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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (31 Jul 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)


Quran is Not the Source of All Problems but It Must Be Brought within the Ambit of History



By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

31 July 2017

The healthy debate in the pages of www.NewAgeIslam.com on the historicity and authenticity of the Quran is most welcome. While agnostic Muslims like Hassan Radwan want to make the point that the Quran should be treated like any other book: created for humans and by humans within a specific context of history, believers like Naseer Ahmad root for the divine origins of the Quran. The first position leads to the possibility of critique and revision and even partial rejection of the Quranic message, the latter position, by the virtue of belief is not amenable to the idea of changing even a diacritic within the Quran.

However, the reason that Hassan Radwan gives for historicizing the Quran is simplistic and problematic. Firstly, it is not true that one cannot beat the traditionalists in the game of selective quotation from Quranic passages supporting moderate and liberal voices. Scholars, both modern (like Amina Wadud) and traditional (like Fazlur Rahman) have shown how a different hermeneutical reading of the Quran is possible: one that is consistent with a modern and liberal world-view. It is true that in most Muslim countries, such interpretations have either remained marginal or have altogether failed. But the fact that it has succeeded in small locations tell us that as a project it has much potential. Moreover, direct access to Quran is still limited in the Muslim world and most Muslims access it through various interpretations of it. If we altogether give up the task of a liberal and modernist interpretation, then it is only going to benefit the traditionalist and the extremists.

Secondly, we need to understand that interpretations that become hegemonic are necessarily a function of power. It is rather unfortunate that the balance of power in the Muslim world is in the hands of fundamentalists and there are a number of state actors who are backing this kind of reading of the Quran. The reason of controlling interpretations is not just religious but deeply political. A liberal and progressive interpretation of the Quran threatens the status quo of the distribution of power in the Muslim world which is currently in the hands of powerful oligarchs. A different interpretation of the Quran is, therefore, a much needed political project which Muslims must take seriously.

A major problem with Hassan Radwan’s analysis is that he links Islamic terrorism with a particular reading of the Quran. This is a rather simplistic understanding of an otherwise extremely complex phenomenon. There is increasing data to suggest that terrorism in the Muslim world cannot be reduced to scriptures. There are complex processes at work and each terrorist incident is an outcome of a number of non-religious factors such as deprivation, status and a perceived sense of being humiliated. Muslims become susceptible to the idea of violence also because their lands have been occupied and their resistance to this occupation has been brutally crushed for generations. The Quran may serve as a legitimating tool but is never the sufficient cause of Islamic terrorism.

But is it right to say that the Quran is the infallible word of God and the problem lies in human beings' limited knowledge in comprehending it, as commentators like Naseer Ahmad have argued? To make matters worse, there are others like Muhammad Yunus who do not see anything beyond a conspiracy to malign Islam in the writings of Hassan Radwan. So what is the problem if we accept that the Quran is infallible? The first and the most obvious problem is that this approach puts the Quran beyond the scope of a critique. Critique is fundamental to how any form of knowledge progresses. Without questioning and a ceaseless search for answers, the human project is not very different from other species with which we share the earth.

 Indeed all religious projects themselves have been born out of critique: of the existing state of affairs. In this sense, Islam itself is a product of critique; of so called corruption which had set in in terms of religious and social affairs of men. But once Islam gets established, we are told that there is no longer any need or space for critique. That’s when the problem begins. Something which is itself a product of critique is now telling us that it is perfect and hence beyond any criticism! This is called orthodoxy and history is a witness that orthodoxies have only succeeded in silencing and eventually killing people. Critique is at the heart of reflection on the world. Without this exercise, the world would be poorer in terms of thoughts and ideas. A look at the Muslim world and the backwardness of its thoughts and practices will tell us that the idea of critique seems to be altogether foreign to them. Some voices which have sought to critique existing ideas and practices have been ruthlessly silenced. 

The second problem with the Quran-is-infallible thesis is that it puts the text beyond the pale of history. Unlike other religions, Islam is supposed to have been born in the full light of history. Then why is it that there is so little material on the origins and the early days of this religion? What we have in the name of historical sources is largely hagiographical material written by Muslims themselves. Why is it that this material hardly gets corroborated by materials from non-Islamic sources? It should be a cause of worry for Muslims themselves and they should be at the forefront of this search. And yet we see that because of this fallacious reading of Islam and Quran being of divine origin, there is very little effort on the part of Muslims themselves to try and research Islam also as a historical artefact.

