“The Message: The Story of Islam” — Observations and Comments

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

Observations and Comments on The Message

The Message: The Story of Islam

This film, available on DVD, was directed by Moustapha Akkad. It chronicles “the life and times of Muhammad. Released in Arabic (1976) and English (1977), The Message serves as an introduction to early Islamic history.”

“The film was nominated for Best Original Score in the 50th Academy Awards, composed by Maurice Jarre, but lost the award to Star Wars (composed by John Williams).”

(Quotes from Wikipedia.)

Read about the film on Wikipedia and on IMDb.

In 1977, as the film was scheduled to premiere in the United States, a splinter group of the black nationalistNation of Islam calling itself the Hanafi Movement staged a siege of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the B’nai B’rith. Under the mistaken belief that Anthony Quinn played Muhammad in the film, the group threatened to blow up the building and its inhabitants unless the film’s opening was cancelled. The standoff was resolved after the deaths of a journalist and a policeman, but “the film’s American box office prospects never recovered from the unfortunate controversy.” (Wikipedia)

The Message is an enjoyable Hollywood blockbuster. I find that non-Muslims not only enjoy the film but are enlightened by it.

On the other hand, I have so many objections to the film that I find it difficult to watch:

  • The depiction of Arabs 14 centuries ago as light-skinned people. As a result of over a thousand years of Europeans being traded into North Africa, the Middle East, and Arabia itself, the populations of those regions have come to resemble Europeans. Unlike slaveholders in the United States, Arab men often married their female slaves and treated the children as their own legitimate descendants and heirs. Prior to 14 centuries ago, the Middle East and Arabia were populated by brown-skinned, curly-haired people, and the population of North Africa was overwhelmingly black, with woolly hair. Hannibal, for example, was a dark-skinned woolly-haired African. Over 1.5 million Europeans were sold into slavery in North Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries alone — at a time when Europe was increasingly powerful. During that same period, thousands of white Americans were captured at sea and sold into slavery in Morocco. Their descendants are still there, part of the general population of Morocco. The Message depicts the Arabs of 14 centuries ago as if they had the same appearance as they do today — more so in the earlier parts of the movie than later on.
  • The failure to depict light-skinned Arabs as slaves. In Arab society, free people could not be abused, let alone tortured and killed, because their extended families would protect or avenge them. The weight of persecution fell on the poor, the orphans, and the slaves, who came in all colors and ethnicities (including European and Persian).
  • The constant depiction of blacks as slaves. With the exception of one scene early in the film, blacks are depicted naked from the waist up, as servile slaves. In the one early scene, some black people are depicted (to judge from how they are dressed, and by their manner) as Arabs who are wealthy, powerful, and haughty. This is historically accurate — to this day. But this is just one scene.
  • Making Muhammad seem otherworldly. Of course, Muhammad should not be depicted. But the way in which this is done — especially how the scenes in which his presence is indicated by eerie music — makes Muhammad seem mysterious, rather than the ordinary person he was. Anyone who did not know him and was looking for him, upon seeing him with his companions, would need to ask, “Which of you is Muhammad?” He did not want people making images of him in order to avoid deification the way Jesus Christ and his images became deified. Even I, with no experience writing a screenplay, can imagine how this story can be told without making Muhammad seem like an invisible “presence”.
  • Missing the message. The Message is told from a point of view governed by the history of the Muslim community, which deviated from the mission of Muhammad and the message of the Qur’an 29 years after the passing of Muhammad. Muhammad was a messenger — first to the society of his time and place, which badly needed to change; and then to the entire world, which needed and still needs to change. Muhammad did not establish a religion. He was and still is the messenger to an entire world (especially including Saudi Arabia) that needs to heed the message and change.

There are other serious issues, but I will stop here, for now.

Muslim or not, I recommend that you watch The Message. It is well-made, packed with famous movie stars, accompanied by a sumptuous movie score, and exciting. A true Hollywood blockbuster.


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Qur’an and Symphonic Music — Miscellaneous Comments 001 — exchange of responses

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

What follows is an exchange of responses on the previous blogpost (Qur’an and Symphonic Music — Miscellaneous Comments 001 | Doctor Hakeem.

As-Salaam alaikum. Ramadan Mubarak!
I wrote this yesterday. Got carried away. (Sorry!) But, I would definitely appreciate some response. (For example: “I think your comments about Yusuf Ali are unwarranted.” or “Why do you hate your own people’s music?” or “Classical music is sissy music and the spawn of Satan.”)
Thanks (in advance) for reading it, and thanks for your response.

