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Yes, I Am Your Brother
Understanding the Indigenous African American Muslim
By Nuri Madina, Camille LaRay
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Nuri Madina
All rights reserved.
What Do You Say?
It was toward the end of my mother's life before I began to fully understand what she had been trying to teach me since the beginning of my life. As early as I can remember, I knew that the adults in my life expected much of me. I am a convert to Al-Islam from Christianity for nearly 50 years and I remember the values of decency my parents instilled in me and found no conflict between those values and Al-Islam.
My mother was a mental health specialist and we joked often that she was giving me free therapy. I would share insights from the teachings of Imam Mohammed (RAA) and my mother never challenged any of them. However, she often remarked, when I would announce something Imam Mohammed (RAA) had said, "What do you say?" I now understand her to also be asking me "what do you see?" I know she meant no disrespect to my leader but her comment still gave me a sense of unease. It was Allah's Words in the Qur'an that clicked in my mind and helped me understand what she was saying. "There are signs in the earth and there are signs in you." The word ayat, which is used for signs, is the same word used by Allah to describe the verses in his holy book. She was telling me that to truly know and understand what I was being taught, I needed to internalize the concepts. Internalization is the process of establishing your own beliefs, attitudes, and values. This is a step beyond depending on a leader to direct you. What you are taught is good, but until it becomes a part of the voice of guidance inside your own soul, you're always dependent upon the leader.
What do we really know except what we connect to in the material universe around us or in our own life's experience? This material creation is, in fact, more of a model and a metaphor of what's going on in our own psyche. Our mother is our first teacher as children just as Mother Earth or Mother Nature is our first introduction to the physical world. My mother was pointing to the need to be responsive just as G-d intended all of us to be; expressing and creating something in our own life and society from this knowledge. She was also addressing the need for independent thinking and personal responsibility.CHAPTER 2
Clear Message in a Pure Vessel
When we begin to see things through the mind's eye, we will see that the material world is a language-a language beyond the narrow definition of communication between human beings but communication directly from G-d to man's soul and intellect. We do not worship anything other than the Creator of the heavens and earth in all His Glory and Purity, and we acknowledge that His Proper Name is Allah. It is translated as G-d. Arabic speaking Christians refer to G-d as Allah and we use the terms interchangeably here. As with everything, we have to always be aware of corrupt language and thus, we say there is no is G-d but Allah and we avoid any negative interpretation in reference to G-d.
The Evolution of Language
Allah's first word of Revelation to Muhammad (PBUH) was Iqra or read! Iqra bismi Rabbika lathi Khalaq, read in the name of your lord who created. Iqra is commonly translated read, but it also means, proclaim,rehearse, transmit, deliver, or recite a message. From this same word we get Qur'an - the book that is meant to be read, proclaimed, rehearsed or delivered. The term Quraanan Arabiyyan can be interpreted as an Arabic Qur'an, but it can also be understood as a proclamation or a recital that states itself clearly and precisely.
Why Arabic? Ahmadiyyah founder, Hazrat Murza Ghulam Ahmed, wrote in his book, "Arabic-the Mother of all Languages" that Arabic is the first revealed language and thus the mother and original source for all the languages of the world. Evidence to support this claim is to be found, according to the author, "in the highly organized system of Mufradaat possessed by Arabic. These Mufradaat are the so-called 'root words' — the 'simples', or elementary symbols of speech - which are the divinely communicated basis for all human articulation, and which are so varied and of such as comprehensive character as to serve the needs of not only ordinary speech, but also the demands of all knowledge, religion, philosophy, culture and science."
In the Arabic language, the word "arab" or arabah (from i'rab), is probably derived from a Semitic root related to nomadism. It means clean, clear and precise. These people held their tongue in such high regard that they called themselves Arabs meaning "those who speak clearly." This was in contrast to "ajam," others who they described as speaking indistinctly or mute. The Arabs did not create great art. Their artistic nature found expression through one medium only: speech. Their supreme art was oral poetry.
Among the Arabs, two tribes were especially distinguished in this art-the Quraish and the Hawazin. We know that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) never exhibited the least bit of arrogance but it was reported that once, for the sake of giving thanks to Allah, he said: "Verily, I am the most perfect Arab amongst you. My descent is from the Quraish and my speech is the tongue of the Banu Sa'd." (a branch of Hawazin). A Dictionary of Islam, Thomas Hughes, p. 368. Other commentators translate the first statement as 'I am the most eloquent among you.'
