Kashif Shahzada is joined by commentators from the UK to discuss a wide variety of topics related to faith.
Kashif Shahzada is joined by commentators from the UK to discuss a wide variety of topics related to faith.
If a patient recites the prescription given by his physician instead of practically acting on it, then will he be cured? Do tall buildings get constructed if workmen keep on singing the architect’s plans instead of embarking on the project with the necessary actions? Will you reach your destination if you keep on rehearsing the road map instead of getting into the driving seat, starting the ignition switch, putting the car into gear and stepping on the accelerator? The answer to these questions is an obvious no. It is common sense that things do not get done if we keep on reading the instructions instead of acting on them.
Blasphemy (Greek blaptein, “to injure”, and pheme, “reputation”) signifies etymologically gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem.¹ Blasphemy is the use of offensive, and derogatory language and visual representations against personalities revered and held in high esteem in a religion. In the Judeo Christian tradition, blasphemy is a serious sin, which is according to the Hebrew Scriptures a cognizable offense incurring capital punishment. In the book of Leviticus, which is considered an inspired text by both, Jews and Christians it is stated: “Take the blasphemer beyond the confines of the camp; let all those who were listening lay their hands on his head, and let the whole people put him to death by stoning. 15 Tell the Israelites this: The man who curses his God will be held to account for it; 16 he blasphemed the Lord’s name, and he must die. Be he citizen or stranger, he must be stoned by the whole people; death for the blasphemer.” Leviticus 24:14-16 Though very clearly a law enshrined in the Judeo-Christian Scripture, we also see in recent times, that it is the Muslim community which is in the spotlight regarding this subject. Some violent and extreme responses to blasphemy meted out in the name of Islam, make those outside of the faith (as well as many within the faith itself) raise the question, that like the Judeo-Christian Scripture, does the Islamic Scripture too, exhort believers to deliver death to blasphemers?
Without investigating the fact of the matter many make an underlying assumption that whilst responding violently, those who label themselves as Muslims are acting on the tenets of their faith. That what you see on the TV screens and read about in the newspapers concerning so called Islamic acts is the practice of the Qur’an to the last letter. Many are deliberately led to believe as if whatever any individual identifying himself as a Muslim does or believes in, is a result of the religious guidance found in their Book and the authentic teaching of their faith. This actually, is not the case. Behaviour that we witness as “Islamic” behaviour is not necessarily Quranic behaviour. Upon studying the Qur’an we realise that the fringe in the Muslim world that partakes in violent behaviours is neither representative of Qur’anic teachings nor of the vast number of peaceful believers. The Qur’an is not silent about situations when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was insulted and abused by rejecters of his message. It very well does show his behaviour, as to what his response was in such instances. It also gives clear and unambiguous instructions to Muslims as to what their conduct should be when people mock, ridicule or scoff their faith.
إِنَّا كَفَيْنَاكَ الْمُسْتَهْزِئِينَ
“For sufficient are We unto thee against those who scoff.” 15:95
It follows from this verse that if God is indeed sufficient against the scoffers, then there is no room left for believers to respond.
The Prophet [pbuh] was commanded by Allah:
وَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَدَعْ أَذَاهُمْ وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا
“And obey not [the behests] of the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and heed not their annoyances, but put thy Trust in Allah. For enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. ” 33:48
As Allah commanded the Prophet “and heed not their annoyances..” therefore the Prophet and his true followers did not pay any heed to insults and abuses they received from the rejecters.
A statement that believers in Allah gave to rejecters is recorded in the Qur’an as:
وَمَا لَنَا أَلَّا نَتَوَكَّلَ عَلَى اللَّهِ وَقَدْ هَدَانَا سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَلَنَصْبِرَنَّ عَلَىٰ مَا آذَيْتُمُونَا ۚ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ
“No reason have we why we should not put our trust on Allah. Indeed He Has guided us to the Ways we [follow]. We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us. For those who put their trust should put their trust on Allah.” 14:12
The words “..We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us…” make it absolutely clear that true believers do not respond violently to the hurtful things they hear from rejecters but tolerate them with patience.
لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا ۚ وَإِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ
“Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will hurt you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil,-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs. ” 3:186
The divine command given to believers as to what to do in the face of abuse as “..if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil…” leaves no room for doubt that true believers do not respond violently when faced with insults and abuse but remain calm and patient.
وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return, and He will tell them what they used to do.” 6:108
If believers are commanded by Allah not to even verbally insult deities, then how can they turn physically violent?
We also see in the Qur’an that blasphemy does not carry a capital punishment. Those who commit blasphemy and even plot sedition are given an opportunity by Allah to repent. If capital punishment were invoked and they were to face the death penalty then they would not be able to avail the opportunity for repentance that Allah mentions in 9:74.
يَحْلِفُونَ بِاللَّهِ مَا قَالُوا وَلَقَدْ قَالُوا كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَكَفَرُوا بَعْدَ إِسْلَامِهِمْ وَهَمُّوا بِمَا لَمْ يَنَالُوا ۚ وَمَا نَقَمُوا إِلَّا أَنْ أَغْنَاهُمُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ ۚ فَإِن يَتُوبُوا يَكُ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ ۖ وَإِن يَتَوَلَّوْا يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللَّهُ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ۚ وَمَا لَهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلَا نَصِيرٍ
“They swear by God that they said nothing (evil), but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was (their) only return for the bounty with which God and His Apostle had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), God will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: They shall have none on earth to protect or help them.” (9:74)
The expression in above verse: “..If they repent, it will be best for them…” is clear evidence in demonstrating that those guilty of blasphemy, apostasy and sedition are not to face the death penalty as Allah has given them a chance for repentance and amendment of their conduct.
