in how those communities respond to China’s treatment of the minority Muslims within its border. China is a big player in Pakistan, where I will be spending the next two months. It is currently plying forty-five billion dollars into construction projects, one of them being a major deep water port, Gwadar, and a highway from there, through the Himalaya’s, which goes into Western China.

As China becomes the focus of economic development and trade and geopolitics, China’s Muslim population, which is incredibly diverse as I found out, will also become part of the engagement challenges. So how would you say Allah in Mandarin? Allah. Yeh, thats about it.

Images are from websites that track Tea Party signs and stuff, links are attached to the images. Images of Sage Learning diagrams are taken by my sister on her iPhone, randomly and with no apparent desire to infringe on copyright, just to show the methodology with with Liu Zhu was presenting what is termed as “Neo-Confucian Islamic” thought.

Lets Meet In Quetzaltenango


“Where’d you go in Guatemala?” asked the lady behind me in the check out line at the local Superior grocery store. She had started the conversation just moments before, observing that the heat was unbearable because it was dry.

“I just spent ten days in a humid heat,” I told her initially. “I was in Central America, it’s a far different sort of environment then Palmdale, and I wasn’t prepared to come back to this heat wave” I responded to her inquiry about my travels. We ended up talking all the way back to our cars about the great need in Guatemala, but mostly her church.

I told her about my trip and found out that she was originally from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, also known as Xela. She had been living thirty years in the United States and hadn’t visited Guatemala once. Part of me wanted to ask her about her legal status in the States, and another part of me wanted to ask her if she had called her family and kept in touch with them. But neither of those things were my business, even though they were connected to my Root Causes Interfaith delegation to Central America.

I refrained from intruding into her personal life directly, but inside me, I still wanted to know more. I let her tell me what she was comfortable with as I told her about my trip, all the while trying to direct (read prod) her to share more. She shared her desire to do missionary work in Quetzaltenango. But it seemed like her Church was not in the missionary business, at least not the one where missionaries go provide services.

As she told me more about her Church, I got lost remembering how I fell in love with Xela. She kept going about her Church services; I felt our conversation had veered into proselytization and I began to get uneasy. I didn’t like the sound of her church, its theology seemed chthonic in the face of my own faith practices focus on service to others and community.

The awkwardness grew, and I thought maybe it had to do with my questions about her church, though she couldn’t have inferred them to be intrusive given how much she wanted to share about her faith.  Maybe I grew uneasy because as an [North] American, this topic of personal faith is not for public consumption. I certainly don’t go around talking about religion every moment I get. I take solace in that she felt she could. I created that space even though what she intended for me to get out of our conversation was not what she probably had envisioned.

Xela, I Loved

Quetzaltenango is the capital of the Mayas, unofficially, of coarse. It is the center of Mayan indigenous culture and its the second largest city in Guatemala. Surrounded by ancient volcanos, some still active, Quetzaltenango seems to be built to survive, to appear permanent in the face of its physical location that places it on a precarious struggle to survive the next cataclysmic eruption. Its fitting that Quezaltenango is the Mayan capital, the Mayan people had to do extraordinary feats to survive into the modern age.

Like the ash that pours out of these mighty earth making giants, buildings in Quetzaltenango have soaked in the gray and sooty character. They are designed to be practical buildings. Those who have the money, painted their homes bright colors, adding accents like columns and blinds and wrought iron bars. This characteristic reminds me of Guatemala City, yet it pales in comparison to the sort of elegance and imperialism that is present in the capital.

Quetzaltenango is also referred to Xela (Shaayla). The reason Xela is a concentration of Mayan people has a lot to do with its historical role as the capital of the Mayan Ki’che kingdom. Xela is also the historical location where the barbarous conquistador Pedro de Alvarado defeated and killed the Ki’che general prince Tecun Uman. What is interesting is that Alvarado was censored by his peers during his life because of the depravity he showed toward indigenous communities he conquered.

