The very first job I had in my life after the completion of my Masters Degree in Islamic Studies from Karachi University in Pakistan was to teach Islamic Studies to grade 7 students in a private Convent school. Later on, I had the opportunity of teaching Islamiyat to grade 9 & 10 students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
To begin with, during my experience of teaching Islamic Studies, I have never referred to the word “Shari’ah” except while discussing the highly scholarly topics included in the Cambridge University O Level curriculum of Islamiyat, namely, The Sources of Islamic Law. There was no need at all.
According to the Qur’an, Deen (a way or code) translated as religion as well has always been one; an unalterable ordainment for humanity conveyed by God through His Chosen Ones. From Adam (pbuh) to Muhammad (pbuh), all the Prophets professed the same religion and brought the same message to their tribes, communities or nations to enlighten them with the purpose of the creation. The core contents of the message were to believe in One and Only Supreme God, worship Him (fulfilling the desires as told by Him), be conscious and mindful of a Judgment after this life which would take into account even the innermost motives behind actions, do good and shun evil.
Sharia’h alternately referred to Minha’j as well. In its closest meaning in the English language Shari’ah could be translated as the method, approach, or course of action which was unique and different for different Prophets. Not only the Prophets were guided in this regard but it was quite natural and reasonable for them to adopt the best and the most befitting approach by taking into consideration their own position, the grandeur of their purpose and the workings of their societies.
Stories of prominent Prophets are frequently related in the Qur’an for inspiration, education, instruction, intimation and awe. The characters, plots and settings are varied but the underlying theme and the moral remain the same. A synopsis of the lives of few of the Prophets as stated in the Qur’an provides us with the premise to understand the need for the differences in their Sharia’h.
Adam (pbuh) was placed at the forefront to combat the archenemy. Noah’s (pbuh) preaching spanned well over nine hundred years and even his own son was perished along with others due to their defiance.
Ibrahim (Abraham)(pbuh) in his youth found the truth though his father was the eminent figure in the idolaters’ hierarchy. And Ibrahim’s (pbuh) son Ismail (Ishmael)(pbuh) was to be remembered forever for his obedience and sacrifice.
Musa (Moses)(pbuh) had to confront the Pharaoh of his time.
What an amazing panorama of human vicissitudes is to be found in the life of Yusuf (Josheph)(pbuh), the son of Yaqub (Jacob)(pbuh). An unprecedented victory of truth, beauty, purity, humility and wisdom over every evil design humans could possibly succumb to. He journeyed from the tender care of his father into the bottom of the well; from the slave bazaar to the King’s palace and from palace to prison. And from the prison Yusuf was summoned to be granted the keys of the Egyptian Kingdom.
Isa (Jesus)(pbuh), the son of Mary had a miraculous birth. The Qur’an declares him a sign and mercy for the world. He spoke to his people when he was in his mother’s lap.
Lut (Lot)’s (pbuh) society at large was not just engaged in homosexuality but they were brutal transgressors given to ravishing and assault.
Sulaiman (Solomon) (pbuh) was bestowed with a kingdom of its own kind; unparallel and unsurpassed in its majesty and grandeur.
Muhammad (pbuh) was a posthumous child born in the Mecca of idols; literally and figuratively and yet he was destined to purify and sanctify the Kaab’a with the worship of One God. He was appointed as the last Prophet or the seal of the Prophets; the culmination of the Prophethood Program of God. He complemented and completed the mission of the preceding Prophets.
As regards the Message or religion which He was taught to profess, he (pbuh) is commanded in the Qur’an in the following manner:
Say: “We believe in Allah (God), and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Isma`il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord; we make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah (God) do we bow our will.”
(Al-e Imran, Chapter: 3, Verse: 84)
The revelation of the Qur’an and its communication to every accessible soul took approximately 23 years. On the occasion of his farewell pilgrimage, He (pbuh) delivered his last sermon which is reported to have been attended by one hundred and twenty thousand people. He enquired from them if he had conveyed the message to them. The reply in unison was in affirmative. Then he advised them to pass this message on to those who were absent. This was his legacy and this was his final commandment for anyone who would willingly, consciously and wholeheartedly testify before God that there is no god but Allah (God) and Muhammad is the servant and Messenger of Allah (God).
Once Muhammad (pbuh) was asked by his companions that the prophets before him were given some sort of miracles, what was his miracle. To which he (pbuh) had replied that it was the Qur’an.
The credibility of the Qur’an and of the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) lies in its authenticity. The challenge of the Qur’an as being the truth and absolutely immune to any falsehood and contradiction holds as good in the 21st century as it was in the 7th.
Muhammad (pbuh) neither had to confront his father like Abraham (pub), nor he had to bear with the contumaciousness of a son like Noah (pub) had to. There is no apparent referral to any case of homosexuality during the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). However, he did make frequent references to the previous prophets and their generations on numerous occasions. On the occasion of the conquest of Mecca, when all of his deadliest foes who had been infinitely ruthless towards him and his followers were at his mercy, he pardoned them by quoting the words of Yusuf (pbuh) which he had uttered while forgiving his brothers.
“He said: ‘This day let no reproach be (cast) on you: God will forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy’ (al- Quran,Yusuf; chapter 12, verse:92).”
It makes complete sense that while the approach or the method of conveying the message of every prophet was meant to be naturally different yet the Shari’ah message, in essence, remained the same.
Neither in the Qur’an nor in the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh); the last Sermon being the gist of his teachings, one comes across the terms implementation or imposition of Islamic Sharia’h let alone the Shari’ah of Muhammad (pbuh), a recent innovation. Nor the terms Islamic government system and its enforcement in any sense could be traced in the Qur’an, the primary source of Islamic jurisprudence.
In addition to it, severe sectarian disagreements and a multitude of additional differences in different schools of thoughts within a single sect in Islam render the concept of Islamic Sharia’h and its implementation impossible. It has become more of a propagandist term serving the motives of Islamic propagandists and their allies.
Whereas the Qur’an calls itself “the truth,” its Creator, The Truth, or the Prophet (pbuh) upon whom it was revealed was given the title name of “the truthful” by his countrymen before he was chosen a Prophet. The Qur’an addresses mankind in general and certain groups in particular (believers, disbelievers, hypocrites, etc). Even address to the word Muslims is very rare.
The Qur’an aims at the building of character by alluding to the signs in nature and in one’s own self, making appeal to the intellect of human beings to reflect and reason, and informing others about the reality of life and the hereafter, as the Prophet (pbuh) did all his life.
As for the grade 7 syllabus, I would suggest the following:
a. A couple of verses from the Qur’an with their meanings and commentary;
b. What the Qur’an says about the well known Prophets (pbuh) or their stories.
(An interesting point of commonality between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Non-Muslim students take a lot of interest in the common points);
c. Sayings (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) related to individual and social morals. (e.g. “One who cheats is not one of us,” “The giver and taker of bribe will both go to hell,”) as well as the importance of gaining knowledge, etc.; and
d. A biographical sketch of the Prophet’s life and the lives of the four Caliphs.
The course should be tailored so as to introduce the students to the true Islam as found in the Qur’an and proclaimed and practiced by the Prophet (pbuh).
I have had the privilege of having Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrian students in my class; though they were exempted from the Islamic Studies class they attended my classes most willingly. I loved them and they loved me. I used to make them share their religious beliefs and teachings with their classmates. And perhaps that’s the only capital I’ve accumulated by teaching Islamic Studies.
Unfortunately, faith as a subject was something in which few were interested. One of the possible reasons could have been the inclusion of Islamic studies as a compulsory subject in the curriculum of the countries associated with Islam.