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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (19 Oct 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)



Challenging, And Shed Of Its Literary Glory in Translation, the Qur'an Offers Clear Clues to Exploring Its Core Commandments - Now Obscured, Corrupted and Distorted By Secondary Theological Sources

 

A Must Exercise For All Educated Muslims

--- A Comprehensive Exposition with Clarification of Commonplace Polemical, Textual and Oratorical Issues and Some Fresh Insights into the Interpretation of Gender Sensitive Verses.

By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

19 October, 2012

Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009

Any person reading a translation of the Arabic Qur’an line by line for the first time is bound to be perplexed if he/she is a believing Muslim and simply bewildered and alienated if he is Qur’an-sceptic Muslim or a non-Muslim. He can neither connect one verse or passage with the next, nor can he find any beauty, coherence and subtlety in its diction. Stark ignorant of the subtlety and nuances of the Qur’anic Arabic, and confronted by literal translation of its idioms and poetical and eschatological imageries, he is angered and frustrated. With no background knowledge of the Qur’an’s historical and Biblical allusions, he is completely at a loss to make any head or tail of what comes under his eyes. With turning of each page he confronts, often in the midst of disjointed and abstruse themes, divine threats and altruistic commandments, both of which he loathes to swallow. Who wants to be told that his wealth is not entirely his own (4:32), or to spend for the needy at every opportunity (2:274), or to write off debt to a poor debtor (2:278), or not to expect any return for a favour bestowed (74:6), or to shun greed, arrogance, back biting and other temptations and cravings of mind? He soon gives up.  

The truth is, read pedagogically verse by verse, the Arabic Qur’an – let alone its translation is mind boggling. It is like a literary kaleidoscope that encompasses an exhaustive array of themes, mixes the spiritual with the mundane, the abstruse with the concrete and maintains a sketchy diary of the Prophetic mission with no dates, no names of people or places, no historical details of any kind, scattering all its data in bits and pieces in a random fashion across its text. In the midst of this wide array of themes, it interjects the diverse elements of its guidance and reverts to some of them repeatedly.

The matter becomes far more complex in translation. The Qur’anic diction is elliptic, cryptic, enigmatic and evocative. It is rich with idioms, metaphors, allegories and similes. It features a verb free, intertwined tri-consonantal construction, and carries a hallmark of excellence unparalleled [1] that is totally lost in translation. The revulsion that it can evoke in an unsympathetic, uninitiated mind is best expressed by the great scholar of the Enlightenment era, Thomas Carlyle, otherwise a great admirer of the Prophet Muhammad [2]; he charged the Qur’an of being ‘a wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite, endless irritation, long windedness, entanglement, insupportable stupidity in short.’ [3]    

Where does the problem lie

The problem lies in the transformation of the divine speech (revelation) into human scale (the text of the Qur’an). The divine speech, descending from a plane that is independent of space and time, and disregards the linear pattern of human thought, comprehension and chronology - jumps across space, time and theme in complete freedom. Its immediate audience – the Arabs, who had honed their linguistic skill to an advanced level of perfection, were accordingly very confused with the revelation for a long time. They found it strange and unbelievable (38:5, 50:2), a jumble of dreams (21:5) and legends of the ancients (6:25, 23:83, 25:5, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). However, as direct witnesses to the revelation in the live backdrop of its contexts, and under direct guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), they could comprehend the broader dimensions as well as the smaller but critical caveats of its message. But the situation post the revelation altered as the revelation was reduced to a real time disjointed non-chronological, unstructured text. This, in the early centuries of Islam led to the evolution of its theological sciences, notably, the asbab al-nuzul (Construction of the background of revelation), Sira (the biography of the Prophet and the history of his mission), the Hadith, and the Classical Law (Sharia) schools (mathahab). By the fourth century of Islam, the Hadith and the Classical Sharia were canonized as the sole vehicles of religious guidance for the Muslim community; and this remained normative in Islam through to the late medieval ages. This restricted the Qur’an to merely a divine liturgy for recitation in prayer and on solemn occasions or for seeking divine blessings and institutionalized the Hadith and the Classical Sharia as true representation of the Qur’anic message.   

The subversion of the Qur’anic message during the classical Islamic civilization

The social, moral and ethical paradigms of the Qur’an conflicted with the political ambitions of the rulers and their craving for wealth, power, glory, lavish haram life and distinctive privileges. Thus, since early centuries of Islam, the dynastic rulers manipulated and even coerced the Ulama to obfuscate the egalitarian, humanistic, gender neutral and pluralistic message of the Qur’an. “According to a number of sources, the Imam Abu Hanifa was imprisoned by Caliph al-Mansur (754 – 775) for defying him in religion. Imam Malik ibn Anas, the founder of another school of law was also flogged during his rule” [4].  Furthermore, as Islam entered new cultures and civilizations, it encountered customs and juristic norms that contradicted the Qur’anic paradigms. To accommodate them into Islam – a historical necessity for the era, the doctors of law declared: “Any Qur’anic verse which contradicts the opinions of ‘our masters’ will be construed as having been abrogated, or the rule of preference will be applied thereto. It is better that the verse is interpreted in such a way that it conforms to their opinion” [5]. Pedagogic study of the Qur’an was also discouraged by citing a tradition that “one who discusses about the Book of God, (the Qur'an) makes a mistake, even if he is correct [6]. These developments coupled with the reverential remoteness of the Qur’an as divine speech led to the relegation of the Qur’an as a purely liturgical text. Over time, this notion has been dogmatized in Islamic societies which conflate the Qur’anic message with the Hadith and the Classical Sharia of Islam. It also purports to restrict the religious obligations of the Muslims to its introductory five pillars of faith, though after the integration of Mecca (630), merely two years before the Prophet’s death (632), compliance with the definitive commandments (ahkamat) of the Qur’an was one of the pillars of faith [7]. Moreover, the Qur’an does not provide any basis to justify reducing its holistic message to only four elements or pillars (Salat, Zakat, fasting, and hajj), besides the shahadah [the first pillar of faith – the oral declaration: ‘I testify that there is no deity but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.’]

The distortion of the Qur’anic message today

Fast forward to this era, a section of educated youth – mostly the rich elite, business tycoons and those seeking to free themselves from religious bondage, as well as the atavistic among the Ulama and radicalized elements (a small minority though) ready to blow themselves up in public place and terrorize humanity or condone such acts have unwittingly joined ranks to propagate the weakest accounts (ahadith) and the most grotesque rulings of the Classical Sharia to justify their blatantly anti-Qur’anic views.  These insiders (the liberal, rationalist hypocrites and the fanatic and misguided Ulama) thus demonize their Prophet, scandalise his wives (their own mothers in the spirit of the Qur’anic verse 33:6), poison interfaith relations and reduce Islam into a voluptuous and barbaric cult. In historical perspective this is the most dangerous development in Islam, even more dangerous than the recent anti-terror wars on the Muslim lands or the Crusades and the Mongol attacks some eight hundred years ago. These inside demonizers of Islam are unwittingly projecting their faith and fellow Muslims as a heavy and unbearable burden on human civilization and setting the stage for a deadly backlash from the powerful enemies of Islam – the Islamophobic think-tank and military industrial complex - than what the world has seen in the past decade. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative to install the Qur’an in its rightful place as an independent, completed and perfected fount of guidance as it claims and this article aims at.  

