Safi Kaskas and AbdalrahmanAboelmajd discuss The Qur’an, A Contemporary Understanding with the Bible.
An interview with Safi Kaskas.
The point of contention is the issue of taking Jews and Christians as friends and neighbors. Dr. Kaskas in an article said: “A Muslim should not judge the faith of Christians or Jews and call them arbitrarily unbelievers, because they are not all the same.
God says in the Qur’an:They are not all alike. Among the People of the Book are upright people, reading God’s verses all night as they bow down. (03:113)
Generalization will often lead a Muslim to make grave mistakes. It often indicates some racism and maybe some hatred hidden within it, and a Muslim who is God conscious should avoid generalizing no matter how tempted he is”.
Safi Kaskas is an administrator in the managerial sciences with over 40 years of broad-based experience in strategic planning, leadership and business ethics with an emphasis on strategic management in the corporate and academic worlds.
He is a co-founder of East West University, Chicago, IL; and was elected as President of its Board of Directors from 1979 – 2005.
He is the Founder and President of Strategic Edge Management Consultants, Mr. Kaskas helped many mid-level and large corporations successfully develop their business portfolios. His consultant firm focused on strategic development within the health care industry and founded the American Strategic Healthcare Management Company (ASHM) which owns diagnostic centers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabic.
In addition to his focus on strategic management sciences, Mr. Kaskas has studied Abrahamic religions and lectured throughout the US and the Middle East on subjects related to Islam, interfaith and reconciliation between Evangelicals and American Muslims.
He is Senior Researcher in Islam and Multifaith Reconciliation with George Mason University, Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution.
Mr. Kaskas translated and published the Qur’an into simple easy to understand English in January 2015 and published The Qur’an with references to the Bible in January2016. This book has 3000 references to the Old and the New Testaments.
The Italian translation to The Qur’an with references to the Bible was completed in April 2016 and was presented to his holiness Pope Francis 1 during the same month.
He is presently working on the first Hadith book/collection of Prophet Muhammad’s sayings on “The Kindest of Manners”.
Q: You were very impressed with Yusuf Ali I wonder how his translation opened your mind.
S K: I received my first translation of the Qur’an by Yusuf Ali in 1968. It was given to me by my friend, the calligrapher Yusuf Al Assi in Beirut Lebanon, right before I went to the United States.
While reading it for the first time, I noticed something very unusual, some verses were translated in a way that made me feel as if I see them for the first time. So I went back to the Arabic to make sure I’m reading the same verses, except I see them now from a different prospective. This led me to a conclusion. Too much familiarity with any verses from the Qur’an will necessitate that you go back to see them with fresh eyes, as if you see them for the first time.
The language Yusuf Ali used was very impressive with its similarity to the King James English. I thought at that time that this translation will be my best tool to call people to Islam.
In addition to that the commentary by Yusuf Ali was fantastic for me, because it was comprehensive. It gives the reader a good idea about the meaning and the circumstances surrounding this particular revelation.
Q: I wonder how you see N. J. Dawood's1956?
S K: In his translation, N.J. Dawood often mistranslates one single word to give it a completely opposite meaning. The innocent will not realize what happened, but end up confused about the meaning.
Dawood’s translation is the one that most Islamophobes site when they accuse the Qur’an, Islam or Muslims, often with great conviction, of having no option but to be fanatical, violent and depraved.
N.J. Dawood’s translation however, is considered historic as far as I’m concerned. It was produced in the middle of the last century. With the technological advances made in the last fifty years, and the explosive use of the internet and social media, a Muslim in a village in Northern Pakistan is no longer isolated. He/she are in direct contact with the world. They often ask me questions about my translation, discuss new concepts and make suggestions to improve the translation, because my translation will have to be continuously revised and updated.
To be very frank with you I consider Muhammad Asad's monumental work “The Message of The Qur'an” which made its appearance for the first time in 1980 to be the best among the presently available translations.
Q: I ask what did your translation add to what already exists in the market. In another word, why did we need a new translation?
S K: My translation as I explained, was not made in a vacuum. It was made in the post 9/11 era when American Muslims very existence was threatened. I used to watch TV programs on daily basis using the so called Qur’an, quoting either from N.J. Dawood’s translation or from a worst translation called The Noble QUr’an by Hilali and Khan. The first is favored by Westerners because it confuses the reader, while the second is favored by the Islamophobes because it’s xenophobic, preaching that Muslims are the only people who are saved while all others are condemned. This principal of glorifying Muslims while condemning all others is in my opinion anti Qur’anic and anti Sunna of our beloved Prophet (PBUH). We Muslims need to learn from the great example of our beloved Prophet when he built the first pluralistic society in Medina where Muslims and non Muslims had equal rights, based for the first time in history, on a written constitution. This was way ahead of the seventh century thinking. We still need to follow that example of pluralism today.
