By Akbar Ganji
Justice and Equality
The Quran’s God is a just one and does not
do injustice to anyone: “And your Lord is not ever unjust to [His] servants”
(Fussilat, 46); “And your Lord does injustice to no one” (Al-Kahf, 49), and,
“Indeed, Allah does not do injustice, [even] as much as an atom’s weight”
(An-Nisa, 40). God’s goal in sending the Prophet has been spreading justice:
“We have already sent Our messengers with clear evidences and sent down with
them the Scripture and the balance that the people may maintain [their affairs]
in justice” (Al-Hadid, 25).
Prophet Muhammad also limited his mission
to spreading justice, and said, “I have been commanded to do justice among you”
(Ash-Shura, 15); “My Lord has ordered justice” (Al-A’raf, 29); “Indeed, Allah
orders justice” (An-Nahl, 90); “O David, indeed We have made you a successor
upon the earth, so judge between the people in truth” (Sad, 26), and, “O you
who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice” (An-Nisa, 135).
The Quran has expanded the concept of
justice in many ways: Witnesses (in a trial) must be fair (Al-Baqarah, 182;
Al-Ma’ida, 95). There should be justice in trials (Al-An’am, 152; Al-Nissaa,
58), and people should speak justly and neutrally (Al-An’am, 152), and the
entire life must be devoted to justice (Al-Ma’ida, 8). Even enemies must be
treated fairly: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah,
witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from
being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness” (Al-Ma’ida, 8).
Economically, the Quran is against poverty.
It is said that there is a link between poverty and infidelity. Ali, the first
Imam of the Shiites and the 4th Caliph wrote in Nahj al-Balagha [the Peak of
Eloquence], a collection of his sermons, letters, exegesis, and narrations that
“poverty is a worse death [than the physical death] (Hekmat, 163). The Quran says,
“Satan threatens you with poverty” (Al-Baqarah, 268), and has many verses
regarding helping the impoverished, such as, “Competition in [worldly] increase
diverts you” (At-Takathur, 1), and, “And those who hoard gold and silver and
spend it not in the way of Allah - give them tidings of a painful punishment”
Naturally, the people and intellectual
elites of any era did not have the same understanding and interpretation of
justice as the contemporary one, but there is nothing that prohibits them from
doing so in our era. For example, Muslims can easily interpret the Quranic
justice in terms of the capabilities theory of the Indian economist Amartya Sen
and the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum.
Freedom and Tolerance
According to the Quranic teachings no one
should be forced to believe in Islam: “There shall be no compulsion in
[acceptance of] the religion” (Al-Baqara, 256). Rawls considers acceptance of
burdens of judgment and liberty of conscience as the two criteria for
reasonableness of a comprehensive doctrine (Justice as Fairness, p. 191). The
following verse from the Quran and several after it recognize liberty of
conscience: “And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all
of them entirely. Then [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that
they become believers?” (Yunus, 99).
The Quran allows people to freely choose
between guidance and straying: “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so
whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve’” (
The Prophet is not the attorney for or
guardian of the people to pressure them to the righteous path (Yunus, 99;
Az-Zumar, 41); he does not control them: “So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only
a reminder. You are not over them a controller” (Al-Ghashiya, 21-22). The
Prophet does not have the right to bully people and do injustice to them (Qaf,
45). His mission is to show them the righteous paths, not compelling a specific
path. After this is done, people can choose their own path:
“Say, “O disbelievers, I do not worship
what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a
worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship.
For you is your religion, and for me is my religion” (Al-Kafirun, 1-6).
Rawls spoke about political and
comprehensive tolerance. The Quran’s comprehensive religious tolerance -
including all of its constraints - endorses of Rawls’ political tolerance.
Rawls refers to this as the reasoning from conjecture.
The Prophet’s First Treaty: a Path to
Two-third of the Quran’s verses was
revealed during the time Prophet Muhammad was living in Mecca. This type of
verses expressed ethical ideals and was in search of justice. They lacked
religious jurisprudence that, according to the human rights of our era, can be
considered as violent and against liberalism.