The attempt to understand the Quran as Mubeen (clear and flawless) is also problematic for the simple reason that so many commentaries written on the Quran to explicate different verses wouldn’t have been necessary if the Quran was really that unambiguous. The fact remains that scholars like Naseer Ahmed will keep on writing long articles to explicate the ‘true’ meaning of the Quran and yet simultaneously claim that the Quran is Mubeen! If the meaning of the text was so crystal clear as argued, then where is the need for such a long winding exegetical project?

There is a problem with understanding other religions as corrupted and therefore being within the matrix of history while believing that Islam has escaped this fate. This kind of reasoning is not very different from the Islamist supremacist logic that our religion is the best and that all other religions are false. Put another way, this means that only Islam is divine but other religions owe their origins because of human manipulation. We know that such kind of thinking has been the hallmark of many conservative Islamic groups but when the same sentiment gets expressed by some progressive thinkers writing on this website, then it is even more of a bigger reason to worry. Islam would be better served by the passionate human endeavour of reason and critique rather than believing that it is a fixed and frozen entity which will serve us good for all times to come.

Related Articles:

Is Islamic Reform Possible? 'Should We Just Accept That Quran Is Not Perfect, Infallible Word of God, If Nearly All Muslims Misundetstand It?'

http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/hassan-radwan,-new-age-islam/is-islamic-reform-possible?--should-we-just-accept-that-quran-is-not-perfect,-infallible-word-of-god,-if-nearly-all-muslims-misundetstand-it?-/d/111784

The Quran Is the Perfect, Infallible Word of God, Even If All the Muslims Misunderstand It

http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/naseer-ahmed,-new-age-islam/the-quran-is-the-perfect,-infallible-word-of-god,-even-if-all-the-muslims-misunderstand-it/d/111897

  Some Muslim Intellectuals of This Era Cry Lies or Half-Truths against Islam Creating Doubts and Suspicions against It – Ignorantly or Fraudulently - God Knows Best

http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/muhammad-yunus,-new-age-islam/some-muslim-intellectuals-of-this-era-cry-lies-or-half-truths-against-islam-creating-doubts-and-suspicions-against-it-–-ignorantly-or-fraudulently---god-knows-best/d/111985

Arshad Alam is a columnist with www.NewAgeIslam.com

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/quran-is-not-the-source-of-all-problems-but-it-must-be-brought-within-the-ambit-of-history/d/112032

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TOTAL COMMENTS:-   13


  • To critique the retrogressive and stagnant Islamism should not be labelled as 'Islamophobia' or any kind of 'spite'. Criticism is a prerequisite for any lasting reformation within a religion. History witnessed that the European Enlightenment did not happen overnight. It's not as if Europe woke up one fine morning and delightfully jumped into the formation of a secular and pluralistic society. To construct a reformed Muslim world, Muslims in general and theologians in particular will have to go through a dialectic process of reformation, characterized by critiques and conflicts.

    By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi - 8/2/2017 8:52:49 PM



  • Somebody pointed out that Arshad is a social scientist. That hardly matters. The article remains a piece of shallow journalism.

    Let us start with the title “The Quran is not the source of all the problems”. It implies that it is a source of some of the problems. This is taken to be a self-evident truth which is ok for a journalist looking for a catchy title to his article but not for a Scientist.

    Let us take the title of my article “The Quran is the perfect, infallible word of God even if all the Muslims misunderstand it”. The article explains why this is so with specific examples. It also challenges the Reader to prove otherwise with ample scope to do so. To prove that the Quran is not the perfect, infallible word of God, you only need to point out one contradiction in the Quran or one Muhkamat verse that is unclear.  The title of my article is not simply a hopeful assertion of a believer as Arshad is trying to make it out, but based on a conclusion arrived at logically.

    Whether the Quran is Katabum Mubeen or not does not depend on the variety of different views of scholars on the Book and on every subject, but on the answer to the question “Is it possible to logically derive a single meaning without ambiguity of all its muhkamat verses?” If the answer is yes, then it is Kaitabum Mubeen without doubt and if the answer is no, then it is not Kitabum Mubeen. My article, takes the approach of the scientist. Arshad’s article remains a shallow piece of journalism. 