None the less if you were on Alvarado’s good side there were some benefits, like having Xela renamed, from the formal Mayan K’iche name Xe Laju noj (under the 10 mountains) to Quetzaltenango from the Nahuatl, the language of Alvarado’s Central Mexican indigenous allies. Quetzaltenango meant the resting place of the Quetzal bird. Even in this, legend seems to nod at the fact that the Quetzl can’t be caged, representing liberty, and fittingly Xela represents this aspiration of the Mayan people.


My time in Xela was a reprieve from the past several days of moving around Guatemala and Mexico; which was preceded by the intense tropical humid heat of Honduras. Drinking in the soupy air of Honduras, and the little peculiarities of being on the road made my arrival to the cooler highlands that more perceptible.

I was surprised by the drastically different climate though. With pine tree forests and corn fields draping steep mountain sides, all my reading on Guatemala didn’t prepare me for this. Mornings found the town clouded in mists and volcanos rose up around us in the distance out of the clouds like floating islands. I was caught off guard by the cold climate and found myself clutching onto a wool blanket as I went about the Catholic religious retreat we were staying at.

It was also the first time I heard music blaring from inside restaurants and cars, in particular I heard jazz. The sound gave me a sense of ease. I felt at home. I hadn’t experienced these feelings on the trip up to that point. It wasn’t that I wasn’t uncomfortable in Progresso, Honduras, where we had a permanent home base, but rather all things felt right in Xela.

Which is funny because I have this internal desire to be close to large bodies of water, and for that reason have always found comfort in places close to the ocean- San Diego, Newport Beach, Los Angeles, Seattle and even Karachi. Xela in that very special way stands out because it is high up in the mountains at 7000 feet, and feels like it hovers over all the rest of Guatemala like from the Castle in the Sky.

If a pilgrimage had a promised land as its destination, then for our delegation, and me in particular, Xela, with its green pine forests, dark rich soil, moist and thunderous atmosphere and fresh crisp cool air was that destination. It made sense that after the humid tropical discomfort, and discombobulating learning experience of Honduras, Xela was where we came to end our journey.  The long hours on the road, and the hopelessness of the stories we listened to, in Xela we could find an oasis to reflect on all of this and its weather, location, and climate provided the opportunity for this.

Xela is not only the capital of Mayan culture, but also the capital of Central American culture as I later found out. In fact, Xela has a very active music scene, which explains the blaring music I heard while driving through its streets. This is probably because it is a locus of indigenous cultures and its experiencing an active economic boom that has brought others from around Central America to it.

Xela has, in that way, trumped the general economic malaise that grips the rest of Guatemala and Central America. However, the relative peace is also in place because Xela is the center of narco-trafficking, the organized [mature adult] crime [criminals] keeps the violence at bay, and the chaotic juvenile maneuvering of gangs as well. That fact made for a disconcerting reality.

The Plague of Prosperity

Back to the lady from Quezaltanango I met in the grocery store. I asked her what was keeping her from going back to help people in Guatemala. I guess I could be masking my real question- do you have immigration status? – but that was not my intention. And maybe realizing this added to my feeling of uneasiness as we progressed in our conversation.

Any number of things can hold a person back, including immigration status. For example finances, health, or a variety of obligations. For her, it was really her faith. She spoke of the culture being different, of people not believing in themselves, of how people in Guatemala see poverty as a way to salvation. Which was odd, because thats not what I got from the people I met with, none of them said their poverty was their ticket into heaven.

So for her, it was about how you can provide the Gospel to people who can’t see themselves benefiting from God’s bounties, truly believing that God doesn’t want their condition of poverty to be their reality, and having an attitude that thinks positively of one’s capability to achieve and prosper. That sounded like the Prosperity Gospel.

She told me that she went to a Church that didn’t have any opportunities to do things that were focused on social justice type stuff, but she liked the Church because of the services and messages it provided. After some reflection, I realize that I was uncomfortable with her church theology, or the way she expressed it.

