“Do you consider yourself a Muslim?”

“Yes”

“How come, then, you are drinking wine?”

“My family have been Muslims for a thousand years, during which time we have always been drinking wine. You see, we are Muslim wine-drinkers.”

“I don’t understand”

“Yes, I know. But I do.”

–Shahab Ahmed, “What is Islam”

 

Shahab Ahmed was born to a Pakistani family in Singapore in 1966. After working as a journalist in Pakistan for a brief period, Ahmed went to Princeton University to complete his Phd. in Islamic Studies. A brilliant scholar with a knowledge of over 15 languages, Ahmed remained a professor of Islamic Studies and Law in Harvard University for many years till his tragic death in 2015 at a young age of 48. What underpinned Ahmed’s scholarship was an effort to understand how an orthodox Islam came into being over time. On the basis of a solid research work, he argued how in the first two centuries of Islam, all the Muslims believed in the story of Prophet being deceived by the Satan to utter Satanic Verses. It is only in modern times only that Muslims deny the veracity of this incident. Further research work led him to argue how Islam has historically been a welter of contradictions and did not always strictly confirm to the orthodox, religious rules. Among Muslim elites from Balkan to Bengal, for example, Ahmed states how wine drinking was a source of mystical, philosophical and physical unions despite the fact that Quran has prohibited wine drinking.

The purpose of Ahmed’s scholarship was to create religious tolerance, empathy, love, inclusivity, acceptability for multiple ways of being a Muslim. Sadly, no one in Pakistan today knows Ahmed or his works. Along with National Action Plans and Zarb e Azabs, can we also expose our youth to the works of scholars like Shahab Ahmed to curb religious extremism?