A question that immediately comes to the mind is that if indeed the Qur’an calls for calm and restraint in the face of insults and abuse, then why do so many people who identify themselves as staunch believers in Islam behave otherwise? Why do people resort to violence, damage property and attempt to riot? The answer to this is also given in the Qur’an. The reality is that the Qur’an categorises two types of believers. Those who are believers in deed, and those who are believers only by name. It is the latter who resort to violence and destruction in the name of religious reform:
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ
“Of the people there are some who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day;” but they do not [really] believe. ” 2:8
Whilst refuting the claim of such, the Qur’an also exposes them by virtue of their conduct and behaviour in the world:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ
“When it is said to them: “Make not Fasaad (disorder) on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only Want to reform!” 2:11
Pinpointing the people who go about flaunting their Imaan (belief) to be in fact fake, the above verses also identify their modus operandi to do Fasad (disorder), assuming it to be a means to Islah (reform from sin). When we come across individuals who make it their mission to “destroy evil and vice”, we see the truthfulness of the above description. These are the type of people who bomb establishments that appear sinful to them and display violent rage in the name of religion. They style themselves as believers, do Fasaad fil Ard (disorder and mischief in the land), without realising that far from acting on Allah’s laws, they are in fact grossly violating them. Hence there are two types of people in the world who would claim to be within the fold of Imaan. Those whose characters are trained on Quranic guidance, who in the face of insults, invective and abuse act patiently and do not resort to a tit-for-tat or violent response. While others are those who, while claiming to be believers, actually defy the divine injunctions. These are the people who resort to violence and destruction and justify their conduct in the name of religion. The fundamental mistake we would make is to accept people by the labels they carry or the claims they make, instead of identifying them by the behaviours they display. Behaviours that go against the teachings of the Qur’an are never a part of Islam and their actors are never its true representatives. Muslims must not forget that the best defence to any insults is the one contained in the Qur’an. Instead of losing control, Muslims must hold fast to Qur’anic guidance in such matters. The Qur’an is Allah’s word and is not silent. Allah is fully aware of what situations come in the life of a believer and He has given remedies in His word. The only response that a true Muslim is to give is the one which the Prophet gave and which is to abide by the teaching contained in the Qur’an.
¹ Catholic Encyclopedia
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Well, I knew that some of this blog was getting hard to follow – for example the discussion about how many days it took to create the world – but it was Zia’s reference to “complaining athletics” which had me completely stumped.
I read and re-read his paragraph, thinking what on earth have I been missing here. Athletics in the Qur’an. And then I realised it was a typo. Phew. But it was a serious point and one I will ponder because it hit something very raw in me. I have no problem at all with people who are very critical of belief but I find certain types of derision and ridicule very upsetting. I’m not talking about Jerry Springer style entertainment; to me, there’s a choice involved and I would probably not choose to see it. Neither, have I lost my sense of humour, I find the gentle wry commentary on Christ’s life by Monty Python wonderfully entertaining. But there is a combination of arrogance, certainty and ridicule which makes my blood boil. It makes me very angry.
So I found Zia’s definition of kufr as those who “consistently and perpetually deride those communities who believe in God” useful. However, I am still not sure that my reaction of such intense anger is appropriate or quite why I feel it so intensely so I would be interested in people’s comments and I will continue to think it over. My hunch is that my reaction is rooted in having met many, many very humble believers whose lives have been sustained and inspired by their faith in a myriad of small ways; mocking how they have made sense of their lives is a form of cruelty and intolerance – and one we see increasingly with the New Atheism riding an extraordinarily successful wave of popularity.
Moving on, I was very glad jammyfool picked up on DPavett’s point that “secular states show that you can live without religion”. Jammyfool is right that DPavett is just too fast in that assessment; we still don’t know. Like jammyfool, I think we are still living off a Christian legacy in western Europe; I’m struck by the fact that people with a strong social conscience (not, of course, all of them) often are the offspring of deeply religious parents. They have absorbed an ethical system and while they may have stripped out belief, much of it has persisted in the way they live their lives.
What is also interesting (in what is I admit a highly anecdotal, personal survey) that that post Christian generation have not always been very successful in transmitting their ethical framework to their children. So you could argue that the post Christian legacy is slowly fading, and concepts such as self-sacrifice are likely to just become increasingly incomprehensible. When I interviewed Robert Putnam, the US social scientist, he admitted he ponders the same question. His interest is how religion generates social capital, and he just can’t predict whether social capital will develop new mechanisms for self reproduction once religion is stripped out.
Finally, I thought Zia answered my points about fatalism really well. I very much enjoyed his explanation of how “fortitude and endurance derived from faith becomes an active, hopeful and liberating aid”. He seems to explain with great subtlety that tension between accepting fate and freeing oneself from it and how faith can be the “middle way” between the two (I agree with the blogger who points out that the similarity with Buddhism’s emphasis on the Middle Path is striking).
And I found fascinating Zia’s next point that it is exactly this type of relationship between otherwise quite distinct attributes which is key. For example, he writes virtue and pursuit of knowledge need to be linked, and concludes with a wonderful saying, “Pray and tie your camel.” That really left me puzzled, surely it should be the other way round.. won’t the camel wander while he prays?
Ms Bunting states:
“So I found Zia’s definition of kufr as those who “consistently and perpetually deride those communities who believe in God” useful. However, I am still not sure that my reaction of such intense anger is appropriate or quite why I feel it so intensely so I would be interested in people’s comments and I will continue to think it over.”
“Kufr” (rejection, concealment, covering up) is derived the triliteral root Ka-Fa-Ra which means “he became a rejector of, or a denier of”.
The term “Kufr” or “Rejection” in its various derivative forms in Qur’anic usage is in its generic sense, and wherever the word occurs, it does not imply or refer to “Non Muslims”.
E.g Prophet Abraham and his companions say in 60:4 that they have “rejected” the belief of their persecuters (Kafarna – Bikum). Similarly, in (26:19) the Pharoah, called Moses a “Kaafir” i.e. rejector, as Moses had rejected the belief system of his.