Clarification of various polemical, textual and oratorical issues

Islamic scholarship is virtually dedicated to a category of issues that virtually sidetrack the core message of the Qur’an. The most commonplace issues are:

i)             Speculations about entities that are beyond the categories of human mind, such as angels, jin, hur, ruh (divine spirit), nafs (soul), paradise, hell, ‘lohe mahfuz,’ the true nature of the Prophet’s ‘Night Journey’ to the ‘distant mosque’ and subsequent ascension (mi‘raj) to heaven – whether it was of a physical or mystical nature (17:1), the polarity between freewill and predestination (qadr) for example. The Qur’an forbids any attempt to probe their essence.

ii)           Interpretation of the Qur’anic verse 2:106 that clarifies the doubts of the contemporaneous Christians and Jews as to why God should send a succession of revelations. The verse declares: “We never abrogate or consign to oblivion any message (ayat) unless We bring one better than it, or similar to it.” Many early theologians took a restrictive meaning of the word ‘ayah’ (plural, ayat) as a “verse of the Qur’an” to suggest that a few verses of the Qur’an have been abrogated. This is simply untenable [8] as it will purport to imply that God Almighty, like a human being, changed his mind with the changing context of the revelation.

iii)         The identification of the addressee of a given command – whether it is addressed to the present day reader or to the immediate audience of the Prophet.

iv)          The Qur’anic fundaments universal notions such as din (moral law), islam (monotheistic faith), taqwa (moral uprightness), ‘believer’ (anyone who believes in God) and the Almighty God of all humanity and beings are often interpreted in an exclusivist manner. 

v)            Isolationist interpretation of a Qur’anic verse. Thus the verse 3:85, “If anyone seeks other than Islam as a din (religion/moral law), it will not be accepted of him...” is interpreted in isolation from its preceding verses (3:83/84) to claim the exclusivity of Islamic faith. The verse 9:5, “But when the sacred months [9] are past, kill the pagans wherever you find them, and capture them, surround them, and watch for them in every lookout;...” is interpreted in isolation from its preceding and succeeding verses (9:4, 9:6) that grant peace and security to all non-hostile pagans.

vi)          The traditional literalist translation of Qur’anic idioms and similes can be confusing, as typified by these examples (in bold) showing the conceivable textual meanings in brackets: Seal up the heart (block the mind) (2:7); Sickness in the heart (to waver in faith) (2:10); Deaf, dumb and blind (Stubbornly defiant) (2:18), kill (mortify) yourselves...’” (2:54), ‘Be apes despised (disgraced)’” (2:65), ‘We (God) raised Mount Sinai high above you’ (had Mount Sinai towering behind you)…” (2:63), throw behind one’s back (to disregard or renounce) (2:101), Face of God (Presence of God) (2:114), throne of God (Almightiness of God) (2:255), ‘swallow a fire into bellies’ (commit grave sin) (4:10), obliterate faces and turn them about their backs (to inflict severe torment); camel passing through the eye of a needle (an impossibility) (7:40).

vii)         As part of its rhetoric, the Qur’an occasionally personifies non-living objects:

“there are rocks that fall down for fear of God” (2:74), “all that are in the heavens and the earth submit to God willingly or unwillingly” (3:83), “prostrate before God willingly or unwillingly, as do their shadows mornings and evenings” (13:15).

viii)       The verses relating to the physical paradigms of the contemporaneous civilization, such as the physical mode of punishment, travelling, hunting of birds for food, weighing of goods etc. must be regarded as era specific and not of literal eternal applicability as the Qur’anic message espouses the principle of minhaj (dynamism in the code of life within the limits of divine guidelines - 5:48).

ix)          Fighting Verses: In addition to offering guidance and illustrations, the Qur’an also guided the Prophet in defending against his powerful Arab enemies, who had accused him of forging lies and witchcraft (34:43, 38:4), forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales (11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8), witchcraft (21:3, 43:30, 74:24), obvious bewildering witchcraft (10:2, 37:15, 46:7), and of being bewitched or possessed (17:47, 23:70, 34:8). Therefore, all those verses that relate to defending against the pagans were specific to the era. Recorded in full light of history they also attest to the defensive character of the Prophetic mission, the agony and trauma that he and his followers lived in on a day to day, and at times moment to moment basis fearing annihilation at hands of their attackers, and under the ominous shadow of the conspiracies of the hypocrites of Medina and the native Jewish tribes who eagerly awaited their destruction.

Need for fresh insight into some of the Qur’anic verses.

The tafsir sciences (exegesis) evolved in Islam’s early centuries when patriarchy dominated all major civilizations of the world including the newly emergent Islamic civilization. The Qur’an’s verses relating to the empowerment of women and family laws were accordingly interpreted in a gendered fashion. Interpreters in later centuries through to recent times religiously adopted and embellished the works of their predecessors. Thus, practically all the gender sensitive verses - 2:223, 2:229, 4:34, 23:6, 24:31, 70:29/30 for example have been traditionally interpreted in a patriarchic manner. Muhammad Assad’s renditions of these/ such verses are more in line with the gender dynamics of this era than those of the traditional/ past exegetes. Besides, any account or report in the theological discourses of Islam (Hadith, Classical Law and Sira) that contradict the Qur’anic message must not be engaged to contradict any clear and holistically supported message of the Qur’an as this will tantamount to subverting the word of God by word of man. As the Qur’an puts it, ‘Don’t make a joke of God’s signs (verses) (2:231).

Summing Up: The object of this essay is to brace the non-Arabic reader to navigate through the pages of a translated Qur’an, which, without any basic orientation as above, is likely to perplex and even overwhelm him before he reaches the quarter chapter mark of its first major Sura, al-Baqara. The translated Qur’an is quite unlike anything a person may ever have laid his hands on. The early Arab Shaykhs in their profound wisdom had recognized the obfuscating effect of translation – transforming the divine into the human plane - an inherently flawed and risky proposition that admits of a mortal acting veritably as the spokesman of the One who has no common boundary with him. But be it so, the One who is beyond all associations with anything willed to communicate with the humans and framed its speech in a diction that cast spell on its immediate audience, scared it as much as a lion frightens a donkey (74:49-51), utterly bewildered its European translators for more than half a millennium [10] and continues and bewilder and anger all those skeptic of its divinity. But does this mean that the divine scheme leaves humanity, and particularly the Muslims in the lurch. Far from it!

As though cognizant of the immense complexity of its textualized form, the Qur’an offers a set of clues to humanity to vault over its textual complexity and get to the crux of its message – its tenets of guidance. Thus, it commands humanity to probe its verses (38:29, 47:24) with a positive state of mind (56:79). It calls for focusing only on the definitive verses (ayatum muhkamat) – such as those free from any ambiguity or confusion (mutashabihat) (3:7) and seeking the best meaning in it (39:18, 39:55). It also claims to be a book of wisdom (10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4) made clear and distinct (12:1, 15:1, 16:64, 26:2, 27:1, 36:69, 43:2, 44:2) with all kinds of illustrations (17:89, 18:54, 30:58, 39:27), and claims to be its own best interpretation (25:33), and its own completion and perfection (5:3).