Wa Alaikumu salaam! Ramadan mubarak!
Your observations and comments on the verse are accurate, and I agree that the parenthetical expressions are not part of the Arabic.
In fairness to Yusuf Ali, he doesn’t call his work the “translation” of the Quran he call his work “the meaning of the Quran”.  Allah will reward him for his efforts.
I agree that a better translation or meaning, which ever you prefer, is needed.  Some translations i.e. Muhsin Khan are outright dangerous.  Others, including many verses in the Yusuf Ali translation, leave a lot to be desired. 
Imam Warith Deen Muhammed has encouraged those who follow and respect his leadership to learn to read the Quran for ourselves.  This means learning Quranic Arabic.  I have never heard any other respected leader, sheik, ulema, etc.  in islam advise his followers to learn Quranic Arabic and read for yourself.  More of us need to follow his advice.

As-Salaam alaikum. Ramadan Kareem!
I am glad you agree with my comments on the verse. Al-Hamdu lil-Laah.
My experience of the Qur’an seems to be quite different from that of almost all of the Muslims I know. For me, my journey begins with the Qur’an. As soon as I realized that, I begin learning to read it (in 1975), and Allah blessed my earnest efforts with success, and I was able to recite the Qur’an that Allah has sent down to us by March 1977. As best I can tell, we become “ins” (normally translated as “human beings”), as distinguished from “jinn” (who are people), through the agency of the Qur’an. (We could be good ins or bad ins, or good jinn or bad jinn.) I absolutely do not understand people not having learned to read/recite the Qur’an who have been calling themselves Muslims for ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years. (Out of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, I suspect that hardly more than a couple of million are reading/reciting the Qur’an. The Muslim ummah jumped the track 29 years after the passing of Muhammad, and have not gotten back on the track since. I am not following them.)
Calling a book a “translation” of the Qur’an is, in my opinion, less ambitious than calling it “the meaning” of the Qur’an:
  • Allah and only Allah knows the meaning — or, more precisely, meanings — of the Qur’an. He is the creator and knower of the entire vastness of the cosmos and of all its intimate details. He is the one who has given us intelligence and language and the ability to grasp meanings. How can any human being know and convey “the meanings” of the Qur’an, other than to simply and accurately repeat the original language? A trillion human beings working together for a trillion years cannot learn and convey the meanings of the Qur’an. Allah knows, and we don’t know.
  • The English language is not capable of conveying the meanings of Arabic words. In brief, we were born and raised in the English language. Our minds are molded in an English language understanding of reality. We need to read/recite the Qur’an over and over and over and over and over in order to begin to be reformed into an Arabic/Qur’an understanding of reality.
  • “The medium is the message.” This expression was coined by the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980). The medium is the message. Do you think Allah is being trivial? The Qur’an has rhythm and rhyme, repetition and refrains, variations on themes, and overall symphonic structure. All of this — down to the slightest detail — has meaning. It is meaning. The word “qur’aan” refers to the medium, as well as to the meaning (in the narrower sense).
  • Living in a society in which music is considered by definition a form of entertainment, it is difficult for us to grasp the idea that the various musical aspects of the Qur’an are not only important and essential but are actually the core of its meaning. Having some kind of conscious understanding of the meanings of the words is actually the smallest part of grasping the meaning of the Qur’an. The essential meaning of the Qur’an comes to us through the process of reciting — which is why it is called “qur’aan” (“reciting”). (Music is falsely defined and diabolically utilized in this society. Music is called music because it comes from the word “muse”. A muse is what the pyramid-builders called what we call an angel. The most famous muse is the one we call Gabriel. This muse brought the Qur’an to Muhammad. Therefore, by definition, the Qur’an is muse-ic — music. The proper purpose of music is not entertainment. The proper purpose of music is to create human beings. Serious music creates serious human beings.)
  • Just recite it — or sit with someone who can. All of this intellectualizing is a distraction — debating the virtues of this or that translation or meaning — from simply doing what needs to be done. Where is your heart? “None of you believes until your desires follow what I have brought.” Muhammad brought us the Qur’an. If are starving (and we are all starving, if you understand) and someone brings you a platter of food, do you say, “What does this mean?” Or do you eat?
The Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims (after the assassination of Ali) have been imitating pagans — building temples, engaging in traditional rituals, having priests called rabbis, reverends, imams, shaykhs, and so forth. None of this is what the prophets brought. No prophet brought a religion. Muhammad did not bring a religion; he brought a message. He dressed the same as people of his time and place. Those who knew him called him by his name.  Strangers called him by his name. His closest companions and followers were not called by titles. I mean no disrespect when I do not address someone as “imam”. To repeat, I am not following the Muslims who went astray after the death of Ali. The Qur’an is my anchor and Muhammad is my guide.
It is a historical fact that the leaders of the Muslims have not wanted the general population of Muslims to read the Qur’an. What will be their reward from Allah? When I heard W.D. Mohammed tell us to read the Qur’an, that’s what I did. That was 43 years ago. Followers of W.D. Mohammed — where are you?

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Qur’an and Symphonic Music — Miscellaneous Comments 001

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ –

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
(Qur’an 49:13)

Uhn! What does this mean? The Arabic language of the Qur’an is clear, simple, and straightforward. The attempt to render this into English is clumsy and awkward. Among other annoyances are misplaced parentheses: the parentheses around “pair” should encompass the phrase “a single pair of”; and there should be no parenthesis before the word “each”. Bad editing.