I realized the reason it was awkward was because I had recognized that she was coming from a Prosperity Gospel perspective. I have yet to find something mutually common between someone who follows the prosperity gospel and what my beliefs are as a Muslim. I have found that even if people are from a different faith, it is possible to identify certain values and principles, what can be called universal. But I didn’t find that in our conversation, and that is partly why I understood her being a Prosperity Gospel proponent.

Faith to me is about service to others as much as it is about my personal salvation; faith for her was service to self through salvation. Which is an odd and peculiar sort of situation because my place of faith requires me to act out on helping others with what I have, whenever I can, at whatever cost to me I am willing to incur for the sake of God, in whatever fashion I can. This was a stark reminder to me that not all paths to faith are the same.

She shared with me the name of her church and invited me to the next service. I said goodbye to her, and one more time encouraged her to visit Guatemala sooner rather than later. And we parted ways.


The Many Names of God, [Material] Prosperity Isn’t One of Them

Earlier when I described the “prosperity gospel” as “chthonic theology” I felt I was being extremely harsh.  Chthonic is defined as dealing with, inhabiting, or having to do with the underworld. To call a theology as hellish is a severe charge. However, when I read about the Prosperity Gospel, and talk to other Christians, the way they describe its theology is similar to the way I, or many other American Muslims, would describe ISIS, AlQaeda or any number of groups that distort and mutilate Islam.

Granted, the prosperity gospel is not murderous, but in a way it is what can only be described as cannabalizing Christian theology. Thats a scary way of comparing theology, but thats what I read between the lines, the prosperity gospel and the extremists ideology both cannabalize theology for their purposes.  On this trip to Central America I kept hearing about the “Prosperity Gospel” and have tried to understand why a theology would be focused on an individuals prosperity to the exclusion of the well being of society and have yet to find anything Divine about this message.

The thing about the Prosperity Gospel is that its key tenet holds that God smiles on the accumulation of wealth in this life and will reward material donations to the church with prosperity and miracles. The assumption being that if you are favored by God in the afterlife, then God will favor you with wealth – material prosperity – in this life.  In this theology, the herd is no longer sheep, but rather consumers; the pastors sell a lifestyle of prosperity. A successful prosperity gospel preacher has to live the life of a successful man, or else the message conflicts with the tenet that wealth equals God’s favor. What good is a prosperity preacher driving around in a beat up 1989 Ford truck when you should be driving around in an Escalade?

It was telling that in one of my meetings, a young bank employee in Honduras, was discussing the payment of “taxes” to gangs. I asked a follow up question regarding whether the gangs tax the Church in Honduras?  She responded, “they don’t bother with the Catholic church, but the big evangelical [read- prosperity] churches, they see them as a business. So those churches build into their expenses when they expand or build new facilities a protection tax, sometimes they take out loans from the bank to help cover the cost.”

Moises Naim in The End of Power notes something similar on this perception of the Prosperity Church as a business, “[i]n this respect, the church resembles nothing so much as a small business launched in a competitive marketplace without funding from a central source; it must succeed on the basis of the members it draws, the services it provides them, and the tithes and collection revenue they can be persuaded to give.”

I attended Mass at a humble Catholic church in a poor community in the Honduran city of Tegucigalpa.

“Immigrants, indigenous groups like the Mayans in Guatemala, or other communities with needs,” Naim lists, “that political leaders and mainstream churches have neglected, are perfect targets for these new churches.” This reality fits his thesis that the more, mobility, and mentality revolution around the world has caused the power of the Church, both the Catholic and mainline protestant, to decay to the point where these smaller prosperity churches draw in people who’s grievances aren’t being addressed by their institutions giving them a message that focuses their needs on the immediate future prosperity they can achieve if they believe, and make donations to the Church.

What happens to the donations from congregants to the Prosperity church?

In fact, in the United States, where the Prosperity Gospel has its foundational roots, there is clear indication that the adherents of the theology were disproportionately hit by the housing bubble crash. Many mainline evangelical groups including California’s Warren and x have vehemently spoken out against the theology as not just destructive but far from the teachings of Jesus.