So as Abraham’s followers who are believers say that they reject polytheism and the word “Kafar” is used for that act of theirs and as Moses who is a believer and a Prophet had committed “Kufr” of the tyranny of the Pharoah, this demonstrates that “Kafir”, “Kufr” etc are not terms synonymous with “Non Muslims”, but are *acts* and *actions* by human beings.
Believers in the Qur’an are “Kaafirs” i.e. rejectors of idealogies opposing the Qur’an. Similarly those who uphold such ideologies, when they are faced with the Qur’anic message, and they consciously reject it, then they become “Kaafirs” of the Qur’an.
It is very common nowadays for some people to label all non Muslims as “Kaafir”. Not only is this grammatically wrong, this view is not supported by the Qur’an itself.
Somebody who has never heard about the Qur’anic message, is not conscious of its teachings is not a “Kaafir”, but in Qur’anic terminology a “Jaahil” (ignorant of the message) or a “Ghaafil” (unaware of the message) person.
For to qualify for “Kufr”, one needs to be clear about and be consciously aware of the message first. When the message has not even reached somebody, then he or she cannot be called a “rejector” or an “acceptor” of that message. It is only when one has *knowledge* of the message – that he or she qualifies for acceptance or rejection.
The Qur’an repeatedly says that people: “…reject the truth AFTER it was made clear to them….” (c.f. 2:109, 47:25 etc)
When the Qur’an uses the term “Kaafir” to those who reject the Qur’an itself, then it also qualifies their traits further that they do this, when the message is clear to them, and they don’t just stop at merely rejecting the message, BUT ALSO actively oppose people from it as well (c.f. 47:1), and if that is not enough, they also PERSECUTE those who uphold the message (33:58) , and cause them mental, physical as well as material injury (63:7-8).
It is on the basis of this intolerant behaviour and persecution that such are condemned. Cross referencing verses related to “Kaafir”, “Kufr” and analysing the behaviour pattern inherent in it makes this abundantly clear and clears the misconception that the Qur’an is intolerant towards or condemns people of all faiths.
It is a consistent theme of the Qur’an, that before holding any community accountable, the Divine message is first and foremost delivered to its people – and it is THEN that retribution comes in case of rejection and immorality and NEVER before hand. God of the Qur’an is not an unjust God, who holds people responsible for not observing a law, when people do not even now what that law is all about!
(6:131) “And so it is that thy Sustainer would never destroy a community’ for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware.”
The Qur’an very clearly states that those people who were weak on earth and for some reason were not able to receive the message, e.g. many are mentally handicapped, and not have the faculties to comprehend the Qur’an, or young children who die before reaching an age of consent or those resding in such localities were the message has not reached them – such people will not be held accountable by God.
(4: 98) But excepted shall be the truly helpless – be they men or women or children – who cannot bring forth any strength and have not been shown the right way:
(4: 99) as for them, God may well efface their sin – for God is indeed an absolver of sins, much-forgiving.
That “Kaafir” is a person who actively knows the message and then consciously rejects it, should also explain those passages where it is said that God has set a seal on their hearts. Many people misunderstand this (because they do not cross reference themes and passages, but are selective in their reading) to mean as if non believers or non Muslims have their hearts sealed by God – this is not so.
God is not acting arbitrarily and without reason in the Qur’an. Whenever certain people are condemned IT IS ALWAYS ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR BEHAVIOUR that this condemnation is narrated.
We see in the Qur’an that human choices and actions COME FIRST, and based on those choices and an ACT OF GOD occurs. Because people consciously reject the message, and choose to persistently behave in an immoral way, that is why a consequence of their repeated wrongdoing is sealing of their hearts, and it is not the case that their fate was sealed by God beforehand.
The type of actions we do in life, that type of results we get. Actions come first, results afterwards.
And we have the free will to choose whatever actions we want in life, says the Qur’an.
(18:29) And say: “The truth [has now come] from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it.”
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MADELEINE BUNTING: I’m feeling a bit like a groupie. I watch the film, I write a blog, I chair a debate at the IslamExpo event last weekend: all on the Qur’an.
I thought the Channel 4 documentary, The Qur’an, was television at its old-fashioned best: meticulously balanced, profoundly thought provoking and beautifully filmed. The shots and commentary of the sharia court in Palestine was a wonderful way to subvert the anxiety and hysteria on the issue in the UK. The crowded shabby office and its handling of routine matters of family life illustrated how a lot of sharia in some countries is pretty mundane. No hand-chopping in sight.
But nor did the documentary avoid the really awful expressions of Islam which are chilling. The learned scholar who told us that more women should be genitally mutilated in the west so that there is less promiscuity. And there was footage of a terrified girl having the operation itself. It just is not enough for Ajmal Masroor in his otherwise very sensible and shrewd comments to conclude that genital mutilation is an African custom (he is, of course, not African).
Masroor’s comment provoked an issue which has been troubling me for a while. Every time something problematic crops up – such as genital mutilation or honour killing – Muslims have a tendency to dismiss it as non-Islamic and “cultural” or pre-Islamic. But my question is: many of these countries have experienced Islam for a millennium, how come the faith has failed to eradicate these brutal cultural traditions? Islam, we are told, gives women remarkable rights, but the reality is that across the Muslim world, women don’t experience precisely these rights. Why has Islam made such a bad job of eradicating that pre-Islamic past?
Now, on to the debate. Unlike many of the other sessions at IslamExpo, this was a very learned debate about spiritual faith, not about politics or power and foreign policy. The Guardian-sponsored debate was entitled “How to understand the Qur’an?” What was remarkable is how the vast hall was almost full – more than 1,000 people – to hear Tariq Ramadan, Sarah Joseph and Professor Abdel Haleem join Zia Sardar to discuss how people should read the Qur’an.