The parenthetical phrases are insertions by Yusuf Ali, the translator. Assuming that these are attempts to clarify, I disagree with all of them:

  • The phrase “a single pair of” is either unnecessary or interprets the original in a way that narrows its potential meanings. Allah is telling us that he created us from a male and a female. This has more than one possible meaning. Leave it alone; Allah knows how to express himself.
  • The phrase “not that ye may despise each other” ruins the meaning of the original and allows those who are simply not interested in other cultures to slip through the loophole by saying, “We don’t despise those who are different from us.” That’s not the point. Clearly, Allah intends for us to know each other (the meaning of ta`aarafoo); not despising each other is not enough.
  • The phrase “he who is” is simply unnecessary.

Yusuf Ali (1872-1953) was an anglophile, specifically in his love of the language of Shakespeare and of the King James Bible. (He was also an anglophile in his love of the English way of life, living much of his life in England.) The languages of Shakespeare and King James are no longer spoken today. We say “surely” instead of “verily”, and “you” instead of “ye”. There is nothing — nothing — religious or sacred about these words (and many others); they are simply archaic. It is virtually impossible to render the Arabic of the Qur’an into English, but using the archaic language of King James only makes matters worse.

Yusuf Ali was born in Bombay, British India (now called Mumbai). His mother-tongue may have been Hindi (the national language of India) or Marathi or Gujurati. (Hindi, Marathi, and Gujurati are Indo-European languages, along with English; they are distant relatives of English, and not related to Arabic.) He was fluent in English and was a barrister (a form of lawyer in the UK). In order to translate the Qur’an, he must have mastered Arabic to a great extent. But Arabic was neither his first nor his second language. He learned Arabic the same way you and I do, and he never lived in an Arabic-speaking society. His translation of the Qur’an is a monumental and very helpful work — and may Allah reward him for it — but it is not the Qur’an, and reading it is not obedience to the command, “iqra’!” (“Read/Recite!”), to which we are all subject.

The Qur’an and the Cultures of Symphonic Music

Allah wants is to be familiar with other cultures. This helps us to grow.

Symphonic music is not white. Culture is not white. Culture is colorful. There is joy in the great varieties of culture. And there is growth.

I am particularly fond of the music of German composers — the “three B’s”, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, and others. Among other virtues, their music was multi-cultural. Bach wrote “English Suites” and “French Suites” for keyboard (usually harpsichord). Each of these suites include an allemande (German dance), a courante (French version; also known as corrente, Italian version); a sarabande (a Spanish/Arab dance), and a gigue (based on the British jig).

My research into the word “gigue” indicates that it originally referred to a bowed string instrument in Northern Nigeria (goge); carried across the Sahara, in Arabic this became ghooghaa. Crossing the Mediterranean Sea, this word became giga in Italian, still referring to a string instrument. In Germany, this word became Geige, a name for the violin.

In its various forms, this word — goge, ghooghaa, giga, Geige, jig, and gig — came to refer to the musical instrument we call a violin or a fiddle, or to a lively dance, or to a musical performance (in the form gig, a performance for hire, and by extension, any task performed for pay). Thus, a the name of a musical instrument in Northern Nigeria traveled to Europe and North America, as the name of a musical instrument, a dance, and a task performed for pay.

Of particular interest that the primary instrument of African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries was the violin. The primary function of African American fiddlers in the 18th and early 19th centuries was to provide music for white Americans to dance the jig.

In addition to the gigue, and the other dances mentioned above, Bach wrote a notable chaconne as the last movement of his second suite (called a partita) for solo violin. The chaconne and the sarabande are virtually the same musical type. The primary differences are that the sarabande is normally a member of the Baroque suite and is in binary form, whereas the chaconne almost always takes the form of an extended series of variations. According to Janheinz Jahn, in his book Muntu, the chaconne was originally an Afro-Cuban dance. The chaconne and the sarabande are based on a traditional and primary African rhythm (which is also heard at the beginnings of the 37th, 51st, 77th, 79th, and 100th surahs of the Qur’an). You cannot make Afro-Latin jazz without it; it’s the claves beat (called clave). And it is heard throughout African American music — in the traditional spirituals, the blues, ragtime, jazz, rhythm-and-blues, hip-hop, and others (and therefore in country music and other varieties of white American music, as well). In other words, the rhythm of the chaconne is pervasive in the musical life of our society.

The harmony of the chaconne, which is frequently characteristic of the sarabande, is pervasive in the harmonic system of symphonic music — so pervasive I cannot even begin to discuss it here. This fundamental and inescapable aspect of European symphonic music came from Africa.

The “32 Variations on an Original Theme” by Beethoven are based on the harmonic scheme of the chaconne. The rhythm of the theme is also based on the chaconne.

In addition, Beethoven wrote music based on Russian dances, Italian arias, Turkish marches, and music from other cultures.