While the global market for souls is a free for all, the problem arises with the message that is being sold in the Prosperity Churches. These Churches teach a distinctly hyper individualized salvation message based on the idea that consumption is a sign of God’s favor on the individual. It is a message that removes the universal values that have come to define many mainline world religions- the communal good through individual sacrifice, charity for the sake of charity.

If you wanted to create a religion that justified consumerism, look no further then the Prosperity Gospel, its adherents should be referred to as Consumer Christians. Consumption, and in particular wealth, as a sign of God’s favor is a concept that is detested in the Quran. Wealth is a sign of a blessing, consumption is encouraged, however, neither of these things are tied to one’s status in the hereafter. In fact, both things could turn out to be a test we humans fail to pass.

And it is important for me to identify that my disgust that I experienced above during my conversation in the grocery store parking lot, stems from this understanding of Islam.

The Quraysh of Mecca valued this concept dearly. One of their arguments, when the Prophet Muhammad began his mission was that “surely, God favors us in this life, and if there were a hereafter, God would favor us there as well because of the wealth bestowed upon us.”  Throughout the early years of the Prophets message the Quran rebutted, verse after verse, this idea in its various renditions. Consumption and wealth accumulation, according to God were not signs of Divine favor, in fact, the Quran asks “would a person pious and humble be judged the same as person who hordes wealth and lies?”



What I Neglected to Do With the Quran

I have been really focused on the Quran Year Project (check out more on QYP here and here) over other forms of ‘religious extracurricular activities’. Its going strong and I am getting some positive feedback, advice, and encouragement. But in this hyper focus to ‘read and study the Quran’ I totally focused on the English.
I recently realized how the English focus, has really taken me away from the spiritual tug on my heart feeling I get when I hear the Quran recited. Imam Nouman Ali Khan, from Bayyinah Institute, a institute focused on helping Muslims to connect with the Quran, posted this message on Facebook and it caused me to take a step back:

My youngest son, Khalid, is just over a week old and he’s still in intensive care. Please pray for him. He has a heart condition…I was sitting with him in my lap reciting Quran to him last night. The ICU is full of babies with troubled heart rates and breathing issues and blood pressure (may Allah heal them all). I finished reciting and the nurse came up to me and told me that, while I was singing the prayer for my son, his heart rate and breathing along with all the other babies in the vicinity normalized. She just watched all the machines as the rates dropped and the babies relaxed. She thanked me for helping all the babies with my song.

Posted by Nouman Ali Khan on Monday, November 2, 2015

Thats pretty incredible and relatable. We all feel the rhythm of music, whether it be the pulsing of the drum or the fluidity of a flute, in our bodies. Our entire being responds to this external noise. Its one reason I don’t listen to music that contains explicitly vulgar lyrics anymore.

Interestingly enough, as I reflect on this post, I realize I don’t use profanity either, which I used too. I don’t have a problem with it per se, I rather not have my brain immersed in vulgarity just because its cool to put it in the lyrics or use it in daily use. There are other ways to express, a whole dictionary of words potentially.

Whenever I am emotionally charged (having anxiety?) I find myself making wudu and reading the Quran. My favorite chapters to recite are Mulk (short and sweet) and sometimes portions of Yasin or the whole of it. But I haven’t been reading the Arabic so much for QYP. I was reminded, and at a wonderful time, because I was going to sit down to study At Takwir which has immensely powerful conjuring of images from the Day of Judgement. One of the first chapters that presented a lengthy description of this subject matter.

The drive factor for QYP is still going strong, but I realized I needed to not get lost in that textual study approach, especially since I am doing it in English and not Arabic. This project was initiated to better understand the Prophet Muhammad, and to develop an intimate relationship with God. And I needed to let myself get lost in the recitation of the Quran before I got too caught up in the textual analysis.

I do that though. I get emotionally detached from the things I am involved with in order to keep focused and goal orientated. It gets awkward sometimes because I come off as being dispassionate and/or cold. But thats just not the case. I do need to allow the spiritual movement of my heart to flow forward with the Arabic recitation and keep me grounded in the spiritual purpose behind this project; that is the goal here. So I appreciated Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, and of coarse have kept his son and family in my prayers.