In the Qur'an, the word Arab is never used for the country of Arabia, but rather to identify the residence of Ismail, the son of Abraham (PBUH) as an "uncultivated land." In the Old Testament, the word midbar is used for Ismail's (PBUH) home, meaning a desert or a barren land, which closely corresponds to the Qur'anic description. Centuries before the actual revelation of the Quran, the Arabs had evolved a language capable of expressing and containing the wisdom of the Qur'an. The Revelation of the Qur'an to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) actually introduced a new language, a new Arabic to the people of that wilderness. That people had not received Revelation before. This lack of revelation corresponds to the barrenness and lack of cultivation in the land. By contrast, for centuries, Bani Israel (Children of Israel) had received a succession of prophets and developed their civilization to the heights of the ancient world (including the glorious reigns of David and Solomon). The spirit of the Qur'an is the spirit of knowledge and truth that was promised in the Bible to the people of the book.
When the Qur'an was revealed, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had, as Allah tells us "... lived a lifetime already among his people." That lifetime had been one inclined to uprightness or hanifa, just like Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH). Even before receiving Revelation, he was known as As-Saddiq, The Truthful One, and Al-Amin, the Trustworthy One. Thus, the Qur'an was not something foreign to his nature, or something different from the natural life he had been living. Whatever Allah asks of us is already implicit in our nature. We say that every child is born Muslim; until the environment changes him. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) never let the environment change him.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that in the future people would see Christ Jesus (PBUH) and himself together. Jesus, the Christ (PBUH), was questioned by those who wanted to make him divine, to raise him to a level of Lord or patron among them and he replied: "I in you and you in me." He was saying that the same original nature, the same innocent human life — the soul, the mind, the thinking, the behavior — the Muslim (submissive to the Will of G-d) nature that G-d put in me, is in each of you. When the Christian says, "Christ within me," he is saying the same thing that we are saying, when we say "every human being is born Muslim." This innocent human nature is intended by G-d to be the cornerstone of society just as the black stone is the cornerstone of the Kaaba in the sacred shrine in Mecca, to which every other stone of the building is aligned. When we make Hajj to the sacred site, in reverence, we kiss the black stone.
The Qur'an then builds on that original nature and that potential that was already in man and if we remain pure we are blessed with the double portion of His Mercy, through the increase in understanding of G-d's message. The Book is also known as the criterion. It is the standard by which we distinguish the pure from the impure,the natural from the unnatural, and that which produces life from that which brings death--the just from the unjust.
Therefore, despite the superiority of the language, we should not conclude that this was the primary reason for Allah revealing the Qur'an in Arabic. The primary reason was that the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was an Arab. He was the best choice for Prophet and he spoke Arabic. He stressed in his Last Sermon, that there was no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or a non-Arab over an Arab. For those non-Arabic speakers, learning Qur'anic Arabic doesn't mean giving up our own cultural identity, or favoring those born speaking "common Arabic." Al-Islam comes to enhance our own culture, not rob us of it. Allah says "We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them." Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who expressed purity in his own life was therefore the ideal vessel for the delivery of a pure and clear message. We have been blessed to see Muhammed the Prophet (PBUH) as the embodiment of Qur'an rather than seeing him solely in his flesh body and to avoid the mistake that Christians made of seeing Jesus (PBUH) in 'person' as opposed to 'personality.'CHAPTER 3
G-d's Plan for Human Life is Beautiful
The highest life for us as human beings is living the Word of G-d's pure Revelation. When it comes into our life, it opens up a more beautiful and more productive life for us than we had before.
When and Why Revealed?
"The subject matter of the Surah Yusuf indicates that it was revealed during the last stage of the Holy Prophet's residence at Makkah, when the Quraish were considering the question of either killing, exiling or imprisoning him. Some of the unbelievers, probably at the instigation of the Jews, put this question to test him: "Why did the Israelites go to Egypt?" The Jews knew that their story was not known to the Arabs for there was no mention of it whatever in their traditions and the Holy Prophet had never even referred to it before. They expected that he would either be unable to answer it or evade it. He may afterwards try to get the answer from some Jew, and thus he would be totally exposed. But, contrary to their expectations, the tables were turned on them, for Allah revealed the whole story of Prophet Joseph then and there, and the Holy Prophet recited it on the spot." Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an
Transmission and Arrangement of the Quran
The Prophet, called ummiyee, or common man, unlettered man, received the revelation of the Qur'anic Surahs over a period of 23 years, whenever God chose to bestow new revelation on him. Passages and Surahs were revealed in connection with certain events and addressed particular situations when they actually took place. At times, several Surahs, particularly the longer ones, were revealed to him concurrently.
