BLOGGING THE QUR’AN: “Won’t the camel wander while he prays?”

Won’t the camel wander while he prays?

Kashif Shahzada vs Madeleine Bunting

Excerpts from The Guardian Debate

Blogging The Qur’an


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.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s