 

The foregoing enunciations imply that the best way to interpret the Qur’anic message is i) to focus on its definitive – that is clearly stated and unambiguous verses, ii) to use its vocabulary – how a word or root is used across the text; iii) to cross reference the verses bearing same or similar themes which may appear under different Suras of the Qur’an; and iv) to use the Qur’anic themes and illustrations to extrapolate its broader message, rather than quoting any verse or passage in isolation. These clues, which collectively epitomize the most preferred methodology of exegesis – explaining the Qur’an by the Qur’an [11] can greatly assist any sympathetic reader of the Arabic or the translated Qur’an to comprehend the broader trajectories of its guidance despite the historical gap of some fourteen centuries between its advent and this day and the immense complexity of its text when read line by line in its entirety. A recently published focused exegetic work [12] attempts to probe the verses of the Qur’an following the above listed Qur’anic clues. 

Note of Caution to Islamic Scholarship

The Islamic scholarship may do better to allocating minimal time on probing what the Qur’an forbids it to probe – its ambiguous (mutashabihat) verses, and to actively probe and appropriate its definitive (muhkamat) commandments (3:7) – its social, moral and ethical paradigms, its functional and interpersonal tenets – good deeds, sharing of wealth with the poor, good neighborly and inter-faith relations, charity, generosity, justice and equity; mercy, compassion, patience and tolerance; peaceful conflict resolution, vying with each other in goodness and lawful pursuits, use of reason and discernment, repelling all negative thoughts, unremitting effort for improvement - to cite a broad cross section of the Qur’an’s definitive tenets.   

Those who discuss those aspects of the Qur’an that it commands the believers not to probe and supplement their discussions with the Islamic theological sources have virtually swapped the definitive commandments of the Qur’an – the core of its book (ummul kitab) for the obscurantist aspects of its message. As the Qur’an put it, “there is perversity in their hearts and they only seek fitna (confusion, sedition, chaos)” (3:7), and they keep Muslims and Islam stagnated in the track of civilization and its scholarship imprisoned in a closed medieval domain. God alone knows what fate awaits the Muslims for their remoteness from the essence of the Qur’anic message – the saddest episode in Islamic history [13].   

  Notes

1.      Following quotations from some of the most eminent non-Muslim Arabic scholars of the modern era attest to the extraordinary literary beauty of the Qur’an:

o     “It is by far the finest work of Arabic prose in existence” - Alan Jones, (The Koran, London 1994, opening page.

o   “The sublime rhetoric of the Arabic Koran … its richly varied rhymes… constitute the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank among the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind.” - Arthur Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, London 1956, p. x.

o   (Its language is) “the richest and most harmonious in the world.”  -  Savary. Extracted from: Sliman bin Ibrahim and Etienne Dinet, The life of Muhammad, London 1990, p. 71.

o   “.. the recited Qur’an is a distinctively compelling example of verbal expression.” - Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition, Oregon 2007, p. 2.

2.      Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), in one of his famous lectures on heroes among the Prophets declares: “A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe ...  as if a spark had fallen, one spark, on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand; but lo, the sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven-high from Delhi to Grenada! I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.” [http://www.scribd.com/doc/12685866/Hero-as-a-Prophet-by-Thomas-Carlyle]

3.      Karen Armstrong, Muhammad – A Western Attempt to Understand Islam, London, 1991. p. 38.

4.      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Mansur.

5.      Ahmad Hussain, Doctrine of ijma in Islam, New Delhi, 1992, p.16.

6.      Sanan Abu Daud, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Vol.3, Acc. 253, p. 118.

7.      Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Vol.1, Chap. 42, ‘The Book of Belief.’

8.      Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 2, Note 87.

9.      “According to a pre-Islamic custom prevalent in Arabia , the months of Muharram, Rajab, Dhu 'l-Qa'dah and Dhu 'l-Hiijah were considered sacred in the sense that all tribal warfare had to cease during those months. It was with a view to preserving these periods of truce and thus to promoting peace among the frequently warring tribes that the Qur'an did not revoke, but rather confirmed, this ancient custom.” Note 4, Chapter 9, Ibid.

10.  The Qur’an was first translated in Latin in a 1143, republished in 1543 and since then this Latin version has been translated in various European languages. 

11.  Ahmad Von Denffer, Ulum al-Qur’an, Islamic Foundation, UK 1983, p. 125.

12.  Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009.

13.  The Muslims’ ignorance /disregard of the Qur’anic guidance and its Colossal and Recurring Cost.

 

-          http://newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/muhammad-yunus,-new-age-islam/the-muslims’-ignorance-/disregard-of-the-qur’anic-guidance-and-its-colossal-and-recurring-cost/d/7795

Oct. 18, 2012

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.

URL:  http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/challenging,-and-shed-of-its-literary-glory-in-translation,-the-qur-an-offers-clear-clues-to-exploring-its-core-commandments---now-obscured,-corrupted-and-distorted-by-secondary-theological-sources/d/9039

 




TOTAL COMMENTS:-   31


  • The first time I read A.Yusuf Ali's translation of the Quran I did not understand much because I had no basic idea, there was no chronology and no footnotes to guide. After fininshing it I learnt most of the basic concepts and I felt that God has emphaised pride to be the most heinous crime because my mind will filled with the story of Pharoah and Moses. After completing it the second time I felt that God's focus is on shunning polytheism and on defending wars.
    I feel that verses relating to helping the orphans, doing good to all, not to expect anything material in this world etc is good as it uplifts one's morals. And instead of discouraging, it encouraged me.
    Muslims (with little knowledge of the Quran) and non-Muslims alike  are bound to get confused when he notices that God is mentioning various things about Jews, Christians, Mary, Jeses etc. Muslims ask why is God rebuking at one place some Jews and Christians and at other place God says that closest to Muslims is Chrisitans and that even Jews and Chrisitnas can go to heaven; non-Muslims think how could an illiterate man in the deserts come to know about these things.
    The Quran, in the first reading, perplexes the mind; but the more you read it the more you will understand it. Everytime I finish reading a translation I perceive that this time God's focus was on something else.
    By Aiman Reyaz - 11/16/2012 9:20:33 PM



  • Download free islamic wordpress theme from http://www.islam-muslim.net/wordpress-islam-free-islamic-wordpress-theme/

    By Islam - 11/1/2012 10:03:22 AM



  • Harrer says, "You here are just repackaged jihadis."
    Are Hindus who don't burn their widows, do not practice untouchability and do not follow Manusmriti "repackaged Hindus"? Are Christians and Jews who do not follow the Old Testament's admonitions to kill apostates and to stone to death adulteresses "repackaged Christians and Jews"? Why so much hostility to Muslim reformation?
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 10/31/2012 12:15:01 PM