The fourth and final movement of Brahms’s fourth symphony is a chaconne. The second theme of the first movement of this same symphony is an habanera (an Afro-Cuban dance).

Throughout the period from Haydn and Mozart, through Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, and beyond, there was a craze for Turkish marches.

So, this is the variety of cultures that we become familiar with when we listen to symphonic music. Allah created this variety of cultures for us to become familiar with. You may notice, in the ayah of the Qur’an quoted above, that Allah associates this with taqwaa (righteous regard for Allah). This is no small thing

Symphonic music benefits us in four aspects of our development:

  1. the physical (especially muscle tone, but also other aspects of our physiology)
  2. the emotional (wide range and subtlety of interacting emotional expressions)
  3. the intellectual (listening to symphonic music increases intellectual strength, acuity, and attention span)
  4. the spiritual (music is spiritual expression by nature; we are not human without it)

Mastering the skill of hearing symphonic music will help us to appreciate the symphonic structure of the Qur’an — which is a fundamental aspect of its benefit to us. This is no trivial aspect of this great blessing from Allah.

Available for presentations/lectures/conversations.

Contact me:

Lester Allyson Knibbs, Ph.D.
lecturer / composer / pianist

History | Music Composition & Theory
serious music for serious times

P.O. Box 661
Pinebluff, NC 28373-0661



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Ramadan 1439 A.H. (May-June 2018)

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar, is the month of daily fasting from dawn until sunset for Muslims. This year (2018), Ramadan  is expected to begin on Tuesday, May 15, or Wednesday, May 16, at sundown — depending on whichever evening the new lunar crescent is first seen. The Muslim calendar consists of twelve lunar months, with no adjustment to accommodate the solar year. The year 1439 A.H. (“after Hijrah”) of the Muslim calendar runs from September 21, 2017, to September 10, 2018, of the Christian calendar.

The Muslim calendar begins the year of the Hijrah, the migration from Makkah (Mecca) to Madinah (Medina) of Prophet Muhammad and his followers; they were persecuted in Makkah for serving the Creator of the heavens and the earth (called “God” by English-speaking Christians, and called “Allah” by Muslims, Arabic-speaking Christians, and ancient Israelites) instead of serving idols. (The ancient Israelites did not call the Creator “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”; these words were invented by modern Christian and Jewish scholars, based on a fanciful interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures.)

Ramadan will last 29 or 30 days, depending on the visibility of the new lunar crescent at the end of the month. The first day of the next month, Shawwaal, is a day of observance called “Eid-ul-Fitr”. This day is expected to coincide with Sunday, June 25, 2017. Muslims observe this occasion by gathering for a special congregational prayer in the early morning, and spending the rest of the day (and perhaps the next two days, as well) socializing and feasting.

The reason we fast during the month of Ramadan is because this is the month in which the revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad began, 14 centuries ago. Prophet Muhammad is acknowledged — by Muslim and non-Muslim historians — as the most influential single human being in recorded history. (The influence of Jesus Christ is shared with St. Paul, who spread Christianity to more people and did much to establish Christian doctrines; there is no “St. Paul” of the Muslims.) The global influence of Prophet Muhammad is a result of the Qur’an.

Fourteen centuries ago, most human beings lived in ignorance and slavery. Sixty percent of the people in the Roman Empire were outright slaves, and religious freedom and human rights were unknown even for so-called “free” people. More Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith under the Christian leaders of the Roman Empire than under the previous pagan leaders. Under the Muslim leaders, who freed the countries of Africa and the Middle East from Roman domination, Christians were free to serve God according to their faith.

Because of the message of the Qur’an, we have a civilization today in which literacy is taken for granted (the first word of the revelation was the command, “Read!”), human rights and religious freedom are global concerns (“No compulsion in religion” says the Qur’an), a scholarly and scientific revolution has taken place, and slavery has been widely abolished (the Qur’an says, “Free the slave”). You might want to read The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe, by W. Montgomery Watt (Edinburgh University Press). Muslims have been far from perfect, but the message and legacy of the Qur’an is, literally, a Godsend.

O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you,  so that you may practice righteousness.

The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong).

Qur’an, 2nd soorah (Soorat-al-Baqarah) (The Heifer), aayaat 183 and 185


Posted in History, Identity, Notices, Ramadan, Reality | Leave a comment

We Are All Sleeping

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

We are all sleeping.

I am the pianist for a Christian Science church. There are few congregants. The services are far from exciting. This Sunday, May 6th 2018, I fell asleep toward the end of the Lesson-Sermon (which consists of alternate readings from the Bible and from Mary Baker Eddy’s book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures“). (There is no preacher, only reading, the Second Reader reading from the Bible and the First Reader reading from Science and Health. That’s the order. Second, then First.)

I opened my eyes and saw everyone looking at me expectantly. I went to the piano and began to play a hymn for the collection.

