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Ayaat – The Semiotics of Meaning

by Zohair Abdul-Rahman MSc and M. Nazir Khan MD   Introduction The terms ayah (sign) and ayaat (signs) are mentioned over 400 times in the Quran collectively[1]. Rather than sentence or verse, the word used to the describe the smalls unit of complete meaning in the Quran is ‘sign’. Signs are entities that indicate meaning. Intuitively, we know that if something is called a sign, it has something to tell us. The Quran references articulated signs in the book itself (Ayaat Masmoo’ah [heard signs] or Ayaat Qur’aaniyya [Qur’an based signs]) and unarticulated experiential signs in nature (Ayaat Mashhoodah [witnessed signs] or Ayaat Kawniyya [existential signs])[2]. These semiospheres are the two ways that Allah communicates with humanity. In more than 750 places in the Quran, we are directed to study both sets of signs.[3] For instance, the Quran urges the reader to contemplate the signs in the book itself, “Have they not pondered upon the Quran”[4], “A blessed book sent down so that they may ponder upon its signs”[5], “We have sent down an Arabic Quran except so that you can comprehend”[6]. The Quran also guides the reader to study the unarticulated signs found around them, “And how many signs in the heavens and the earth do they pass by while they are turning away from it”[7] “Say: Observe everything in the universes and the earth”[8], “Say: Travel the earth and see how was the end of those who came before”[9]. This article will explore both categories of signs in the context of semiotics (the academic study of signs) and the Islamic concept of light (nur). We will discuss the...
Fitness – Why be healthy?

Fitness – Why be healthy?

By Dr. Abdul-Wahab Khan and Dr. M. Nazir Khan In today’s busy and hectic world, many of us are faced with constant hurdles in our journey towards maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Many of us are confused on the subject of health and fitness, and have passed the years listening to conflicting advice and opinions. As a result, we are unsure of where to start, how to stay motivated, and why we aren’t reaching our goals. In this short piece, we will cover the benefits of exercise from an Islamic and physiologic perspective, ways to stay motivated, plan towards achieving realistic goals, and plan an exercise program that you can follow. Fitness has become one of the hottest topics in society. Whether you’re seeing a commercial about a new exercise app or gadget, or listening to a friend talk about their new work-out routine, it seems everywhere you turn there is talk about getting into shape. But why be fit? Making lifestyle changes can be hard and require a lot of effort. If we’re going to succeed in making lifestyle changes, we need to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “Actions depend on one’s intentions. A person will only achieve what they intended” (Sahih Bukhari). Starting out with the right intention is absolutely key to the lifelong journey of health and fitness. Without recognizing the Islamic and physiological benefits of exercise, you are far less likely to value your health and be firm in your commitment. The spiritual importance of physical fitness The human being has been placed...

Evil (2) – Opportunities for growth

By M. Nazir Khan and M. Faisal Abideen   Human suffering is a part of life, but why? What is its value? Is there any way in which it can be positive? How can suffering develop us morally and spiritually and bring us closer to God?   Human suffering and the attributes of God One of the unique aspects of Islamic theology is the very rich and colourful description it provides of the qualities of God. The Qur’anic verses are punctuated with diverse Names describing the nature of God, the different shades and hues of His love, mercy, compassion, justice, omnipotence, omniscience, generosity, forgiveness, power, sovereignty and so on. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad said, “Verily, God has ninety-nine Names. Whoever encompasses them, will enter Heaven” [Related in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]. What exactly does it mean to encompass them? Each of the Divine Names not only tells us something about God but also informs us about the moral quality that human beings must strive to embody. As the eminent classical Islamic theologian, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah wrote, “God loves those who embody the effects of His Divine Attributes.” Thus, knowledge of God’s name ar-Rahman (the One whose Mercy encompasses everything in existence) entails that we as human beings become the vessels of Divine mercy, allowing it to reach the weak, destitute and suffering people around the world through our good deeds. It is only when we show such relentless mercy that we truly understand and appreciate the meaning of mercy, allowing us to gain a closer relationship with the One who is the source of all Mercy – God Almighty. And...

Evil (1) – Why must we suffer?

By M. Nazir Khan and M. Faisal Abideen Why does evil exist? This is a question that has haunted every human being. Torture, rape, murder, cruelty, disasters, poverty, disease – it all seems too much and too pointless. Personal tragedies are frequently met with the question, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Could there really be a loving and all-powerful God who would allow such suffering?  The Age-Old Question Discussion about the problem of evil seems ubiquitous in human thought. One can find major thinkers in every field of knowledge and in every culture and epoch who have commented on it from the dawn of ancient civilizations to the modern scientific age. Moreover, it is an extremely powerful question, for it relates not to an obscure philosophical dilemma but to a living reality that confronts each and every human being. In the modern era, it has become increasingly more common for people of diverse intellectual backgrounds to cite the problem of evil as their primary reason for rejecting faith in God. Historian and New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, noted that it was not his views on the textual corruption of holy scripture which caused him to lose his faith, but rather it was his acceptance of the problem of evil. Sir David Attenborough, one of the leading figures in documentaries about nature and wildlife, dismissed the notion that beauty in nature points to God, instead citing the example of a disease-causing parasitic worm as evidence against a merciful deity. Even one of the great voices of modern Christianity, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, surmised that the 2004 Tsunami raised...