  • Dear K Harrer, Perhaps the following statement appearing under the 'Distortion of the Qur'anic Message" has escaped your attention:
    the atavistic among the Ulama and radicalized elements (a small minority though) ready to blow themselves up in public place and terrorize humanity or condone such acts have unwittingly joined ranks to propagate the weakest accounts (ahadith) and the most grotesque rulings of the Classical Sharia to justify their blatantly anti-Qur’anic views.  These insiders (the liberal, rationalist hypocrites and the fanatic and misguided Ulama) thus demonize their Prophet, scandalise his wives (their own mothers in the spirit of the Qur’anic verse 33:6), poison interfaith relations and reduce Islam into a voluptuous and barbaric cult. 
    By muhammad yunus (1) - 10/31/2012 5:40:39 AM



  • That's just DUMB. What "gory" translation are the Taliban and al Qaeda using to justify their violence? The original ARABIC.
    Falsifying Islamic texts in order to fool the stupid infidels is not "New Age" anything - it's the same old.
    You here are just repackaged jihadis, obviously.
    By K. Harrer - 10/30/2012 1:09:46 PM



  • Dear Sultan Saheb, Many thanks for your detailed comment and final endorsement of my piece - a very special piece of my heart.
    Since the caption does not clearly capture the essence of the article, lacks bite, and the use of the opening technical term can confuse a reader, I propose to revise the caption as below:
    CHALLENGING, THREATENING, OVERWHELMING, CONFUSING, DISORIENTING, REVOLTING AND SHED OF ITS LITERARY GLORYR PAR EXCELLENCE IN TRANSLATION, THE NOBLE QUR'AN OFFERS CLEAR CLUES TO EXPLORING ITS CORE COMMANDMENTS - NOW OBSCURED, CORRUPTED AND DISTORTED BY SECONDARY THEOLOGICAL SOURCES -
    A MUST EXERCISE FOR ALL EDUCATED MUSLIMS TO DEFEND TIER FAITH UNDER MOUNTING ATTACK.
    -THIS IS A READER'S GUIDE WITH CLARIFICATION OF POLEMICAL, TEXTUAL AND            ORATORICAL ISSUES AND SOME FRESH INSIGHTS ON GENDER DYNAMICS.
    By muhammad yunus (1) - 10/26/2012 10:03:52 PM



  • My interpretation of verse 9:5 and Surah 9, taking the context into account, is that the intent of the verse was to avoid bloodshed which would otherwise have been inevitable if this verse was not revealed. 
    The Prophet (PBUH) declared amnesty for a period of 4 months on conquering Mecca considering that these months were considered holy when fighting was prohibited. Not a drop of blood was shed and the Muslim victorious army behaved and showed restraint. Verse 5 was an open warning to the enemy tribes of what they may expect after the lapse of four months.
    It is inconceivable that the hostile tribes which had taunted, persecuted, killed, fought wars and broke their treaty would have changed their behavior and the Muslims would have been hard pressed to restrain themselves. Bloodshed was therefore inevitable. The verse by giving a clear warning to specific tribes allowed them a 4 month period to either swear their allegiance to the Prophet by accepting Islam or make themselves scarce. The revelation of the Surah therefore avoided much bloodshed. If you consider the outcome, then the verse number 5 is responsible for avoiding great bloodshed and can be considered to be one of the most merciful verses revealed. So both by intent and outcome, the Surah brought order without bloodshed and if people today interpret its purpose differently, then this is blaspheming the Quran.
    I have not seen anyone interpret this way but then I have not found any evidence that verse 9:5 resulted in bloodshed or it was actually given effect to.
    By Naseer Ahmed - 10/26/2012 11:41:03 AM



  • Dear Yunus Saheb, May God bless you for the painstaking effort you are engaged in, explaining to us that some verses in the Quran are of eternal value, of universal significance, and we Muslims should focus on them. Other verses can only be understood in a context and were meant for the time in which they came and for the purpose for which they were revealed and they should be, as you said in another comment, “set aside.”

     If I have correctly understood your ideas, the problem is only that of semantics: the misunderstanding arising from the phrase “'De-contextualization of the Noble Qur'an'. I am making this an issue and consider it important to remove this misunderstanding because this is precisely what Jihadis do – de-contextualise the Quran and consider every verse to be of eternal value - to brainwash our youth to get them ready for a permanent Jihad (in the sense of Qital) against an overwhelming majority of Muslims whom they consider hypocrites or apostates as well as all non-Muslims. As another writer says in a different context: “a decontextualized reading of the Quran can lead to a grave misunderstanding of its meaning.” Nearly all progressive Muslim writers consider decontextualising Quran a major fallacy.

    In “Believing Women" in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, Asma Barlas argues: the Qur'an also offers us specific methodological criteria for reading it that emphasize the principles of textual holism, reading for the best meanings, and using analytical reasoning in interpretation. The Qur'an's emphasis on reading it as a textual unity emerges from its warning "Those who break the Qur'an into parts.” She then quotes a verse: “Them, by thy Lord, We shall question, every one, Of what they used to do" (15:91-93; in Pickthall n.d., 194). A little later, she writes: “Similarly, in a reference to the Book given to Moses, God condemns those who make "it into (Separate) sheets for show, While ye conceal much (Of its contents)" (6:91; in Ali, 314). The Qur'an's warning against reading it in a decontextualized, selective, and piecemeal way emerges also from its criticism of the Israelites who broke their covenant with God: "They change the words From their (right) places And forget a good part Of the Message that was Sent them" (5:14; in Ali, 245). And, again, they "change the words From their (right) times And places" (5:44; in Ali, 255). Revelation, the Qur'an emphasizes, is of a continuity and is also internally clear and self-consistent (39:23; in Ali, 1243-44).”

    However, if the sense that I now make of your ideas in this article is correct, i.e., setting aside verses that require to be read in context and focussing on those that clearly have eternal, universal significance, then I must say that I have absolutely no problem with them. Indeed, several times in the last decades in other publications, and in New Age Islam, too, I have explained these in different contexts. Let me give you some examples:

     

    I once asked our ulema to declare militant, bellicose verses of the Quran “obsolete.” These confrontational verses can only be understood in the context of the Prophet’s time and the existential struggle that Islam was engaged in. In one article posted on 23 Sep 2008, I wrote: “The so-called Indian Mujahedeen have used in their notorious e-mails certain Qur’anic verses to justify killing of innocent civilians. These are the same verses that enemies of Islam’s pacific and humane philosophy have been traditionally using for centuries to demonise Islam. Muslims who go berserk and want to simply smite all and sundry in their crazy stupor also routinely use these verses to justify their fanaticism and probably also to brainwash the still-not-so-crazy to their cause.