Outside, after the service, I asked my Dad how long I was asleep. He didn’t know. He was asleep himself. He told me that when the collection basket arrived, he was sitting there holding money out, thinking he was awake, but the collection-lady had to call his name.

When the woman who was Second Reader on this Sunday came out, I asked her how long I was asleep. She didn’t know.

I said to my Dad, “We are all sleeping. When the people of Syria wake up, they will be happy.”

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Clinging to the Earth

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَا لَكُمْ إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمُ انفِرُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ اثَّاقَلْتُمْ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ ۚ أَرَضِيتُم بِالْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مِنَ الْآخِرَةِ ۚ فَمَا مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ

O you who believe! what is the matter with you, that, when you are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, you cling heavily to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter.

(Qur’an 9:38)

In March 1974, I joined the organization under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad called The Nation of Islam (“NOI”). I knew nothing about the message of the Qur’an and joined the NOI because it seemed to be the last group standing which was successfully struggling to improve the condition of the African American people. The NOI did a lot of good work.

When I read C. Eric Lincoln’s observation (in his classic 1961 study, The Black Muslims in America) that most of the members of the NOI had middle class aspirations, I was offended by his observation. But in later years, I came to realize that his observation was true. I had accepted the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, and a major part of what he taught was that the United States of America was going to be totally incinerated (which I anticipated with great joy). How can people aspire to be a part of something (the American dream, which is the essence of middle class aspirations) which they hope and expect to be destroyed? The actual truth is that most of the members of the NOI did not believe what Elijah Muhammad was teaching. They saw the NOI as a path to a righteous life of material comfort, the American dream, a comfortable middle-class life.

After the passing of Elijah Muhammad in February 1975, W.D. Mohammed exposed the errors in his father’s teachings and led his followers to the Qur’an and the example of Prophet Muhammad, who brought the Qur’an to the world 14 centuries ago.

Wallace D. Muhammad was the son of Elijah Muhammad, and was chosen on February 25, 1975, to succeed his father as leader of the NOI. In later years, the organization’s name was changed twice; its name at the time of its dissolution in 1985 was American Muslim Mission (“AMM”). Wallace D. Muhammad also changed his name, and its spelling, to Warith Deen Mohammed (“W.D. Mohammed”).

In the 43 years since this change, few of those who claim to be followers of W.D. Mohammed have learned to read the Qur’an. They no longer dress like followers of Elijah Muhammad, and no longer claim to believe in his teachings. But, it does seem obvious that their aspirations remain the same — a middle-class American life.

American life is corrupt — top to bottom. What is needed is for those who believe in Allah and in Prophet Muhammad to go forth — armed with the message of the Qur’an (which is in Arabic) — and fight for righteousness and purity and against the pervasive corruption of American life.

But those who claim to be believers, and call themselves Muslims, are clinging to the earth. They want the middle-class life, the life of this world. “But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter.”


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In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

The news reports. The wails of yet another black mother, the stunned anger of the black father, and the rage of a community. Another innocent and unarmed young black man has been shot dead by the police.

At the University, there is a different reaction. They could barely understand the complex equations of the brilliant graduate student in astrophysics, let alone the extensive pages of scribbled notes. They were pressed for time. An asteroid of extinction-level proportions was on course to strike Earth. The precise time had been calculated — mercifully, a few years in the future. But there was no stopping it, no destroying it, with the means available — even given the time available. And they had managed to keep this information from the public.

But the young man was brilliant and inspired. His mind was on fire. No other astrophysicist on the entire planet had even come close to his insights. He had loved and worked on physics and astronomy since he was a five-year-old, rambling wildly through his parents’ books, mesmerized by science videos. “Pwanet!” and “gwavity!” were two of his favorite words, his proud parents would say. And then, barely a grown man, he was on the verge of demonstrating how mankind could curve space and divert the asteroid from its deadly Earth-bound trajectory.

And then, in a foolish instant, a young man running to catch the bus home, was shot dead.

Consumed with grief, researchers at the University sat down and cried. “We are doomed. Doomed! Doomed!” “We are all going to die!”

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Beavers in the Bronx

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

When I was 12 and a half, our family moved to the Bronx. It was June of 1958. I was thrilled to get out of Harlem.

One of the joys of my new environment was taking long walks along the Bronx River — little more than half a mile from our home — which ran through Bronx Park. I lived, in various locations, no more than a mile or so from that river, from 1958 to 1964 and from 1980 to 2003. From 1995 to 1999, I lived less than a five-minute walk from the river — seeing it or crossing it most times I left home or came back.

As it threads its way through the Bronx, the Bronx River is a small stream — barely ten or 15 feet wide as it passes under Gun Hill Road — and, seemingly, not more than a few feet deep. From time to time, I watched ducks swimming in the river and resting on its grassy banks. In later years — between 1995 and 1999 — Geese began to frequent the riverbank just north of Gun Hill Road. It is wise to avoid geese — not only because they are aggressive creatures (come near their young, and they will kill you) — but also because they litter the ground with big nasty turds. But they are quite pleasant to watch — from a distance. (In contrast, along a small, swiftly moving brook in Munich, Germany, a mother duck with two ducklings rested for a while, hardly more than five feet from where I was sitting, on their journey downstream.)