    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/2/2017 6:47:14 PM



  • A simple challenge to those who critique based on cliched generalities

     Does the Quran make clear the meaning of every keyword? Is it possible to logically derive the meaning of every Muhkamat verse? The answer is yes. Is the logically derived single meaning of the Quran without a problem if the same is attributed to God? The answer is yes. So, the project of critiquing the Quran is a simple one. If I am right, then all the problems are resolved. The effort required is spending a few hours of your time and the gains enormous. So, who will get down to real business and take up the Project? The following is a simple demonstration of logically establishing what kafir/kafaru does not mean. What it precisely means has also been similarly established.

    Now let us consider just one question. Did the Quran, in any verse consider all the polytheists of Mecca as kafir? There is no such verse. On the other hand there are several clear verses including in Surah Taubah from which it is clear that not all polytheists were ever considered kafir.
    Take the following verse:
    لَمْ يَكُنِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ وَالْمُشْرِكِينَ مُنفَكِّينَ حَتَّى تَأْتِيَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَةُ
    (98:1) The Kafaru, among the People of the Book and among the Mushrikin, were not going to depart (from their ways) until there should come to them Clear Evidence,-
    The above verse is speaking of the kafaru among the Pople of the Book and from among the Polytheists from which it is clear that not all the People of the Book and not all the Polytheists are kafir. However, those who argue that it is impossible that the Mushrikin of Mecca among whom the Prophet lived and preached could be considered not kafir, translate the above verse as “The Kafaru, among the People of the Book and all the Mushrikin,………”

    We are not dealing here with the loose speech of fallible men but of the infallible speech of God in which not one word is out of its proper place. The least we may expect is some consistency. Let us look at another verse with an identical construction grammatically.
    (40:8) "And grant, our Lord! that they enter the Gardens of Eternity, which Thou hast promised to them, and to the righteous among their fathers, their wives, and their posterity! For Thou art (He), the Exalted in Might, Full of Wisdom.
    In this verse people have no problem accepting the meaning of the verse to mean:
    the righteous among their fathers
    the righteous among their wives
    the righteous among their posterity or children

    Why do they then have a problem accepting in another verse with identical grammatical construction that it means:
    The kafaru among the people of the book
    And the Kafaru among the polytheists?

    The answer is because they are predisposed to think otherwise. If people do not overcome such predisposition and rely on reason, logic and evidence, to accept the truth, it is a form of kufr.

    Now if Allah had intended to say what the scholars say the verse means, then there is a simple and direct way to do that with complete clarity and without any ambiguity. The verse would have been worded as follows:
    لَمْ يَكُنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مُنفَكِّينَ حَتَّى تَأْتِيَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَةُ
    (98:1) Indeed the Mushrikin and the Kafaru, among the People of the Book, were not going to depart (from their ways) until there should come to them Clear Evidence,-
    Do we then accuse God of being One who loves ambiguity? Or One who is a poor communicator who does not know the simple rules of clear communication? Let us then correct God by rewording the verse as above which makes the meaning clear in place of what we have today so that the ijma of scholars can be happy!

    Inspite of such clear evidence being presented, if the scholars still insist on taking the wrong meaning, they are in flagrant denial of the clear evidence which means that they practice kufr. Neither ijma, nor tradition nor their madhab of taqleed can save them. If ijma, tradition and taqleed are valid excuses, then the Mushrikin of Mecca also had a valid excuse for rejecting Islam.

    There are many more verses but one is enough to prove the point


    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/1/2017 11:45:43 PM



  • Dear Arshad Alam

    My comments ref: “the Quran-is-infallible thesis”

    I have Google searched for the above expression in all my 115 articles and did not find a single instance of the usage of the above term. The claim I make as all Muslims who believe in the divinity of the Quran is that the Qur’an is infallible word of God. This, to me only means that the mortal cannot change any of its words and the Qur’an is so uncompromising about this claim that it warned the Prophet who was under constant pressure to accommodate the local deities in these terms:

    “If he (Muhammad) attributed to Us any false speech (69:44), We would seize him by the right hand (45), then We would sever his aorta (46) and none of you could prevent it (69:47).