After Muslims migrated from Mecca to
Medina, the Prophet signed off on a treaty that governed peaceful co-existence
of the immigrants, his supporters, and the Jews. According to Muslim historian
Muhammad ibn Ishaq the Prophet “signed a treaty with the Jews, recognizing
their religion and ownership of their properties, setting some conditions for
them, but also accepting some conditions [in return]” ( Al-Nabawiyya Al-sira,
volume I, p. 501). The treaty stated the following about the Jews:
“Every Jewish person who follows us will be
assisted, and will be equal to other Muslims. No injustice will be done to him
and no help will be given to his enemy. . . All Jewish tribes will form a
common front with Muslims in warfare. Also, the Jewish tribe of Bani Ouf
constitutes the same community with Muslims. Jews and Muslims each have their
own religion. They each have their own friends, allies, and slaves. Unless
someone engages in inflicting injustice and committing sin, in which case he
will have done injury to himself and his lineage alone. The same regulations
that have been specified for Bani Ouf will apply to the Jews of Bani Najjar;
and the same will be applicable to all Jewish tribes. No Jew will leave their
assembly except by the permission of Muhammad; nobody’s blood shall be spilled
and trampled upon. He whoever kills another is alone responsible [for the deed]
as are his family; except in cases in which he [the perpetrator] is himself a
victim of injustice and that God is satisfied with the deed. Muslims and Jews
will have their own shares of expenses during times of war. Jews and Muslims
will assist each other against the aggressors and their relationships are based
upon good will and compassion; they are set apart from sin. Nobody is to harm
an ally; all will rise together to help the oppressed.”
The treaty was against Mecca’s
non-believers, which explains why it contained so much about union for war and
peace: Everyone was supposed to help everyone else against the invaders of
Medina; Muslims and Jews had the right to call on people to make peace with the
enemy, unless the war was over religion, and Jews were not allowed to shelter
the non-believers of Mecca, who were the Muslims’ enemy. According to the
treaty, the Prophet was the arbiter of disputes between Muslims, and between
them and the Jews.
Although the treaty had many clauses about
justice, but social justice in that era did not mean equality of all, particularly
men and women. In fact, we cannot even call communities of that era a society
in the modern sense. There was tribal authority, but it was due to patronage
and family relations, not the existence of a government which, as we understand
it today, did not exist. Thus, “equal and free citizens,” a product of the
modern era, was meaningless. Thus, Rawlsian concepts of fairness and free and
equal citizens could not exist in that era. Thus, the treaty between the
Prophet and the Jews was one of tribal communities, and possibly a good example
of what Rawls names as decency (The Law of Peoples, p. 67).
Commitment to the Elite’s Rationality of
The Quran calls on everyone to follow
wisdom and science. In 49 verses wisdom-related words have been used. For
example, “Then will you not reason? Here you are - those who have argued about
that of which you have [some] knowledge, but why do you argue about that of
which you have no knowledge?” (Al-i-Imran, 65-66), and, “And do not pursue that
of which you have no knowledge” (Al-Isra, 36). Interpreting the latter verse,
the medieval Muslim scholar, Abu al-Qasim Mahmud ibn Umar al-Zamakhshari, who
was of Iranian origin, wrote in al-Kashshaaf[revealer], his book of
interpreting the Quran, “The meaning of this expression is to warn the
addressee against saying what one does not fully know, and doing that which is
unknown. This clear principle includes all forms of imitation, because
imitation entails unknowing following of edicts about the truth and falsity of
which the imitator has no knowledge.”
On many occasions, the Quran has demanded
reasoning for those who claim to be truthful: “Say, ‘Produce your proof, if you
should be truthful’” (Al-Baqara, 111), and, “Say, ‘Produce your proof, if you
should be truthful’” (An-Naml, 64). Interpreting the latter verse, Zamakhshari
states, “This Quranic expression, more than any other reason, vitiates the
position of the advocates of imitation, and establishes that any statement for
the truth of which we lack reasonable support, is false and unjustified”
A Path for Constructing a Liberal Islam
In this article first I explained my
reading of Rawls’ political liberalism. Then I described Rawls’ views about
Islam as presented in his “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” article, where
in a famous footnote he conjectures that Taha and An-Naim’s idea of Sharia
reformation is a perfect example of endorsing the political conception of
justice from a comprehensive Islamic perspective. Finally, I discussed the
evidence in the Quran and the Sunnah that supports constructing a liberal Islam
based on Rawls’ views as plausible. There I showed that Quranic verses endorse
the reality of pluralism, the inherent dignity of human beings, equality and
justice, and finally tolerance and freedom. I also elaborated upon The
Prophet’s first treaty as an example of decent social cooperation and
co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims in early Islamic era.