Take a listen for yourself, this is Yasin recited by one of the popular Quranic reciters Shaykh Mishary Rashid al Afasy.

Tecun Uman – Every Guatemalan’s Hero


The irony of the town Tecun Uman is just beginning to settle in with me. We crossed the Guatemalan and Mexican border earlier today and I sit in the small town of Salvador Urbina in the Mexican state of Chiapas reflecting on some of the images I have been wrestling with from my time in Guatemala.

Unlike Honduras, or El Salvador, Guatemala has a rich, vibrant, thriving and assertive indigenous population today. They are visible in the airport terminal, on the streets, and most noticeably in the marketing material for Guatemala. Starting at the airport I experienced a disconnect with these images and the reality I observed on the ground.

It continued through the streets of Guatemala City and into the Western Coastal plains and into the city of Tecun Uman, on the border with Mexico. The images of the Mayan indigenous cultures are prevalent throughout Guatemala, yet when you get a chance to see the true conditions of the indeginious community there is a great gap between their lives and the lives of non-Mayan Guatemaltecos.

The Indigenous as a Marketing Strategy

While I was visiting La Casa de Migrante in Tecun Uman, I learned about the Mayan Ki’chie warrior king known as Tecun Uman. The true existence of a historical Tecun Uman is subject of ongoing debate. However, Alvarado was a barbaric conquistador and one of the most horrible (incapable and incompetent) administrators of the Spanish colonial enterprise (judged by his contemporaries standards, no less!).

This is not my passing judgement but actually how he was seen by his peers during the time. His battle with Tecun Uman was epic and a turning point in the history of Central American resistance to the colonial enterprise. One piece of evidence to suggest that Tecun Uman lived comes from a letter written by Alvarado himself to Hernán Cortés.

The letter, however, is quite sparing in details, with Alvarado only mentioning of the battle that ensued: “in this affair one of the four chiefs of the city of Utatlán [presumably Tecun Uman] was killed, who was the captain general of all this country.” Whatever his real historical role or story maybe, Guatemala venerates him as the National Hero, and idealizes Tecun Uman as the ideal Guatemalan patriot. Here’s how the legend goes:

In the midst of the battle, Alvarado and Tecun Uman met face to face, each with weapon in hand. Alvarado was clad in armor and mounted on his warhorse. Tecun Uman attacked with the the desire to kill Alvarado’s horse. With the horse killed, and Alvarado knocked down, Tecun Uman was not ready for Alvarado’s next move. He quickly realized his error and turned for a second attack but Alvarado’s spear thrust was on its trajectory toward his opponent’s heart. The K’iche’ prince’s nahual, filled with grief, landed on the fallen hero’s chest, staining its breast feathers red with blood, and thereafter died. From that day on, all male quetzals bear a scarlet breast and their song has not been heard since. Further, if one is to be placed in captivity, the quetzal would die, making the bird a symbol of liberty.

The idea of nahual is most closest to the concept of “animal spirit”. To understand Tecun Uman’s fatal mistake, one way of understanding his action toward the killing of Alvarado’s horse is that it was his nahual and killing it would kill Alvarado. Today, Tecun Uman is seen in light of the ultimate freedom fighter, and the first true Guatemalan. This image of Tecun is a conceptualization embraced ardently by non-Mayans. I wondered if it is shared by the Mayan communities of Guatemala?

Can the real Tecun Uman please stand up?

Ana Luisa Montufar, crowned Miss Guatemala 2014, wearing a traditional Huipil a required portion of the contest in a nod to traditional Mayan culture found in Guatemala.

With indigenous Mayans being presented as the poster child of Guatemalan tourism, yet living such dismally poverty stricken lives, its hard to buy the national hero narrative of Tecun Uman. If the national hero comes from the same indigenous communities now present in Guatemala, why then do these same communities suffer from such incredible poverty, lack of educational and health resources, and worse, are looked down upon by well to do Guatemalans?