It is Professor Haleem’s translation that I am using so it was good to meet the great man himself. His message was clear: make sure you have the right translation. It was a point also made again and again in the television documentary. Some Saudi translations specify real intolerance for Islam and Judaism in a way unsupported by older translations and many other contemporary ones.
But it was Ramadan’s approach to the Qur’an which really helped clarify a few things. I will be offering only a rough paraphrase but Ramadan’s analysis broke down into three components. First, he said the Qur’an is a call. It is an invitation to a dialogue. Come, it is saying.
Second, it offers stories of the Qur’an and you project onto these stories your own experiences of life. It is your own emotional history and understanding which brings these stories to life – so it amounts to another form of dialogue.
Finally, it describes the way – the rules for life and society. But be wary, said Ramadan of making these up on your own. These require a lot of knowledge; they require caution and time and must be worked out collectively amongst those learned and skilled in such things.
So Ramadan seemed to offer a way of accommodating a very democratic – everyone read this book – approach with an emphasis on tradition in its interpretation of the rules by which people and societies should order their lives. These are issues we have looked at repeatedly in the last six months: who has the authority to interpet the Qur’an? Here was a complex answer: all believers can enter the dialogue, but the “way” is collective, a pooling of knowledge. Not the individual making it up as they go along.
Ms Bunting stated:
“…. But my question is: many of these countries have experienced Islam for a millennium, how come the faith has failed to eradicate these brutal cultural traditions?”
That these societies have experienced Islam (the true religion based on the Qur’an) is an assumption. One experiences Islam, not through cultural osmosis or by inherting the faith from ancestors, but through personal effort (see 29:69), thought and reflection (47:24), a personal study of the Qur’an (54:17)and a life of action based on its inspiration (6:19).
This is stated in not one, but numerous Qur’anic verses, and it is by passing through this very process that one truly experiences Islam. One is not a Muslim merely by being born or brought up in a community that labels itself as Islamic, but one attains the status of a Submitter (a Muslim) through conscious and willing submission to the Qur’an and a life of action based on its teachings (see 2:128).
Ms Bunting says that many of these countries have experienced Islam, but she didn’t identify which “Islam” have they experienced, or whether what these countries have experienced throughout these centuries really is Islam, or is something very different but using the label of Islam to justify itself.
When she really is able to prove that the socieites she is critical of have experienced Islam based on the Qur’an for a millenium and not an adulterated form of the faith, and yet remain unchanged, then her question would be valid. However, as she falls short of proving that these societies are truly Islamic i.e. based on Qur’an as supreme law and social order, her question ” how come the faith has failed to eradicate these brutal cultural traditions?” is out of mark.
Ms Bunting observed:
“So Ramadan seemed to offer a way of accommodating a very democratic – everyone read this book – approach with an emphasis on tradition in its interpretation …”
Did Ramadan cite any Qur’anic verses as evidence to back up his view or is this his personal opinion?
Does the Book say anywhere within its contents that it is in need of tradition for its interpretation? A book that claims perfection in need of material agreed upon as inconsistent by all? Ramadan’s offer of “…everyone read this book – approach with an emphasis on tradition in its interpretation..” is not at all democratic and accomodating because there is not single body of tradition which is common to all schools of thoughts, and if one chooses a particular version, imeediately he or she is at loggerheads with the version of the opposing sect. Not only that, tradition fails to amplify each and every verses of the Qur’an, for if that were the case, the commentators of numerous sects and scholls of thoughts would not have written their huge volumes of Qur’anic exegesis but would have found the tradition as a sufficient source of Qur’anic commentary.
The fact of the matter is that the Qur’an is not in need of either the tradition or the Judeo Christian texts for its exegesis, and I would turn the tables and put these texts BELOW the Qur’an and keep these AS SUBORDINATE to what Qur’an says. We have to study the Qur’an in the light of the Qur’an itself, and tradition/bible should be subjected to that Qur’anic understanding. If it is consistent to the Qur’an then we can accept it, but if it is not, then we reject the tradition and accept the Qur’an.
The Qur’an comes first and acts as its own commentary. No other book is an aid to or is equal to the Qur’an.
As a Muslim, I would consider the view that God’s book is in need of man’s book for its explanation otherwise it is redundant, to be blasphemy of the higest order.
Ms Bunting stresses:
“These are issues we have looked at repeatedly in the last six months: who has the authority to interpet the Qur’an? Here was a complex answer: all believers can enter the dialogue, but the “way” is collective, a pooling of knowledge. Not the individual making it up as they go along.”
Does the Book mention Who is its Teacher? Yes. It very well does:
“(God) Most Gracious. It is HE who teaches the Qur’an.” 55:1-2
“Nay! It is FOR US to explain it (the Qur’an).” 75:19
“Surely, it is UPON US to guide” 92:12
It is very clear in above and many other verses that GOD IS THE TEACHER of the Qur’an and ONLY HE has the authority to reveal and inspire it to whom HE wills.
People like Ramadan should be asked: Where exactly have you read within the pages of the Book that a committee of ‘specialists’ and ‘experts’ should pool knowledge and claim to be the authorities to interpret the text??
The Qur’an is meant for NAAS which is the Arabic word for HUMANKIND. And humanity is an all inclusive term and encompasses ALL and leaves NONE.
“Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, as GUIDANCE FOR HUMANKIND…” (2:185)
Every human being, whether black or white, rich or poor, scholar or layman, man or woman can understand, be inspired by and practice the Qur’an, but ONLY if he or she wants to.
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What was very clear – and it was a relief to feel I understood something – was verse 62: Muslims, Jews, Christians – all will have their rewards from God. Even a monotheistic sect, the Sabians, would have rewards from God. What all these believers must do is believe in God, the last day and do good. This is a statement of religious tolerance which is more far reaching than anything you will find in the Bible, and very impressive; I begin to understand why Karen Armstrong maintains that the great strength of Islam is its recognition of plurality and tolerance of other religions. It’s a point which sadly is often obscured today; perhaps you can reflect here about the relationship between Muslims and Jews?
