[Author’s note: My earlier book editions, on which the present compact volume Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding is based, were blessed by critical acclaim from a number of eminently distinguished Islamic scholars such as Riffat Hassan, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Reza Aslan, Jeffrey Lang, Khaleel Mohammed, and Edip Yuksel. The reviews made by them, as noted below, apply equally to the present volume.]
Dr. Riffat Hassan, Professor of Humanities, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A. and President, Iqbal Leadership Institute, Lahore, Pakistan, writes in her foreword to the book:
“Of significance amongst scholarly works, written by Muslim scholars against the backdrop of the contemporary situation, is Dr. Abdur Rab’s Exploring Islam in a Modern Light: An Understanding from the Quranic Perspective, a wide-ranging book in which the author shares his own understanding of Islam as he has studied and lived it. […] Dr. Rab belongs to a school of thought which holds the view that the Qur’an embodies the core message of Islam which is best understood if one focuses solely on the Qur’an. He argues against the use of the Hadith for a number of reasons and points out that his book is “a renewed systematic attempt to show that there are serious problems with the so-called Prophetic traditions. […].” […] In more recent times, there have been scholars, such as Kassim Ahmad of Malaysia, and Ghulam Ahmad Parwez of Pakistan, who have taken a position similar to that of Dr. Rab on the Qur’an vis-a-vis the Hadith. […] Whether or not one agrees with all of Dr. Rab’s views, his book is a serious modern attempt at understanding Islam profoundly from within. […] It is also a book that offers valuable insights on a number of issues of interest and concern to contemporary Muslims. Though Dr. Rab has written his book as a committed Muslim, his book has much to offer to all readers who are keen to see and understand Islam as it is embodied in the Qur’an which has been the major source of inspiration to the most outstanding modernist reformist Muslim thinkers such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Iqbal.”
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Chair of Islamic Studies, Alfi Distinguished Professor of Islamic Law, UCLA School of Law, notes:
“This is a surprising, inspiring, and ultimately, refreshing book. It is simultaneously a solid introduction to Islam, an ecstatic spiritual journey, and an analytical call for reform. Abdur Rab is not only a reliable and authoritative voice on modern Islam but he is an original and thrilling thinker. This is one book that is definitely well-worth the time investment and indeed it should be read widely by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
Reza Aslan, Professor of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside; author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, writes:
“At a time when misconceptions about Islam are on the rise, even among Muslims, Abdur Rab has provided a compelling argument for returning to the Qur’an for a deeper, more complete, more original understanding of the meaning and message of Islam. The result is a book that posits not a NEW interpretation of Islam, but a more authentic one.”
Jeffrey Lang, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics, University of Kansas; author of Losing My Religion: A Call for Help, notes:
“Abdur Rab offers a comprehensive vision of Islam using the Quran as his sole religious textual source. He intentionally avoids the Hadith literature, which he believes, and argues, has done much damage to the message of the Quran. His work provides many very thought-provoking insights and should be a significant contribution to the ‘Quran only’ movement in modern Islam.”
Khaleel Mohammed, Ph.D. (McGill), Professor and Undergraduate Advisor, Department of Religious Studies, San Diego State University, writes in a good-length review:
“[…] In today’s world, it would seem that for all its youthfulness, compared to the other Abrahamic religions, Islam is characterized by the most retrogressive medievalist notions of faith and praxis. […] [Dr.] Abdur Rab’s “Exploring Islam in a New Light” is a welcome attempt by a Muslim to divest Islam from medievalism and show its relevance in the modern world.
The author writes as a believer, and seeks to use the Qur’an as the main foundation upon [which] that which passes as “Islamic” belief and practice ought to stand. Dr. Rab, while educated in economics, does not write as a jurist, and therefore approaches some issues that scholars of Islamic studies – especially those in Western universities – might question. Still the work reflects the deepest reflections of a committed scholar, one who is a true citizen of the world, and necessarily therefore, one whose words ought to be heeded.