One of my guides in Guatemala narrated how he spent all his childhood and early adulthood throwing off his indigenous roots, hiding his ancestral home while living in Los Angeles and even going to pains to demonstrate that he no longer looked the “indigenous look.” He sadly reflected how even trying to pass off as an educated Guatemalan, who spoke English and was educated in the US, he was still considered “too indigenous.”

The reality is that the Mayans are the orphans of the Guatemalan state, both from its services and judicial system, and are scorned by whiter, read more Spanish, Guatemalans. In fact, former American backed dictator General Rios Mont lead a scorched earth campaign against the indigenous communities. Not to far away from Quezteltanango are the towns and villages where Guatemalan soldiers raped and murdered hundreds and thousands of indigenous folks simply because they suspected them as being part of the rebel movement during the 1980’s. Currently Guatemala is seeing delayed justice played out in the judicial system as Montt and other army officials are being brought to trial.

If convicted, Mont will be the first, and only so far, Latin American dictator found guilty of genocide in the Western Hemisphere. American involvement in this atrocity is extensively chronicled, and one of the leading advocates for Mont was President Ronald Regan, go figure, it wasn’t just dealing with the devil (Iran and the Ayatollahss in Iran-Contra affair) but with Satans Prince of Guatemala himself.

Its not just the legend of the Mayan king, Tecun Uman, but the general use of indigenous cultures and people and their treatment that really got to me. What doesn’t settle with me is the marketing and PR campaign instituted by the Guatemalan government (consciously!) to present themselves as an indigenous haven, when in fact the government carried out a campaign of genocide and collective punishment against the indigenous population during the 1980’s and that this population continues to be most discriminated and marginalized in the country even when this population makes up the majority of the population.

Exploitation: Colonial Policy of Dispossession

guat advert

In the US there is a constant debate about how Hollywood portrays minorities. Having friends in Hollywood positions me close to the constant conversations about diversity in Hollywood, in marketing, and the generally changing face of America to an image that is predominately less white. And the US is not far off from this idea of using indigenous communities to market places, there is a rich history of this sort of expropriation of indigenous peoples culture for profit by White America.

But in Guatemala the majority of the population is made up of people who look like Tecun Uman, who are not light skinned Hispanic heritage folks. The minority in Guatemala are the groups of folks who look like the white folks that make up Hollywood and Madison avenue marketing firms. The idea of a minority exploiting the majority conjures up images of colonization for me.

All across Guatemala, all I saw were light skinned Spanish heritage Guatemalans in television, news, and advertisements. Its as if the 70% of the indigenous population didn’t exist in the eyes of popular cultural heads. Politicians were predominately of Hispanic heritage. In fact only 3% of the Guatemalan parliament is made up of the indigenous community, which, again, represents 70% of the population. Where are the folks who look like Tecun Uman on television and in politics?

Ana Luisa Montufar from her 2011 Miss Earth contest, again sporting the traditional Mayan Huipil alongside with clay pottery.

I guess its not marketable to showcase how white a tropical jungle environment is, so to sell tourists on Guatemala it makes better sense to play up the exotic, especially if the exotic is so prevalent. I want to ask the Mayan folks about how they feel about this. Do they feel exploited? Do they feel that their representation in tourism material helps them? Do they benefit from the economics of having their cultures be the tourism marketing gimmick?

For me the best image of the place of the Mayan community is that of the women facing off with Guatemalan armed military police. It represents the tenuous relationship with the state, the courage and determination of the Mayan people, specifically of women in Guatemalan society. How the state cowers behind the bravado of weapons, shields, and helmets.

But instead we have these spiffy images of Guatemalan beauty queens dressed up in Mayan dress. In fact, as a conciliatory measure to the indigenous communities, it became a requirement for all Beauty contestants to wear an indigenous outfit during one of the main judging sections of the competition. So all these light skinned six foot women parade across the stage wearing indigenous outfits.