Also, I find some of the detail about parts of the cow striking a body to bring it to life (verse 73) pretty strange. In its time, it would perhaps have made sense but what are we to make of such references now?
Ms Bunting stated:
“…What was very clear – and it was a relief to feel I understood something – was verse 62: Muslims, Jews, Christians – all will have their rewards from God….. What all these believers must do is believe in God, the last day and do good…”
When the Qur’an stresses reward for belief in God (Allah), then it is belief in the Qur’anic God that is required, and not belief in the concepts or attributes concerning God that prevail in other Scriptures / faiths that will provide salvation.
This is so because reading in later passages one discovers that the Qur’an corrects Judeo/Christian attributions to God, and admonishes those who maintain such beliefs.
Exodus 31:17 vs Qur’an 50:38
Isiah 20:2-3 vs Qur’an 7:28
Judges 1:19 vs Qur’an 3:47
Genesis 21:1-2 vs Qur’an 6:102
In 1 John 5:7 God is one in three in a trinity, and belief in the trinity is widespread in Christiandom, specially the Catholic Church. In contrast the Qur’an in 5:76 as well as many other passages is strict in emphasising the oneness of God and refutes the notion that He is part of a trinity, and even warns those who believe in the trinity of dire consequences of maintaining this belief.
It is wrong to conclude from an isolated reading of 2:62 that acc. to Qur’an any Christian / Jew etc can attain salvation just because he/she believes in God as per his/her own scriptural depiction of God, but what is required of him / her is a correction of belief and acceptance of Qur’anic position regarding God. Acc. to Qur’an, God is not a trinity (see 4:171), He does not beget children (112:3), Jesus is not co-equal to God, but is subservient to Him, and was neither killed not crucified (see 4:157, 5:72).
How can it be said that the Qur’an assures salvation for a Christian who maintains beliefs that the Qur’an refutes and admonishes about? Cross referencing of verses reveals that if a christian abandons such traditional christian beliefs and accepts the Qur’anic viewpoint, it is then that he/she will have reward in the hereafter, and not otherwise. That is why we find in a later verse:
“If then they believe AS YOU (i.e. Qur’anic Believers) BELIEVE in Him, then they are indeed on Guidance…” Qur’an 2:137
MADELEINE BUNTING:One of these verses could stand as a manifesto for contemporary religious tolerance; the next seems to be saying we should all become Muslim
The emphasis is unequivocal and even the language drives it home – race to do good; ultimately we will find the unity across different religious belief. The problem is that no sooner had I read this verse which could stand as a manifesto for contemporary religious tolerance, than we plunged into the next verse which seemed a complete contradiction. Aren’t verses 149 and 150 saying that you should become Muslims – whatever religious faith you had before? _________________________________
KASHIF SHAHZADA: Ms Bunting wrote: “I thought verse 148 was amazing. Perhaps one of the most remarkable I am likely to read in the Qur’an. The way I interpret it – and it is admirably clear, it seems to me – is that every community may have its own traditions and rituals, but focus on doing good and God will bring you together.” No. There is no contradiction b/w 2:148 and later verses. 2:148 does not give divine endorsement to the traditions and rituals of *every* community. It merely states:
“And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth..” v 148 Pickthall
We all have a direction in life that we are moving towards. Our actions, whether good or bad are constantly being requited – whatever direction we choose in life, God will turn us to it, i.e. we will get the resultant of the action that we chose to do. If we choose to do good deeds in life, we get good reward, and if we do bad, we get “punishment” for our actions. It is not God who wronged us if we choose the later; it is we ourselves who are to blame, as we chose the path willingly. Numerous passages of the Qur’an state that this law of requital is in place in the physical sphere as well as moral sphere of our lives. E.g. if we do physical fitness work every morning and eat healthy diet (good) we get better health (positive result), while if we maintain an unhealthy lifestyle, and eat junk food, you’ll discover your health is failing (“punishment” because of your action). Similarly, if you choose to be greedy, oppressive and unjust in life, you will get the wage for being such a person, whilst if you practiced kindness, charity and righteousness, then you will get the reward and you will also be in the company of those who had similar traits. Hence, acc. to Qur’an (see 2:281, 3:25, 3:56-57 etc) every action that we do produces a result and is shaping our body and soul, and we will be getting the result of the goal to which turned in life. This is what is meant by “And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth..”. The Qur’an describes that various paths that people choose in life, and also gives the results of those paths – but it does not endorse all of them. Which path is acceptable to God in the Qur’an? This we can read about in other passages of the Book. As 2:148 does not give Qur’anic sanction to the beliefs and practices of *all* communities, it is wrong to conclude that it is contradicting other Qur’anic passages that give divine approval for one particular belief and action. _________________________
FATIMA MARTIN: I can’t remember whether Zia ever made it clear at the beginning of this whole project that the Qur’an was never meant to be the sole guidance for the believer. Allah states clearly that we have to read it and interpret it in conjunction with the example of the prophet’s life. This of course is not an easy task, only the seriously interested will take the time to read the prophet’s biographies and hadith collections. Even then, all his actions need to be understood taking into consideration the time and culture he lived in. For example people might interpret the fact that he allowed the killing of the men of the Jewish tribe of the Bani Qurayza in Medina as horrendous and barbarian. This was the third Jewish tribe in Medina that betrayed the prophet. All three tribes had sworn allegiance to the prophet and later betrayed him. Twice the prophet showed mercy and let the Jews leave Medina, only for them to make trouble for him from outside. The third time he asked the Muslim allies of the Jews to decide their fate, and their leader insisted on the just punishment. He would have nothing to do with mercy. The Jews knew that by betraying their allegiance they risked their lives. When their plot failed they were executed, as were all the men of other tribes at that time, no matter what religion, who committed treason. We now know that allowing this harsh punishment the prophet in fact avoided a much bigger bloodbath when he entered Mekka later on, and the Meccans surrendered without battle, finally accepting the strength of the prophet and his followers. If you come across what seem like contradictions in the Qur’an, see how the prophet dealt with them, but be sure that you know the spirit behind his actions and decisions. __________________________