There are only two rivers passing along or through New York City — the Bronx River and the Hutchinson River, both in the Bronx. (The Hutchinson River is named after Anne Hutchinson, who settled along the east bank of the river, and who was killed along with her entire family, except one surviving daughter, when the people whose land she and the other Europeans had settled on were slaughtered during the war initiated in 1643 by the Dutch colonial governor — against the advice of his own council. In response to being attacked, the Siwanoy people and the other Algonquian peoples of the area formed a united front against the Dutch, who had invaded their lands and slaughtered their people. All of us who live here, from Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south, however our ancestors arrived, need to ponder the sad legacy we have inherited. “Ten Little Indians,” like its n-word variant, is not, as it seems, a happy little children’s song; it is an actual historical remnant of the slaughter of the original residents of what became my home, the Bronx.) New Yorkers believe that the Hudson River, the Harlem River, and the East River are actual Rivers; they are not. They are tidal estuaries — long narrow bays affected by oceanic tides. The upper reaches of that body of water called the “Hudson River” — over 100 miles from the ocean — are an actual river, flowing downhill from the Adirondack Mountains.

I remember seeing, when I was a teenager, what looked like remnants of beaver dams in the Bronx River — either floating or, more often, snagged on something on the bottom or side of the river. I may have even seen a beaver lodge or two. If all I saw were remnants swept downstream by the current, then perhaps the beavers themselves were residents of Westchester County, north of the Bronx, and not residents of the Bronx itself. According to Wikipedia, the first resident beaver in 200 years made its home along the Bronx River in 2007, after having lived at the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens (both fairly large institutions located within Bronx Park and along the Bronx River). I am convinced that naturalists often miss things, and that there were probably a few beavers living along the Bronx River in the 1960s and during many earlier decades.

The beavers were all but exterminated for their fur during the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a young man — in my late teens and early 20s — I remember being the proud owner of a beaver-felt fedora, with a little feather in the sweatband. The beavers were probably also driven away by pollution.

The return of “José”, named after Representative José Serrano from the Bronx, has been seen as evidence that efforts to restore the river have been successful. (Wikipedia)

According to the Census Bureau, the Bronx is the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. At the same time, the population of the Bronx is more than half Hispanic. At the time our family moved to the Bronx, European-Americans (“white people”) constituted over 70 percent of the population. As of 2013, white Americans were barely more than ten percent of the population. Politically, this has caused a changing of the guard. And, as best I can tell, it has been for the better. The previous office-holders seemed to be sitting on their butts, while the environment was polluted and residential streets went badly paved and much-needed traffic lights were absent. Once Hispanic leaders were elected, things changed. In my old neighborhood, the streets became properly paved and many new traffic lights were installed. The Bronx River was cleaned up — to such an extent that, as part of an annual Bronx celebration, their are kayak races in the river. (I am proud to have as my personal friends some of the activists who brought about these developments.)

And so, officially at least, José the beaver represents the return of the beaver to the Bronx River, and symbolizes the wonderful effects of a fresh ethnic group on our American society, just as the several groups of immigrants — Irish, Italians, Jews, and others — have enriched and enlivened this land in previous generations. And beavers are wonderful creatures — good for the environment, good for the trees (except the ones that die), good for birds (some making their nests on beaver lodges), good for the fish, and good for the landscape.

And, by the way, the borough (and county) of the Bronx is named after the Bronx River, not the other way around.

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Yusuf Ali Mistranslations 001

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

Most of the African American Muslims I know put more trust in Yusuf Ali‘s translation of the Qur’an and in the words of W.D. Mohammed than in Allah and Prophet Muhammad.

Allah sent his final message down to Muhammad, and Muhammad shared it with those around him. Their duty was to share the message with the world. (Twenty-nine years after the passing of Muhammad, there came a generation that thought that their duty and their destiny was to conquer the world. And so it goes. That is why the world is in a mess today. Yes, I’ll say it: It’s the Muslims’ fault.)

The word qur’aan (which is the most familiar name of the message sent to all human beings 14 centuries ago) refers to the process of reciting aloud — with understanding — the text that has been given to us. This process cannot be done in any language but the original Arabic. The original Arabic has sounds and sound patterns, rhythm and rhythm patterns, which cannot be duplicated in another language. In addition, the words and phrases of the original Arabic have meanings which cannot be duplicated in other languages, and especially cannot be duplicated in English. No attempt to translate the meanings of the original Arabic meanings into English can be successful. The meanings of the original Arabic words of the Qur’an give us a new understanding of reality.

Even with this understanding, the text of Yusuf Ali’s “translation” is replete with egregious misrepresentations of the original text. After the following explanatory remarks are three examples, chosen at random, of Yusuf Ali’s mistranslations.