    “New Age Islam urges Indian Ulema to come out with explicit, unequivocal statements that the Qur’anic verses like the following - “Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks"- are now obsolete: they were meant for a specific situation during the Prophet’s life and do not apply today.” Full Text at: http://www.newageislam.com/radical-islamism-and-jihad/indian-ulema-have-no-time-to-lose,-must-call-militant-quranic-surahs-obsolete/d/787

     

    In another context, I wrote: “Mainstream Islam is not contradicting these claims loudly and widely enough. This inevitably creates suspicions in the minds of our neighbours, people belonging to other religions who do not understand the situational nature of Qur’anic verses, particularly as they are told that every word, comma and full stop in the Holy Quran is immutable and of universal significance. This also makes the task of Jihadists easier; they are able to easily brainwash our youth, even those who are highly educated and intelligent.”

    http://www.newageislam.com/islam,terrorism-and-jihad/jihadism-gets-sustenance-from-verses-of-war-in-the-quran/d/960

     

    I came back to this theme several times ever since Osama bin Laden quoted Qur’anic verses to justify killing of innocents in his terror campaign, particularly in his notorious “Letter to America” that is consider his manifesto.

     

     Once I also explained that while obsolete these Qur’anic verses are not quite irrelevant. They tell us of the near-insurmountable difficulties that the Prophet (saw) overcame to save Islam in its infancy. But for the defensive wars the Prophet (saw) fought Islam could not have existed today. So it is important for us to know about them. But we are not going to fight those wars again. Those circumstances do not and cannot prevail now, so we should consider these verses only of historical significance and not treat them as guiding us today.

    I also reproduced an article from Jakarta Post by Ida Indawati Khouw entitled:  Muslims should abrogate verses of war in Islamic Law' November 03, 2008), saying:  “Although Islamic scholars have repeatedly explained that Koranic verses endorsing war and the use of violence only apply in specific circumstances, for example, in justifying defensive violence when fighting against repression, nonetheless contemporary hard-liners continue justifying violent acts using these sacred texts and seek to legitimize their own actions on religious grounds.

    "We should think of a way to end this advocacy of violence in the name of Islam. Apologists argue that the problem lies in Muslims having misinterpreted these texts. They refuse to look at the religion in a critical way but suggest a method of contextualization in interpreting these texts (emphasizing that the verses are historically bound to the era in which they were revealed). But I have become tired with this approach."

    "The problem is, fundamentalists create context," Guntur explains further: "For instance, they apply the word 'holy war' to the struggle against United States domination. Another example, the hard-liners extend the meaning of 'enemy of Islam' not only to followers of the Jewish faith and Christians but also to Muslims they consider to be cooperating with the 'infidels'. So, they are very 'contextual' in their arguments."

     “In order to 'rescue' Islam from being tarnished by violent acts, he suggests Muslims should dare to abrogate the Islamic law on war and the use of violence, an approach that is founded on Islamic tradition itself, "Islam acknowledges a method called nasakh, abrogation of law. It is not a popular approach but we can take the step when certain stipulations are no longer applicable to the contemporary context."

    “Applying nasakh does not mean to abrogate the holy texts, "texts endorsing war and violence will still be there but we will regard them as historical facts," says Guntur.

    According to Guntur, the radicals have been using this method. He points out as an example that mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan, "abrogated verses that promote peace and tolerance so that they can wage war (in the name of Islam). So, why don't we reverse the approach; we should abrogate the verses that suggest violence and promote peaceful ones, instead?"

    Full Text available at: http://www.newageislam.com/radical-islamism-and-jihad/-muslims-should-abrogate-verses-of-war-in-islamic-law-/d/951

     

    Dear Yunus Saheb, Since you are yourself not happy with the headline calling for “Decontexualising” the noble Quran, I think the above will clarify things for readers who are debating this article furiously in university campuses. I have reports from three university campuses that students, particularly of Islamic Studies departments, are discussing this article and most of them have the same comprehension problem that I myself had. I hope this will clear the air.


    By Sultan Shahin - 10/26/2012 7:46:35 AM



  • Dear Afaqsiddiqi Saheb, It is very kind and generous of you to post the clarification. But I must tell you honestly, I did not feel insulted at all because I don't hold any high office as such and I do not write the articles for any recognition or honor. I felt sad and deeply frustrated. I know how hard it is for my fellow Muslims to read and get any guidance from the Qur'an. So they delegate its learning on children and the Mullas and the Muallas swap it with the Hadith and the fuqaha swap it with the Classical Sharia, and the non-Muslim world conflate it with the Sharia law and Hadith - a vicious circle. The orientalist scholarship on the other hand pins the Qur'an down to a point of history and the Muslims who study in prestigious Western Universities take what is dished out to them. So the Word of God is lost in human memory as some un-intelligable litany, in the excruciating utterances of children (non-Arabic) or in the archives. This apart there are serious issues with its interpretation as you know well.

    I have been thinking about these issues since my early life and I am convinced and so are many others that the nearly total omission of the Qur'an's social, moral, ethical, humanistic tenets from Muslim scholarship, discourses and world-view has been probably the single most contributory factor for their decline, stagnation, marginalization, exploitation, lacking performance, and devastation. I also fear, if we continue to cling to our medieval brand of Islam dominated by the Mullas and defined by the secondary theological discourses, we may have very heavy price to pay - not we alone but humanity at large. On the other hand, if we want to dump the Qur'an altogether as some scholars suggest, we will be caught in a morass of internal conflict and violence that will be suicidal.

    It is simply impossible to sell to any common Muslim including some very modern people that the Qur'an is for mere spiritual fulfilment or God sent it only for the Arabs. So as long as you are a Muslim you have the Qur'an as the final source of authority. If you leave it in the hands of the Mullas, you have the partition of India in 1947 through to what you see in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and all Muslim countries today. If you take it your own hands, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of humanity - you could have one India today, and kill the twin menace of radicalization and terrorism let alone a host of other benefits. But alas, Muslim scholarship is at its best in argument that produces virtually nothing.

    Anyway, I once again thank you for posting your clarification and feel profoundly humbled by your kind words. I may only add I leave God to decide who is kafir ior otherwise for His name is taken in all places of pure worship and His Light is aglow in all human hearts and He alone with judge all humanity. Kindly read my articles referred here.


    By muhammad yunus (1) - 10/26/2012 4:58:07 AM



  • Respected Yunus Sahib, I never meant any insult to you.In any discourse whether it is political or theological misgivings and misunderstandings do arise simply because men,specially among those who have some genuine concern for a given issue.
    The real problem comes in when the words used by debaters or contstants carry layers of meanings.
    This is    the  life blood of all uncomfortable discussions.  I remember the correspondence between  Jawharlal Nehru and the prime minister of China before the war of 1962 quoted Maxwell in his book India China war.The purpose of the writer is to show how Panditji was trying to evade the real issue of of the MacMahon line dispute by using synonyms in his letters written  in response to the letters of  Mr Chao en lie,the prime minister  of China.The result  was the decisive war. All of us know that ultimately it is the greater power Of arms that settles matter in human affairs. Sir, you know and understand Islam and it's history far better than myself. No question about it.The only common factor between us  is our concern for Islam,Muslims and the rest of the world if it is not Kafir.Am I right ?
    I do very sincerely express my regret if any of my expressions hurt you.I do not deserve an encomiums
    as you have mentioned in response which I have just read here. I fully appreciate your deligence in trying to counter the adverse criticism advanced by by people who are denigrating Islamand they themselves are fair minded.
    By afaqsiddiqi - 10/25/2012 8:18:31 PM