My translation called “The Qur’an a Contemporary Understanding” is just that. It focuses on presenting an understanding based on today’s state of knowledge, using today’s tools of knowledge, while looking at the Qur’an as if it was revealed yesterday. This is our key differentiation from others. Simple language and contemporary understanding.
Q: Could you elaborate on what you talk about when you visit Evangelical churches.
S K: Sure. I’m always invited to present basic understanding of Islam or to talk about the Qur’an to Evangelical churches. I simply focus on our beloved Prophet (pbuh) sira. I start in Mecca and I describe the pain and suffering experienced while he was calling the Meccans to Islam for years. I explain that Muslims were not permitted by Allah at that time to defend themselves so many of them were hurt and killed in the process. I then take them with me to Medina and I describe to them how a community that was divided by conflict and wars was united under the Prophet’s wise leadership. I talk about the pluralistic society that the prophet built in Medina and how he (pbuh) confirmed the rights of every citizen of Medina regardless of religion race or national origin. These values are still missing in many Muslim societies today.
I also explain to them the basic tenants of Islam and the meaning and the importance of monotheism (tawheed) for a Muslim. I also talk to them about the rights given to women in the Qur’an as equal to men in the eyes of God, at a time when Europe was still debating whether women have a soul. Above all, I try to convey to them, that an average Muslim family, whether it lives in Bangladesh or Egypt has the same problems and worries as a family in Tennessee of Texas. Muslims are basically peaceful people trying to raise their families peacefully.
Q: What about the team in your great project?
S K: The team during the translation phase was basically groups of people located in different places in the world and coming together on line every day or every week as needed. I was the main translator but I have other people reviewing the Qur’anic concepts as I translated them. This team was people with formal degrees in Qur’anic sciences located in Iraq. Another team was focusing on reviewing the English language to make sure that it is as simple as possible for an average high school student to understand. After I finished the translation work, the translation was read and reviewed by many scholars, mostly from academia in the United States.
Q: In your second book “The Qur’an with References to the Bible” Drs. Kaskas’ and Hungerford’s goal was to build bridges for better understanding, give us an example please.
S K: After I finished the Qur’an translation to help average American understand what God says in the Arabic original, I realized that more work need to be done in order to establish that all God’s messages to humanity come from the same source.
I met with my friend and colleague David Hungerford and we started thinking about what can be done to reduce the fear some Americans have of their Muslim neighbors and this climate of anti-Muslim bigotry? There is no easy answer -- it will require a concerted effort over time, as well as constant vigilance to ensure these forms of hate remain on the fringes of society.
A friend told me that what David Hungerford and I are doing is very important, yet very dangerous.
We supplied the public with a new paradigm, a theoretical guide, a book that says reconciliation between Muslims and Christians is possible. The book is “The Qur’an with references to the Bible.” A subject that never been tackled before, but the need for it is great at this time. We then took that book and we went directly to the mosques and the churches to present a living example of peaceful and loving coexistence between a practicing Christian and a practicing Muslim. A practical model of freedom to love God and of love neighbor.
We are not only raising our holy books and showing commitment to our individual beliefs but we are pointing through our book the vast common ground that exist and the absence for any reason for conflict.
Q: Could you elaborate on review of the Sudanese scholars who review your work?
S K: On the fourth of July 2017, I received an invitation from the African House for the Printing of the Glorious Qur’an to attend a meeting with thirty Qur’anic scholars from three Universities in Khartoum. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss my translation; The Qur’an A Contemporary Understanding. The purpose of the meeting was to give me an opportunity to explain my methodology and the way I prepared prepare for the translation. Each scholar was given a copy of the translation a month earlier to review it and they all came prepared. I started by giving them a detailed presentation about every step I took to prepare for this formidable work that took six years to complete with full time work. After my presentation a discussion followed and the Chairman decided that the presentation was comprehensive and the discussion also were comprehensive. He decided to for a committee of five members to meet around the end of September and decide whether they will certify the translation to be the one they will print and distribute throughout Africa. I hope to hear from them soon.
Q: What other projects do you have?
S K: I just finished compiling All the Ahadeeth of our beloved Prophet (pbuh) about Makarim Al Akhkaq in one book. I call it Learning from the Prophet The Kindest of Manners. These sayings of the Prophet were scaterd for the last 1438 years in all the books sihah books of Hadith and Al HamduLillah I had the honor and privilege to collect them all in one book.
Abdalrahman: Thank you, Dr.Safi, May Allah bless you.
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