But when you walk around the streets of Sololo or Xela (read more about Xela, which also known as Quetzeltanango here), indigenous woman don’t look anything like the women in the beauty contests. What does that say to these young girls- “you will never be good enough to win a beauty contest, BUT your clothing is important to us, it is what makes Guatemala, Guatemala.” And what does that do the perception of beauty for the indigenous community?

QYP: Is Revelation Order Important?

Preparing for the Quran Year Project (QYP) involved thinking through how I wanted to read the Quran. I concluded that I wanted to read the Quran in the order it was revealed to the Prophet. I think one of the issues I ran up against when I was researching and preparing for this project was pinpointing my motivation for reading the chronological order of revelation. Why was I so adamant to read it in this particular order? Everybody just starts from the beginning and reads it through to the end. I was being contrarian, but for an important reason.

This aspect of the QYP [here’s some background here] goal was contrary to what most people reading the Quran do today. People start at the beginning, the first surah (chapter) and go until the last one. I wasn’t trying to create difficulty for myself or to just be contrary to what everyone does. In fact, two of my friends who have read the Quran, both read it cover to cover.  But I am digging into what motivates me about this project. I find that I keep turning to the the numerous Seerahs’ I have read. Each of the Seerahs presents various pertinent portions of revelations that came to the Prophet based on the theme of the Seerah. But none of them actually go through the chronological order of revelation in detail. Why?

I don’t have a clear answer for this. Maybe in the scholarly world of Islam this is a given. What I do know is that my goal was simply to read the Quran in the order that the Prophet received it to better understand the life of the Prophet, thereby getting closer to the character of the Prophet.

Aisha, the Prophets wife, was asked about the character of the Prophet. She responded to this by stating that “the Quran was his character.” This is significant to me because if I want to get to the character of the Prophet, to understand the religion, it is through understanding the Quran. To read and study the Quran then is to approach it the way it was revealed to the Prophet. In essence what I want to do is to read the Quran through the lens of the Prophets life.

Sheikh Jamaal Diwan, who I turned to for advice on this project, from the Safaa Center told me that “the quran was compiled in full written form within two years of the Prophet’s death during the time of Abu Bakr. It was fully finalized and sent around the [M]uslim lands by Uthman[,] so that’s within 15-20 years.” The fashion it was put together was the way that the Angel Gabriel required the Prophet to recite the Quran back to him; this order was the Divine end product of the Prophets mission.

The revelation order is known as Tanzil in Arabic (and Urdu). This is a whole area of Islamic academics that scholars of the Quran specialize in. What I have come to realize, within just the first few revelations I read, is that this order is well known, but that there are numerous solid opinions that contend a possible different order. This muddies the project for me with uncertainty.

However, the underlying goal of reading the Quran in a sort of complimentary Seerah fashion, is not changed. It is worth it. I have already began to glean insight into things that I took for granted from the various Seerah’s I have read. Things that I feel really signify the Prophets life and character, and reflect back on anyone who wants to live up to the message he delivered. One key aspect to what I have gained insight on is the idea of better understanding the Divine, therefore Prophetic, methodology to spirituality, or faith.

For instance, when the Prophet and the nascent Muslim community faced challenges or encountered setbacks, even had celebrations or needed reassurances, the constant was the revelation of the Qur’an responding to the situation. The Prophet was provided guidance and reassurance in these incidents. By my approaching the Quran in revelation order, I hope to extract this understanding for my own.

Nothing in English really approaches this methodology explicitly, at least nothing I have read over the years. The various seerah’s  offer a bit of this, however, what I would love is for a Quran tafsir to exist that approaches the Quran from the seerah’s point of perspective. If this exists in Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu, it is beyond my reach. But this gleaning so far has been incredibly satisfying.

Sh. Diwan also shared this link on the Revelation Order to help me plan out my reading. I am using this as the definitive guide, even while there are some other lists floating around out there. The list I compiled below is from the link.

Chronological Revelation Order of Suras

In the future I will post links to my reflections on this list as I progress further down into the reading. But for now this is the game plan, do you want to join me?

This is another order I began referencing, check it out- Chronological Order of Quranic Surahs, rendered by Kevin P. Edgecomb.

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