  • Dear Afasiddiqi / Copy Saif Shahin, Sultan Shahin.
    In another thread you state in relation to the above article addressing Sultan Shahin Sahib, "Having read your rejoinder to Yunus sahib which was perhaps in response to my comments on his theory of de-contexting certain ayats or may be the whole text, I think after your posting on this subject this absurd debate will end."
    I have read some of your articles, seen your photograph and understand you are a man of global experience and erudition and mean well for the Muslims. I may not be as privileged or distinguished as you are in academic achievements, erudition and global experience but I can assure you, I am also a well wisher of Muslims, no less the broader humanity (the monotheistic part of which is technically Muslims and the non-monotheistic segment, simply divinely inspired humans - as each human being is blessed with a portion of God's spirit and ingrained with the divine moral imperative - taqwa) [1]. The concluding word of your statement is as hurtful to me as a host will feel if the guest charges him of attempting to poison him when he offers him a painstakingly prepared sumptuous meal with a variety of delicacies on a well laid out table set with shining cutlery, napkins and glassware. I am therefore explaining you what all the article offers to a Muslims reader, I playing the enthusiastic and well meaning host explaining my position in grief to an angry guest.


    Let me begin from the caption: 'De-contextualization of the Noble Qur'an'. The on-line dictionary gives this meaning of 'decontextualization': ' to consider something in isolation from its text' This simply means distilling the core commandments of the Qur'an from the highly complex textual mosaic of its text. Incidentally I have jointly authored a focussed exegetic work, Essential Message of Islam' that has this very objective. In the Qur'anic Arabic the core commandment which all the Muslims are required to comply with is called the 'ummul kitab,' - 'the essence of the book.' As a Muslim, it is my duty to probe it and to share it with humanity.


    FIRST THREE PARAGRAPHS
    The first three paragraphs explain the difficulty that is inherent in reading the Qur'an pedagogically - that is, with the intention of grasping the meaning of each and every verses in a thematically coherent manner. The article pieces together a set of undebatable propositions or statements, which shed light on different facets of the Qur'anic diction and textual contents. This is to reassure a reader that the difficulty he faces in comprehending the text under his eyes is not due to any anachronism factor as the orientalist scholarship asserts, and Muslims educated in the western Universities are taught = may be with the best of intentions. This clarification is absolutely essential to avoid relegating the Qur'an to the archives and building moral laws based on what 'we' think is right - with each Muslim sect, group, subgroup, family, terror outfits, radicalized elements free to appropriate its ways and ideology into the Qur'an.

    This is what is happening today. The noble social, moral and ethical paradigms of the Qur'an, its emphasis on serving humanity through good deeds, sharing one's substance with the community, standing by justice even if it means taking the side of an enemy, pursuing universal knowledge (as the most gifted among all creation and programmed to describe things and keep them in memory), unremitting struggle for improvement, excellence in lawful pursuits, treating women with love, mercy and compassion and as co-equals, respecting people of other faiths for example and its warnings against succumbing to base desires, addictions, obsessions - be it passion for woman, wealth and glory, temptation to lead a lavish life at the expense of the community (by underpaying for goods, services and labour, usurping other's property by fraudulent means, financial embezzlement etc) and against all forms of petty/ grave vices are subsumed in a porous unlicensed world-view that gives complete freedom to every individual to live according to his whims / liking. As a Muslim it is my duty to bring the people closer to the Qur'an and not the other-way round.


    The article then touches on six sub-headings as below which have a direct/indirect bearing on the theme:


    1. The subversion of the Qur’anic message during the classical Islamic civilization.


    The write up highlights the historical background to the exclusion or omission of the Qur'an - as a primary / practical source of guidance, and to the virtual reduction of its holistic message to only four elements or pillars (Salat, Zakat, fasting, and hajj), besides the shahada. It is fully substantiated by authentic research and academic works.


    2. The distortion of the Qur’anic message today
    IT Explains how all kinds of crimes and acts of terror and oppression of women - for example are being committed with a belief that the Qur'anic message admits of or condones these heinous acts. All the anti-Qur'anic rulings of the classical Sharia law that I have illustrated in other related articles are perceived both by Muslims and non-Muslim to have been rooted in the Qur'an. This is probably the reason that even well meaning Muslims are keen to pin the Qur'an down to its historic context, so as to connect all the inhuman rulings of the Sharia Law to the pre-Islamic Jahilliya. To put it simply, for lack of any pedagogic study of the Qur'an in Islam and due to reliance on oriental scholarship on the evolution of Islamic theology and beliefs, the Muslims - even Western educated often conflate the historically derived Classical Shariah law of Islam with the Qur'anic message. The present day reader has to understand this, lest he will have a preconceived aversion to digging into the pages of the Qur'an as the article aims to paving the way for.
    3. Clarification of various polemical, textual and oratorical issues
    It attempts to clarify the following commonplace issues, that have historically drawn a great deal of attention by the Muslim scholars at the expense of any research to exploring the different facets of its clearly stated commandments that form its guidance (hidaya):


    i) Speculations about entities that fall in the category of the mutashabihat (3:7) and are to be accepted as articles of faith without going into any arguments about them - simply because they are impenetrable to human mind.
    ii) Interpretation of the Qur’anic verse 2:106 that clarifies the doubts of the contemporaneous Christians and Jews as to why God should send a succession of revelations.
    iii) The identification of the addressee of a given command – whether it is addressed to the present day reader or to the immediate audience of the Prophet.
    iv) The Qur’anic fundamental universal notions such as din al Islam (as monotheistic faith), taqwa (moral uprightness), ‘believer’ (anyone who believes in God) and the Almighty God of all humanity - often interpreted in an exclusivist manner.
    v) Isolationist interpretation of Qur’anic verses.
    vi) The inherent corruption in meaning of Qur'anic idioms in literalist translations
    vii) The Qur’an's literary personification of non-living objects.
    viii) The Qur'an's references to the physical paradigms of the contemporaneous civilization
    ix) The existential dimension and record of the Fighting Verses as an eternal proof of the defensive character of the Prophetic mission, the agony and trauma that he and his followers lived in on a day to day basis, and at times moment to moment basis fearing annihilation at hands of their attackers, and under the ominous shadow of the conspiracies of the hypocrites of Medina and the native Jewish tribes who eagerly awaited their destruction.


    4. Need for fresh insight into some of the Qur’anic verses.
    It explains the gendered interpretation of all the gender sensitive verses - 2:223, 2:229, 4:34, 23:6, 24:31, 70:29/30 for example and suggests fresh interpretation in line with Muhammad Assad’s monumental work. It also warns that any account or report in the theological discourses of Islam (Hadith, Classical Law and Sira) that contradict the Qur’anic message must not be engaged to contradict any clear and holistically supported message of the Qur’an as this will tantamount to subverting the word of God by word of man. As the Qur’an puts it, ‘Don’t make a joke of God’s signs (verses) (2:231).


