In 2010-11, our little corner of Facebook was abuzz with a new quranist group called Aastana. Aastana’s main operative who goes by the name ‘Heer Saleti’ was involved in some facebook debates where it showed that she had some interesting interpretations. While I agreed with some of her views (like ‘rijaal’ and ‘nisaa’ did not refer to men and women respective), I did not agree with her methodological assumptions. She was also an extreme rationalist who did not believe in God or revelation as was commonly understood. This was my first encounter with atheist-materialist quranists and they gave me plenty of food for thought. However, I soon found large holes in their thought system. I tried to initiate the discussions but unfortunately, the main spokesperson for Aastana, the aforementioned ‘Heer Saleti’ was not easily persuaded to conduct amicable discussions. She held the view that all Aastana did was to go back to the ‘real meanings’ of words found in dictionaries and once this reading was read with the correct ‘grammar’, the ‘real meanings’ would be acquired. Any discussions to analyse the notions of ‘real meanings’ and ‘real grammar’ was simply met with hostile reactions. I was banned from Aastana and my questions ignored.
The purpose of this series of essays is to respond to Aastana’s views and show that ‘Heer Saleti’s understaning is far from objective, let alone linguistically correct. It should be noted that I do not intend to silence Aastana in any way. Despite my feeling that quranist atheism or materialism is false, even ludicrous, I believe that the presence of atheist-materalist quranists is needed because with their allegations, theistic quranists like myself may come to understand the nature of Allah in Quran. It was certainly the case for me. Aastana forced me to re-examine my understanding of Allah and metaphysics. I also found Quran to be very accommodating to such a study. These investigations helped me confirm that Quranic metaphysics as I understood it to be the basis of its philosophy.
Aastana’s Basic Methodology as stated in their FB group is as follows:
Linguistic & Grammatical Exposition of Quran
The Quran is an elucidation that upholds truth, logic and reasoning. The moral code contained within the Quran correlates to the workings of a socio-economic system that provides nourishment and security to a society that implement its laws. The Quran is a practical guide, which is beneficial for all; a form of governance to protect mankind in all matters and standards of life.
Whilst studying the Quran, certain merits are needed; an unadulterated perception, impervious to prejudice and biased opinions, removal of previous or existing notions and perspicacity of Quranic teaching and a sincere desire to understand. The aspiration for this assembly is to attain a better understanding of the knowledge contained within the Quran.
Our union is not part nor does it promote the views of any sect, group or school of thought. Our sole aim is to propagate the study, analysis and investigation of the Quran and the language it employs.
The goals stated here are very commendable but the ‘prejudice and biased opinions’ begin even within these paragraphs themselves! They say that their aim is to ‘propagate the study, analysis and investigation of the Quran and the language it employs’. Where does this ‘study, analysis and investigation’ come from? Obviously, from linguistic resources like dictionaries. This choice would beg the following questions:
1. Who were the authors of the dictionaries? They listed down meanings as per their understandings of each word. How do we know that their endeavours were correct and objective? Unless they were inspired by God themselves, their works will bear their own prejudices and biases. This is the first layer of subjectivity in Aastana’s work.
- Aastana experts are not Arabic literate themselves and rely on Urdu and Englishresources. This is therefore a translation of the Arabic linguistic experience mentioned above, hence a second layer of subjectivity on top of the first one.
- The philosophy which Aastana uses relies on meanings which are unusually or even rarely employed. A good example of this is the word ‘ta’am’ which Aastana understands as ‘ideology’ , even though earliest dictionaries translate the word as ‘food’. Linguistic manoeuvres such as these are not unthinkable but they do require subjective interpretations since one is no longer relying on almost universal meanings. This add a third layer of subjectivity on top of the first two.
Given these triple layer of subjectivity above, how it is possible for Aastana to avoid prejudice and bias when forming an opinion?
Aastana tries to disguise this subjectivity by claiming the following parameters:
- Every word of Quran should be translated according to the rules of Grammar and the dictionary.
2. Find out the subject of the Sura
3. What are contents of the Sura
4. Find out the different topics discussed
5. Correlate the different topics and subtopics if any
6. Find out different claims and the challenges
7. The arguments and reasons to substantiate the challenge or claim
8. Don’t beat about the bush. Limit yourself to the message of Quran the Subject and topics of the Sura.
9. To understand a particular Ayyat (verse) study the context to know the background I always said the Quran must be translated according the grammar rules and Rattal etc.
Point 1 is extremely vague and assumes there is only one set of grammatical rules which is simply false. Grammar rules were formulated from existing language and hence using them would be circular logic and thus prejudiced. Furthermore, we will prove in the coming parts of this series that Aastana uses ‘rules’ which are not from grammar books in the first place!
Points 2-5 are excellent because Quran’s arrangement is the only objective evidence we have of its Author’ intented message. However, going through Aastana’s work, we cannot find any such analyses at all! Furthermore, if there is such work, then one must ask how it can be without ‘prejudice and bias’. After all, Aastana claims that Quran is a book of ‘human rights’ when the phrase (huquq an-naas in Arabic) is wholly absent from the text even though the words ‘haqqa’ (right) and ‘an-naas’ (humankind, the people) are both present.
In the next part of this series, we will analyse various views by Aastana and respond accordingly.