To the extent that I understand Islam,
there is a simple way of removing violence from contemporary Islam and making
it compatible with political liberalism: The vast majority of non-worshiping
Islamic laws are of ratifying type, i.e. they are the product of the culture
and lore of the people of the Arabian Peninsula before the Prophet. The mission
of the Prophet was not to destroy the infrastructure of the society, including
its culture. He modified many of the existing laws and then ratified them.
As the Quran puts it, the Prophet is a
model for all Muslims. He ratified the customs of the elites of his own era.
Many Muslim scholars have misunderstood what the Quran says about this issue,
interpreting it as meaning that Muslims must do what the Prophet did in his
life in his own era. In fact, the Prophet taught the people to ratify the customs
of the elites of their own era, not the era of the Prophet.
Rawlsian political liberalism is not the
sole liberalism of our era, nor is it the custom of all the thinkers. But, it
has been accepted by a large number of thinkers. At the same time, liberal
interpretation of the Quran is more compatible with its spirit than any other.
Thus, I believe that ratifying Rawlsian political liberalism is exactly
tantamount to acting according to the Prophet’s teachings.
The Prophet is a model for the Muslims by ratifying
the reasonable customs of his own era. He is not a model for terrifying people
and spreading Islamophobia, which brings nothing for Muslims but losses and
harms. As discussed, there are many verses in the Quran that, subject to new
and modern interpretations, are completely compatible with John Rawls’
liberalism. This means that there are secular and liberal interpretations of
the Islamic teachings that are more compatible with the true spirit of the, as
compared to the Islam of fundamentalists.
URL of Part Two: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-society/akbar-ganji/how-to-construct-a-liberal-islam---part-two/d/109166
Thanks Akbar. It is an interesting read. In
my view Liberal Islam should affirm and promote
The inherent worth and dignity
of every person;
Justice, equity, and compassion
in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and
encouragement to spiritual growth among people;
A free and responsible search
for truth and meanings;
The right of conscience and the
use of democratic process within the adherents of Islam and in society at
The goal of world community
with peace, liberty and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent
web of all existence of which adherents of Islam are a part;
The following is from my article on which Hats Off has commented and therefore has presumably read the article:
The Misrepresentation of the Quran through Mistranslation
The Second Major Misunderstanding
The second major understanding comes from the following verse:
(3:85) If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good).
Islam and Muslim however have a broader meaning and cover the righteous of every faith.
(2:62) Those who believe (in the Qur´an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Anyone who believes in God and the last Day or The Day of Judgment and works righteousness is a Muslim
(22:34) To every people did We appoint rites (of sacrifice), that they might celebrate the name of Allah over the sustenance He gave them from animals (fit for food). But your god is One God: submit then your wills to Him (in Islam): and give thou the good news to those who humble themselves,-
The verse above refers to people of other faiths. Since there is only one God and all of them follow the rites appointed to them in submission to Allah (by whatever name), their faith is Islam.
(27:44) She was asked to enter the lofty Palace: but when she saw it, she thought it was a lake of water, and she (tucked up her skirts), uncovering her legs. He said: "This is but a palace paved smooth with slabs of glass." She said: "O my Lord! I have indeed wronged my soul: I do (now) submit (in Islam), with Solomon, to the Lord of the Worlds."
The above verse is about Prophet and King Solomon and Queen Sheba who preceded Jesus and their religion is Islam.
(2:132) And this was the legacy that Abraham left to his sons, and so did Jacob; "Oh my sons! Allah hath chosen the Faith for you; then die not except in the Faith of Islam."
(2:136) Say ye: "We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma´il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam)."
Islam is the religion of every prophet and of every person who believes in God (by whatever name), and in the consequences of his deeds beyond this life, and works righteousness.