KASHIF SHAHZADA: If the Qur’an is God’s word, and the traditions are the word of men containing various grades of authenticity, then it is logical that the former has superiority over the latter. To those who believe and accept the Qur’an as the perfect and complete Book, originating from Allah, any traditions / narrations, attributed to any pious person and originating from any source whether they are from the Judeo Christian Scriptures or from any other compilation e.g. ahadith need to be studied in the light of Qur’an, and not the other way around, because (a ) Qur’an does not say anywhere within its pages that it is in need of other books for its exegesis, and on the contrary states that: “Is it not sufficient for them that We have sent down to you The Book which is recited over them?…” [29:51] b) Scholars of ALL schools of thoughts themselves admit that traditions are human compilations and are not free from discrepancy and agree to them containing aspects of errancy, hence the variation in various versions and compilations, therefore what identifies itself to be perfect and free from errancy (the Qur’an) is not dependent on what shows itself to contain the weak and inauthentic (ahadith). Even the compilers of the said reports rejected thousands before sifting a few for their compilations. So by their own admission these books are not perfect, why then must we subject the perfect Qur’an to the imperfect? Should it not be the other way around, i.e. that the Qur’an comes first. We see what the Qur’an says about a subject and then in its light see other sources. (c) The Qur’an warns us against mixing truth with falsehood (2:46). In other words, truth should be kept pure and pristine and not intermingled with the slightest element of what is unauthentic. And it is God’s word that determines what is authentic from inauthentic, and is the “furqan (criterion to judge right from wrong) and not human words, because by default they (humans) are liable to err, while God isn’t. In view of this, the Qur’an, which claims to be free from error (4:82), calls itself a clear guide (43:2) and a distinct light and beacon that shows the truth (14:1) is not to be made subservient to human reports like suggested above. It should be the other way around i.e. it is those reports that are to be made subservient to the Qur’an, and it is the Qur’an that is to act as a judge on their authenticity. Not only is this approach illogical, it is blatantly against numerous Qur’anic directives on the subject. The story cited above is also not correct. It goes against the person and character of the Prophet as mentioned in numerous Qur’anic verses. The Prophet acted upon the Qur’an all his life, and it is Qur’anic directives that he implemented, and the Qur’an nowhere commands him to do what is suggested in the earlier comment. (More on fighting and war can be discussed when the subject comes under discussion later). In short, the best Prophetic biography is the Qur’an itself. The deed, action and personality of the Prophets as reported by the Qur’an is their actual and authentic biography, and acts as the criterion and judge on reports concerning them in other sources. That is why in Sura 13, those who have Qur’anic knowledge have been called as witnesses over the character of the Prophet:
“…Say: ‘ (as a witness over my messenger ship)…sufficient between me and you is God and whoever has KNOWLEDGE OF THE BOOK.” 13:43
In the above, knowledge of The Book – one Book is required in order to qualify to give shahada (testimony) to the Prophet. Why just *one Book* is mentioned, why not numerous others, as has been suggested earlier. The truth is that if one were to consider the Qur’an as immutable and perfect, then one should not blindly accept any and every religious tale attributed to Islam and its Prophet that is hurled towards us, but we need to check its authenticity in the Qur’an first – if it tallies with the Qur’an, then it can be considered, if not, then it can’t be accepted at the expense of the Qur’an. Accepting a tradition that is against the Qur’an means one rejects the Qur’an, and rejecting the Qur’an is KUFR, i.e. rejection of God and qualifies one for his displeasure.
“…if they were to come together to bring something similar to this Qur’an, they can not bring anything similar to it, even if they backed up each other with help and support!” (17:88)
In Islam, the ONLY BOOK that has absolute and final authority is the Qur’an – No other source, whether a human scholar or writing is co-equal to the Qur’an, all else is subservient to it. ______________________
“MISKATONICUNIVERSITY” Kashif, there are Muslims who refuse to recognise the authority of the hadiths or the biographies of Mohammed, but it leaves them in a bit of a bind. The Quran is not capable of explaining itself – it’s too contradictory. For instance, what would the Islamic position on alcohol be without an external timeline to give the verses some order? _______________________________
KASHIF SHAHZADA: MiskatonicUniversity asked: “The Quran is not capable of explaining itself – it’s too contradictory. For instance, what would the Islamic position on alcohol be without an external timeline to give the verses some order?” Your assertion that the Qur’an is contradictory requires specific proof and reference. Among the many unique attributes of the Book is that it is free from “ikhtilaaf” i.e. conflict. We read in Sura 4:
“Do they not do “Taddabur” (pondering, analysis, reflection) on the Qur’an? If it were from other than God, THEY WOULD HAVE FOUND THEREIN, MUCH CONTRADICTION!” [4:82]
The Book claims to be internally consistent, and invites critical analysis of its contents to verify this. If it were a shoddy job, such a claim dare not be made. However, we can se in 4:82 that internal consistency will be apparent when one engages in “Taddabur” of the Qur’an i.e. a deep study, reflection and analysis of the text, and not a hasty and superficial study. So this is what is internally within the Book, i.e. it is free from contradiction. But you just suggested otherwise, and also made a comment about it, without furnishing exact citations from the text. Therefore, I would request you to cite the specific passage references pertaining to alcohol that deem to be contradictory and the translation (s) which you referred to for their study, so we can analyse whether 4:82 is right, or whether you are right. ______________________________ “MISKATONICUNIVERSITY”:
These are two of the verses about intoxicating liquor produced from dates and grapes – which one is correct?