    5. Summing Up : It restates the object of this essay - to brace the non-Arabic reader to navigate through the pages of a translated Qur’an, which, without any basic orientation as above, is likely to perplex and even overwhelm him before he reaches the quarter chapter mark of its first major Sura, al-Baqara. The statement is supported by the views of the early Arab Shaykhs of Islam. It concludes with the following recommendation:


    "The foregoing enunciations imply that the best way to interpret the Qur’anic message is

    i)            to focus on its definitive – that is clearly stated and unambiguous verses,

    ii)           to use its vocabulary – how a word or root is used across the text;

    iii)          to cross reference the verses bearing same or similar themes which may appear under different Suras of the Qur’an; and

    iv)          to use the Qur’anic themes and illustrations to extrapolate its broader message, rather than quoting any verse or passage in isolation.

    These clues, which collectively epitomize the most preferred methodology of exegesis – explaining the Qur’an by the Qur’an [11] can greatly assist any sympathetic reader of the Arabic or the translated Qur’an to comprehend the broader trajectories of its guidance despite the historical gap of some fourteen centuries between its advent and this day and the immense complexity of its text when read line by line in its entirety. A recently published focused exegetic work [12] attempts to probe the verses of the Qur’an following the above listed Qur’anic clues."


    6. The article ends with this final Note of Caution to Islamic Scholarship
    "Those who discuss those aspects of the Qur’an that it commands the believers not to probe and supplement their discussions with the Islamic theological sources have virtually swapped the definitive commandments of the Qur’an – the core of its book (ummul kitab) for the obscurantist aspects of its message. As the Qur’an put it, “there is perversity in their hearts and they only seek fitna (confusion, sedition, chaos)” (3:7), and they keep Muslims and Islam stagnated in the track of civilization and its scholarship imprisoned in a closed medieval domain.

    God alone knows what fate awaits the Muslims for their remoteness from the essence of the Qur’anic message – the saddest episode in Islamic history [13].


    MY FINAL REPLY TO YOU SIR. For you this debate may be "absurd" as the Qur'an itself was perceived like a 'jumble of dreams' and a 'strange and unbelievable reading' by its immediate audience. For me the Qur'an is a word of God and it is a pleasure for me to write this synopsis of the article which, given the coverage of issues and the immense sensitivity of the theme, I could not make it any shorter. I just have one question to you of which I will expect you to answer honestly, bearing in mind that I have done this whole write up to satisfy you: Did you read the article at all?? No compulsion in religion. Up to you to answer or ignore. No ill feeling from my side.


    MY FINAL REFUTATION OF YOUR SWEEPING AND HIGLY MOTIVATED AND OBJECTIONABLE REMARk: Your statement purports to project the article as my "theory of de-contexting certain ayats" simply parallels the attitude of the guest who take a banquet prepared by his host at great pains as poison. This is the least I can say.


    To Saif Shahin. Finally I have done what I thought a bright scholar of your standing might have done. Never mind. Take me for mediocre scholar please, lest your benchmark of scholarship will be lowered. It is for people like you to defend the faith now under attack from all quarters and you have to hone your scholarship to the level of the intellectual giants like Sheikh Fadl and not that of a mere writer and thinker like me.
    Note: [1] Kindly refer to my articles:

    i)            The Broader Notion Of Din Al Islam; and

    ii)           The Broader Notion Of Taqwa.


    By muhammad yunus (1) - 10/25/2012 6:56:19 AM



  • Dear Saif Shahin, I have read your comment. May be we are looking at things from slightly different perspectives because of the inherent differences between each individual and different experience patterns and age groups [I am in the late 60's]. All I can say is that there are certain universal criteria of right and wrong, moral imperatives and social and ethical tenets intrinsic to the Qur'anic message regardless of the historical point at which it is interpreted/ applied. My (joint) work has attempted to probe these and share with my fellow Muslims/ humanity at large. Hence to repeat the concluding para of my last comment:

    "You as a young and brilliant scholar have a great responsibility and have to take a leading role in jolting up your community - which should either renounce Islam and cut all moorings from faith or make good Muslim - progressive citizens by trying to understand the fundamental/ universal/ pluralistic tenets of the Qur'an as embedded in its core commandment . The moment you connect the Qur'an with history, you restrict the eternal into specific and obscure the simple tenets of Islam, subconsciously, as a way to duck them. My articles are simply expounding what the Qur'an says as a completed writ. For you to take it or leave it. I am only doing my bit as a witness to my faith and to my Prophet (2:143)." lakum dinakum walia din. 
    I do appreciate the para is rather condensed. What needs explanation is that we as Muslims have our own world view. Almost each of us have our own set of addictions/ idols - wealth, woman, glory, gluttony, egotism, hatred of others and so forth which stand in stark contradiction to the Qur'an's core / universal commandments, but  each of us tag it to the Qur'an, though only few of us - may be one in a thousand ever read the Qur'an to explore it first hand because a translated Qur'an is inherently complex as a reading material. I have simply tabled a set of recommendations and clarification on how to negotiate the pages of a translated Qur'an. It is for people to take it or leave it. You as a Muslim and a witness to humanity owe a responsibility to recommend or suppress it, if you have read it in detail. lakum dinakum walia din. la ikraha fiddin.


    By muhammad yunus (1) - 10/24/2012 12:01:47 PM



  • Dear Yunus sb., as always you are too kind to me. You know that I have the deepest respect for you and your erudition. The work that you have done, and are continuing to do, is unique and worthy of the highest attention and commendation.
    That said, I would like to disagree with you on a couple of issues. You ask me, rhetorically, if I want my posterity to debate "polemical issues" and "remain indefinitely in confusion". I believe you assume that my answer would be no, but it is not. One, I don't quite understand what you mean by these issues being "polemical". Two, I don't mind myself, or my posterity, being in confusion (although I don't necessarily want them to be so in perpetuity).
    Confusion arises from uncertainty, from not knowing what is right and what is wrong. There are two ways of resolving it. You either accept and follow what somebody else thinks is right and wrong, or you think about it and decide for yourself. Many people are intellectually lazy, and they just rely on established doctrines to resolve their confusion. This, I think, invariably leads to the creation of relations of power -- with some people wielding intellectual control over others -- rather than relations of equality.
    While ending confusion over important matters is a laudable objective, I think that is too big a price to pay. To me, it militates against the deepest meaning of being a human being.
    I would rather that people remain in confusion, so that they can think about these matters themselves, and decide for themselves what is right and wrong. I personally feel that is the spirit of Islam. By abolishing idolatry and encouraging independent thought, Islam urges each of us to find our own answers rather than rely on what others are saying -- whoever those others might be.
    In your works, you have done the same. I think we should encourage all Muslims to do that as well. The important thing is not the answers themselves, but the process by which we arrive at those answers. The journey is more important than reaching the destination (although there is no harm in finding one's destination either).
    That is also because I don't think there can be absolute, eternally correct answers to these "polemical" questions. In every age and in every society, I think Muslims will require to think about these and other issues and find answers that best serve them in their particular contexts.
    And that brings me to the second point of my disagreement with you: Quran's connection with history (or its lack thereof). You say that by linking Quran with history, I restrict the eternal to the specific. There are two issues here: the revelation of the Quran itself, and the time-bound value of these revealed verses. I think that Quran's revelation was rooted in and specific to the time and place where it happened. The fact that Quran was revealed to Arabs in the age of Jahiliya does have a significance (and that is what I mentioned in my previous comment). The revelation, thus, is a historically specific event.
    That does not in itself mean that the value of these revealed verses is also historically specific. I do think that Quran has eternal value. But then again, I also think their meaning and interpretation has to be historically specific for them to retain their eternal value. They had a certain meaning at the time of revelation that was relevant to Muslims of that age. While keeping the historically specific contexts of various verses in mind, they ought to be interpreted differently today so that they remain relevant to Muslims. In another age, they would have to be reinterpreted again if they have to remain relevant. Historicity and eternity thus form a loop, reinforcing each other.
    As I said at the beginning, I almost completely agree with your interpretation of the Quran, and I reviewed your book sometime ago to make your interpretation more widely available, so that more Muslims could read and be aware of it. But in the end, I think everyone should have the liberty to formulate his or her own meaning of Islam.
    The only thing I am against is people forcing others (in whichever way) to agree with their own meaning and interpretation -- as terrorists and obscurantists tend to do. And accepting that every one has the liberty of thought and belief is the only way to prevent that from happening. Lakum deenakum waleya deen.
    By Saif Shahin - 10/24/2012 10:04:11 AM