House of God
Monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. (22:40)
There is, I agree, a wide gap between precept and practice and while what Hats Off says maybe true in practice, I wonder what is his motivation in projecting the practice as precept and ignoring the true message? If he was interested in playing a constructive role, he would have been pointing to the gulf between the precept and practice and shaming the Muslims into following the true Islam. However, from his behaviour, it is clear that he has no intention to play a positive role and his only purpose is to malign Islam and all Muslims. What does that make him?
"can be used to verify the authenticity of Islamic
theological records, which date at least a hundred and fifty years after the
revelation, and are not always accurate because of their sole dependence on
oral accounts, transmitted across the preceding generations."
of, and exclusivist dedication to the Pillars of Faith purports to reduce Islam
to a Cult of Five Pillars.
Dear hats off!
Here are my clarification in red ink to
your comments (in black)
“i know that
the koran depicts the pre-islamic tribes as less than human. this has to be
corroborated from other sources. in acadamic practice, only textual analysis
can be done without reference to external sources. that is fine with me.content
analysis can also be undertaken without reference to external sources to a
certain extent, but not entirely.for example, to evaluate historical elements
within a text, academic integrity demands that external references be brought
in support of any historical content that you find in your target text.without
secondary or supporting or corroborating references, you cannot depend upon the
historicity of any document.”
“No internationally reputed scholar or
historian has referenced a source more authentic than the Qur’an on the living
realities of Arabia at the time of the Prophet. Maxime Rodinson – a world renowned biographer
of the Prophet concedes: the Qur’an “does provide a firm basis of undoubted
authenticity” [ Muhammad, English
translation, 2nd edition, London 1996, p.x [Foreword].
importantly, the claim is irrefutably established by the following axiomatic argument
tabled in Chap. 1.7 of my jt. :publication:
“The Qur’anic records of
the social, moral and political setting of the revelation, and its references
to contemporaneous events must be necessarily true, because its verses were
recorded as well as memorized during the lifetime of the Prophet. If this were
not so the very premise of the Qur'an as a book of Truth and Wisdom, as it
repeatedly claims (Preface), would have been challenged in the Prophet's
lifetime, and Islam would never have spread out of the townships of Medina and
Mecca, let alone to the farthest corners of the Arabian peninsula, in the very
limited span of the last few years of his life.” As for the post Prophetic era
to this day, the Qur’an is preserved as a lyrical litany through an unbroken
chain of huffaz. its record of the pre-Islamic conditions must be a true
reflection of what the Arabs of the era directly witnessed.,
you have not
also explained the exceptional case of the prophet's first wife.
if the pagan
arabs were anything like they are as depicted by the koran, we will have to do
some explaining with respect to such a liberated and accomplished woman.
if the hejaz
failed to produce even a dozen such women over the next couple of centuries,
can i not suggest that after the advent of islam in the hejaz, gender
discrimination became the norm?
can find the names of some great women of early Islam in this link:
Kahdija’s name is remembered as she was the wife of the Prophet. But many other
ladies of her caliber may have been ignored by history for want of their
am not judging the Qur’an based on historical data. Khadija is not mentioned in
the Qur’an. Besides the state of jahilliyah of any society does not mean that
each and every member of the society is equally afflicted by this malaise.
if the hejaz
failed to produce even a dozen such women over the next couple of centuries,
can i not suggest that after the advent of islam in the hejaz, gender
discrimination became the norm?
Gender discrimination became the norm soon after the Prophet’s death. To quote
from one of my articles:
“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” .
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
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
The Qur'anic testimony does not support the notion of any veiling of women:
Any fatwa imposing full/face veil (burqa/niqab), headscarf on Muslim
women as a religious requirement is anti-Qur’anic.
I hope this suffices for the moment and wish you read
my above referenced article closely – I bet you haven’t as yet.
The menfolk did not take any financial responsibility for
their wives, and so when they were away on trading missions, their wives
cohabited with other men to maintain themselves,7 and the vestiges of incest had lingered on.8
The poor, orphans, and travelers in distress were left
uncared,9 slavery was
the sick and the mendicant were ostracized.11
16:58/59, 43:17, 81:8.
6:137, 6:140, 60:12.
Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation
by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 319.
4:36, 17:26, 30:38.
10. 2:177, 4:25, 4:92,
5:89, 9:60, 24:32/33, 58:3, 90:13.
13. 2:188, 2:275, 4:29.