SHAKIR: They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit. And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, that you may ponder SHAKIR: And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes– you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder.
There are others of course, for instance, how many days did it take Allah to create the world? Was it six (7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59) or eight (41:9-12)? Clue: neither, more like 4.5 billion years for the earth, and 14 billion years for the universe.
KASHIF SHAHZADA: 1) Intoxicants According to [2:219] intoxicants have both – a sinful as well as a profitable aspect. The Qur’an doesn’t prohibit consumption or use of intoxicants in total, what it bars is the ‘sin’ in them (see 7:33 about prohibition of ‘ithm i.e. sin’). It is undisputable that alcohol contributes to crimes and is a source of damage to society if used recreationally, and it is this aspect which is sinful. However there is also profit from it to society in its medicinal and industrial usage, and this is what is referred to in the verse statement ‘profit for mankind’. [16:67] on the other hand talks about ‘extracting intoxicants’, and not about consuming the sinful aspect. For believers, this extraction is for its utilitarian i.e. profitable use not for Sinful purpose You may perhaps be unaware that the word Alcohol itself is an Arabic word and Muslim chemists have done quite a lot of work on the subject in the past. As the Qur’an does not bar the use of intoxicants in totality, but bifurcates between its negative and postive aspects, in 2:219 hence it is not in conflict with 16:67 where extraction of intoxicants is mentioned which in the context of believers can very well be for profitable usage, and not sinful one. (2) Creation of heavens and earth In Arabic, the word “Yaum” is not used for a 24 hour day, but for a ‘period’ of time or eon. Hence the verses you reffered to do not talk about 24 hour days as calculated by human beings, but periods according to God’s own measure. As 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59 talk about the creation of SAMAWAT WAL ARD i.e entire heavens and earth in six periods, while the subject matter of 41:9-12 is not the creation of ‘SAMAWAT WAL ARD’ but of other seperate events, therefore there is no contradiction between these verses. There would have been had [41:9-12] talked of the same event as the later set you quoted, but as these speak of seperate events and objects, hence there is no contradiction, and the claim of the Qur’an in being free from conflict remains valid.
They fall into a long tradition of western incomprehension at this holy book. In part this is because it is measured up against implicit assumptions about faith, sacred texts which are rooted – however distantly – in the familiar biblical tradition. My first tip to any western reader is forget characters, forget stories: the Bible may be full of them – Abraham, Isaac, Daniel, David, Joseph, Jesus, Mary – but the Qur’an is not. It is a detailed description of the nature of God alongside instructions for every aspect of human existence. To put it crudely, think self-help manual rather than an anthology of of short stories.
There are characters and stories in Islam – most obviously, the life of the prophet – but they are not in the Qur’an. They are in the sayings of the prophet (hadith) and his life story, both of which are much revered by Muslims.
There are other obviously intimidating characteristics. The book works on repetition, the structure is spiral rather than linear, and it takes a while to notice how material is repeated and juxtaposed to form different patterns – like a kaleidoscope. There are moments of poetry and rich imagery, but I still balked at the suggestion that this is the most beautifully written book of all time because it is the word of God.
But the incomprehension at this book runs even more deeply. Perhaps the hardest process of intercultural communication is in reading the sacred text of another culture; take a look at Buddhist scriptures, full of references to lotus flowers, and the enormity of the cultural leap required is also immediately apparent. It requires a teacher conversant with the etymology of the original language and the cultural traditions of the historical context to begin to make sense of them. And they have to be very patient with their audience who inevitably bring their own unspoken cultural assumptions with them. Another faith’s sacred text encapsulates a whole worldview – and that is the hardest thing for any outsider to grasp.
So it was a brave project for Ziauddin Sardar to take on. It was also honest of him to confess in his introduction, that neither was a he traditional scholar nor did he speak Arabic, the original language of the Qur’an. That prompted a fascinating exchange because as one contributor, Abdullah al-Hasan, made clear, he regarded Sardar as having no right or authority to explain his understanding of the Qur’an. Al-Hasan argued that without years of study in a recognised Islamic institution and a full training in classical Arabic, you could not venture to interpret this book. Sardar’s retort was sharp: to his mind, the Muslim world was crippled intellectually and politically by exactly this impasse over the Qur’an. Its interpretation was jealously guarded by a group of institutions with a mindset dating from the eighth century while millions of young Muslims with unprecedented access to education were cut off from debating and thinking about the book which determined so much of their lives.
The fallout from this global cultural war within Islam is that there are precious few Muslims who are familiar enough with a western mindset and confident of their Islamic credentials to explain their book. The nature of the Qur’an and how it is to be understood is the single biggest obstacle between the west and Islam. Muslims want the book to be given proper respect while westerners, at best, find it utterly baffling.
Sardar and those blogging have helped me understand several key things. The first is that the Qur’anic emphasis on pluralism is quite simply astonishing. The tolerance and respect for the monotheistic traditions of Judaism and Christianity was extraordinary for its day and in sharp contrast to the exclusive claims of both the Old and New Testaments. No wonder that modern translations of the Qur’an are busily re-writing or even cutting some of these verses – they would re-write the politics of the Middle East if they were taken literally.
Sardar argues that the Qur’an has to be reinterpreted for every generation. Every word of it may be timeless, eternal truth, he claims, but every verse must be analysed and scrutinised according to the times to yield the appropriate insight and wisdom; reason is a crucial tool with which to unlock the teachings of the Qur’an. It’s a defence of the Qur’an which provides for both the belief in the book as the literal word of God as well as a room for more liberal interpretations on issues such as homosexuality or the hijab. But it sometimes seemed like a high wire act as Sardar tried to explain certain verses.