  • Dear Saif Shahin, Actually i feel very disheartened and concerned at the bottom of my heart when you call me 'a great writer'. You must be shocked at this but bear with me for a moment to appreciate the reason for my concern . 
    All I have been doing in my articles is piecing together different aspects of the Qur'anic message in order to enlighten my fellow Muslims about the social, moral and ethical dimensions of the Qur'anic message, and to remove misconceptions about the scripture and its hidaya (core commandments). You know well how difficult it is to read through a translated text of the Qur'an. Since early centuries of Islam a vicious process of delegation, remoteness and rejection is keeping practically the entire Muslim intellectual elite in the darkness/ confusion about the clear commandments of the Qur'an that I have been trying to cover through articles. 
    The intellectual elite and Arab Muslims in general read the Qur'an primarily as a divine liturgy. Those who want to read it pedagogically are confused by its sudden changes of theme, audience and interjection of parables, similes, eschatological imageries and a medley of other themes - as you also might have experienced in your  first attempt to read the Qur'an. So they delegate its pedagogic study on the fuqaha, and ulama or simply circumvent the Qur'an and read the Hadith. To justify this swap, they canonize the Hadith as a form of wahi. This is part 1 of the delegation process.
    The second step is to make absolutely sure that their children read the entire text of the Qur'an - at an age when they need to fully develop their potentials by learning simple things - the Qur'an scared its Arab audience who turned away from it like frightened donkeys fleeing a lion. So what can a chid get out of reading the entire text? What guidance can he get from it? It only satisfies the subconscious minds of the parents, guilty of their remoteness from the Qur'an.
    Step 3. The fuqaha subsume the all embracing commandments of the Qur'an - virtually its hidaya into the pillars of faith. From childhood a Muslim is told hundreds of time that he must do all his prayers. Thus mentally the Muslim conflates the hidaya with salah - a spiritual swap/delegation - an assumption that if one is doing all his prayers on time, he is a good Muslim - he fulfilling the requirement of the faith/ complying with hidayah.
    Step 4. The fuqaha and the mulla often find the Qur'anic ideals too demanding as the article explains in the opening part.  - Who wants to read all the altruistic and humanistic bidding of the Qur'an - doing good deeds, sharing weallth with community, looking after elderly parents, supporting the needy relatives, curbing greed, and all petty temptations of life, and so forth. They neutralize the Qur'an's altruism and humanism by directing their scholarship at those aspects of its text that is ipso facto distinguishable from its core universal commandments that it wants humanity to follow. 
    Step 5. The fuqaha and mulla - a porous group these days for anyone can say anything about the Qur'an and cite any of its verse to demonstrate that it is too complicated/ garbled a book to be of any real value today.
    If you take a survey of all young educated Muslims you know of with regard to their reading of the Qur'an to understand the elements of hidaya - you may hardly find one person in a hundred or probably a thousand or ten thousand. So the process of delegation that is deeply entrenched in Islamic societies deprives the Muslim community of the liberating and intellectually enriching hidaya of Islam that in its early centuries fuelled its phenomenal rise and ironically forms the foundation of the Western civilization. 
    With this i come to my opening sentence. By calling me a 'great writer' you are subconsciously attributing a high degree of scholarship to the articles i piece together for common English speaking Muslims. My sole objective is to make its easy for fellow Muslims to grasp the different facets of the Qur'anic message. If articles are held scholarly, they will go above the head of common educated Muslims today who will find good reason to set it aside and show their devotion to faith through symbols and rituals.
    This article brings across many fundamental points that the Muslims ought to be told of. If a brilliant scholar like you does not introduce it through his comments my effort will probably be wasted. May I request you to post a substantive comment if you think this piece is deserving of the attention of all educated Muslims.
    I owe you special gratitude for introducing my book (joint publication). I now make this request that is directly connected to the theme of the book. Thank you.
    I write to you in a straight forward way as I have no personal axe to grind and my work is for common good of all Muslims/  humanity. If you find any beauty in my work, you only see the beauty of the Qur'an's wisdom and logic, shed of all its literary glory, captured by an 'accidental writer' - not a 'great writer.'
    Do you want your posterity to debate for another millennium about the polemical issues tabled in the article and debated for at least a millennium now? Do you want your posterity to remain indefinitely in confusion about the Qur'anic message?   Do you want your posterity (I suppose you are settled in the West) to be classified as barbaric whose innocent members could be harassed, tortured and killed by law. Today if you live in a mansion where a terrorist is hiding, you are bombed and killed and accounted for as a terrorist. Tomorrow any outrageous act of terror by any of your radicalized fellow Muslim can lead to an ominous authorization of spacial extension for an anti-terrorist aerial attack that could kill a hundred or a thousand of the barbaric lot. If you do not fully realize these basic realities and remain Muslim merely by name and leave Islam for the westerners to unwittingly implement in their societies, your kids are bound to turn Christians. You as a young and brilliant scholar have a great responsibility and have to take a leading role in jolting up your community - which should either renounce Islam and cut all moorings from faith or make good Muslim - progressive citizens by trying to understand the fundamental/ universal/ pluralistic tenets of the Qur'an as embedded in its core commandment . The moment you connect the Qur'an with history, you restrict the eternal into specific and obscure the simple tenets of Islam, subconsciously, as a way to duck them. My articles are simply expounding what the Qur'an says as a completed writ. For you to take it or leave it. I am only doing my bit as a witness to my faith and to my Prophet (2:143)."

    By muhammad yunus (1) - 10/24/2012 6:57:26 AM



  • Dear Yunus sb, like any great writer, you raise a wide range of issues in every article of yours. I read them regularly to enhance my knowledge and understanding, and I don't think I have the competence to comment on them. The comment I made here was, as you say, with regard to one aspect of this article -- an aspect that was under discussion in the thread. I think I made that clear at the beginning of my comment, and I only meant to carry that discussion forward. I did not at all mean to summarise your article.
    By Saif Shahin - 10/23/2012 11:44:00 PM



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