Tag Archive for islam

Fiction’s Battle for Acceptance in Islam, as Metaphor for Visionary Fiction

Visionary Fiction AllianceSK: 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.

Part One

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.

Continued –>

The Qur’anic System of Sustenance – editor’s foreword

Excerpted from The Qur’anic System of Sustenance by G.A. Parwez
(trans. Saleena Karim & Fazal Karim)

FOREWORD (editor)

The Qur'anic System of Sustenance coverGhulam 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’ [1], 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, [2] 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 sustenance’.

In short, Parwez has tried to show that the Divine system of sustenance not only serves to rewrite the generally accepted rules of economy, but also those of human society, and by extension, of reality. While there are those who would view Parwez’s views as utopian and unrealistic, he was inspired by the Qur’anic line that it is all ‘easy for God’ (as mentioned in Chapter 8 of this book) – suggesting that what may seem difficult in view of humanity’s present mindset would in fact be very easy for a nation that understands the Divine Message.

The translation

This is a translation of the 1978 edition with minor editorial revisions and additions made by the translators solely for the purpose of clarifying the content of the main text. We have also added footnotes (all marked Translators’ note), again to either expand upon or clarify statements made in the original Urdu text.

The chief difference between the original 1955 and 1978 editions was the addition of some appendices by Parwez, namely: Islami Socialism (Islamic Socialism), 2) Jahaan Marx Na-Kaam Reh Geya (Where Marx Failed), Mao Tse Tung aur Qur’an (Mao Tse Tung and the Qur’an: A Comparison) and Riba ke Behs (The Debate Over Interest). As these titles suggest, Parwez wrote these appendices mainly to address communism, which was still operational in both Russia and China at the time. Since then communism has essentially failed worldwide (even China, while technically remaining a communist state, is behaving increasingly like a modern capitalist state in practice), and so the content of these appendices is no longer relevant to the present economic climate. For this reason we have not reproduced them. However we have translated two important sections on zakaat and riba from the third of Parwez’s appendices, Riba ke Behs, and included it as a short additional chapter, inserted before the Afterword.

When it comes to quotes from the Qur’an, we have taken the liberty of inserting well-known English translations (slightly edited to modernise the English) wherever Parwez has referred to particular verses and reproduced the Arabic. Parwez’s approach (as he explains in his Preface to the 1978 edition, also reproduced in this book) was to translate meaning for meaning (exposition) rather than translate literally word for word. This is because literal translations sometimes fail to convey the full meaning of the Qur’anic text – a fact universally acknowledged by all translators of the Qur’an. Nevertheless, wherever the meaning of Parwez’s expositional translation is close to a traditional version, we have seamlessly combined the two. This has the added benefit of showing the reader how to better understand literal translations. At other times, Parwez’s expositional text is either included in the main text immediately following the traditional quotations, or occasionally part of it appears in footnotes.

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Mr Maqbool Mahmood Farhat of Ilford, Essex, who went to a great deal of trouble in locating the vast majority of the references in this book. Some of the works were not fully referenced in the original Urdu text, which made the task of locating them that much more difficult. To Mr Farhat goes the credit of saving us much time in this area.

Finally, it goes without saying that no translation is ever truly perfect, and so we end by saying that any deficiency in this translation is ours and ours alone.

Saleena Karim, Nottingham, UK

15 July 2012



[1] See Parwez’s Preface to the 1978 edition. In fact it seems he wrote this line only because he had added three appendices on economic subjects.

[2] See end of Chapter 1.

A new book with ‘system’ in the title – out now

The Qur'anic System of Sustenance coverRecently I announced that Libredux Publishing was about to release a book in collaboration with another organisation (Tolu-e-Islam, Lahore). The book is out now in paperback, and its title is The Qur’anic System of Sustenance, the long-awaited English translation of G.A. Parwez’s Nizam-e-Rabbubiyat (1955). That makes it the second Libredux book with the word ‘system’ in the title. :)

The book has just become available at CreateSpace, as well as at Amazon US and Amazon UK. I will reproduce the editor’s foreword in my next post. In the meantime, allow me to introduce its author.

Ghulam Ahmad Parwez – not to be mixed up with the founder of Ahmadism, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – was a non-sectarian Muslim thinker with a rationalist approach to Islam. He was born in British India in 1903 and was an activist of the Pakistan movement. He was an associate of Dr. Iqbal; and it was at Iqbal’s suggestion that he set up his monthly journal Tolu-e-Islam in 1938, which is still in print today. He was also an adviser to M.A. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Parwez received a posthumous Tehrik-e-Pakistan (Pakistan Movement) Gold Medal for his services in 1989. But he is best known for his outspoken views on religion, which he considered to be the antithesis of true Islam – and an obstacle in the way of unlocking humanity’s full potential.

Controversy with a capital ‘S’

G.A. Parwez

G.A. Parwez (1903-85)

Parwez wrote numerous books and articles, including the aptly-titled Islam: A Challenge to Religion (his only title originally written in English), a 4-volume lexicon of the Quran (Lughat ul Quran), and a 3-volume expositional and scientific translation of the Quran (Mufhoom al Quran). But perhaps his most important work was Nizam-e-Rabbubiyat (1955), which translates literally to ‘system of (universal) sustenance’. When my father and I translated this book, we changed the title to include the word ‘Quranic’ because the word Rabbubiyat is derived from one of the names of God (Rabb) in the Quran. At the time of its release, the book generated a lot of controversy. Some suggested that his book was a thinly-disguised communist manifesto, due to his anti-capitalist views and the fact that his proposed ‘system’ had a somewhat socialist bent. But in fact Parwez was opposed to both capitalism and communism on the grounds that they are purely materialistic and reject the spiritual (just as he was opposed to religion on the grounds that it is purely spiritualistic and rejects the material).

A misnomer

Parwez said he was actually offering a Quran-inspired economic system as a third alternative to both. But was he really talking about an economic system? Not at all. It would take me far too long to explain why in this post – and anyway, it’s covered in the foreword that will appear here soon. But suffice it to say that what makes Parwez’s proposed ‘system’ different from capitalism and communism is that it is not confined to the material. In other words, it covers more than just economy. The ‘system of sustenance’ presented by Parwez should be understood in much the same way as I have described ‘Libredux’ in Systems – as an open-ended structure distinguished only by the universal ideals at its core. To borrow Parwez’s words, this type of ‘system’ is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

And what is that end?

The answer is in this very post. Tell me if you spotted it.

Postscript: To celebrate the launch of this title, it will be made available at a reduced price for a limited time. Details to follow in my next post.