    Talking about reform in Islamic societies, may I request you to read my following article

    Breaking The Ice For An All-Round Reform Of Islamic Societies To Avoid The Recurring Call For Reform From Turning Into A Mere Slogan Without Ever Achieving Any Reform At All

    http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/muhammad-yunus,-new-age-islam/breaking-the-ice-for-an-all-round-reform-of-islamic-societies-to-avoid-the-recurring-call-for-reform-from-turning-into-a-mere-slogan-without-ever-achieving-any-reform-at-all/d/105118

    And if you talk about reform of Islam as a religion based on the Qur’an, if that were at all possible, it would have already happened – more importantly the faith of the Muslim masses in the divinity of the Qur’an is so profound that a few, a few scores, hundreds or thousands of liberal intellectuals cannot sell them the notion of changing or reforming the Qur’an.


    By muhammd yunus - 8/1/2017 11:13:45 PM



  • Dear Arshad Alam! 
    You have written a good article and I am particularly impressed with your following remarks:
    1.       it is not true that one cannot beat the traditionalists in the game of selective quotation from Quranic passages supporting moderate and liberal voices
    2.       There is increasing data to suggest that terrorism in the Muslim world cannot be reduced to scriptures.
    3.       The second problem with the Quran-is-infallible thesis is that it puts the text beyond the pale of history.
    Unfortunately however, your following statement referencing me is liable to be misinterpreted and merits clarification.
    1.       You write:  “To make matters worse, there are others like Muhammad Yunus who do not see anything beyond a conspiracy to malign Islam in the writings of Hassan Radwan.”
    I wrote this: “Scholars are free to hold any view but if they take to lies or half-truths to support their views, they do far greater harm to their community than any good. They become conspirators and traitors.”
    The above remark was prompted not by Hassan Radwan’s attempt to reform Islam but by the following arguments that I found incriminating:
    i.                     He wrote: “He (Muhammad) was accused of recounting nothing but myths and fairytales and it took a long and violent struggle to win over Arabia - not an intellectual one”
    In my article, I had laid down clear argument to show that the accusation hurled at him by the Meccans stood null and void as in the years to follow those who accused him voluntarily embraced Islam. I also had two of the greatest historians of Islam testify against his claim that the Prophet’s mission was “not an intellectual one”
    In the same article I showed that Irshad Manji quoted the forged Pact of Umar in place of the original that predated it by a few centuries and made a few other remarks that contradicted hard historical fact or eternal Qur’anic testimony that I tabled.
    I also quoted the Juristic Luminary Faizan Mustafa of charging the the Qur’an with contradictions and then recommending the Qur’anic protocol for divorce.
    Dear Arshad, Perhaps you do not appreciate that in the process of defending the Qur’an if I were to bring any false charge against such intellectual celebrities like Irshad Manji or Faizan Mustafa, either of them can take me to the court and demand heavy compensation. So when I write an article, charging any group of people or terrorists as I do from time to time, I am as careful as one walking at the edge of a cliff, ever conscious that a false step can take him down the abyss. More importantly, I know it well that even if didn’t fall into the abyss, I have to stand by what I write in the court of God.
    By the way, have you read the article at all?  If anyone challenges the Qur’an or the Prophet – it is his personal view, but if he tampers with the testimony of the Qur’an or contradicts the testimony of internationally recognized authorities, he commits intellectual felony.
    The intention of this comment is not to shut you down. You have used reason and tabled your view point and as I see, you  did not attempt to cover truth with falsehood so I have no complaints except that you may not have read my article and went by the comments of the others.
    I will come to point 3 Qur’an-is-infallible in a separate comment. 
    By muhammd yunus - 8/1/2017 9:58:29 PM



  • As an analogy, the Christian reform only came about when Luther translated the Bible. Maybe, both Muslims as well as non Muslims should be encouraged to read translations (plural) of the Quran to  reinterpret the text in context.
    By Ashish - 8/1/2017 8:43:36 PM



  • What you call an excellent review is not even consistent. Arshad says “Scholars, both modern (like Amina Wadud) and traditional (like Fazlur Rahman) have shown how a different hermeneutical reading of the Quran is possible: one that is consistent with a modern and liberal world-view and that such a project has much potential.”

    He has not bothered to see that I have shown the clear meaning of the Quran to be consistent with a modern and liberal world view.

    He also says  “Moreover, direct access to Quran is still limited in the Muslim world and most Muslims access it through various interpretations of it.”

    That is true, what Muslims learn about their religion is from their theology and not the Quran and I have argued that this needs reform of a fundamental nature.

    He further says “If we altogether give up the task of a liberal and modernist interpretation, then it is only going to benefit the traditionalist and the extremists.

