Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Writing About the Writings

Formal writing is a specific form of expression that developed over centuries. Islam ushered in the era of written scholarship, where writing changed from being a privilege of a selected few to the right of the Muslim masses. The Quran eulogizes writing: "Noon. I swear by the Pen and by that which they write" (Qalam V.1). Although the Prophet (SWAS) himself could not read or write, he made it incumbent upon both male and female Muslims to learn. Soon Arabic became the language of global scholarship. Almost every masjid had its adjoining kuttab or madrasah. The Abbasids translated ancient Greek, Persian and Indian manuscripts to Arabic; followed by a period of synthesis and new developments in all subjects of inquiry. The work done at that time, became the basis of the European Renaissance and establishment of modern scholarship as we know it. Writing has become the premiere choice of scholarly engagement in the last couple of centuries.

Writing became the means of exchanging and preserving ideas. In fact, the most important idea for mankind, i.e. its purpose and mission in life, was written down by scribes as revealed to successive Messengers of Allah (SWT) - the last being preserved by Allah (SWT) Himself forever.

As compared to speaking, writing is more of an asynchronous process. One can think about an idea, ponder over about its nuances of meaning and constantly refine it until it comes out just right. This cannot be easily done with synchronous speech. Preferring script to speech means that the writer can think more about the impact of his words and their consequences, something that may save him a lot of embarrassment. The best aspect of writing I personally find helpful is that I can take a position, build up my case, present the evidence and conclusion, without being interrupted by anyone.

The best writing is that which emanates from true faith by studying the original sources of knowledge, i.e. from the Knower of all, Al Aleem. Thus a study of the Quran and Hadith, their understanding in the context of our lives and times brings out gems of insights which are worthy of sharing with others. In fact, sharing them makes one more conscious of their veracity and inspires oneself to right conduct. Come to think of it, it fulfills a duty every conscientious Muslim is obligated to undertake and will be asked about on the Last Day.

My writing also enabled me to fulfill many of my social obligations that I had long neglected. These days there are many alternatives to formal written narratives like calling or texting on a phone, chatting, video conferencing, etc. Living on a shoe-string budget in the United States, I always preferred writing letter to making long distance calls to my family (email did not exist for the public back then). That phase of my life was followed by another three years where I had minimum contact with family and friends except through emails and letters. I lived in a new country, without telephone, cell phone, etc. My days and night were spent reading, researching and writing which I did quite a lot while teaching in a university and surviving on my own.

I came out of my isolation through the written word. At first, I expressed my views through individual replies to emails to friends and family. This was followed by a desire to address them collectively on pertinent common topics. Often the articles were followed by written exchanges by my audiences which allowed be to further refine them. I looked up everyone I could and added them to my distribution list. Thus writing allowed me to re-establish ties with my extended family and friends who are scattered over the world. Some of my early emails were published without my permission in a Pakistani Canadian publication after which I decided to post almost everything on a dedicated blog.

I am now attempting to select, arrange, re-edit/re-format a subset of those write-ups in a form of a book for wider distribution.

Through Allah's (SWT) tawfeeq, the circumstances to write these articles were created by the efforts of my teachers who gave me genuine ilm and under whom I am still learning; Umm Abdullah who provided me time and opportunity to write them with full concentration. I pray that this work is a form of sadaqajaria for them, my parents and everyone else who provided feedback and helped to spread it to others. Ameen.

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