By Pamela K. Taylor
June 6, 2018
Qur'an: Surah Alaq, verses 1-5
The first verses of the Qur’an revealed to
Prophet Muhammad, Surah Alaq, verses 1-5
The story of the Qur’an begins in Ramadan,
610 AD. Muhammad, who was not yet the Prophet Muhammad, was in the habit of
meditating in a cave high on the hillsides surrounding Mecca. On one such
occasion, the angel Gabriel came to him and told him to read. Muhammad replied
that he could not read. Gabriel pressed him tightly and then commanded him
again to Read, and Muhammad again said that he could not read. Gabriel pressed
him against, and said:
Read! In the
name of your Lord who created:
man from a clinging drop.
Lord is the Most Generous
Who taught by
what he did not know. (96:1-5)
These verses marked the beginning of
revelation. Muhammad didn’t know what to make of what was happening to him. He
ran down the mountain, his heart beating wildly. He was so terrified of the experience,
that he asked his wife Khadija to cover him up. After he calmed down, he told
her what had happened and confided that he was afraid for himself, unsure
whether his experience was true or if he was going mad. Khadjia reassured him
that nothing ill could come to him, as he was a good man, known for upholding
the ties of kinship, speaking truthfully, helping the poor and destitute,
serving his guests generously and assisting those who had stricken by calamity.
She also took him to her uncle Waraqa, a Christian monk, who agreed that
Muhammad was indeed become a Prophet.
The second revelation came a few weeks
in your cloak,
greatness of your Lord;
from all defilement;
Do not be
overwhelmed and weaken;
steadfast in your Lord’s cause. (74:107)
These verses may refer to what happened
after the first revelation or they may refer to the fact that when Muhammad saw
the angel Gabriel again, he ran home frightened and once more begged Khadija to
cover him up again.
Either way, practically from the beginning
of revelation we see that the Qur’an is a book rooted in history, responding to
the Prophet’s thoughts and actions, reacting to happenings in his life. While
it presents many eternal lessons, it is also speaking into a context, directed
at a particular culture, and addressing the events occurring at the time.
Time and again, as we read through the
Qur’an we are reminded of this fact. The beginning of Chapter 80 scolds Muhammad
for paying attention to important people and rebuffing a blind old man who
wanted to learn more about the religion he had recently embraced. Chapter 3
discusses the believers’ behaviour during the battles of Badr and Uhud. Chapter
24 addresses those who slandered Aisha with accusations of adultery.
The commentary and explanations of the
Qur’an that are currently popular almost exclusively focus on the eternal
nature of the Qur’an, proclaiming that not only is its wisdom and spiritual
guidance intended to uplift mankind forever, but that the individual rulings
pertaining to the specific circumstances Muhammad encounter are also universal.
As a progressive Muslim, I question that
approach to the Qur’an since the book is so clearly addressing a specific
community in a specific historical context. I can’t help but think that the
spiritual guidance, the general teachings about how to live a good life are
eternal, but that the specifics of the rules would be different if the Qur’an
was being revealed to a different culture or in a different time.
I mean, surely if the Qur’an came to
today’s society, with our bent toward marital equality and our understanding of
domestic violence, God wouldn’t advise spouses who aren’t getting along to
resort to physical resolutions to disagreements? Surely in a society where
familial bonds don’t extend much beyond the nuclear family, and men and women
are both expected to be breadwinners, inheritance would be divided up more
equally? And how about those draconian punishments for petty crimes? I have to
think that things would be very different.
Ramadan brings this belief into sterling
clarity for me. The verses about fasting times during Ramadan are unambiguous:
“eat and drink until you can discern the white streak of dawn against the
blackness of night.” (Surah Baqara, verse 160) Clearly, this verse is not
universal. It does not take into consideration Muslims who live above the
Arctic Circle where for several months of the year the sun never comes
completely over the horizon, and other months it never sets, making fasting
according to the rule impossible. Nor does it consider the impracticality of
refraining from food and water when daytime lasts 18, 19 or more hours. The
only possible conclusion is that that the injunctions about fasting times are
meant specifically for the people of Mecca and Medinah, for their circumstances
and situation, and were never intended to be rules for all places and times.
If this is true for something so
fundamental as when and how to fast in Ramadan, a ritual that is one of the
Pillars of Islam, how much more so for less consequential rules?
So what’s a modern Muslim to do? How do we
know what is universal and good for all times and what applies specifically to
Muhammad’s era? For starters, there are values in the Qur’an that are clearly
universal – be mindful of God through worship; give freely in charity; be
patient in the face of difficulties; stand for justice; speak honestly and bear
true witness; uphold your obligations, contracts and oaths faithfully; keep
ties with your kin; be kind to strangers and travellers; care for orphans and
treat them well; uphold the brotherhood of all mankind; speak politely to
others; count your blessings; use your brain to gain wisdom from the world
around you and seek education; be modest in dress and speech; make peace
whenever possible, etc. These principles always make good sense.
There are prohibitions that are also
clearly universal. Don’t lie, steal, cheat, commit slander or murder, don’t
think you’re better than anyone else because of your family, wealth, power,
knowledge or prestige; don’t judge people for ways different than your own or
for their shortcomings; don’t engage in casual or non-consensual sex; don’t
bear false witness; don’t cut off your family; don’t become rigid or go to
extremes, especially in religion.
That leaves the rest of the Qur’an’s
teachings. As a progressive Muslim, I believe we need to understand the Qur’an
and its teaching through the lens of the history into which it was revealed. We
may come away with the same understanding we have always had, or we may come up
with something new. We may continue to believe particular verses are applicable
universally. Or we may decide that God would want something different from us
today than what was applicable in the 7th century.