Some of my concerns about the Qur’an remain, for example, the gender bias against women. I accept that Islam was well ahead of Christianity for centuries in terms of recognising women’s property rights and acknowledgment of women’s sexuality (such as the right to be sexually satisfied) but still the Qur’an seems to be framed in a patriarchal culture. This debate cropped up over a verse in which women were compared to fields; it seemed like a prescription for female passivity but our Muslim bloggers wouldn’t have it and the discussion rumbled on as they tried to explain to me the hidden wisdom of the analogy.
What it confirmed for me was that the Qur’an was a text of its time and reflected the cultural assumptions of seventh century Arabs. It also undoubtedly represents a breakthrough text in human ethical understanding – alongside those from other cultures. But for Muslims such a matter of fact assessment is inconceivable because it strikes at the heart of their belief that this is a book written by God for all time. I would hope one can agree to differ, but I now understand much better how very difficult that can be.
Madeline Bunting says that a cabinet minister and a senior economist had been horrified upon reading the Qur’an. What exactly was it that they found horrifying, she doesn’t say?
Was the minister uncomfortable with the exhortation to extend justice to all, even one’s own enemies (4:135, 5:8) that didn’t go down well with the a certain government policy of supporting dictatorial regimes and bombing civilian populations in foreign lands?
Or was it the injunction to ensure a just and equitable distribution of wealth, so that resources of the land “do not remain in the hands of only the wealthy among you…” (59:7), that horrified the senior economist, as it went against granting privileges to the rich at the expense of the poor? So what exactly was it?
She may be right in suggesting that many in the west (or even the east for that matter) are at loggerheads with Qur’anic values.
After all the Qur’an is calling them to change, to mend their ways, to give up racism and policies based around regional and national interests, to extend justice and equity to all, to keep a check on their personal and carnal pleasures and share their wealth with the unfortunate for the sake of God, all this is definitely what they don’t want to do.
So why wouldn’t they express their horror at such a text, which asks them to move out of their comfort zone. Why wouldn’t they treat it as a ‘summer read’, instead of a serious manual for life mandatory for a sincere quest for truth?
Ms Bunting is not correct in generalizing that there is a long tradition about western incomprehension of the Qur’an. I am sure she knows that there are many in the West who find the Qur’an perfectly comprehensible! I am not talking of immigrants or 2nd generation believers, but native, westerners, who have studied the book of their own accord and appreciate it on its own merit. E.g.
“Quran takes the responsibility of man prosperity alone. I hope it will not be too late that time which I can unite all the scholars of all the countries together and establish a monotone society based on principles of Quran only which will guide people to prosperity.” Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1721)
“Everything made so much sense. This is the beauty of the Qur’an; it asks you to reflect and reason… When I read the Qur’an further, it talked about prayer, kindness and charity. I was not a Muslim yet, but I felt the only answer for me was the Qur’an and Allah had sent it to me.” (Yusuf Islam [Cat Stevens], British pop star)
Does Ms Bunting consider such individuals as Westerners or does the ‘West’ consist only of those that she mentions?
She claims to balk at the suggestion that the Qur’an is the most beautifully written book of all time because it is the word of God. Well, if it is God’s handiwork, then it won’t be second best will it then? First believe that it is from God, then the appreciation to beauty will come naturally. But there are many non Muslim individuals, who although do not consider the Qur’an to be of divine origin, yet appreciate and wonder at its marvel.
She suggests that incomprehension at this book runs even more deeply and recommends qualifications in foreign culture and language for a better grasp of the text, but what will she say to the fact that many outsiders to the faith have very well grasped the essence of its message, and that too without the qualifications suggested by Ms Bunting. Is not the actual existence of such individuals and their growing number in the west a living rebuttal to the claim of Qur’an’s incomprehension??
She also makes the fantastic claim about omission of verses on tolerance:
“No wonder that modern translations of the Qur’an are busily re-writing or even cutting some of these verses – they would re-write the politics of the Middle East if they were taken literally.”
This is really news to me! What a strange comment. Which modern translation has omitted any verse or verses on tolerance or pluralism from the Book. Can Bunting give names / references of publishers? Such a fantastic claim warrants at least some evidence, but none is given! Her claim makes the impression as if some editing and cutting is being done in modern translations of the Qur’an, a phenomenon commonplace within the Judeo-Christian tradition whereby not just verses, but entire passages were omitted and deleted from the Bible! I believe, Ms Bunting owes it to her readers to supply at least any reference to omission of verses on tolerance with any modern Qur’an translation.
She expresses her concern about the Qur’an being in a frame of patriarchy but the culture and society in which Ms Bunting is resident at present, would she say that it is matriarchal? Regarding her understanding of the verse on fields, it is obvious that reading the verse in its entire context makes it abundantly clear that the subject matter relates to sexual encounter, and woman’s likeness to that of the field should be seen in sexual terms i.e. she is the source through which another human being comes into the world, just like a field is the source responsible for producing forth living organisms. It is highly unfortunate that Qur’anic reflection of this ever important and natural state for women is viewed by Bunting as a passive act, whereas it is actually active in every sense.
It is natural for women to bear children just like it is natural for a cultivated land to produce crop – whether anyone agrees or disagrees with this simple fact won’t change anything! Indeed the Qur’an is true in its statement that women are like a tilth, i.e. they have child bearing capacity. This is a fact, that can’t be denied at all.
She considers the Qur’an to be: “.. a text of its time”. Indeed the Qur’an is a text of its time, but its timeframe is not 7th century Arabia, but day one of human existence. Since ever humankind has existed or will exist, Qur’anic era is in place with its values providing the divine guiding light. The problem with most critics of the Qur’an is the very motivation with which they approach the book. What is the purpose? Why do they wish to study the text?
Is it to explore its truthfulness? Or is it to find a reflection of their own likes and dislikes? I think, the type of motivation one has, that type of results he or she will get in the end.
“..He causes many to err by it and many He leads aright by it! but He does not cause to err by it (any) except the transgressors…” 2:26