At the very beginning, Dr. Rab tells us that “Religion cannot be defined rigidly in ritualistic terms.” […] In doing so, he hits the crux of the problem of modern Islamic practice. The obsession of many modern Muslim preachers with dress and the proper performance of prayer or attention to legal minutiae serves to almost completely deny the ethics that are born of a genuine conviction and “taqwa” – God consciousness. And throughout the book, he seeks to find that which makes the Muslim a better person.
[…] While some might argue that there are certain terms in the Qur’an that do need extensive research, there is no doubt that the general tone and message of the Scripture is remarkably simple and functional. The semantic acrobatics and hermeneutic contortions so extensively employed by traditional imams have no place in Dr. Rab’s worldview. Islam, while faith based, does not deny rationality, and if something is discordant with proper human reasoning, it must be eschewed. Of course, the definition of “proper human reasoning” might differ from person to person, from situation to situation, from culture to culture. It is in this light that the author’s reflections must be seen, for since he sees the Qur’an as universal, and humankind as diverse, there can be no doubt about the permissibility of different positions, all equally viable.
One of the pillars of Islam is the “zakat,” a facet that many Muslims see as the obligation to give two and one half percent of their annual accumulation of wealth. This percentage, according to the author, is not stipulated in the Qur’an. In modern society, this proportion for all and sundry seems woefully inadequate, especially for those of very high incomes, and given the demands of society (77).
Throughout the large book, the author provides insights such as the foregoing, defending his positions with ample references to verses from the Qur’an. […] Indeed, but for the different ways of expressing opinions, many traditionalists, with their penchant for finding proof for even the most incompatible viewpoints, might fully endorse the book. […]
In a marked departure from the majority Muslim viewpoint, Dr. Rab poses the question: “Is the hadith a reliable religious guide?” The answers that he provides are scholarly, and manifest the vast synapse that exists in the position of those who preach adherence to hadith while admitting to the numerous problems about its reliability as a source in general. The author points out certain truisms: there are false and true hadiths; those who portray Islam in a good light often do so by tapping its “best traditions” (271). As the author astutely observes, however, the issue is not about good and bad traditions, but about if we can still afford to continue with traditions that continue to misguide us (271). His conclusion is that the hadith is more of a detractor of the Qur’an and the Prophet than a real guide (271). This blunt admission, for all its cogency, rests on three main points that the author propounds:
• The Qur’an does not validate the hadith.
• The hadith does not stand the test of historicity.
• The hadith fails the text of internal integrity: it contradicts itself as well as the Qur’an.
So that the reader might not be too taken aback by these admissions, Dr. Rab examines the literature that shows early hadith criticism was a wide field of scholarship. He cites numerous scholars who have viewed the hadith as unreliable, among them Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi, Mahmud Abu Rayya, Abdallah Chakralawi and several others. This part of the book is certainly its most useful. The arguments are well-structured and in no way deny the place of tradition in Muslim practice. It however seeks to relegate the hadith to the area of conjecture, and reestablish the Qur’an as the criterion that should define Muslim outlook.
[…] He has produced a thoughtful, wonderful book that is constructively revolutionary.”
Edip Yuksel, Author; Professor of Philosophy, Pima Community College; an ardent advocate of Islamic Reform; and co-founder of Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress (MPJP) notes:
“Exploring Islam in a New Light” by brother Abdur Rab is another valuable addition to a list of books that question the sectarian teachings under the light of the Quran. […] Abdur Rab, who received a PhD from Harvard and served the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the World Bank, diligently provides a theological and political evaluation from the Quranic perspective.
Abdur Rab is not shy of expressing unorthodox views. For instance, he finds no contradiction between the theory of evolution and creation. He justifiably quotes one of the many Quranic verses referring to evolutionary creation, such as, verse 71:13-14. Another example is his criticism of reciting prayers like parrots without understanding their meaning:
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning Islam through the perspective of a student of the Quran. I congratulate brother Abdur Rab for this scholarly contribution to the message of Quran alone or rational monotheism movement.”
Dr. Rezaul Haq Khandker (late), a former senior official of UNDP, New York, USA, comments:
“[This] book brings Islam nearer to modernity, more particularly challenging […] aspects of practiced Islam so far thought unchallengeable. In that respect [the author’s] contribution can be called revolutionary.”
Further reviews of the earlier work are available here.