For instance, the verses that tell us “Do
not take the disbelievers as friends and protectors instead of the believers”
(3:28, 4:144) means something quite different when you understand it as a
universal law and when you understand within its historical context. When that
verse was revealed, the non-Muslims of Mecca had enacted a systematic campaign
of terror that resulted in many Muslims fleeing to Ethiopia, after which they
banished the remaining Muslims from Mecca and refused to trade with them,
confiscating their homes and possessions. And once the remaining Muslim
community moved to Medina, they engaged in open warfare with the intention of
wiping out the entire Muslim community. Of course, you wouldn’t extend your
friendship and trust to people who were trying to eradicate your whole
Compare that today where multiculturalism
is celebrated across the globe, and Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus,
atheists, etc here in the west come together to feed poor people and build
houses for the homeless, to support civil rights for all and struggle for a
kinder, more just civilization. If the Qur’an had been revealed today, the
exhortation might be “Do not take bigots and racists for friends over those who
love all and do good works together.”
To be clear, I’m not talking about
willy-nilly, picking over the Qur’an scooping up what you like and discarding
what you don’t. I’m talking about, a systematic approach to understanding the
Qur’an with reference to the events of the day and the milieu in which it was
revealed and thus to understand not just the actual words, but also to grasp at
the intention behind the verses, the intended outcomes, and to work to
implement those in our own context and culture.
While this may seem like a huge departure
from traditional theology and jurisprudence, the companions of the Prophet
clearly saw the Qur’an and its teachings in this manner. For instance, Omar
suspended punishments for theft mentioned in the Qur’an during a famine. Obviously,
he understood that as circumstances change, so too should our understanding of
the Qur’an. I am suggesting nothing more and nothing less.
You are digressing. Pamela only sees problems and not solutions and the
fact that the guidance provided is adequate.
The fasting question is answered and I have also shown that
verses 3:28, 4:144 actually mean what she wants these to be today.
She and you GM sb, are the dumb literalists who only point fingers
rather than talk about the correct meaning and how to find solutions. My
more than hundred articles bring out the correct meaning before which every
objection of the likes of Pamela K. Taylor and her ilk dissolve.
Why the Reformist Scholars
Cannot Make a Difference
The Quran Is the Perfect,
Infallible Word of God, Even If All the Muslims Misunderstand It
The only example
that supports the title is relating to the timings of a fast during Ramadan which
cannot be determined based on the time of dawn/sunrise and sunset in Polar
Regions or close to Polar Regions. Let us examine the verses of the Quran relating
(2:183) O ye who
believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you,
that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-
(184) (Fasting) for a
fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed
number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of
one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it
is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.
(185) Ramadhan is the
(month) in which was sent down the Qur´an, as a guide to mankind, also clear
(Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of
you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the
prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every
facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to
complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you;
and perchance ye shall be grateful.
(187) Permitted to
you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your
garments and ye are their garments. Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly
among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with
them, and seek what Allah Hath ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct
from its black thread; then complete your fast Till the night appears; but
do not associate with your wives while ye are in retreat in the mosques. Those
are Limits (set by) Allah: Approach not nigh thereto. Thus doth Allah make
clear His Signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint.
(189) They ask thee
concerning the New Moons. Say: They are
but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for
Pilgrimage. It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back: It is virtue
if ye fear Allah. Enter houses through the proper doors: And fear Allah: That
ye may prosper.
(6:96) He it is that
cleaveth the day-break (from the dark): He makes the night for rest and
tranquillity, and the sun and moon for
the reckoning (of time): Such is the judgment and ordering of (Him), the
Exalted in Power, the Omniscient.
The reference to the sun and the moon in the Quran is for
reckoning time which may be part of a day, a day, week, month or year. How else
did we expect Allah to refer to time except by these signs? Did we expect Allah
to talk about time in hours or any other unit of time created by man? The clock
of man is also based upon dividing the time taken by the movement of the heavenly
bodies into convenient units of seconds, minutes, hours, day, week, month, year
etc. The time of Sunrise and Sunset has no significance to fasting except setting the start time and end-time in regions around the equator.
We order our life by the day for working and night for
resting. Fasting is during the period of working. Even in Polar Regions, people
order their life if not by the sun (because it does not rise for part of the
year or set for another part of the year), by the clock. So follow the clock.
Dawn which marks the beginning of fast in regions around the equator is 3 hours
before our usual breakfast time. So in regions around the poles, begin fast 3
hours before the usual time for break-fast and end the fast at normal time for
If a person finds a solution based on such an analogy, he is
a sincere Muslim who submits to the command of Allah and will be duly rewarded
both for the fasting and his humble submission even when faced with a certain
degree of uncertainty. The purpose of fasting which is to learn self-restraint
is also met. We are not worshipers of the sun but we order our life consisting of a working period and period of rest by it for obvious reasons. Where we
use other means to do the same thing, follow what is dictated by it in an
As an exercise, attempt defining the period of fasting in a polar region without talking about a clock. It is very difficult if not impossible, but easy to talk about it in an analogous manner with reference to sunrise and sunset in a region around the equator. So, why would the Quran speak about the time of fasting in a polar region when it is easy for man to figure out for himself what is logical, reasonable and rational based on what is described for areas around the equator? What can be logically derived is as good as a verse in the Quran is what I have said several times before.
The above is an example of being logical, rational and sensible but the author shows no sign of being so.