The Qur’an is divided into soorahs. The Arabic plural of soorah is suwar. In English, these divisions are usually called chapters. This is not a translation of the Arabic. The word soorah has a completely different meaning. The best way to understand what constitutes a soorah is to recite the Qur’an, beginning to end (or at least extended sections of it). A soorah in the Qur’an is neither a completely separate entity, such as a book of the Bible; nor does it correspond to a chapter in a book of the Bible (with the possible exception of the Book of Psalms). There are 114 suwar in the Qur’an.

Each soorah of the Qur’an is divided into aayaat. The singular of aayaat is ayah. This means “sign” — in the same sense that a red octagonal along the road is considered a “stop sign”, or dark clouds in the sky are considered a sign of rain. Ayah does not mean “verse” — although this is what they are generally called in English. A soorah may have as many as 286 aayaat or as few as three. The first soorah (entitled “al-Faatihah“, “The Opening”) has seven aayaat. The second soorah (“al-Baqarah“, “The Heifer”, from which the Spanish word for cow, “vaca”, is derived) has 286 aayaat. From there to the end, the suwar and their component aayaat tend to get shorter and shorter. It takes less time to recite the last 50 suwar than to recite the second soorah (between 90 and 120 minutes, at a moderate pace).

In my experience — even though I am not an expert reciter — the sound of the Qur’an being recited has a healing effect. It has calmed a crying toddler; he immediately stopped crying and began to laugh with joy. It has caused the persistent bodily spasms of a bedridden and sleep-deprived hospital patient to cease, allowing the man to fall into a much-needed and restful deep sleep.

The first example of a Yusuf Ali mistranslation is the first ayah of the 23rd soorah (“al-Mu’minoon,” “The Believers”):

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ

(qad aflah-al-mu’minoon)

According to Yusuf Ali: “The believers must (eventually) win through”.

The mistranslation here is in ignoring and contradicting the precise function of the word “qad“. The word “qad” means that the action of the following verb — in this case, “aflaha” — has already happened; it is complete. “Aflaha” can be translated as “caused to be successful”. Combined with the subject — which always follows the verb in a verbal sentence in Arabic — this can be translated as “the believers have been caused to be successful”. Preceded by “qad“, this has already happened. The believers are already successful. No eventual winning through. Already.

Allah goes on to describe the characteristics of the believers — the characteristics of those who are already successful. Yusuf Ali’s mistranslation ruins this message.

The second example of a Yusuf Ali mistranslation is the 14th ayah of the 49th soorah (“al-Hujuraat,” “The Inner Apartments”):

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

According to Yusuf Ali:

The desert Arabs say, “We believe.” Say, “Ye have no faith; but ye (only) say, ‘We have submitted our wills to Allah,’ For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

There are multiple problems here:

  • The use of archaic language reminiscent of the King James Version of the Bible. This language is religious only in the sense that counterfeit money is money. Worse, it is the language of the people who initiated the policy — abandoning age-old tradition — of defining the enslaved people (those from Africa in particular) as not actually people. (This is what “race” means. There is a human race, and then there are subhuman races. Or else, we should just stop using such words as “race”, “racism”, and “racist”. So-and-so is not a “racist”; he just hates me and my people.) “Ye” is the plural of “thou” — both pronouns already falling out of use at the time the King James Version (using deliberately conservative language) was published. The psychological ploy in not using the word “you” is literally Satanic. (I do not believe Yusuf Ali was deliberately Satanic; I believe he had good intentions. And, of course, Allah knows what was in his heart, and Allah is his judge.)
  • Among the ways in which the English language cannot accurately render the meanings of the Arabic is in the use of upper- and lower-case letters. English has them; Arabic doesn’t. This creates subtle and blatant distinctions of meaning which deviate from the Arabic Qur’an Allah has given us. For example, the capitalization of the word “Faith” — why?
  • Last — and most annoying — is the seemingly deliberate mistranslation of the verb “qooloo“. “Qooloo” is a command — “say” — in the masculine plural of the verb “qaala” (“he said”). “Qaaloo” is the statement — “they said”. This is simple straight-forward grammar.  The pronoun — “ye” — is unnecessary in English, but, if used, must follow the verb — “say ye”. “Ye say” is a statement, not a command. Yusuf Ali’s work seems to be full of seemingly deliberate mistranslations, such as this. Allah knows his heart. Personally, I do not need to know what Yusuf Ali did or why he did it — because I accept the Qur’an which Allah has given us, the Arabic Qur’an.

