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Studying the Qur’an is my life-long hobby. From a young age I attended study circles and memorized the Qur’an, and have always been passionate about exploring and learning from it. So I wonder, why has it taken me fifty years to realize something so critical for understanding this globally known text?

It all started with my Exploring the Qur’an class. We were going to discuss family and relationships in society, so naturally I turned to Surat al-Nisa’, which I had always been taught focused on women (al-nisa’ in modern Arabic). To my surprise, careful examination of only the first six verses opened my eyes to a new possibility: nisa’ does not mean women!

This should not have been such a big surprise–a lot of common understanding of the Quf’an is based on misinterpretation of key words, such as “Shaytan, nafs, ‘adhab” (شيطان، نفس، عذاب). But seeing that such a “basic” word like “women” had been inaccurately translated was a significant discovery–it “hit different,” as my students say.

As it turns out, nisa’ is not “women,” but refers to those who are behind in society. Verses 1-6 of Surat al-Nisa’, then, discuss how to promote balance and social justice:

  • Verse 1 announces that this call is to all people, and explains that while Allah created everyone, some are more advanced than others, whether in terms of age and experience, or degree of wealth or social standing.

  • Verse 2 continues addressing all people, and gives special instructions on how to handle the wealth or property of orphans given into another person’s trust.

  • Verse 3 proposes different degrees for caring for orphans, from effectively adopting them, to supporting just one, to not taking responsibility for any and instead focusing on one’s own domestic obligations, in the case that someone does not feel they could do justice to one orphan.

  • Verse 4 instructs people to give charity to support the less fortunate.

  • Verses 5 and 6 are directed at anyone in charge of managing an orphan’s affairs; they specify that underage orphans must be cared for prudently without wasting their own wealth, and that once they reach the age of being able to make contracts, that the orphans under care should receive their own independent wealth.

Notably, verse 3 is typically used as a justification for polygamy in Islam. As we can see here, with a fresh understanding of the topic, this is no longer the case! What an outstanding repositioning of the message of the Qur’an. It is an honor to be among the elite researchers of today releasing the Qur’an from centuries of politically- and culturally-dominated interpretation. May we all maintain open minds and hearts ready to receive new guidance, consider new possibilities, and accept new directions in life that bring us closer to harmony with the universe and with each other.

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My daughter is engaged to be married. As the big day approaches, I have been mulling over the significance of marriage and the responsibilities it entails. When two people choose to spend the rest of their lives together, they make a beautiful commitment to loving and supporting one another through many unknown future adventures. But what does it mean to love and support one another, especially in the face of challenges? How can two unrelated people build a strong team? From my experience and reflections on the guidance of the Qur’an, I came up with ten principles to serve as a strong foundation for any marriage. Here they are:

  1. Both husband and wife should promise to be faithful to each other, and to not cheat on each other by getting involved in another intimate relationship, whether physical or emotional.

  2. Both husband and wife should promise to cultivate their love with honesty, appreciation, and sincere efforts to make clear communication.

  3. Both husband and wife need to build their marriage on a foundation of trust, which implies assumption of good intention on the other’s part, willingness to try and see things from another person’s perspective, and desire to support each other as they grow together.

  4. Each one must protect the health and wealth of the other and increase their own patience in difficult times.

  5. Each one must protect the privacy and dignity of the other by not sharing any private information with an outsider or insulting or mocking the other, whether in public or private.

  6. Each one must respect the family of the other, even as they set new rules for their own shared family based on the teachings of the Qur’an or whatever other way of life they both chose before marriage.

  7. Each one respects the gendered nature of the other, and assumes or shares roles based on their abilities and agreements, with consideration for physical, emotional, and social needs.

  8. Spiritual growth and changes are the only constant in life. Both partners should be open to evolution in themselves and each other, and support each other’s growth.

  9. In case of major conflict, both partners agree to seek professional counseling and/or support from an agreed-upon and spiritually qualified third party.

  10. If any aspects of the agreement are not respected by one or both partners, then either of them reserves the right to terminate the contract in accordance with local legal requirements and procedures.

If you or another person you know are considering getting married, I invite you to share these ideas with them. Perhaps you will be helping them establish a strong foundation that will strengthen their relationship enough to prepare them to endure a difficult time. Or perhaps you will deepen their love and respect for each other, and encourage them to grow spiritually in ways they could not have imagined. For those who would like to dive deeper into these principles, I have a premarital counseling workshop coming soon, so stay tuned!

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16. Is it not the moment for those who believed to humble their hearts to the remembrance of Allah and what descended of the truth, and not be like those who were given the Book previously, but the duration extended for them, so their hearts hardened, and many of them are out of harmony?

The above verse calls to those who feel secure within themselves and believe that there exists a higher force or intelligence possessing the ultimate universal blueprint. It asks people to sustain their connection to their Source by remembering It and what truths people have downloaded from Source, such as through scriptural revelations. At the same time, this verse also asks people to avoid being like those who received messages of universal truth but were not able to process them due to “hardened” hearts. Being hard-hearted, or enraptured by the illusion of the Separate Self, puts a person out of harmony with Source, and drives them far from natural love and compassion. Following the temptation of ego will allow a person to slip far from their authentic self, which originates from and so is made of Source, of Unconditional Love.

Our connection to Source and concurrent ability to make our own conscious choices renders us like small boats tethered to a larger ship with ropes. To keep moving forward on our journey, it would be good for us to stay alert and keep our lines taut and fresh. If we let them go slack, or let the ropes fray, we risk drifting away from what gives us a secure place and path on the ocean of life. It is better not to reserve our interactions with the Qur’an merely for holidays or funeral services. Instead, we should actively engage with it as a life manual. We must dig into its truths, and question the interpretations of its messages which do not echo the primary call to Love. It behooves us also to observe the experiences of those who have walked before us to help us avoid ego-driven detours, to ensure we remain aligned with our true purpose, and in harmony with all.

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