SK: Following are the opening paragraphs of a most interesting article written by Stephen Weinstock for the VFA. It compares the development of fiction in the Muslim world to the rise of visionary fiction in general. For the full post, please visit the VFA site here.
In researching Book Three of my series 1001: The Reincarnation Chronicles, I read a great deal about the history of Arabic Literature. I am no Arabic scholar, but I had to learn about medieval Persian and Arabic culture. My characters, in their past lives in 10thcentury Baghdad, collaborate on a special version of The Thousand and One Nights, which is multi-cultural, subversive, and highly symbolic. I became enthralled by the development of fiction in the early Islamic world, and how difficult it was for a story collection like the Nights to gain acceptance.
When I learned about the gradual acceptance of Visionary Fiction in literary culture, I thought there were some interesting parallels with Arabic fiction. The phrase uphill battle comes to mind. But also, Visionary and Arabic Fiction each have strong ties to spirituality and religion, which both promote and hinder their acceptance. But let’s travel back in time to see more detailed parallels.
Excerpted from The Qur’anic System of Sustenance by G.A. Parwez
(trans. Saleena Karim & Fazal Karim)
Ghulam Ahmad Parwez was without doubt one of the greatest minds of the last century. In his time he was misunderstood and deemed a heretic in his own country, and his essentially rationalist approach was viewed with much suspicion in the Muslim world. Since his death in 1985 however, his popularity has steadily grown both in Pakistan and across the world. The full impact of his work has yet to be properly assessed and appreciated.
My father (Fazal Karim) and I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to translate Parwez’s seminal work, Nizam-e-Rabbubiyat, into English. The Urdu title literally translates to System of (Universal) Sustenance, but over the years among those discussing his work in English it has wrongly been referred to as the ‘Qur’anic Economic System’, which is not only a misnomer, but also exposes a gross misinterpretation of Parwez’s thought. Although this book discusses communism and capitalism in light of Qur’anic principles, and, notwithstanding the fact that Parwez describes this book as a ‘monograph on the subject of economics’ , it is fair to say that it does not, as such, present a purely economic system with the mere aim of meeting material needs. Whereas the very word ‘economy’ implies an acceptance of the scarcity principle, the Divine principles of sustenance cannot be characterised together as ‘economy’, being based on the Qur’an’s self-attested principle of ‘abundance’. Nor should the Urdu word nizam (system) in the title be taken to mean a closed system. On the subject of the word deen (usually translated as ‘religion’), Parwez has stated elsewhere that whilst ‘way of life’ (or ‘system’) is the closest meaning of the Arabic, even this is insufficient. Deen certainly is a systemic word, but it does not literally translate to ‘system’. Since (to paraphrase Parwez) Islam as a deen equates to the Divine process of sustenance (Rabbubiya) at work throughout the universe,  his chosen Urdu word nizam likewise does not point to a fixed system, but to a set of principles taken together as a whole.
Moreover, this book is really an attempt to delineate the Qur’anic method of meeting human needs in their entirety – both material and ‘spiritual’. Parwez himself remarks in Chapter 4: ‘Meeting our physical needs is a means to an end, and not an end in itself’. Again in Chapter 8, he writes: ‘The higher purpose of the Divine system of sustenance is not just to meet the physical needs of people. Indeed, meeting physical needs is only a rudimentary and superficial aim. From the Qur’anic perspective this is only a step in the direction of life’s true purpose, which is to develop and perfect the self, and this can be achieved only by enacting the principle of universal sustenanc