The third example of a Yusuf Ali mistranslation is the first and second aayaat of the 91st soorah (“ashShams,” “The Sun”):

وَالشَّمْسِ وَضُحَاهَا

وَالْقَمَرِ إِذَا تَلَاهَا

According to Yusuf Ali:

By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour;

By the Moon as she follows him;

Arabic has grammatical gender. Everything is either masculine or feminine, grammatically. This is fixed. In the workings of Arabic grammar it is virtually impossible to refer to the sun in the masculine gender: the sun is feminine gender. In the workings of Arabic grammar it is virtually impossible to refer to the moon in the feminine gender: the moon is masculine gender. This is important. I do not believe that this means that the sun has a vagina or that the moon has a penis, but I do believe this grammatical distinction is important. It means something. But, for some reason, Yusuf Ali decided to reverse the grammatical genders of the sun and the moon — and seems to emphasize the masculine gender of the “Sun” (in his capitalization) by adding (in parentheses) the word “glorious”.

The distinctions that Allah makes, are they trivial? Surely, Allah has not made a mistake — has he? This form of “editing” of Allah’s message renders me speechless.

I have come to the Qur’an — to the message which Allah has sent to us as a guide and a healing — in desperate need.  A wanderer lost in the desert wilderness, a severely wounded man, dying of thirst and desperate for water. I come to a well — and the water (already brackish) has been poisoned.

But Allah has sent down to us his Arabic Qur’an — maaaa’um min-as-samaaaa’ — pure water from the sky.

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Did Muhammad Copy the Qur’an from the Torah and the Bible?

Muhammad was illiterate, so he would have been unable to read either the Torah or the Bible.

Neither the Torah nor the Bible were readily available in central Arabia until long after Muhammad’s time. Paper, for example, did not reach Arabia until over a century after Muhammad’s death. The available writing materials were bulky and uneven. It would have required a wheelbarrow to tote the biblical scriptures around.

The vast majority of Muhammad’s people were pagan idolators — neither Jews or Christians — with little or no knowledge of the content of the Torah or the Bible. Christians and Jews were not allowed to live in Makkah, and those passing through were not allowed to share their beliefs. There were Jewish tribes living in Madinah, but Muhammad had been sharing much of the Qur’an for 13 years in Makkah, to those who would listen, before he and his followers migrated to Madinah (by invitation, and to escape persecution).

Muhammad had a life-long reputation for honesty prior to claiming that he was receiving revelation, at the age of 40. He shared the revelations in sections over a 23-year period — 13 years in Makkah and 10 years in Madinah. The Qur’an was not published all at once.

Much of the Qur’an covers materials that are in the Torah and the Bible. If, as Jews and Christians claim to believe, the biblical scriptures are divine revelation, and if, as Muslims claim to believe, the Qur’an is divine revelation, then the similarity of material is explained by the common author — namely, the Almighty.

In covering much of the same materials, the Qur’an differs with the Torah and the Bible in some significant respects, among them:

  • The idea that God needs rest. The Qur’an states repeatedly that God never needs rest.
  • The idea that God ever makes a mistake. In the story of Noah in the book of Genesis, it is said that God repented of the mistake he had made in creating the human being. The Qur’an makes no such statement, and, in fact, the story of Noah as told in the Qur’an is completely different from the biblical version. In the Qur’an, Noah is a messenger calling on his people to repent; when they reject his message, God tells Noah to build a boat; the boat is open to all who follow Noah, not just his family; the flood is not world-wide, but only drowns those of Noah’s people who don’t get on the boat; Noah’s own son is among those who do not get on the boat, so he drowns, to Noah’s dismay. Nowhere in this story, or in any other story related in the Qur’an, is there even a hint of God making a mistake.
  • The idea that the Creator of the entire vastness of the cosmos has a son is rejected with great intensity in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, the son of Mary (called `Eesaa in the Qur’an) does not have a father. God said “Be” and he was, even though Mary had never been touched by a man. (The English version of the name given to us in the New Testament would be “Joshua”; Arabic-speaking Christians call him by the same name as the man who succeeded Moses in leading the Israelites, which is “Joshua” in English.)

Muhammad’s life is well-recorded. He spent his entire life in Arabia, making only one trip to Syria, with a caravan, when he was twelve. As a young man, he herded goats for a living. Later, he became a businessman, managing caravans for a wealthy widow. Impressed by his character, she proposed marriage, and he accepted — at the age of 25, marrying a 40-year-old widow named Khadijah. She bore him several children, only one of which — Fatimah — survived him. Khadijah died as a result of the persecutions Muhammad and his followers endured in Makkah, not long before the hijrah — the migration to Madinah.

This is an issue of integrity. Did Muhammad fabricate the Qur’an? Or is the Qur’an actually what Muhammad claimed it to be — a revelation from God (Allah)? I have read the entire Qur’an several times (in the original and astonishingly poetic Arabic). I was raised on the Bible, and eventually I decided to read the entire King James Version, which I did a few years ago. I have also studied the life of Muhammad and the history of those who came after him, and I have concluded that Muhammad was sincere and honest, and that the Qur’an is an actual revelation from the Almighty. (What happened after the passing of Muhammad is another story entirely! Muslims got some ‘splainin’ to do.)

About the Author

Former Assistant Professor at Fayetteville State University2005-2010

Ph.D. Music Composition, Harvard University, 1973

Posted in Bible, Qur'an | Leave a comment