It is said that the Qur'an was revealed on the prophet's heart. Similarly, the believers heard the recitals and most of them, Hafis, loved the revelation and committed it to their memory--by heart. Even the common man knew the book and just as today, would correct an error when it was being recited. It will always be in the heart of believers, and Allah says "He has appointed angels over the Book to protect it."
The arrangement of the Surahs in Qur'an did not follow the chronological order of revelation. Rather the Prophet (PBUH) was instructed by the Angel Gabriel where to place every new passage and he indicated its position mainly by reading the Surahs in a specific order, particularly in prayer. When Caliph Abu Bakr instructed Zaid ibn Thabit to collect the original writings of the Qur'anic revelations, Zaid produced a whole copy of the Qur'an. It was arranged in the order we have today. This was done in the first two years after the Prophet's death since Abu Bakr ruled for less than two years.
Later at Caliph Uthman's time, copies were produced and sent to various centers of the Muslim state to be the reference copy in each center. These also, produced by Zaid ibn Thabit, were based on the first collection. There was no disagreement among the Prophet's companions with regard to the ordering of the Surahs, which indicates that the arrangement was made by the Prophet (PBUH) himself.
Clear teachings, clearly expressed form the basis of the Qur'an and that is what we are obligated to stand upon as authority. But it is also allegory presented in symbolic or picture language. The Prophet said, "for every verse there is an explicit and an implicit meaning." Explicit means that it is very clear and anyone who wants to can see it. Implicit means that there is some wisdom there, another language even, for the special people who have insight and good hearts. Allah blesses others with the understanding of that symbolic language, if they are fit and as He wills.
Allah says those who prefer the allegorical over the clear basic teachings are those who have in their heart a perversion-a defect, corruption, poison, rot or illness. Basically, they have bad intention. The plain common sense logic is, therefore, more important than the picture language.
Imam Mohammed's (RAA) teachings and interpretations are referred to as his Tafsir. In technical terms, the word tafsir is used to describe the explanation, interpretation, and commentary on the Qur'an and this includes the extraction of its legal rulings and grasping its underlying reasons. The word is derived from the root 'fassara' which means to explain or to expound. Mufassir (pl. mufassirun) is the term used for the person doing the Tafsir, i.e. the 'exegete' or 'commentator'. Tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur'an is the most important science for Muslims because the right application of Islam is based on proper understanding of the guidance from Allah. Without tafsir, there would be no right understanding of various passages of the Qur'an.
The word ta'wil also means explanation and interpretation of the Qur'an. It is derived from the root word 'awwala.' Some scholars consider Tafsir to refer to the 'outer' (zahir) meanings of the Qur'an, while Ta'wil is considered to refer to the explanation of the inner and concealed meanings of the Qur'an, as far as a knowledgeable person can have access to them. Others are of the opinion that there is no difference between tafsir and ta'wil.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said I leave you two things, the Qur'an, and my Sunnah. The Qur'an itself is a hadith. The best tafsir is the explanation of the Qur'an by the Qur'an itself. The next best is the explanation of the Qur'an by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). If nothing can be found in the Qur'an or in the Sunnah of the Prophet, one turns to the reports from the sahaba or companions.
Mutashabihat is defined as things that are susceptible to various interpretations and is generally considered to have three elements:
Something known to Allah only
Something with more than one dimension
Something requiring further explanation
The Dictionary of Islam, Noor Foundation-International, Inc. identifies the word's root as Shabaha, meaning to liken, resemble or render a thing dubious to anyone, and renders the word, "susceptible to various interpretations" I have found Qur'an Commentator, Abdullah Yusuf Ali's commentary to be most illustrative of this meaning. In commenting on Surah 3 Ayat 7, he states in Note 346.
"This passage gives us an important clue to the interpretation of the Holy Qur'an. Broadly speaking it may be divided into two portions, not given separately, but intermingled: viz. (1) the nucleus or foundation of the book, literally "Mother of the Book". (2) the part which is not entirely clear. It is very fascinating to take up the latter, and exercise our ingenuity about its meaning, but it refers to such profound matters that are beyond human language and though people of wisdom may get some light from it, no one should be dogmatic, as the final meaning is known to Allah alone. The commentators usually understand the verses "of established meaning (mukham) to refer to the categorical orders of the shari'at (or the law), which are plain to everyone's understanding. But perhaps the meaning is wider: the "Mother of the Book" must include the very foundation on which all law rests, the essence of Allah's message, as distinguished from the various illustrative parables, allegories, and ordinances." Thus, a meaning may be similar but can be given different "color" based on the context.
Excerpted from Yes, I Am Your Brother by Nuri Madina, Camille LaRay. Copyright © 2016 Nuri Madina. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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