    So why does he not support my articles that say among other things that Kafir is a faith neutral term in the Quran and applies equally to Muslims who do kufr and does not apply to all people of any faith and not even to all polytheists of the Prophet’s times. That fighting is permitted only against oppression and not against disbelief etc. The meaning of kafir as used in the Quran is derived logically from the Quran, and that the only cause for which fighting is permitted is against oppression is also easily established from the Quran. This  changes the way the Quran reads dramatically. No verse on fighting is then problematic.

    The simple answer is that neither he nor you have read any of the articles.

    'The important thing Professor Naim, is not what you know, but what you do with that knowledge. You seem to misuse your knowledge out of spite for your religion. Being an atheist is fine but a hostile apostate who twists facts is intolerable.

     


    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/1/2017 11:29:56 AM



  • Excellent review of the matter. I hope Sultan Shahin paid you the same amount he pays to Mr. Naseer Ahmad. 
    By C M NAIM - 8/1/2017 6:05:53 AM



  • Arshad Alam by training is a social scientist
    By Neshat Quaiser - 8/1/2017 4:01:32 AM



  • Arshadji, your article offers a refreshing view of the religious text. It is holistic questioning beliefs and practices. Quite brave of you to write a piece like this! Looking forward to more such critical articles...
    By Meera - 8/1/2017 2:10:37 AM



  • I am afraid that this article is a very shallow journalistic piece. While it mentions my article, it misstates what is said in the article. My article shows with evidence that while the Quran categorically dismisses the idea of an immortal soul, every scholar, theologian and imam of Islam has and does believe in an immortal soul. The problem is that people believe what they want to believe and do not take the meaning even when the same is crystal clear. The article lists the many points on which the clear message of the Quran differs from the current/past theology and beliefs of the Muslims. So, you cannot judge the Quran by what the Muslims believe.


    As for critiquing the Quran, this is what I have said in the article: “The Quran expects you to examine it critically and with all sincerity and by dealing with cognitive dissonance most honestly by changing your view rather than by rationalizing or discounting.”

     However, see how Arshad gets carried away with generalities ignoring that he has been given ample scope and opportunity to critique everything that is said which being a journalist does not interest him at all. He must quickly churn out and submit his piece for publication. This what he says:

     “So what is the problem if we accept that the Quran is infallible? The first and the most obvious problem is that this approach puts the Quran beyond the scope of a critique. Critique is fundamental to how any form of knowledge progresses. Without questioning and a ceaseless search for answers, the human project is not very different from other species with which we share the earth.

    I haven’t asked him or Hassan Radwan to accept the Quran as infallible without evidence. The evidence has been provided to critique. It is Arshad who is dogmatic about his belief that the Quran is a product of a human project and is both fallible and imperfect. He however feels no necessity to provide any evidence or proof except to say that if everyone misunderstands the Quran, then it must be either fallible or unclear or both. He lacks even the intellectual honesty to explore the examples cited where the Quran is clear but every Muslim past and present has believed otherwise.  

    It does not even occur to their shallow minds, that rejecting all of theology, the ahadith and the beliefs that one has grown up with, does not come out of being uncritical. I am not a person to accept or say anything without reaching a conclusion based on a complete analysis.

    There is no demand to the reader to accept what I say uncritically. While every point has been made by referencing a relevant article, and it is open for anyone to critique what I have said, the superficial and shallow commentators are happy to deal with generalities rather than get into specifics.


    By Naseer Ahmed - 7/31/2017 8:33:35 PM



  • Excellent discussion of a difficult topic.

    Without questioning and a ceaseless search for answers, any theology or ideology becomes stagnant. Mere assertion and fear-mongering take the place of rational thinking and logical discussion. This has a negative and regressive impact on the whole community.


    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 7/31/2017 12:44:43 PM



  • The Quran is kitabum mubeen for many Jews and Christians but not for the Muslims. You cannot find a flaw in their understanding. For example, read Craig's article today on NAI or what Rabbi Allen S. Maller, writes. That is because they do not interpret the Quran but take it's direct meaning. The Muslims interpret through the ahadith and are predisposed to believe in a certain way based on their sect and it's theology.

    Arshad is a journalist writing for a remuneration. If he wrote like a believer, he wouldn't get paid for what he writes. His article must therefore be seen as a non-serious piece of journalism

    By Naseer Ahmed - 7/31/2017 9:14:03 AM



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